Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

My two nieces, Sarah and Alyssa, live in Munich, Germany. Halloween is a little new for them, so Matty thought they would like to see some of our Halloween decorations. Hallo Sarah and Alyssa! Here is how we decorate for Halloween...and of course, what would Halloween be without Bip, the Best Halloween Cat Ever!

Cornish Rex cat. He looks scary, but he is so sweet!
Bip, our Cornish Rex Cat.


Bip the Halloween Cat is such a ham for the camera...

That was inside, now for a little outside. These are our pumpkins from last year on Halloween Night! They look scary, but they are just hollowed out pumpkins with candles inside. So much fun to do! We are going to hollow out and cut our pumpkins this afternoon for tonight--Halloween!

This Jack-O-Lantern is on our front porch. We had fun carving him out, and went for a classic pumpkin face!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The new "hamster" ball feeder strikes again! (in between coughing and sleeping) I looked out the window to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch take a seed from the feeder. At first I thought I was mistaken, but he returned about 30 seconds later. We've lived in our home for ten years, and we've never had a Red-breasted Nuthatch in our yard before--that feeder is good!

I never thought a Red-breasted Nuthatch would show up in our yard, so I was really happy when I saw him fly up to the feeder! Two new yard birds in less than two weeks...

He would fly to the hanging planter and check out the hamster ball....

...then pop up to the rod for another look...

...then he would nab a seed and be gone. He has to be one of the flightiest birds I've seen at the feeder. He would take his seed and fly to the half-dead willow tree to hatch it out.

These aren't the best photos, but as record shots, they work. Yesterday, I spotted our first Dark-eyed Junco for the year (Rick and I always have a contest...I won this year!!), and the day before, our first White-crowned Sparrow flew in too. Our winter visitors are arriving!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Red-bellied Woodpecker on our new round feeder ball...

This is the best new feeder ever! Within days of hanging it, the chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers had become regulars. The Blue Jays haven't been able to use it, which makes me think the Starlings might not be able to either. So far, none have shown up.

Such a beautiful's a lot of fun to watch him swoop in, hang upside down, and then "drop" and fly to the big Ash tree to eat or stash his food.

I've hung it from a rod off the deck, so the ball is about 10 feet from the living room window...perfect viewing. This is the only feeder that has ever lured the Red-bellied so close to the house (on a regular basis).

When I saw this in the store, I assumed the people who made hamster exercise balls were venturing out into bird feeders. It was so cute, I had to give it a try! Thanks, Mary for carrying such a cool feeder at your store!

I always love seeing that blush of red on his belly. From a distance, you can barely see it, up close it's like someone ran a paintbrush loaded with Merlot over those feathers!

If you're in Cincinnati, and you're looking for the "Hamster" feeder, head over to the Wild Bird Center of Mason in the Deerfield Towne Center. Mary will fix you up!

(The Wrath of the Swine comes and goes. I did a lot of sleeping today again. Thank goodness for Tylenol and Advil...)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Watching those antenna

I enjoyed the time I spent watching this grasshopper on an afternoon in August. He was very active, but most active were his antenna. They were constantly moving....down, middle, up. Antenna do so much, no wonder he never stopped moving them. Antenna can sense odor, humidity, vibration, wind velocity and direction (found on this site). We're not positive, but we think this guy looks a lot like a Red-legged Locust (Melanoplus femur-rubrum)--also know as a Red-legged Grasshopper.

Here they are down.....touching the flower head.

...then they started moving up.

...all the way up. It was fun to watch him eat (I think that's what he was doing). Can you see how his front leg is putting something in his mouth. He did this over and over. I assume he was grabbing part of the flower to eat. I don't know, though, and I didn't have the energy to research. I'll look into that later. He also would use his front leg to run over his antenna--like a kitty running his paw over his ear! It was very interesting to watch... they are down! Does anyone know what those little red things are? He (or she) had them on both sides.
Thanks, Steve for letting me know the red things are mites. In Steve's own words: "There are several species of mites that can be found on grasshoppers. Some are actually parasites and others are just hitching a ride to a new location."

