Bald Eagles and Sunsets

January 10th, 2008

Back to normal winter cold, but yesterday was full of surprises.  Mostly involving trying to get things done around the house, and too many errands.  A few groups of Canada Geese have been hanging around the pond early in the morning… I don’t know when they fly in, but it must be before dawn. I enjoy looking at them from afar, but as I wrote last year I’m not a big fan of having them on the pond.   So I’ll walk around the pond with the dog and they fly off usually.  I was surprised to see them eating acorns though.  So much water ran off the slopes that many little acorns were floating among the grass at the water’s edge, and the geese were gobbling them up as they paddled around.

 Canada Geese on pond

I was driving past a neighbor’s property down the hill, and out in the middle of the pasture was a Bald Eagle!  We don’t see them around here very often, but it was dining on some carrion- probably a deer.   The Bald Eagle is a majestic bird, but many people don’t think of it as a scavenger, which it is as much as a carnivore.  Although they normally eat fish, they are opportunists as much as any other species of wildlife and will eat whatever is available.

 Bald Eagle feeding on deer carrion in Missouri

I took some long distance pictures with the telephoto lens, and after picking up the young boy off the bus, I drove down the hill to show him the eagle- and now there was an immature Bald Eagle (no white head/tail) feeding at the same site.  I guess the family was traveling together!  It flew off after I stopped the truck a couple hundred yards away.

Immature Bald Eagle

I’ll never forget some 20+ years ago while I worked as a wildlife research assistant, I watched two immature Bald Eagles flying together for an hour, spinning, flipping, circling each other, briefly locking talons, flying away and coming back to each other time after time…. seemed like they were exhibiting spring mating behavior, or just practicing maybe.   Just beautiful to watch though.

At the end of the day we were treated to a beautiful sunset.  The light turned orange and pink, and rippled across the sky and clouds.  Last month the sunset was much further to the west-northwest, and now is moving slowly back south. I’m all for that as the northern hemisphere begins its slow journey to warm up again!

Sunset at Fox Haven in January


Redbirds on Gray Days

January 5th, 2008

    A warm dawn of almost 50 degrees today, and a little rain last night.  We have more rain on the way after the people of California are trying to dig out of the winter storms.  But hopefully the sun will peek through the clouds today so we can enjoy working outside a little more.  Yeah!

Our feathered friends continue enjoying free handouts of birdseed.  I enjoy seeing them hop around, and flutter all about.  And it’s amazing how much they can eat.  The Golfinches go through the thistle feeder in a week, and all kinds of other birds eat about 5 pounds of mixed seed each week.  Here’s a male Northern Cardinal peeking in the window as he looks for more sunflower seeds.  Here in Missouri we just call them Redbirds… after the St. Louis Cardinals of course!  It’s nice to see such color and life on gray winter days with clouds all around.  Last year I wrote about the Cardinal in the House when I picked up a stunned Cardinal after he smashed into a window, and brought him inside for a day to warm up.  They look cute, but they’re tough little dudes!

 A male Cardinal hops outside the house looking for birdseed

The other day we saw some strange clouds blowing low across the sky.  I’m always amazed at different images in nature.  For all that we notice, there’s probably so much more that we miss.

 Strom clouds roll across the sky

Cold and Sunny… Time to Get to Work!

January 2nd, 2008

The year has begun and it is cold! Awoke to 10 degrees F this morning, yet with bright sunshine. Somehow even the cold isn’t too bad when the sun is shining. And the house stays warmer too! Strangely enough, in a few days we’re supposed to have unseasonably warm weather- over 50 degrees F. I’m all for that, as I still have leaves that need picked up and many other outdoor chores. Replenishing the wood pile is more enjoyable when it’s not so cold either.

It’s time again to start the engines of the various machines in the barn as well. I have found that if I start all the vehicles, tractors, mowers, etc about once a month, that they do much better in the spring. Inevitably, if I leave one alone all winter, it’s that much harder to get started the following year. Missouri recently mandated 10% ethanol in all gasoline fuels, and I’m not sure how that will affect the storage of fuel in the tanks of all the engines. But to be on the safe side I usually add fuel stabilizer to help preserve the fuel. Seems to work pretty well.

