Sunday, February 15, 2015

Great Backyard Bird Count... and Comet Lovejoy

Four days of watching birds on our farm whenever I want for as long as I want: what a great count! Of course, I do it while and between milking goats, feeding horses, cleaning barns, trimming hooves, weeding, etc. But I do take one hike around the farm each day if possible. This year even the nights are fun with Comet Lovejoy still in view... when the weather cooperates.

Day One

Friday, Feb. 13, began as a Friday the 13th should: I got my EZ Go stuck in the field after unloading horse manure from the morning's cleanings. I had to get the big John Deere tractor I inherited from my dad to pull me out. I took no photos of that fiasco. I could take a photo of the deep ruts in the field but it's too embarrassing.

Here are the photos I did take. I am easily sidetracked so other stuff got more photo coverage than birds. Like this butterfly on my Fragrant Dawn Viburnum... According to the BugGuide folks, it's a Red Admiral.

And these colorful fungi in the woods...

Then I became mesmerized once again by the zillions of tiny creatures in our seasonal pond in the lower field. They appear out of nowhere when this pond fills with water in the fall. I could not get my camera to focus on the tiny swimming red copepods, or the tiny black creatures on the bottom of the pool where it is shallow. There really must be a zillion of them plus many other little flies, beetles, and who knows what else.

You can almost see the long antennae and little propeller on the back end of this tiny red copepod. It's a miniature crustacean.

Of course, the rough-skinned newts have found the pond, too.

Eventually, I stood up to leave, picked up the gloves and bird list Rite in the Rain notebook I had dropped... and discovered my beloved Rite in the Rain pen was not there! I went through all my pockets, searched the ground around where the notebook had been, and finally retraced my steps through the woods, walking slowly and carefully, watching the ground. Miraculously, I found it! What a relief. It is the only pen I can use in drippy weather, which we usually have a lot of.

I headed back then and took a photo of our farm buildings from down in the seasonal pond pasture. Pretty amazing weather for February 13: 60s and sunny.

This morning I had hung suet feeders and "pig candy" feeders here and there, plus filled the two sunflower seed feeders. A Spotted Towhee found the pig candy (outdated peanut butter balls that we were given and gave to our pigs, while they were here. The pigs loved them and so do the birds.)

That night, as I walked back to the house in the dark after chores, a Barn Owl flew over me and screamed. Then I heard the bouncing call of a Western Screech Owl. And a single "YOU all" of a Barred Owl (rather than the full "WHO cooks for YOU all?" That note apparently set off a Barn Owl into a fit of excited scolds and screams. The same thing happened the time we heard a Barred Owl nearby a couple weeks ago. I don't think Barn Owls like Barred Owls.

As for Comet Lovejoy, as soon as night fell, so did the fog. No stars in view on Friday the 13th.

Total bird species for the day: 22

Day Two: Valentine's Day!

Appropriately enough, my hike to Agency Creek this day found two "husband and wife" pairs of birds. This handsome pair of Common Mergansers were preening and bathing together. 

What a handsome fellow this guy is...

 His mate looked a little cross when she stared head on at me, although I don't think she was seeing me. Some days, I feel like that, too.

The pair of Hooded Mergansers were mostly hidden behind a rock bank in the river that is usually out of the water. They were preening, too, and working on their hair dos.

 Although I had a piece of grass in front of the camera that I was looking through, mama Hoodie's hairdo was quite impressive.

I sat a very long time trying not to be seen and not to frighten them. But eventually the pair of Commons swam my way. When they got right across the creek from me, they saw me and turned and swam back downstream. I was glad to finally stand and walk off.

I headed toward our little creek that empties into Agency Creek. At the crossing, I thought I'd try to get a photo of our little waterfall. It is really just a couple foot drop from tree roots, but it sounds impressive. I poked my way through bushes and downed trees to get this view.

After crossing the little creek, I walked through the flood plain by Agency Creek where I've planted redwoods and cedars among the alders and a few doug firs. The cedars are doing well but the Redwoods only on higher ground. I was excited to find this fallen tree with the big root wad across Agency, and the rocky island that has been created behind it.

If the creek stays high enough this spring and summer, this root wad might provide a pair of American Dippers with a nesting location. They like to nest directly above the water but where no predators can reach the nest. I will keep watching!

Back at the house for a late lunch, I noticed three ladybugs crawling by my office window. One of them did not have bright and numerous spots like the other two. The few spots visible appeared faded and the area behind the head had a different black and white pattern than the other two bugs. The bug seemed healthy enough, crawling along the wood. Maybe it's a different variety. I have sent a photo to the BugGuide on the web for identification. (Update: almost immediately I had a reply saying my ladybugs are the imported Asian varieties for aphid control that have spread all over the U.S.: Harmonia axyridis. The only way to tell the many spotted version from the native version is by the white vs. black center of the "face". Oh my. And I thought bird id was tough.)

Later in the afternoon, while weeding, I took photos of Black-capped Chickadees making constant flights to the feeders taking sunflower seeds somewhere. In one day they, with help from the jays, have nearly emptied the feeders.

Appropriately for Valentine's Day, a lovely sunset closed the daylight hours.

Darkness brought out those three calling owls again: Barn, Barred and Screech. Plus a sky full of stars... and one comet! Comet Lovejoy *is* still visible near Andromeda and I spent a long time on my back in the wet grass trying to find it. I think I finally did, although it's not as obvious as it was last month. It was supposed to be too dim to see with binoculars by now but it has surprised the astronomers with its continuing brightness, even as it moves away from earth: a Valentine's Day present from the sky.

Total bird species for the day: 24. Cumulative total: 25 (added Evening Grosbeak, Hooded Merganser and Common Merganser today but lost Killdeer and Mallard from yesterday)

Days 3 and 4 in my next post...

No comments:

Post a Comment