I just learned the answer to the burning question. How do muskrats eat in winter? It is the question that is keeping you up nights, I know. While I was at the Liberty Loop of the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge today, I saw a muskrat trot across the snow and burrow into a footprint. Very smart I thought, since there is a hard crusty layer of ice on top of the snow. I walked over to peer at the dark lump and all I saw was scuffed up grass and a tail. Being vegetarian, he had burrowed into the snow to get at the grass underneath.
Then, with his tummy full, he was off. “Home Again, Home Again, Riggity Jig.” He reminded me of Ratty from Wind in the Willows.
His little snow covered den looks cozy doesn’t it.
I am not sure if he is the bruiser or the bruisee, but either way, I have a Red-bellied Woodpecker hanging around the yard again. It seems to me that the sky always looks bluer (when it’s not gray, cloudy, snowing) in winter. To see other skies, check out Skywatch.
Filed under backyard, Photos
While I was down at the beach last weekend, I saw loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting amidst the low shrubs on the walk back from the jetty. The wind was blowing pretty fierce, so they would fly up but settle back down quickly. Mostly they were hanging around one type of shrub with small whitish berries. I shouted across to one of the other birders to ask what it was. The answer. Bayberry. Like the candles. Also know as Wax Myrtle. I pulled one off, scratched at the wax covering with my thumbnail and sniffed it. Piney smelling.
He told me that the reason Yellow-rumps can stay this far north in winter is because they eat bayberries. Hmmm. Yellow-rumped Warblers here used to be called Myrtle Warblers. Bayberry is also call Myrtle. I’m thinking, not a coincidence. I like that name better. It is prettier, poetic, with a colonial tang; but perhaps I am carried away by the spicey smell of the shrub.
There were loads and loads of Long-tailed Ducks on the water at Barnegat Light. A walk out onto the jetty produced close views of them in various stages of molt, a sure sign that spring is on the way, thank goodness. This duck looks completely different in the summer; with a black front and head and only a white face patch. This is the classic winter view.
To see other birds see what’s shakin’ at Bird Photography Weekly
Barnegat Light is the mecca in NJ for wintering diving ducks. Now, winter birding is a chilly business at best, but if you have ever been to the Jersey shore in January; you know it can be downright cold. Of course you would not be birding tucked in close to the shrubbery around the lighthouse, oh no, you are going to be in the bracing, scope-shaking wind out at the jetty. Walking out yesterday, the wind was at our backs, pushing us along. I had dressed for the occasion with my long down coat and furry hat with the ear flaps, so I was comfortable. But the longer we stood there, the stronger the wind got; pulling at my hat and tearing at my coat tails. I had my coat partially unzipped so I could stuff my camera inside to try and keep the battery warm, which did nothing for keeping me warm.
Looking through a scope from the safety of the sand, we could see Surf Scoters as they bobbed in the rough surf; a Red-throated Loon popped up and down; Black Scoters huddled beyond the breakwater; Great Cormorants winged past; both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers skimmed above the waves and there were flock after flock of Long-tailed Ducks. Sanderlings ran before the waves, Ruddy Turnstones balanced on algae-covered rocks; Dunlins took salty baths in shallow pools; and mixed in with all this activity, were the odd Black-bellied Plovers in winter wear and the sought-after Purple Sandpipers resplendent in charcoal with its orange bill and feet.
This was all fine and good, but I wanted to get out on the jetty. Clambering up onto the rocks; I hopped from boulder to boulder, occasionally backtracking when the space between the stones got a little too big to jump easily; while my birding buddies walked on the hard-packed sand. From this vantage point, I could get closer and look down on the birds as they worked the rocks. I had come with a few target birds in mind, the Purple Sandpiper being one, but my main focus was Harlequin Ducks. I could see them up ahead, but the further I got out on the jetty the further they seemed to be. Until I looked down and there they were.
He almost looks fake doesn’t he? They are so worth the 2 1/2 hour drive, the cold, and the wind. I’d go again tomorrow. Wanna come?
