Tag Archives: Wildlife

Chasing Snowies

Only in a spirit of complete attentiveness and wonder can we be freely receptive to Nature’s inspiration – Joseph Cornell.

If anyone would have told me three years ago I would be spending two hours driving around  in -9 below temps with -29 below wind chill looking for a bird, I would’ve laughed in their face and told them they were crazy!

During my first Project 365 I fell in love with birds and nature.  I discovered the refuge that I hold dear to my heart and spent a lot of time there.  Lots of birding, and my sidekick also enjoys it almost as much as me.  Sometimes, like yesterday, she is almost as excited as I am.

Two years ago, there was a Snowy Owl “eruption”.  Sometimes Snowy’s come down from the Arctic Tundra in the winter, when they have a good breeding season, or when the lemmings (their main meal) do not have a good breeding season.  They come down looking for a food source.  Mostly the heavily barred juveniles and females.  There were a few spotted here and there.  Closest to me at that time was about an hour away, and I just didn’t think about heading out to find it. 

Fast forward a couple of years and here we go again.  Scientists say it is normally an “every four year” kinda thing.  So it is very surprising the amount of Snowy’s that are being spotted.  One was even seen as far south as Florida.  One would speculate whether they get back home safely.  Some people have the misconception that all owls are nocturnal.  Not so with the Snowy.  They hunt during the day, in fields.  They sit on top of telephone poles, lamp posts, street signs, store signs, rooftops, close to farms and fields.  Not in the woods, as most owls.  They live on lemmings, rodents such as mice, voles, rats, etc.  By no means am I an expert at birding, photography, or anything else I do.  It’s a hobby.  Yes, I make a little money on the side, but not enough to call home about and I like it that way.  I don’t want this to turn into work, where I grow to hate it.

I just thought I would lead up to the “crescendo” :)  Up to yesterday, there had been 118 Snowy Owl sightings in Minnesota.  WOW.  We certainly have the weather for them this year.   It has been downright frigid in most of the country, so I hear.  A Snowy Owl was spotted by some birders close by in Maple Grove a while back.  With my sidekick’s high school dance team schedule, then Christmas, we really haven’t had the time to chase.  A week ago before we headed back to work and school, we did.  It was a balmy 5 degrees outside.  What I would give for it to be 5 degrees now.  We didn’t head out until afternoon and after a little while searching, we found a darkly barred juvenile Snowy Owl sitting on a lamp post near some gravel pits.  We were excited, this was a lifer for both of us.  We watched it fly away and followed it around, lost it, followed it again.  We did this for about 90 minutes.  We sat and watched it on a building for about 10 minutes.  I took some shots but I do not have the heavy equipment as some others do.  The photos were a blurr and too far away for anything to turn out.  However, we were excited nonetheless.

Enter the deep freeze. On Friday, the Governor of Minnesota ordered all public schools closed today, Monday, because of the bitter temps.  This has not happened in 17 years.  Saturday morning, I headed to the grocery store and ran errands to prepare for what was supposed to be the coldest we have seen in 20 years.  I wasn’t going anywhere after that!  Saturday night as I fired up my computer to work on some editing, I checked out my birding group photos.  WHAT???!!  A Snowy was seen that day in a neighboring city, Ramsey, roughly 8 miles away.  My sidekick said “OMG MOM, we HAVE to go tomorrow.”  I said, “Seriously, do you know how cold it’s going to be?! No way!” Sunday (yesterday) morning I woke up to -18 below regular temp, with a wind chill of -26 below.  This confirmed I was not going anywhere.  At about 10:30 I received an updated email the bird was indeed spotted that morning, and by 12:15 another birder had also reported it.  I checked my phone.  It had warmed up to -6 below with the same wind chill.  Pshaw, I’m not a pansy.  “Grab your coat, bundle up, we’re headed out.”  I texted a friend and asked, “Am I crazy?”. I loved his reply, “Not at all, you’re just VERY passionate about what you do. Good for you!”

By the time we got to our destination, it was -9 below and -29 below wind chill.  The temp was falling. We drove around for almost two hours.  Back and forth within a about a ½ mile square radius.  Saw a couple of other hearty birders slowly driving around. Stopped and talked to one woman.  Nothing.  I took a couple of photos of other things, just in case I didn’t see the owl, which was looking pretty good about then.  We rounded the bend of a side road and spotted a van pulled over. We had been down this road about 4 times already.  The closer we got, I saw the passenger of the van had a lens longer than my arm poking out the window.  My sidekick (who is the eyes of this operation) spotted a Snowy sitting on a rock less than 25 yards from the road.  I almost peed my pants I was so excited.