...back up!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Beauty and Geometry of the Grasshopper

While studying a grasshopper in late August at VOA park, I was amazed at his (or her) beauty. I don't know much about grasshoppers, but I learned to appreciate their beauty and perfect geometry that afternoon.

As I was studying the herringbone pattern on this Red-legged Grasshopper's back leg, I couldn't help but feel a sense of geometry. Parallel lines in the segmented abdomen added to the geometric feel--even the wings when folded together formed a triangle.

...moving to the head, his or her compound eyes are made of hundreds of hexagonal facets, and the segmented antenna contain more parallel lines.

...even in the center of his face, three ocelli form a perfect triangle (the ocelli are simple eyes that detect light intensity and may help flying insects find sea level for flight stability). Perfectly made, the insect really opened my eyes to the symmetry and geometry that usually went unnoticed around me.

On The Grasshopper And Cricket
By John Keats

The poetry of earth is never dead:

When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,

And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run

From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead:

That is the grasshopper's -- he takes the lead

In summer luxury, -- he has never done

With his delights, for when tired out with fun,

He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.

The poetry of earth is ceasing never:

On a lone winter evening, when the frost

Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills

The Cricket's song, in warmth increasing ever,

And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,

The Grasshopper's among some grassy hills.
December 30, 1816

October 21, 1906 Gowan Bank, Olton, Warwickshire

One of my favorite nature books is "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady," by Edith Holden (a facsimile reproduction of a naturalist’s diary from the year 1906). Every now and then I pop open the book to see if she had an entry for that day so many years ago. Here is her entry for today in 1906:
"The last of our summer visitants has taken his departure. About a fortnight ago a Chiff-chaff was constantly to be seen hopping about the Goose-berry bushes in the garden; --the last to leave us, he is usually the first to arrive. But the Tom-tits are returning in great numbers to their old haunts in the garden, which they have deserted during the summer. They flutter about the wall and the windows of the house, I believe with a secret hope of finding a cocoa-nut waiting for them.
Large flocks of Starlings, Sparrows and Finches are securing the stubble and grass fields now, they will soon be joined by the Redwings and Fieldfares. We have had another week of warm, rainy weather."
It's fun to peer into her world and read about her love of birds and nature. I don't know why, but I like knowing that so many years ago another person loved birds and nature so much she also wanted to write about them daily. A talented artist, she captured what she saw in beautiful watercolors I admire.

...and because of all of the wonderful British bird blogs I read, I know what Yellowhammers are (and Chiff-chaffs...Tom-tits...and Redwings...), so now I appreciate her book even more.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Great Pumpkin could live in this pumpkin patch...

Not this weekend, but the weekend before, we went to the pumpkin patch to pick out our Halloween pumpkins. Matty and Maria had a blast combing through the fields looking for the perfect pumpkins.

The weather was perfect. Extra large sweatshirts were all we needed to keep warm. (I love this is so much fun to tromp through a farm field loaded with pumpkins.)

I've never used the "Filter" option in Photoshop, but I decided to try it out. I arted this pumpkin up with the Poster Edge!

This pumpkin has been plasticized with the Plastic Wrap filter. Pretty nifty...

If the Great Pumpkin is going to rise up out of any pumpkin patch on Halloween night, Schappacher Farm might just be the one!

...enjoying the sunshine and all the sights and sounds of the farm.

...even Bip gets a pumpkin at our house. Matty took a good deal of time finding the perfect pumpkin for our cat, Bip--not too big, not too little!