So for now it’s time to work on some chores and professional goals, and see about sticking to a few of those new year’s resolutions. A list that includes goals for health, exercise, and losing a little weight… well, maybe more than a little! But I’m pretty determined this year :)

Our feathered Goldfinch friends are all puffed up in the cold, and enjoying some morning thistle seed. I only see them on the colder days… where do they go?

Goldfinches feeding on thistle seed in winter

Yesterday there wasn’t any ice on the pond, and the wind was blowing tremendously. But overnight the wind calmed, and the pond froze quickly in such cold weather.

Frozen pond on a cold winter morning

I love how the weather, light and temperatures can change the environment so much. A couple days ago there was a combination of thin ice and reflected sunlight on the water. As the ice melted, the wind pushed it up to the corner of the pond, where it finally succumbed to warmer temperatures.

Water and ice on the pond in winter

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Cooper’s Hawk Visit

December 22nd, 2007

   A respite of warmer weather yesterday and today before the temperature drops again, and maybe snow tonight.  I’m hoping to get out on the tractor and “vacuum” a few more leaves.   I keep a feeder near the house for the birds, and I can tell the weather will be colder or warmer simply by how many birds attend to the feeder each day.  Especially within 12 hours of a winter storm, the little Junco’s flock all around the feeder.  It must be tough to sit huddled through the cold nights in a tree! 

    Speaking of birds, we had a special visitor the other day- what I believe was a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) based on size, but possibly a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  It can be difficult to tell the difference.  It flew into a tall Oak near the house- watching the birds on the feeder of course, and sat for about 10 minutes.  The Cooper’s Hawk is a member of the Accipiter family- a specialized group of birds of prey that hunt other birds.  The Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks live in forested areas primarily, and can be secretive.  I’ve only seen them a half-dozen times before, typically while hiking or hunting deep in the forest.  Here at Fox Haven I typically see them chasing the birds that gather because of the feeder.   I don’t know why, but I’ve always identified with these birds.  I worked as a volunteer at the World Bird Sanctuary when I was younger, and we would have to actually raise small quail in order to feed the Accipiters that were undergoing rehabilitation.  It sounds harsh, but for some birds it was the only method to enable them to eat and survive.  Some of the Accipiters have bordered on threatened status in various parts of the country.  Because the Accipiters catch their prey “on the wing” we would “fly” the quail through a hole in the enclosure, and the Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawks would swoop down and catch them.  It was fascinating, if not somewhat difficult to watch, but very necessary.   Ultimately, we would rehabilitate a sick or injured raptor and then release it back to the wild if possible. 

 Cooper™s Hawk in Oak tree in Missouri

With the warming weather this week, the ice on the pond has been melting.  At night the ice freezes again, and then melts during the day.  I like how the water pools on the surface of the ice to show the reflections of the trees.

Ice melting on the pond

Tangle of Ice

December 10th, 2007

     It rained and became even icier last night… to my dismay I have to admit.  Schools were closed due to icy roads, but it’s beautiful outside… except for our Bayberry tree.  This one has been growing for many years, but the center trunk split last year during the ice storm, and now it’s almost flattened again.

Bayberry tree flattened by the ice

The fields look like a tangle of ice!  I saw two Kestrels and a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting in trees yesterday.   I wonder if they have a hard time finding prey when the ice has everything frozen like a protective cage?

 Grassy tangle of ice in the field

    I only saw a Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) a few times last winter, but the’ve been at the feeder often now.  I wonder if it has anything to do with the early spring freeze, and not having as many native berries or nuts around now?  I watched the Blue Jays flying around the Oak trees eating acorns earlier in the fall, but there’s not many available now.   The squirrel population may suffer for a couple years too, but we’ll feed the ones that come here!

