Tag Archives: birds

First Flowers of the COVID-19 Spring


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The first flowers to bloom early this March–the snowdrops I found when I raked the gardens.

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Early March morning sun at MMU campus.

Earlier this month came the snowdrops. The first blooms were actually hidden in my gardens under last year’s leaves. On March 9, I cleaned the gardens in back off, there the first flowers were.

Tulips and daffodils have been emerging slowly, pushing their leaves above the thawing ground. No flowers, yet, but the plants are getting taller.

It was a while after the snowdrops bloomed before the first crocus in my yard flowered. I saw some first at Mount Mercy University, and for days the buds in my gardens almost seemed to be mocking me—there, ready to bloom, but not opening.

Now, on sunny, cool March days, there are pockets of colorful flowers. Hyacinth are starting to bud. I have not seen bluebells yet, but they can’t be far away.

And it won’t be all that long until the daffodils and tulips kick in.

I am running low on bird seed. I stopped buying it early in March—which is usually when I taper off feeding. The open ground, the return of insects, the first signs of plant growth—birds will find other sources of food. Still, it has been a comfort seeing them—one of my sisters once called them “winter flowers,” and as this slow spring wakes and yawns and stretches towards the green world that is coming, I’ve enjoyed watching the little dinosaurs.

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COVID-19 has robbed us of a lot. I’m lucky—my job is relatively secure, so far (knock on wood) I and my family are healthy. I can work at home, even if I’m not all that good at it.

But as we hunker down in this winter of the virus, which seems likely to be with us for some time, seeing nature go through her rhythms and begin to come to life. I like the coming of the flowers every year, but somehow, they seem more important in this weird spring.

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Of Birds and That Darn Tree Rodent


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The feeder, put back together, filled with seed and hung. soon, I suppose, to be found by tree rats …

Over time, I’ve come to dislike squirrels. Not really hate them. But mildly dislike them.

Sure, they are cute. But they are basically tree rats, and they act the part. They dig in the garden with their nasty rat paws and eat the bulbs I plant for sprint flowers, for example. Granted, their digging is pretty minor—I would much rather watch a dozen squirrels in the backyard than see one rabbits.

Rabbits are evil.

Still, squirrels are like little raccoons. They are agile, aggressive and have little nasty hands that they can use, along with their rodent teeth, to wreak havoc.

Oh well. I do admit that I enjoy watching “chippy” enough that most of the time I’m willing to leave the tree rats unmolested. Besides, they are a good food source for owls, hawks and eagles.

But I wish they would leave my bird feeders alone.

Yes, I know, they are hungry wild things, too, and there are no property rights in the backyard. Whatever animal gets there first gets the food. But birds, messy as they get, just eat the seeds.

Squirrels disassemble.

Case in point—the current bird feeders I use. I’ve experimented over the years with several different kinds. Plastic ones are a thing of the past, as rodent dentation beats dead dinosaur compounds. (Is there some new version of paper-scissors-rock there? Plastic, squirrel teeth—what?). I have wasted my earthly treasures on fancy metal “squirrel proof” feeders with spring-loaded features that are supposed to allow small dinosaurs in while denying entry to arboreal mammals.

The squirrels don’t care about the springs and pried the lids off of those feeders.

So now I have two feeders. Neither is “squirrel proof” in the sense that tree rats can’t eat from them, but both are of durable metal construction and at least aren’t chewed up by those rodents.

Then, some big, tough mamma squirrel appeared this winter. I don’t know for sure if she is “she,” she just looks like a mean mama to me. She’s large, she’s mostly indifferent to naked apes and she is amazingly dexterous.

Late in December 2016, I found some parts of my red metal feeder, one of two seed feeders I use along with two suet feeder “cages” that I have to wire shut, on the ground. The pieces of that feeder are held together by basically a big wing nut that holds the metal hoop by which I hang the feeder.

Someone or something had unscrewed that lid and emptied the feeder—plus it (or she, as I think of her—am I feeling a bit oppressed as the only boy in a family of seven?) had unscrewed and disposed of or lost the top of the feeder.

I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to searching for that smaller piece In fact, I shouldn’t be writing this blog post right now, as I have work to do. But I looked for that top every time I filled the other feeder.