P.S. Late this afternoon, Rick was looking out our bedroom window when he spotted two titimice playing in the plum tree. When I came over to look, I saw a first-year male Blackburnian Warbler in the pine tree--only 2-3 feet from our window!!!! ...a first for our yard. He was gorgeous...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Finally...a Photo of a Belted Kingfisher on the Little Miami River

Almost every time I walk the Little Miami trail, I hear the strident, rattling calls of the resident Belted Kingfisher. Sometimes I even catch glimpses of him through the trees as he wings it down the river screaming at some unknown terror, but I never get to see him up close. Two weeks ago, however, my luck changed. Instead of packing for the Ann Arbor trip, I snuck over to the Little Miami trail for a quick bit of birding. It was the first cool-ish day of the season, and at 57 degrees, the slight nip had brought a lot of people out on the trail for a taste of Autumn weather. After about five minutes of unusually high foot and bike traffic…and very few birds, I decided to take it to the river and found a small deer trail that led through the brushy undergrowth to the river below. Just as I made it to the rocks at the bottom, I looked up to see a Belted Kingfisher heading my way! I froze, and watched him land on a branch about 30-40 feet above me. Trying to move slowly and lift the camera at the same time, I studied him as he studied the water, looking for movement that might end up as his dinner!

Look at that spiky head! I LOVE that unkempt, oily looking crest!
Then there's the huge head...long bill...short tail...and tiny feet--put it all together, and you've got a really big, crazy-sounding hummingbird (until, of course, you remember it dives headfirst into the water and eats fish--still...).

This is the male. The female is more colorful with a rust-colored belt around her upper belly that shows down her sides as well.

Bullet bird!

Our Belted Kingfisher sat on a low-hanging branch for about three minutes, waiting patiently before he dove headfirst into the water and came up with a fish!

...flying back to the perch over my head, he rested for a second before taking off down the river. I watched him fly out of sight, listening to his calls fade away slowly. About 15 minutes later he came back, but he never returned to my side of the river and always stayed at least 150 or so yards away.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Waterloo Recreation Area

...continued from the Ann Arbor posts.
With only an hour in between hockey games, I didn't have much time to look for birds, but I hit the road anyway. According to Jill the GPS Girl I was only 12 minutes away from Waterloo Recreation Area, so I thought I'd check it out. I'm glad I did. The place is huge (20,000+ acres)...and gorgeous! Jill led me to the Waterloo Headquarters easily enough, and after parking, I walked up to the large trail map posted outside the building. A trail picked up right off the parking area and looked like a perfect place to begin--until I saw a sign mentioning that "this trail goes through hunting areas." ----"Yikes!" Needless to say, since I was not wearing orange, I high-tailed it out of there and admonished Jill for taking me into the danger zone, recommending she did a little "recalculating..." of her own! Going the opposite direction fast, I followed the signs to the Eddy Discovery Center, happy to see lots of "No Hunting" signs posted along the way. The Discovery Center was closed, but the trails around it were beautiful, and I couldn't resist starting down the Hickory Hills Nature Trail. soon as I stepped on the trail, a family of Black-capped Chickadees started calling all around me. Their call was sweet and noticeably different from our Carolina Chickadees, and as they sang their song, I could hear the differences there also. They were larger than our Carolinas (the tails especially seemed longer), and they had more white on the wings. Both Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees are reported to live in Cincinnati, but I've only seen Carolina Chickadees around our house.

Leaves were still mostly green, but here and there you could see chlorophyll production had stopped, draining the green from the leaves and letting the yellow, orange and red pigments of autumn show through.

The forest floor at the trail's edge was dark, stained even darker by the rain, highlighting the chartreuse green leaves of saplings.

...did you notice the name of the last trail? It caught my attention quickly! After seeing the spectacular array of birds at the Pinckney Island NWR this summer, anything with Pinckney in it had to be good. :-)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Autumn Rain in Ann Arbor

Bundled in a long-sleeve t-shirt, a sweatshirt, a fleece, and a plastic Audubon raincoat I keep stashed in my car, I was completely warm and dry as I walked through Nichols Arboretum on the University of Michigan campus last Saturday morning. I also was carrying a large golf umbrella to protect the camera (who cares if I get wet...just keep the Nikon dry!), and the sound of the raindrops plopping on the umbrella fabric was lovely. Also lovely...the chirping and chipping coming from a newly arrived flock of White-throated Sparrows--my first of the season! They still have not made an appearance at our house down in Cincy, but they should be here soon. Walking through the "Arb" in a gentle rain is wonderful and offers a sweetness you probably can't find when the sun is out.