 A Blue Jay at the feeder during ice storm

Mallard in the Rain

November 14th, 2007

     We received some much needed rain the past couple of days… perhaps an understatment.  With all the wind and rain, the trees have now shed a majority of their leaves.  The difference between today and a few days ago is amazing.  Also amazing is the temperature… it has been so warm lately that we’ve only worn our coats a handful of times this season.  It helps with the heating bills at least.  Certainly the colder weather is coming, and I welcome that in a strange sort of seasonal embrace.  I think without the different seasons, life would be too much the same for me.  Although I look forward to the opportunity to travel more in the years ahead, somehow I hope to always experience the changing seasons in life.

A lone Mallard drake stopped at the pond during the heaviest of the rain.  He floated this way and that, keeping a wary eye out.  As soon as the rain stopped, he continued on his way.

  Mallard drake hunkers down in the rain

Favorite Trees and Ladybugs

November 11th, 2007

This is one of the longest Autumn seasons in recent years, especially because of the warmth. We may see 70 degrees F this week, and then freezing weather and snow flurries. But the trees have held their leaves so very long, and we’ve enjoyed the colors. But some plants are confused- I found some flowering shrubs and ground cover that normally would flower in the spring. I’m sure the plants know what they’re doing… :)

A few years ago where we used to live, there were two giant Bur Oak trees (Quercus macrocarpa) growing that I really loved… the size of the tree, and the “mossy” cup holding the acorns were really interesting (the link above goes to a nice tree identification site by the way). The Bur Oak tree is native to Missouri, but we didn’t have any at Fox Haven. So a couple years ago I went back and collected a couple dozen large Bur Oak acorns, brought them here, and walked around with the young one planting them. The next season, two little oak seedlings grew up! This picture is the second Autumn for this little Bur Oak. One day it could be a massive oak tree… I”ll give it room and help it grow.

Bur Oak tree seedling - Quercus macrocarpa

On the subject of trees, we also have a variety of Hickory trees around the landscape. My favorite are the Shagbark Hickory trees (Carya ovata), two of which grow right along the pond. These trees are important as summer habitat for bats, and provide forage for squirrels and other critters. The bark peels and sticks out in all kinds of directions!

Shagbark Hickory tree in Missouri


And who doesn’t like Ladybugs? Well, at this time of year, I’m not very fond of them! The warm weather has caused an explosion of these little guys everywhere… in the windows, on the eaves of the house, just flying and buzzing all around. And do you know what? They bite! Because there are few prey for them to find and eat, it seems they try to eat whatever they find. If they land on you, ouch! They prick like a little needle. Maybe I should collect them and sell them on the internet? I read about a guy up north who does that and makes a living by it. Some of these are typical red with spots, and others are more orange with an absence of spots.  Not sure if they’re all the same or not, but there’s a lot of them!

Ladybug in November these little guys can bite!

Last year I was trying to take a picture of a migrant raptor, the Northern Harrier or Marsh Hawk (neat bird site at that link also). It came drifting across the fields for a few days, and then was gone. I saw it again on its journey south, but only got a faraway picture. Here it is, a little fuzzy, but it’s a beautiful bird.

Northern Harrier or Marsh hawk migrating

Sneaking Up on the Heron

October 26th, 2007

A couple days ago we had a visitor to the pond…  a Great Blue Heron.   They don’t come by very often, mostly in the spring or fall for a few days.  And I am not a fan of the Heron beyond their beauty, grace and sometimes ungainly nature.  Why?  Because they eat fish!  Normally I wouldn’t haven anything against a bird eating fish, but the Herons that visit are eating my fish!  The fish that I stock, feed and care for… and well, sometimes I eat them myself. 

The Heron doesn’t care what kind of fish, or even if they can swallow the fish.  They will grab a fish and if it’s too big?  Just leave it on the bank and go for more.  In the spring I found a huge Bluegill that the Heron couldn’t swallow laying on the bank half dried up.  And of course I have some smaller Koi that this giant spear of a bird would love to eat.  So generally I try to scare the Heron away, and they try to sneak back when I least expect them. 

But this time I managed to sneak up on the Heron!  It was down by the pond, and warily looking around.  I saw that it was behind a tree, and slowly crept to the pond with the camera, keeping the tree between us.  The Heron’s head turned from side to side, sensing something was happening… then it moved out from the tree to get a better look…

Great Blue Heron behind an Oak tree

 “Awwk!”… it saw me and leapt off the bank in fright, flying out over the water as I snapped a few pictures.   It looked like a giant kite with a neck and legs!

