Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More Snowy Feeder Scenes

Carolina wrens don't do well in winters that have long cold spells and lots of snow and ice.

"The recent unpleasantness" is how many Southerners would refer to The Civil War in the decades following the war's end. Unpleasant is a word that thoroughly applies to our winter thus far in southeastern Ohio. We've had several tenacious snows, a smattering of ice storms, and enough "snow days" off school to make us feel like we're home schooling our kids.

One of the few benefits of the harsh winter weather is that it keeps the feeders hopping, as long as we keep them full. We get visits from most of our backyard birds.

A nice three-fer: Eastern bluebird, tufted titmouse, dark-eyed junco.

The flying pigs attack! European starlings gobble up the suet dough.

The bluebirds often pose for their portrait between feeding bouts.

An over-wintering field sparrow has become a suet dough regular.

This winter reminds me of the winters of 1977 and 1978 when we had lots of snow and ice that stuck around. As a high-school-aged bird watcher, I remember those winters for their evening grosbeaks and common redpolls that came to my parents' feeders. And I remember those years as killing off most of SE Ohio's eastern screech-owls and Carolina wrens. I'm hoping this winter does not do the same.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Then Came the Snow

This male bluebird has some scapular feathers that are always out of place. We call him "Shoulders."

After the ice storm on January 27, we had a series of snowstorms. Fortunately the cold temperatures meant the snow was light and drifty. A wet and weighty snow would have meant much more damage to trees and more downed powerlines. As it was, the ice had already knocked out our power—we'd be out a total of three days—and canceled a week's worth of school for the kids.

Here are a few more images from the snowy aftermath of the ice storm.
Everyone's home was covered in ice and snow.

Even the clip art bird on our Birding Area sign looked cold.

Fluffed up against the cold wind, a female bluebird stares me down. The feeders needed a refill.

When horrible weather sets in, we let our guard down and permit even the hoggish European starlings to get a meal.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Ice Storm Cometh

A tree sparrow waits for the feeders to be refilled the morning after our ice storm.

On the night of January 27, 2009, southeastern Ohio (and parts of the surrounding states) was blanketed with a horrible ice storm. Freezing rain—not snow—fell, despite temperatures in the low 20's and every single exposed surface was encased in ice.

Throughout the night we heard repeated cracking and crashing noises as trees gave way under the weight of the ice. We dreaded waking up to see what the world would look like after the ice storm.

This has been a hard winter, as our winters go. Lots of cold temperatures for days and weeks at a time. Snow that sticks around well past its welcome. This has resulted in many snow days for the kids and quite a few power outages.

We can cope fairly well with the power outages. And we can make fun out of the challenges of no power and no vehicular mobility. But I always worry about the birds and animals which have no heated shelter.

Here are some of the images that greeted us around the farm the morning after the ice storm.

Our ancient pear tree completely iced. The sunlight glints off its clear shell of frozen water.

Martin gourds where our eastern bluebirds roost on cold winter nights.

A forsythia twig, dead flower stems preserved in ice.

The rain came down and froze immediately onto whatever it struck.

Frozen tears on the weeping willow.

White-tailed deer were standing up on their hind legs and pawing at the heavy sumac fruit clusters, desperate for access to any food.

We put out extra food for the birds, deer, squirrels, rabbits, and anyone else in protected spots around the yard. Needless to say we had to replenish these feeding areas several times during the day.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Snowed In

On Tuesday morning, January 27, 2009, I was in Titusville, Florida enjoying this sunrise.

By 2:25 pm that same day I was landing in Akron, Ohio, which looked like this from the air.

We picked up the kids in town, drove back out to the farm and hunkered down, the dire weather warnings ringing in our ears. The power went of about 6 am Wednesday morning, as we knew it would. We awoke to an icy winter landscape.

There would be no school Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. This will mean the kids will be in classes until Labor Day weekend next fall. Oh well.

No electricity meant no computer, no TV, no radio, no house-wide heat, no coffeemaker, no lights in the closet, and no refrigeration. By Thursday morning we were cleaning the fridge out and putting all the food in coolers on the front porch. Spring cleaning a few months early.

Our outdoor food pantry.

I went out in the morning and ran my van long enough to charge up my laptop so I could get a bit of writing done. It felt weird not to be able to access e-mail. Then a calm settled over me. I was not going to fight it. If the cosmos did not want us to be connected to the world, we'd obey and find other ways to pass the time.

After two days without electricity, the kids gave up kvetching, too. They settled down with some new books from Christmas and seemed content. I joked with them about playing games on the Amish Wii: Actually going outside to play in the snow. We voted to go sledding. So we bundled up and headed over to our neighbor's cow pasture and sledding down the bowl-like hillside. It was awesome. But we had to be careful to steer clear of the frozen cowpie moguls which really hurt the old rumpus when you hit them.

Ice-crusted pines made our driveway impassable to anything but foot traffic.

Phoebe prepares to take the first run down the bowl.

Liam and I took the final run of the day, just before dark and I videotaped it. It's scary.


I spent an hour or so cutting pine branches off the slumping trees along the drive. I made enough of a hole though the coniferous blockade to get the 4wd Explorer out this morning. The kids insisted on coming into town with me. Once we got to BWD the ran inside and danced around Helen's desk lamp in the office foyer.

The power is still off at home. But at least we know that we can get to civilization if we need to. We may not have power restored until next week. I am unsure if I'll be disappointed to miss the Super Bowl. It might be kinda cool in a throw-back way.

Have a good, warm weekend.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More Winter

A wise man wearing mukluks once told me:
When the Adélie penguin comes out of its igloo and is immediately covered in wet snow it means that you are due for six more months of winter. It also means that you need more seal meat and whale blubber. And you're probably out of Funyuns, too.

Words to live by.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow, the Wind and Rain

The snow has changed to rain. Bleech!

We are being assaulted by high winds and blasting sheets of rain. The rain is changing back and forth from liquid form to its slightly more solid forms of snow or sleet. This weather is just an inconvenience for most of us, but it always makes me worry about the birds and animals that have few options for getting out of such nasty weather.
Male eastern bluebird giving me the "More suet-dough please!" look.

Our bluebirds are keyed in to the suet dough once again. Perhaps its due to the cold and wet, or maybe they've already eaten all the large, obvious grasshoppers from the meadow. It's clear that the grapes and sumac fruits are rapidly disappearing—mostly down the throats of cedar waxwings, American robins, and European starlings. In any case we're keeping the feeders fully stocked with peanuts, sunflower seed, regular suet, and suet dough.

Having the bluebirds around the house reminds me it's time to winterize the nest boxes—many of which are used nightly by the bluebirds and by downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and Carolina wrens. I'll get the roll of Mortite and warm it up in my pocket as I walk the bluebird trails. A four-inch strip will plug the vent holes at the top of the box keeping wet and cold weather outside and more bird body heat inside the boxes. I like thinking of a pair of bluebirds finding a cozy nighttime roost in a nest box with dry grass on the inside floor and weatheripped vent holes.

Female eastern bluebird.

This got me thinking about my own ability to escape the winter weather. If I had the means, I'd certainly spend much of the winter in the tropics. Not Florida or Arizona. I mean the serious tropics, where the common blue bird you see is a blue-gray tanager.

Blue-gray tanager.

It's a nice fantasy. Must find that buried treasure first. And buy lottery tickets.

In the meantime I think I'll winterize the nest boxes here....

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