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Birds. I waited in the lower yard for about three minutes on Sunday, and this crowd quickly showed up. This is my other seed feeder, which has not been taken apart.

Then, just by accident this weekend, I found the missing feeder top in the yard. The good news is that the metal construction of the feeder proved durable. While completely taken apart by, I presume, a vandal tree she Hun (there, I’ve accused her of being a simultaneous member of two different barbarian tribes—I like her that much), the parts of the feeder were fine.

I filled it again with seed. And I screwed the lid on extra tight this time. It may take her a few days to undo my work.

But she probably will.

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Plant Porn, Owl Wars and Other Signs


Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Spring is here! Well, not really. It’s only Feb. 8.

But unlike last year, when February was a bitter month followed by a second bitter month, this year’s February seems a bit more normal. Still winter, to be sure, but not as deep in winter as January—it’s not that odd to see some first signs that spring is coming as the weather turns lighter and the sun gains altitude.

Now, I will concede before I go further that February definitely means winter in Iowa. Frankly, March is usually more a winter than a spring month, in this climate. But things change in February.

Consider:

The war of the eagles and owls. The Gazette today reported, although I could not find a link on their site, a story about this topic, the war between the famous Decorah eagles and a pair of great horned owls, who are trying to horn in on the eagle’s nest. Owls, it seems, are very mean beasts, and even though the eagles are much larger, the owls can put up quite a fight. It appears the nest will go to the mom that lays the first egg. Lots of people want to cheer for the eagles: “Push it out, push it out, waaaay out!” Me, I do like mom and dad eagle, but recognize I’m showing some anthropomorphism. The biologists are right. Let nature takes its course. It’s a tough life out there for dinosaurs.

The way in which 10 inches of snow is finally receding. Streams are running with water now. We had temperatures in the upper 30s or even, gasp, low 40s in recent days, and the snow pack is looking tired. We’re still socked in with snow—which honestly is a good thing because without it the ground could warm up too early. We don’t want little green things trying to sprout now. But even though there will still be bone chilling cold this season, and more snow, we’re at the point where cold snaps should be a bit shorter and sunny days in the 40s a bit more common. A normal February feels long just because it’s at the end of our cold, dead season—it’s not usually another January, and it feels a bit more normal this year.

How the urge to plant is taking hold. Several seed and plant catalogs, what I call “plant porn,” have arrived. I’m seeing tempting seeds packages in stores and thinking of starting flowers for spring gardens, but trying to hold myself back (I have a terrible track record with starting flowers indoors, it’s just not a good idea for me). My desires this year are pretty typical—I want toad lilies and irises, but don’t have much luck with those plants. Anyway, I’m hoping some monarch butterfly flowers, aka milkweed, put in an appearance in my gardens. I’m been planting free seeds gleaned from wild plants, but we’ll see. Maybe my wife will let me order a few plants. She’s almost as crazy for gardens as I am.

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up--but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. "Hey pinky," he seems to be saying, "you looking for me?"

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up–but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. “Hey pinky,” he seems to be saying, “you looking for me?”

And the birds are getting craaaaazy. Squawking, fighting, carrying on—on a warmish sunny day you hear them a lot more now. They know in their little dinosaur brains another season is coming and they want to marry, make eggs and raise babies. It’s not just the eagles and owls getting a bit nuts—it seems like the birds that visit my feeders these days are in a hurry, distracted, thinking about something.

Spring. Has to be.

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Iowa Winter Weather: Warm, Snowy, Cloudy, Sunny


Bird in lilac bush outside my office window.

Bird in lilac bush outside my office window.

In the past 24 hours, the weather in Iowa has shown its impetuous side.

Yesterday was so warm and sunny that we spent more than an hour in the afternoon at a park playing with grandchildren.

First photo of Jay. Not the last.

First photo of Jay. Not the last.

This morning started on the warm side, for Iowa winter, with a sort of sleety snow falling. As the morning wore on, the temperature dropped a bit, and so did the snow. In the end, we maybe got an inch or so, and now (about 2 p.m.) the sky is trying to clear and a thin layer of clouds seems like a lampshade.

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Say hey to the Jay.

While it has turned colder, the weather is not really cold. It’s 33 degrees outside at 2 in the afternoon, and as soon as I’m done writing this post, I’ll scrape the snow so that it can finish melting off the walks.