 The Great Blue Heron jumps off the bank taking flight

Then the Heron flew out over the pond and away into the trees.  I don’t know if it ate any fish on this day, but its neck looks kind of full and I haven’t seen my little Koi around… :0 

Great Blue Heron flying over the pond 

And the leaves are really falling everywhere now, especially into the pond where they gather in the corners on the surface of the water.  Isn’t the kaleidoscope of color neat? I like the green White Oak leaf resting in the middle.

Colorful Autumn leaves floating in pond

Bluebirds and Old Rowboats

October 11th, 2007

     A beautiful, but very cool morning of 42 degrees F (5.5 C) today.  There is dew everywhere and soon we will have frost.  I want to say “Wait!  We’re not ready yet!” when I think of the frost coming… I so enjoy the flowers still, and all that warmer weather brings.   

It seems the Bluebirds have come back near the house, and are playing around the nesting boxes.  Maybe they are just checking things out in anticipation of next year.

Eastern Bluebird

 And our Burt Dow boat of Petunias will soon be gone for the year.  We have enjoyed using this old rowboat for a planter under the trees.  That little boat has actually been in many different places, beginning its life on an east coast river near the ocean.  We paddled it around lakes and even the St. Lawrence River years ago.  In Missouri I would drag it to a fishing pond with a friend.  And it even floated around the pond here at Fox Haven in years past. Finally the wood became spongy and brittle after 30+ years, and it’s no longer “seaworthy”.  My favorite childhood story was “Burt Dow Deepwater Man”… he had an old boat filled with flowers in the book.  So we need to give this one a new coat of paint, and maybe next year fill it with more flowers! 

The Burt Dow boat of Petunias

Yellow Labrador at 11 Months

September 12th, 2007

    The young pup is a rambunctious fool!  Well, sometimes so am I… but we won’t go there right now :)   The Yellow Labrador Retriever is growing up so fast, and he’s just bursting with unbridled energy and enthusiasm.  Admittedly, he’s getting a little harder to control, but we work on obedience training regularly.  He listens very well, but tests the limits at every turn… I hold him accountable every time and he seems to respond very well.  We are still struggling with “heel” however.  He does heel, but gets ahead and becomes distracted at times.  I probably don’t work on that skill enough, so we’ll have to fix that, and any tips or insight would be appreciated.  He seems to like pictures though!

Picture 1 - Yellow Labrador at 11 Months

   His retrieving work is coming along very well.  He’s a total nut some times… The other day I had him sit/stay while I walked closer to the pond, then called “come” and he came running like a bulldozer, leaped off a small stump and went sailing about ten feet through the air like SuperDog!  “Whump!” as he landed and crumpled to the ground… I was concerned that he would hurt himself, but he jumped up ready for more as I shook my head.  And this dog loves water like there’s no tomorrow. Here he shows off his style running up the hill from the pond.

 The unstoppable Labrador Retriever!

    We have also been working on hand signals for marked and unmarked retrieves.  Put him sitting half way between a pile of bumpers, and give the “back” or “over” signal to the pile.  Off he runs and brings it back… not too bad, but he doesn’t like giving up the bumper.  We’re working on that aspect too…  But I placed one about 75-100 yards out, then gave him the “back” to retrieve… he started searching, nose-to-the-ground, about half way there, and ran the wrong direction left.  I whistled and gave him an “over” and he took off the other way… as he got close to the line of the mark/bumper, I gave him a “back” and he turned and went out like a pro!  He found it and brought it back, and I was amazed… sheer luck at this point, but he is a really smart dog.  As usual, he simply lacks a good trainer!  But we’re both learning as that goes, and it’s pretty neat.   

Picture 2-Yellow Labrador Retriever at 11 months


    The other morning we were surprised by a large flock of Canada Geese passing through.  They honked and honked while landing, and as I walked towards them to get a picture they flew off, scolding me for interrupting their choice parking spot!  They’ll be moving around a lot more in the months ahead.

Canada Gees flock after landing on the pond one morning.

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