Friday, December 20, 2013

Snow Tracks

Following trails in the snow.
I think this is a cat track!
Cici Tracks 

Most of the tracks in our yard are dog tracks (of course!), but there are also lots of deer, squirrel, and bird tracks, plus one set of cat tracks.  My favorite tracks are the cutie little bird tracks.  The deer are very bold coming right into our yard to clean out the bird feeders.  Deer beds were found out behind the house; small ovals of bare ground with hoof prints leading to and fro.  The dogs seem to enjoy running in the the snow, except for Silly.  Silly's four inch long legs are not well suited to 6 inch deep snow, so I've been busy shoveling trails for her, and I am rewarded by happy doggies!

My time of shoveling is rewarded with
waging tails...
And smiling dogs!

My favorite tracks- bird script
Deer track in front of Silly

Squirrel tracks going both directions

Deer bed with scat trail!

A really bad photo through the screen
of this year's fawn going to the bird feeders.
The snow came in about 3 storms over the last two weeks with the result being about 6 inches since some melted in a little rain.  I've experienced snow before; it does snow in Arizona.  The biggest different between AZ snow and CT snow is that in AZ the snow melts and in CT it stays below freezing for days.  It is weird for me to see the snow last for so long.  Also, since it snows a lot here, there are snow plows clearing the roads and everyone still goes to work and school.  In Arizona and Austin, Texas even a little snow shuts the roads down!  However, much to the regret of all the kids and teachers at the local elementary where I've been working, this weekend is bringing temperatures in the 50s and rain.  The result will be a muddy brown Christmas.  So, we have to enjoy the beautiful landscape while it lasts!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

FWS Feather Atlas

Feathers found in yard- Mourning Dove

Feather Atlas scanned image of Mourning dove feathers

Mourning Dove © Ken Schneider, December 2008

About a month ago, I found the Fish and Wildlife service Feather Atlas.  I have found this website to be a great resource in identifying feathers found out on the trail and in the yard.  It has great scanned images of flight feathers (both wing and tail) of most North American bird species as well as lots of good information about bird feathers like where the feather would go on the wing, and the names of the different kinds of feathers.  It is really fun to discover another clue of what birds are at home in our backyard.

I have found it very helpful to look through a field guide to get an idea of where to start based on size of bird/feather, color, and expected birds in the area.  Once you have an idea, you can browse scans for a specific bird species.  There is also a 'Search for Similar Feather Tool' (aka choose your own adventure tool) on the website.  This tool helps narrow down the list of options by allowing you to select by pattern and color.

Just so you know, it is actually illegal to keep wild bird feathers.  The Migratory Bird Act was passed in 1918 and protects birds, feathers, nests, and eggs.  It seems overkill, but at the time it was pasted several common birds including many herons were on the brink of becoming endangered and extinct for fashionable lady's hats.  Today this law still protects birds and their artifacts, but focuses primarily on keeping people from killing, selling, and trading birds and feathers.  Of course, if you find a feather and take it home to learn what bird left it, then you probably won't endanger being punished.  So, I don't keep lots of feathers in the house, just one or two that I pick up, identify, and then put it in the yard as an ornament.  They eventually go back to nature, but I get to enjoy it for a while, too.

Okay, here's a feather I found in the woods out back.   It's 13.5 cm long, and I think its a secondary wing feather.  When I first picked it up I thought Eastern Screech Owl, but after looking a the Screech Owl scans it is too big.  It's too small and the wrong pattern for our Barred Owl, so I've been looking at the Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and Northern Goshawk, but can't decide.  The pattern doesn't quite fit any, but it is a bit tattered and of course there is variation in nature.  Look over the scans and tell me what you think!

Mystery feather, 13 cm long

Cooper's Hawk


Red-shouldered Hawk
Eastern Screech Owl

Barred Owl

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snow Day

Yesterday, we got about 4 inches of snow and it is beautiful!  The dogs and I have been having fun out in the white stuff.  Silly's first reaction upon being released from the house into the snow was to try and not touch the stuff as it is both cold and wet; two of Silly's least favorite things.  However, after getting her little jacket on she's always ready to join the other dogs in exploring the fluffy yard.  Cici's main concern is that there are no sticks to be found for our tug-of-war and fetching games, but the snow hasn't slowed Cici's joyful bounding run around the house.  Cici and I tried to play fetch with a snowball; what a mean trick!  Antro is still hunts squirrels, chipmunks, and moles.  He's a true rat dog and like the US Postal Service neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness stops his desire to chase critters.  All the dogs were eager to join me as I started a new game, waving my arms and legs in a most unusual way while laying in the snow.  One dog attacked my arms, and another gave me excited licks with loud snorts in the face. We've had a fun time with our first blanket of snow.

Looking for Squirrels

Snow Beard!

Chilly Willy Silly!

The bird feeders have been extra busy with never less than a dozen birds.  I believe they appreciate the extra seed we've put out for them during the afternoons.  It takes a lot of energy and a lot of food to stay warm on days like today.  Jacob woke me up last night to hear a Great Horned Owl hooting out over the white landscape.  Perhaps, it was watching for rodent visitors to our bird feeders.  It was wonderful to hear another owl species in the quiet hours.  I just hope it doesn't scare the Barred Owls away since Great Horned Owls have been known to kill Barred Owls.  Deer also make their rounds by the feeders cleaning up any leftovers.  I've seen their muddy tracks in our yard, and today there were tracks in the snow.  I'm thankful for our warm house, hot food, good jackets, sweaters, socks, rubber boots, fuzzy hats, scarves, ... , and a big window to watch the snow fall and birds come and go from our couch with snuggle dogs.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hodge Podge

Today's post is a hodge podge of different thoughts since one big idea didn't rise to the surface.

Jacob at his PhD defense!
First of all it was Jacob's birthday this week.  Happy Birthday. my sweetie!  I'm so glad to share my life with you: the fun walks, birding trips, days at home, encouragement, and having you to lean on.   I love you!!!  I'm so proud of you for completing your PhD this year, and making everything work with our move to Connecticut.  Thank you for taking care of us.  Since, Jacob is in the deadline of a grant proposal at work, we had a quiet supper and watched Jacob's favorite show Psych.  

Taking a much deserved break after  the big move to Connecticut.
Watching for birds out the window.

Here are some fun pictures from the woods down the hill from the house.  The woods are beautiful, quiet, and filled with amazing trees.  There is a little brook that runs down to Mt Hope River, and since beavers have been doing their work the river is a peaceful place.

down stream Mt. Hope River

up stream

A large oak with half the tree missing. It's been this way a long time,
because there is no branch or even rotten branch on the ground.

You can see all the way up the heart of the tree
with light shining through the holes.

I added a Book Review Page to the blog's home page.  I've started with the latest book that I finished last week, Little Dorrit, and will review more books soon.  If you would like to contribute to the book reviews please email me your thoughts and I will post them.  The links to the pages are located on the top right hand corner of the main blog site.  In case you didn't know, there are also some other fun pages to check out including Things I've Created, My Favorite Field Guides, and Interesting Websites.   I do try to up date the pages once in a while so I would encourage you to check them out every few months!