Sunday, May 24, 2009

Learning the sounds of Bull River

We have a lot of wildlife in the area, and a lot of people that love that wildlife. So, when we heard what we thought was someone strangling a cat, several rather loud 'mreow' sounds, we had to go find out what the heck was going on. We took our beverages (it was happy hour) and went part way down the access road so we could see the 'townsite'. Nothing out of the ordinary was happening and the 'cat' was quiet. Figuring all was good in Bull River we went back to Dusty Acres, resumed our places on our 'Mayberry' porch, washed some more dust out of our throats and listened to the birds.

It seems maybe the birds have been having a bit too much happy hour cause they keep flying into the windows. Most of the windows have the wooden grills in them, and are a might dusty, so it is not as if there are these are sparkling clean windows that the birds can't see. Although I have known a person or two to walk smack into a sliding glass door so I shouldn't be so judgmental of these flighty birds.

This poor little one, a chipping sparrow, was recovering after a run in with a window. He was pretty dopey, but you will be happy to know he made a full recovery and flew away. But not before I stuck my camera in its cute little face. He looks annoyed, don't you think? Like his beak is a bit sore?

I got another sweet surprise when I was strolling around the yard making sure there wasn't anything that was unsafe for Jaina when she was ready to play outside. A rather large something started moving under the shrubs. Never even thinking it might be a skunk (which have frequented Dusty Acres in the past) I stuck my head down under the shrubs for a better look. You'll be happy to know, it was not a skunk, just a good sized bird that look kind of like a chicken. At first I thought it was maybe a young turkey, but after consultation with the Bull River experts I have since been discovered that it was a Blue Grouse. This rather docile bird strutted around in the shade underneath the Caragana bushes pretending that I wasn't crouched there not three feet away snapping photos.

We have spotted a few other birds hanging around the bird feeder. Like this beautiful American Goldfinch; the yellow on this bird is brilliant. A couple of Western Tanagers have been flying around, but no photos yet.

But back to that 'cat'. I really could not imagine anyone around here hurting an animal so we surmised it must be a bird of some sort. Out came our trusty bird book, Birds of the Rockies. There is a bird, called a Catbird, that makes a 'meow'' type sound. We started watching for this 'Catbird'. Quite elusive this cat bird, but we could still hear it every afternoon. Back to the local experts we went inquiring about the 'strangled cat' sound and could it possibly be a Catbird.

You got to love our neighbours, they just smile and chuckle when we start asking 'how' and 'what' questions. They are so nice. No, they told us, we are not strangling cats, but there is a Bull River resident that has some peacocks. Did you know that a peacock sounds like a stressed cat? I didn't.

But now I am really confused; I have been studying this bird book. According to this book, a Catbird makes a sound like a cat. So you would think that a Cowbird makes a 'Moo' sound. Apparently not. This birding stuff is pretty tricky.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Backyard Bully

It seems we have a backyard bully. And it is all Amanda's fault.

Two years ago Amanda ask
ed me the same thing she asks me every Christmas, Whadda ya want? Being the ever helpful mom that I am I picked out a few practical things from the Lee Valley catalogue that would make great gifts for our anticipated move to Bull River. Things like mosquito net hats, ice grippers for our hiking boots, walking sticks, hummingbird feeder, and a few other wonderful things. Amanda is a very kind, thoughtful young lady; she picked out the item she believed we would get the most enjoyment from. I could have really used those ice grippers last winter; I ended up on my keester more times than I can remember. Those mosquito net hats might come in handy this spring too. That walking stick would be useful to smack frisky bears on the nose when out hiking.

Ah, but Amanda chose the hummingbird feeder. She had no idea what one little hummingbird feeder was going to do to our peaceful Dusty Acres.

Gary finally pulled the 'make hummingbird feeder stand' from the job jar a week ago. It didn't take him long to find some left over rebar then bend and weld it into the proper shape (he can be quite creative, although some would call this frugal). I made up a nice sweet syrup, filled up the beautiful feeder and hung it just outside our dining room window. And waited. Nothing, no hummers.

It took a few
days, but those little hummers finally found the sweet stuff. Before I knew it the whole dang flock of hummingbirds was swooping and diving around the feeder. So the entertainment began. Then wouldn't you know it, they start to get territorial. The male hummingbird guards that feeder all day long, doing his best to chase away any intruders, bullying the hummers that try and sneak a snack.

After watching these little flying darts for a while I realized what they were doing. One or two females would fly close to the feeder, getting the bully to chase them around the front of the house, then half a dozen or so other female hummers would converge on the feeder and slurp back the syrup. Those females, so smart. They had no problem sharing the wealth of food.

Now I am trying to figure out how to resolve the bullying. Do I just let nature takes it course by leaving well enough alone, or do I get another feeder, set it a little ways away and see if they can't all get along and share the nectar. Or is that just going to make the problem worse. Such a dilema. They didn't cover this in conflict management 101.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lichen the small things

Most days I am conscientious and do my chores first and then go hiking. Yesterday, with the boss still away, I decided play first, work later. The rationale being I always take photos in the late afternoon light with sun lower in the western sky; now it's time to get some morning and early afternoon shots. So really this is an educational outing, not just play. Do you think the boss will buy that?
I left without a plan in mind, not sure where I was headed. I put my GPS on tracking mode so when I got back I could see where the heck I had been. My feet headed towards the Bull, again, first poking around on the south side for a bit, then over the bridge and heading east up the Bull. This area is such a magnet for me. I traipsed here and there, wandering through much of the same areas as before. Stopping and enjoying the sounds of the river and the birds.

I find myself looking down a lot, mostly cause I am a bit clutzy and need to see where my feet are going. But when I take photos I tend to focus on scenic types shots. Today though, not being in a hurry, worrying about fading light, I stopped and focused on the small things; like the wildflowers, rocks, lichen and sounds. Sounds are hard to capture in a photo so I tried for the other stuff.

There are many different types of moss and lichen here in the trees and on the ground. My experiment today was getting up close and personal with some of these small things, learning about depth of field, manual focus and my zoom lens. Some turned out, some no so much. But that's okay, it validates the learning portion of the excursion. Not getting it perfect today is a very good excuse for more practice, more hiking.

If you click on the photo of the lichen on the branch it will enlarge and the spiderweb on the branch will be visible!

Here is another example of a lichen, kind of like a net, covering the lower branches of a shrub. Oops, that's a hunter's blind I stumbled on along a animal track that I was following.

This purple wildflower, a violet I think, was tiny but in a field of rocks and shrubs, very pretty.

This branch just coming into bud had such nice colors. I'll have to go back and visit it when it is in full bloom.

My conscience was telling me I should save some energy for chores, so I headed in the general direction of home. By the time I arrived back at Dusty Acres my GPS showed that I had traveled a little more than 5.5 miles. I pulled off my boots and had just sat back with a drink cooling my heels when my neighbour showed up. 'Want to go for a walk?'

Whoo hoo, two hikes in one day! Chores could wait. Back on went the boots, grabbed the bear spray and off I went again. We headed 'up the hill' and did a 2.5 hour tour around, what the locals call, Crowsnest Lake through areas I had not been yet. A bit of bear scat around but we hoped the dogs (Yeller and Cinch) would spot any bears before they spotted us. Especially since out of the two of us, I would be the slow one, therefore, a hearty snack for some cranky, hungry momma bear. I'll have to borrow a dog and go back again, this time with my camera and GPS.