First rule of thumb.  Do not disturb the birds.  It you are close enough to flush it, you are too close.  They waste too much energy having to fly here and there, away from people.  This guy was pulled over right in front of that bird.  Too close.  I parked across the street away from the bird.  I had gotten my camera ready “hours” ago, LOL.  I took a couple of hundred photos of this beautiful creature.  All while he/she barely moved, lol.  I thought it was a she, just because it wasn’t as heavily barred as a male juvenile.  But I have no clue.  It was magnificent.  My sidekick took a few shots for her photography class.  Then Mr. Arrogant moved the van and thought he would pull a little closer.  Jinx.  The beautiful Snowy Owl flew off before I could change the settings on my camera. It was surreal.

My shots aren’t what a professional wildlife photographer would take. But like I said, I’m not a professional.  And I don’t care.  I love them and they are mine.  I am  happy.  One in the record books for me, just like this bitter cold weather.

As a side note, this morning when I woke up it was -22 below, with a wind chill of -44 below.  And as I write this now, Monday evening, it is a balmy -17 below with a -36 below wind chill.

Keep warm and safe, America :)

Sheila

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
I liked this crop, even though it's not sized properly :)
I liked this crop, even though it’s not sized properly :)
This was how far away I was before cropping.
This was how far away I was before cropping.

 

Here Come the Trumpeters

Last Saturday, I had a great winter photo shoot.  It was a beautiful 35 degrees out, and the family I shot were a great group of ladies.  My sidekick and I had plans afterward to go in search of one of the many Snowy Owls that have been spotted up in Stearns and Benton Counties.  This is about a 90 minute drive Northwest.

However, plans don’t always go so well.  I woke up that morning not feeling very well.  My sidekick had been fighting pneumonia and a cracked rib, and my dad was also not feeling well. Tis the season, I guess.  I made it through the photo shoot and just did not want to make that trip.  But I didn’t want to let a warm day go to waste.  Lord knows, it has been below zero since.  They are talking by tomorrow, we are supposed to be colder than it has been in 20 years, 25-35 below REGULAR temperature with wind chills in the 40-50 below range.  The Governor of Minnesota has ordered all public schools closed on Monday.  The bummer part, I still need to go to work!

At any rate, we headed down about 9 miles to the Swan Park we hit every winter.  I have blogged about the swan park before, there is more about it at this link Monticello Swan Park.  This park is located on the Mississippi River.  My sidekick is enjoying her first photography class at school, and had a “panoramic” assignment, so she took a few shots of all the swans.  This year it seemed like there were less than past years.  There are usually at least 1,000-3,000 swans, geese, ducks and other water fowl .  There were maybe 750 this year.  But as we looked across the river, there seemed like there were 750 more.  Next time I will take a video to post, as it is very loud, LOL!

I hope you enjoy the photos of these beauties!

Sheila

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  I’m baack……………….. !  Unfortunately, I went away for a while :(  Lots of struggles and it has been one hell of a year to say the least.  I have probably lost a lot of followers, and will have to gain a lot back.

I am going to be starting a new Project 365 on New Year’s Day to kick myself in the a** so to speak.  You are welcome to follow me.  I am not going to be posting every day but would like to post every week I hope.

Hope all of you have had a great 2013 and good luck to you in the coming new year!

Sheila

Mother’s Day Week

The minute the calendar went from April to May, I felt it.  I knew it was going to be a hard month for us.  My mother passed away January 3, it has been a tough road and will continue to be. Mother’s Day and her birthday were right around the corner. I know she is no longer suffering and in a better place.  That gives me a bit of peace, and I know it should give me more.  I guess I am selfish and want her with me.

There have been days where I hear or see something and pick up the phone to call her to tell her about it, only to stop myself realizing I can’t.  Now that Spring has arrived, I see yellow roses, her favorite.  Last week was brutal.  I passed by the Mother’s Day card aisles in the stores and I couldn’t even look at them without getting teary-eyed.  I’ve seen Mother’s Day commercials, and had to turn the channel, me being the blubbering fool.  I got really angry with people complaining about their mothers and give them a piece of my mind.  Whereas just a few short months ago, I was one of them.  Last night I took her old sweater and wrapped it around me and cried myself to sleep.

It  has been rough for me and my sidekick to say the least.  And from what I hear, my sister is also having a hard time.   We would text each other blubbering gibberish.  Our moods fitting, as we snapped at each other on text a couple times over stupid things.  My dad pretty much doesn’t know what to do with himself these days.  I’ve even thought about taking him out to the refuge with us for the drive.  Maybe soon.