Drive along any back road in winter and you will flush birds up from the sides of the road where they are eating grit. Most often they are Juncos and Sparrows, but I always stop and look if I can, ever hopeful that there be something else in those mixed flocks. (I got my life Vesper Sparrow that way in Michigan.) On my last trip through the snowy countryside, I saw lots of small brown birds but as I crept up to them they would fly just a little further ahead or flush into the weeds. Finally I was able to ID White-throated, White-crowned, Song, Savannah, and Juncos picking along on both sides of the road. I truly am fond of Sparrows.
Since I am heading to Houston for a conference in mid-Feb; I’m thinking of going down a few days early to do a little birding. Do you have a favortite spot on the upper Texas Coast? I have been to Anahuac and plan on going there again. I might drive down to Attawater although I know I won’t see the Prairie Chickens. I know there are Red Cockaded Woodpeckers in the north somewhere. Any idea if they are around in winter and within driving distance of Houston? Any and all thoughts are welcome. Ah, warm weather, here I come.
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Filed under Photos, Travel
I was surprised to see 4 different Rough-legged Hawks at the Great Swamp (in the measly 1/2 hour I had to spend there) on Saturday. Curious to see if there were any at the Wallkill; I decided to take a run through the farm country in lower Orange county (NY) to see what was shakin’ before swinging by Oil City Road at sunset for the raptor show.
As I crawled along deserted snowy roads I found Rough-legged Hawks alright. I was delighted to find 1 sitting in a tree overlooking the sod farm on Skinner Road. Then pulling back onto Route 6, heading into Pine Island; I squeezed half off the road when I saw both light and dark morphs on successive telephone poles. While I sat there 2 more flew across the road to land in a copse of trees while 1 hovered over a field. That’s 5. 5 + 1 Holy Cow. I was on a roll. Now that I knew they used telephone poles like Red-tailed Hawks, I scanned every hawk on every pole as I headed toward Oil City Road. I found another 1 sitting on a pole beside a pole with a Red-tailed Hawk that provided a lovely comparison. Alas, there was no shoulder to pull off. Spotting a dead-end road not far ahead, I thought to park on the edge of that and hike back for the hawks. But as soon as I got out of the car, I glanced up and in the trees overhead was another Rough-legged Hawk. He took off winging his way across the road toward some distant trees where I spotted yet another dark morph. I shook my head, counting hawks on my fingers.
As I approached the Oil City Road parking lot, giddy from seeing all the arctic hawks, a Harrier flew across the road and the resident Red-tailed Hawk sat on a pole. I spent the next hour standing in deep snow watching Harriers (4 and 1 gray ghost), 4 more Rough-legged Hawks, and the local Tail as they went about the end of their day. The Rough-legged Hawks flew back and forth across the marsh occasionally stopping to hover in place. I did not see any of them actually get anything. Snow started to fall making visibility in the gathering dusk more and more difficult. I finally left, covered in snow, without seeing the owls.
All in all, I had 13 Rough-legged Hawks in both morphs, 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 4 Harriers and 1 Kestrel.
Is it me, or do there seem to be more Rough-legged Hawks around this winter?
♪ Found a peanut… ♪
♪ Found a peanut… ♪
♪ Found a peanut, just now… ♫
♪ I just now, found a peanut… ♫
♪ Found a peanut, just now. ♪
Heh, heh, ♪ Me too…. ♪
Hey! No fair. They are mine!!!! Grumble, grumble. Stupid squirrel peanut thief….
Do you know the “Found a Peanut” song? It is what I thought of while watching the Jays on this sunny but -10F morning. Stay warm my friends.
Filed under backyard, Photos
Can you guess what this is?
Not a footprint.
Nothing fell from the trees.
Not a squirrel butt mark.
I’ll give you a hint….
Think small, really small….
It is a chickadee snow bath wallow.
I looked out my window to see a Black-capped Chickadee taking a snow bath. By the time I dashed to the garage to get the camera out of the car and made it round the house; the Chickadee was long gone, but its tub was still there. Pretty cool, huh. Now that I know they do this, I’m on the lookout. I’d love to get it on video.
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