I thought that when the snow fell, it would end my biking for this week, but now I’m not so sure. If we get a sunny afternoon, the streets may be in better shape tomorrow than I would have expected. We’ll see.

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Cardinal keeps and eye on feeder action. I think he is sitting in Magnolia bush.

Anyway, on the way home from our morning exercise in the gym, my wife and I stopped at Hy-Vee Drugstore to buy some white bread for French toast, and also some birdseed. When I filled the birdfeeders, there was almost a frenzy, with birds mobbing the feeders. I saw several male and female cardinals, a pair of blue jays, many other smaller birds and some squirrels.

Nice looking bird on feeder hung in Tulip Tree.

Nice looking bird on feeder hung in Tulip Tree.

Despite the changes in the weather, it’s not too cold. It has been a nice winter and this particular snow is not too obnoxious. We’ll take it.

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I like how you can see snow is falling in his photo. Another bird in lilac bush.

My wife got a bit tired today of my constant “bird updates.” But, what do you think? I enjoyed watching and photographing my many visitors today. Now? Time to go shovel some snow.

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The New Bird Food Visitors


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I got some additional kinds of foods for my feathered friends recently—a suet block and some black seeds—just for a bit of variety.

And I was rewarded this morning, with some nice visitors to my feeders.

Well, the “winter flowers,” as my oldest sister calls them, are nice to see. And only 6 weeks or so until we may start to see the first signs of spring flowers. Knock on wood.

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Early Thanksgiving for Dinosaurs


Blue Jay on nut tray on deck.

Blue Jay on nut tray on deck.

Thanksgiving arrived a day early for dinosaurs on our deck today.

I suppose that it’s not really a holiday most dinosaurs celebrate all that much, given that one of their species is generally featured on the menu (three of their kind if you’re into the whole “turducken” menu).

But at our house, the approaching holiday required more room in our pantry, so my wife went on a find-and-dispose spree of old foods there earlier this week. Slightly stale nuts (probably from the holiday season last year, we can hope, because otherwise we’re talking previous years) and less-then-crisp crackers were all placed on a festive platter and put on our deck.

The birds that came seemed aware of my presence—they knew they were watched as I lay on the kitchen floor with my camera. They were quick and furtive. It was definitely a grab-and-go dinosaur café. My youngest son and I had some business to attend to at a credit union this morning, so I missed the first shift of avian visitors—my wife said that our cardinal pair (we have a cardinal couple who spend a fair amount of time in our yard and I think nest in our bushes) were among the first holiday celebrators.

Sideways on the deck.

Sideways on the deck.

Well, even if I missed the cardinals, I did see the blue jay, which was nice, and I saw an assortment of other birds.

We’ve not yet set up our winter bird feeders, which we need to do soon just because we’re having a white Thanksgiving this year—winter has arrived early in Iowa.

Takeoff.

Takeoff.

Still, we did have the old pantry offerings to put on the deck today, which, as you can see, the birds gobbled up.

I shot around 500 pictures trying to get some good images—in particular, I was hoping from some of the birds in flight. I got just a few.

I hope you enjoy the results.

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Late Summer Visitors During An Early Fall


Resting on a dead crab apple tree--the flashy green of a male hummingbird, just getting ready to take off.

Resting on a dead crab apple tree–the flashy green of a male hummingbird, just getting ready to take off.

It felt like fall for part of the first half of September, but now that we are starting the second half, it’s warming up again.

Probably not really summer warm, though.

Still, as I was getting dressed this morning, my preparation for work was temporarily delayed and I ran to grab my camera and shoot these images out of my bathroom window. They are not as clear as they could be for several reasons, including low morning light (it was just after 7) and shooting through a screen.

I think this is the female half of the pair--more brown than green. They did visit together, but I didn't get lucky enough to capture a photo of the two at the same time.

I think this is the female half of the pair–more brown than green, although it’s not easy to see from this side. They did visit together, but I didn’t get lucky enough to capture a photo of the two at the same time.

But a pair of hummingbirds, a male and a female, were visiting the feeders in my backyard.

They should leave soon. Hummingbirds migrate south, following the blooming flowers that are their food. The sites I consulted say that feeders such as mine don’t change the timing of that migration, which should occur soon.