So on the advice of family and friends, I took the day and made it about me.  What??!!  How dare I be a mother on Mother’s Day!  We reminisced about Mom and remembered the good times.  All we have now are memories, and nothing is going to change that.  Learning to accept the things I cannot change has been a big struggle for me, but in the past couple years I have come a long way in that regard.

I told my sidekick this weekend was about me.  And her.  Afterall,  it is because of her that I AM a mother.  The only thing my ex gave me worth holding on to, and  I will treasure her forever.  So I made plans to stay busy doing what we like doing best, and hopefully make the best of this dreaded Mother’s Day weekend.

Friday was a splendid day weather-wise.  During my lunch break, I took a little stroll through my favorite park for birding in the Spring.  I pulled up and instantly heard several songbirds singing and I immediately wished I didn’t have to go back to work.  I heard and saw a cardinal, several Yellow Rumped Warblers, etc.  I walked the trail and several small Downy and Hair Woodpeckers were flitting about here and there.   Sandhill Cranes were calling in the distance and I knew I had to bring my sidekick back in the evening, as they are her favorites.  I have only been bird watching for a couple of years now, not nearly long enough to identify birds by their song.  Some yes, most no.   I once read that Minnesota is one of the top 5 states for birding, as we get well over 300 species during migration in Spring and Fall.  Maybe by the time I retire I will know most of their songs.

As I walked the path hoping to see a new warbler or a Baltimore Oriole, First of Year (FOY) for me, I stopped suddenly as I heard a Rose Breasted Grosbeak.  I love these beautiful birds.  They sound like Robins on steroids, LOL.  At any rate, I first heard, then saw the female.  The male was not too far behind.  I was so excited, as this was indeed FOY for me.  I kept walking, and saw an Eastern Bluebird, sparrows (there are so many species it is so hard to differentiate which one), the usual suspects around here. Canada Geese nesting finally, a male Wood Duck.  I always end up dilly dallying and my lunch hour goes so fast.

I got about halfway around the trail and realized it was time to start back.  I turned around and headed back, only to be stopped again by the female Rose Breasted Grosbeak.  However, this time I saw some nesting material in her mouth and followed her with my eyes to see where she may go.  Low and behold she flew about 10 feet off the path into a nest.  No eggs yet, but I was so excited, what a find for me!  The male came and sat above me on a branch checking me out.  With our very late Spring and cold weather, we are just starting to get buds on the trees so she is very visible from the path.  My first thought was that I really hope the buds and trees come in fast so more passersby don’t interfere with the nest.  I got a few shots in, not too many, as they are very skittish birds.

Female Rose Breasted Grosbeak
Female Rose Breasted Grosbeak
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Male Rose Breasted Grosbeak

My sidekick and I returned that evening after dinner.  We saw the nest, but no sign of the birds.  I am hoping to keep track and monitor the nest for babies, but then I will be very sad if something happens to them.  Nature at it’s finest, I guess.  Taking the good with the bad.

Saturday morning we had plans to attend the Spring Celebration at the refuge, as it was Migratory Bird Day.  We got up at 5:30 (yes, on a Saturdaymorning, much to my teenager’s chagrin).  It was 34 degrees, cloudy, windy and very cold.  We had signed up for the birding tour which was from 7:00 to 11:00 am.  The first part of the tour was a caravan  around the refuge on a couple of the DNR roads which are not usually open to the public.  The chilly, windy weather made it hard, as the birds were not out and about.  We saw some shorebirds, including, Lesser Yellow Legs, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper.  Several Blue Winged Teal, Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and a couple of Bald Eagles.

The hearty people of the bunch decided at 9:00 to go on one of the trails hiking.  My crabby, tired, cold teenager was not so eager. So we just went on the wildlife drive, saw several birds, highlights were an American Kestrel and a Ruby Crowned Kinglet, nothing too out of the ordinary.  The wind was blowing so hard I had to keep the windows up in my vehicle and the sand was flying all over we couldn’t see anything, so we headed out.

The refuge headquarters was having a plant sale, so we stopped there on our way home.  I always like to see what birds are at their feeders, I had been hearing good things.  However, the wind always plays a factor and there wasn’t too much next to the Red Winged Blackbirds and White Breasted Nuthatch.  BUT, we did scare up this guy digging around on the ground eating up the bird seed dropped by the birds.  The workers at the refuge tried sending him home with me, LOL.

