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