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It looks like it’s sitting on the post, but I think she is hovering on the other side–note the beating wings barely visible.

Before they left, I’m glad to have caught them. I’ve seen hummingbirds now and then this summer, and I’ve been aware that something is drinking from the feeders. I’m glad to have proof that at least some of this food is going to its intended recipients!

Thanks for one of the final sights of summer, hummingbirds.

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Posing. Don’t often catch a hummingbird just sitting there.

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The First Weekend Of Spring In Pictures


Blackbird at Cedar Lake

Blackbird in bush by Cedar Lake at sunset. The bird was angry with me for being there, but I still felt that his temper tantrum made it feel like spring. April 6, 2014.

OK, it’s not really the first weekend of spring, no matter how you measure “spring.” The equinox was way last month, and March is usually a chilly, early spring month in this climate.

It wasn’t this year. March is the traditional transition time, it’s supposed to enter as winter (come in like a lion) and exit spring (out like a lamb). This year, it came in as a polar bear with January-like zero lows, and exited as a slightly less cold, but still chilly, polar bear.

But by Saturday April 5 the world here felt very different. My oldest granddaughter had her party for turning 6, and is obsessed with “Frozen,” so my wife found her dolls of the two main characters. Despite that, the world felt far less frozen, finally, this weekend.

Some signs that spring is here include:

Flowers in bloom. No snowdrops, which is sad because I like those pretty little white flowers that usually grace my garden before the first crocus, and many crocus have yet to be sighted—but in the warmest garden on the south side of the house, the first purple flowers burst into bloom Saturday.

Crocus in bloom

Crocus in warm garden on south side of house–first flowers I have. They even beat the big old maple tree, which is spitting a lot of sap but has not quite bloomed yet.

The untimely arrival of the Easter Bunny. It’s still Lent, but a local greenhouse jumped the gun a bit with its annual Easter-themed “bunny trail” tour, and we took some grand-kids.

Easter Bunny

Granddaughter and wife with Mr. E. Bunny. Or possibly Ms. Bunny. Hard to say.

Changing of the guard at Cedar Lake. The eagles departed—I hope you’ve been seeing some clips from the Decorah eagle cam, where the spring news has been surprisingly good, with two eaglets hatched—but pelicans have moved in. The cries of many kinds of birds can be heard on lazy spring bike rides around the lake.

Pelican and other birds.

Pelican among other birds on Cedar Lake, April 6, 2014.

Backyard play. There was a lot of digging in the sandbox, attempts at hula hoops, swinging and ball tossing this Saturday.

Boy tosses ball.

Grandson tosses football into the air. Backyard spring training is underway.

Ducks on street corners. I shot this image Friday, where the mallards had been swimming in this corner puddle until I reached for my camera and they retreated to the nearby lawn.

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Ducks inspect street puddle in Kenwood neighborhood in Cedar Rapids April 4. The female had been swimming in it when I stopped to take their photo. I think they look embarrassed.

Well, there you have it. The green tinge you’ve been noticing in grass is not a mirage. Our maple tree in back has been spitting sap like crazy. We may yet see snow—snow in April is pretty normal in Iowa—but the new season, even if it took it’s time getting here, is finally underway. More spring photos from Cedar Rapids on Flickr.

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Walking With Eagles Near Cedar Lake


Eagle in the late afternoon sky over Cedar Lake, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Feb. 21, 2014.

Eagle in the late afternoon sky over Cedar Lake, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Feb. 21, 2014.

Earlier this week, on Wednesday, as I noted on my biking blog, I rode my bicycle down to Cedar Lake.

As it turned out, many eagles were congregating, along with other birds, at open water where a creek runs into the lake. Today was breezy and cool in Iowa, but I still suggested to my wife as we left work at Mount Mercy University late in the afternoon that we could stroll on the trail by the lake.

She wasn’t hot on the idea. She doesn’t like cold. But, she agreed, if we could go home first so she could put on warmer clothes.

It was probably getting close to 5 by the time we made it to the little city park on the east shore of the lake. The eagle-used water was several hundred yards away—maybe a ¼ mile hike or so to the north end of the lake.

We started walking. “I don’t see any eagles,” my wife observed.