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On Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, we had every intention of hitting two parks and walking some trails.  However, the early morning on Saturday did us in and we slept in on Sunday.  I also had a couple of meltdowns over my own mom, but wanted to concentrate on new memories and traditions with my daughter.  By the time we headed out of the house it was after noon.  We headed to a Nature Center in a suburb of the Twin Cities.  They had some great birds at their feeders and had some nice walking trails.   Saw my FOY Baltimore Orioles, they do have a lovely sound.  We saw a number of birds, and some Canada Geese nesting, which was also a FOY for us because of the late Spring.  Toward the end, my back was giving out with all the walking, so we decided to call it a day.

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Baltimore Orioles

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Palm Warbler

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Sunset on the Mississippi

All in all, not many photos for the week but lots of birds seen and heard finally after such a rough Spring.  Just not close enough for photos.

Hope everyone has a fabulous week!

Sheila

Winterfest 2013

On February 2  as I woke up, it was -2 below zero.  We had been below zero in the deep freeze for a few days and that day’s forecast was 10 above.  WOOP WOOP!  My sidekick and I had plans to head out to the refuge for the annual Winterfest festivities.  There were going to be birds from the Audubon Center of the Northwoods, and I wanted photos of them.  But when I woke up to -2 below, I started having doubts.  Last year when we attended, there was no snow and it was above 20 degrees.  It’s one thing for me to walk around like a lunatic in -18 below zero taking photos, it’s another for my sidekick to follow suit.

She had had a sleepover the night before and as I was sitting chatting with the girls at breakfast, I said that I thought we should just go on a brisk walk locally instead.  She informed me we were going to bundle up, and we were going to go to Winterfest.  Ooooh-kayyy.  So we bundled up, which means in layers.  We had long underwear on and three layers on top.  3 pairs of socks, heavy boots and 2 pairs of gloves.   I looked like I belonged in an 80’s hair band and felt like the Michelin Man.

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We dropped the “extra” girl off on the way and headed up the 18 miles to my peaceful place.  We hadn’t been there since November.When we arrived, it had warmed up to about 5 degrees.  The American Kestrel and Great Horned Owl were on display in the bird tent.  The Audubon Center takes in injured birds and rehabilitates them if at all possible.  If not, they keep them for educational purposes.  I wasn’t in the tent to hear the Kestrel’s story, but the Great Horned Owl had been hit by a car and could not hunt on his own.  But they both were too dang cute for words.

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Great Horned Owl
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American Kestrel
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American Kestrel

They were changing the birds out in a 1/2 hour, so we moved on.  We hit up the hot chocolate booth and got some birthday cake, the refuge was celebrating it’s 110th birthday.  Bought a sweatshirt and headed toward the horse-drawn wagon rides.  The crowd was a lot thinner than last year, I’m sure because it was under 10 degrees.  We had stood in line for over an hour last year, this year it was more like 10 minutes.  The horses are beautiful Percheron horses and it really was a beautiful, sunshiney day.  The guide told us about the trails and wildlife drive the refuge has to offer, that we are very familiar with.  I think at that point my toes were getting numb.

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We walked back to the bird tent to check out the Barred Owl and the Eastern Screech Owl.  The Eastern Screech Owl’s story was that she had brain damage.  She just wasn’t “all there”.   I don’t re She was just tiny and adorable, if an owl can be adorable, LOL.  I don’t remember the Barred Owl’s story, but the educational director was explaining to everyone how “owls can turn their heads around” is a myth.  They can turn it ALMOST all the way around, but have to turn it back because they have a vertebrae.

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Barred Owl
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Eastern Screech Owl

 

My sidekick wanted to head to the craft tent before we left.  There she made a pinecone bird feeder.  They had peanut butter to slap on some pinecones, and cover it with bird seed.  They had snowshoeing, but she didn’t want to do that.  Lots of bird education and DNR booths, a silent auction and a bonfire to warm your toes.   Since we were pretty cold, we didn’t stay too long.  90 minutes tops.

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I always like to check the refuge headquarters bird feeders while I’m up there.  The DNR had been reporting Grosbeaks and Redpolls in the area, which was unusual this far south.  Also a Barred Owl had been spotted several times by the DNR near the headquarters building.  So we stopped to have a look see.  My sidekick stayed in the car and played on her phone staying warm, kids these days.  I snuck up behind the building to check the feeders out.  There were dozens of Black Capped Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches and lots of different woodpeckers, but no Redpolls, Grosbeaks or Owls to be found.  I took several shots and my toes started to get numb again so I went back to the car.

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Black-Capped Chickadee
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White-Breasted Nuthatch
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Black-Capped Chickadees
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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

We are very much looking forward to spring when the refuge wildlife drive once again opens for us to trek.  I think when the weather warms up a tad bit, we will check out the Blue Hill Trail again like we did last year.  It was a great hike for the winter.

Hope you enjoyed our day in photos!

Old Man Winter

Minnesota winters are harsh.  I have seen 27 inches of snow in two days, and I have seen -50 F below zero with almost as low windchills.  Not fit for man nor beast.  Seems they used to be harsher when I was a kid. But back in the 70’s (yes, I’m that old) winters were fun. We had way more snow and way more cold.  And yet it didn’t seem to bother us.  We were ALWAYS outside, whether we were making snowmen, snow forts, sledding, etc.  You name it, we did it.  I remember for Christmas one year I wanted the new K-TEL block maker or whatever it was called.  I got it and let me tell you, it was the best igloo maker around!  Rarely did we have snow days when I was going to school.  The big joke around here is when it gets up to 30, it is bikini time!

Last year we hardly got any snow.  We had one big storm dubbed “The Leap Year” storm and that was it.  Mild temperatures and less snow.   We had 30’s and 40’s in January.  Snowmobilers, ice fisherma, resort owners, and photographers like me were disappointed in the lack of snow we had.  I bet we didn’t even have 20 inches.  Everyone was joking that Old Man Winter had been laid to rest.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Old Man Winter is alive and well in Minnesota this year. We have had 30’s, and we have had frigid temperatures.  I have been out walking the last couple weeks, warm and cold.  One day was even 18 below zero on my lunch hour and I headed to the river to see what I could find.  The only thing NOT normal is that we have had snow, but not as much as in other years.  I am sure part of the global warming.

I have also sat on my deck watching the birds.  Not many hang out with us in the winter season because of the cold. We keep the summer stand-by’s like the Northern Cardinal, Blue Jays, Black-Capped Chickadees, and White-Breasted Nuthatches.  We acquire the snowbirds, down from Canada, like the Dark-Eyed Junco’s and Snow Buntings.  And of course, we have the Owls and Woodpeckers in all their glory.  I bought a heated bird bath the other day and just set it up.  Will see if it makes a difference in birds on my deck.

At any rate, here are some photos that I particularly liked in the past few weeks, along with my iPhone weather report, LOL :)

My trip to the river, I think by the time I made it there at noon it was -10 below.  I walked along the Mighty Mississippi taking photos of the steam coming up off the river, and of the swans seemingly totally oblivious to the fact that it was bitterly cold outside.  The water was warmer than the air temp at that time.

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Another day it was in the 20’s and nice and balmy, I checked out my favorite park and it didn’t disappoint.  LOTS of woodpeckers to be seen, although far away so I couldn’t get any photos.  I had all I could do to get back to work on time that day.

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And the day on my deck, taking photos of the Dark-Eyed Juncos and Black Capped Chickadees flitting around my deck, I’d say it was about 15 degrees above zero and snowing.

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As I sit here ready to upload this blog, it is about 10 degrees.  The weather this week looks to be in the 20’s and 30’s all week.  I plan a couple days for walking at lunch.  Back to my favorite park to try my luck in viewing the Pileated Woodpecker that frequents the park up close and personal.  Saturday, my sidekick and I are headed on a 5K for our local community.  The big thing around here is jumping in the lake at the Shiver Elk River every year.  My sidekick wanted to do it, I was afraid I would have a heart attack!  So we settled on the 5K.  However, if I am in the vicinity of the plungers, I will definitely take it upon myself to take a few shots!

Hope everyone enjoys the rest of the week!

1,000 Swans-a-Swimming

A couple weeks ago, we took a drive back out to the Monticello Swan Park.  I blogged about the Swan Park last year here.  This was our first time out there this winter.  The swans are at the park usually from December thru March feeding on the corn the residents hand out.  The numbers this year looked like almost double from last year.  There had to have been 1,000 trumpeters along with some Canada honkers and mallards.  This particular day we had my niece from California and a friend with us.  It was -2 below zero.  She was in a hurry to get out of there, I could’ve stayed all day.

I just wanted to drop a line with some photos of the swan park.  I have been under the weather with a nasty head cold the past few days.  It has been frigid and it has been mild in the past couple weeks.  And I have gone on a couple of winter photo walks I am writing about.  I also spent some time on my deck today with the heavy snow falling trying my best to get the Dark-Eyed Juncos to my feeders for photo opps.  Another blog coming on that note.

Enjoy the swans!

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