Me, I was more confident. I am more used to watching eagles lately, and spotted across the lake the telltale white heads and tails on some of the birds flying over the lake. As we began to get closer to the north end, we spotted a tall old cottonwood nearby on the shores of the lake. The tree had four or five bald eagles sitting in it.

Eagle in a tree by the lake.

Eagle in a tree by the lake.

Most of them took to the air as we neared, but not all of them. Some of the eagles allowed us to get quite close to the tree in which they roosted.

For a while, the chill was forgotten. I’ve seen eagles up close recently, but I don’t think my wife has. The first time you do get close to bald eagles, if it’s been a while, it’s startling how huge these birds, which look like normal bird-sized creatures at a distance, are. The adults stand about 3 feet tall, with wing spans that top 6 feet. Although they can call, they are usually silent, and just look totally made up—leaping powerfully, but quietly, into the air.

They call, now and then, an odd, high call, but are relatively quiet compared to the crows, ducks, geese and crows with whom they share this patch of open water.

Another mature couple passed us, headed the other way. “Who needs to go to Guttenberg?” the man asked, naming an Iowa Mississippi River town famed for eagle viewing.

After the couple had passed, my wife noted that clearly we were on an old person date. That was fine with me.

After hanging around for a bit, and after I snapped a few photos, we headed back to the van and off to a restaurant to finish our old person date with a restaurant feast.

Pair of eagles eye us as we pass.

Pair of eagles eye us as we pass.

The wife noted that our grandchildren would really enjoy seeing these birds. I think so, too—although it would require a warmer afternoon. When the weather gets really nice, the eagles will fly away—but perhaps there will be a warm weekend in March where the ice on the rivers hasn’t yet broken up and the eagles are still in town. Then it will be nice to bring the kids to the lake.

If you have not been down to Cedar Lake for a walk on any of these winter afternoons, you should go. The trail is cleared of snow. It’s fun to go just to watch the geese and ducks.

Looking back from the east, setting sun turns Cedar Lake golden.

Looking back from the east, setting sun turns Cedar Lake golden.

But it’s super cool to see the eagles.

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Christmas 2013–Projectiles of Love


Red-bellied woodpecker brings some Christmas colors to my back deck Dec. 25, 2013.

Red-bellied woodpecker brings some Christmas colors to my back deck Dec. 25, 2013.

A fierce gunfight has been raging for some minutes in my living room, with my wife and youngest son Ben as participants. We’ve wondered if the neighbors could have heard recent dialogue:

“You’re lying on my gun. Quit lying on my gun!”

“You’re lying on your own gun. It’s your own fault you can’t shoot.”

It’s probably helpful to note that these are Nerf guns. And raging mother-son gunfights are one of the themes of Christmas 2013.

This was also the Christmas that Nina introduced us to record bowls—decorative bowls made my warming an old vinyl album and reshaping it. Nina asked me to pick up a couple of $1 albums at Half-Price Books, so I sacrificed Rod Stewart. It’s the equivalent of picking which albums to toss at zombies. The bowls look pretty cool. From her blog, here’s how to make them.

And this was the Christmas where we’ve enjoyed multiple birds at our feeders. It’s been colder earlier than usual, and we have about a foot of snow on the ground, but at least that means we get to see more birds (and squirrels) visiting us for food.

During the holiday season, both Ben and I have used the family Santa suit, which adds a bit to the festivities.

Santasaurus! If you're bad, you'll be lucky if he tells Santa. Otherwise, he will eat you.

Santasaurus! If you’re bad, you’ll be lucky if he tells Santa. Otherwise, he will eat you.

Finally, this is the season that Amanda, through Facebook, has introduced us to Santasaurus. It’s a T Rex in Christmas garb who has been hanging out with her girls in Norwich, England, this season. Is it bad that her 3-year-old is particularly smitten with this jolly old carnivore? I think he makes Elf on the Shelf look like a helpless wimp.

And the Christmas season hasn’t ended, yet. We still have the New Year’s Day 2014 brunch at Cate’s. And I have the Epiphany Concert Jan. 5 at St. Pius X.

Ho, ho, ho!

NOTE: As Amanda points out in a comment, it’s her 2-year-old who loves Santasaurus. And it’s also SANTASAURUS!

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