Tuesday, January 26, 2010

After the Storm

The storm had moved east, the sun has come out, and the temperature dropped. The nine inches of new snow has been driven into sculptured drifts, completely filling some small drainages or lining the northern edges of larger drainages with curled over massive pillows of hard packed snow. This is what many of the plants of the northern Great Plains are used to. We have been losing many of our important shrubs, particularly Buffaloberry, probably because they are not protected during the winter by these large drifts much anymore nor are they slowly irrigated in the spring as the snow melts.

The Horned Larks are adjusting to a new landscape once again.

The way it looked on Sunday afternoon, with the blowing snow and near whiteout conditions, I half expected to look in my neighbors yard and see this!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ice Age

Yesterday was a good old fashioned Great Plains blizzard. Although it hasn't been that cold (for us) the snow has been falling and the wind has been blowing producing some rather impressive drifts around town. The Bison seem to have not really noticed except that they did spend much of the day out of the wind on the lee side of a hill. Over the weekend we had about 9 inches of snow although I am not sure how they measured that since the wind was blowing about 30 mph with gusts to 45 mph. Many areas have no snow at all but others are buried in heavy, packed drifts. My neighbor has about a 6 foot drift across her driveway.

I watched them from the window grazing through the snow. They would slowly lower their massive head into the snow while pulling it from side to side to clear the snow from the grass underneath, graze for a bit, and then repeat the motions one step ahead.

I had to get out of the house for a bit so I drove to the other side of the pasture to try to get closer for these photos.

Watching the bison disappear and re-emerge from behind the horizontal snow was very primal. They appeared at home and superbly adapted to deal with the conditions. I on the other hand, didn't really want to stay out in the wind and snow for very long - the snow was finding its way into the gaps between my hat and jacket and my eyelids were starting to freeze shut. Apparently there have been a number of areas that have lost power and the radio announcer stated that due to the conditions they would not even be attempting to fix the problems until today. Our TV (over-the-air) was out all day yesterday and the internet has been sporadic at best.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

More Winter Birds

Last Monday I had the day to myself for a while. It was a beautiful day and it was nice to just enjoy being out. Wildlife is hard to find these days and you will notice the photos are going to start repeating the same species - the few that are still around. This winter seems to be exceptionally short on the number of species and individuals of each species. Raptors, except for Bald Eagles along the river have been pretty much absent this winter. I finally managed to get a half decent photo of a Gray Partridge though.

The Horned Larks are probably the most abundant bird around right now. Even my backyard has been very slow with only a few species showing up each day.

But the Rusty Blackbirds are still around.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Margret Atwood on Birds

This morning I found a wonderful essay about birds by Margret Atwood from The Guardian. Below are some excerpts but you really should read the whole thing.

"A bird of the air shall carry the voice," says Ecclesiastes, with impressive gravitas, "and those that have wings shall tell the truth"; and we can bet that those bird-borne truths were momentous....

Back in the 70s and 80s and then the 90s, however, you could depend on the birds to be more or less where they were supposed to be, more or less when they were supposed to be there. Failures to see them were bad luck or lack of skill on your part: the birds themselves were surely just around the corner. If not this time, then next; if not this year, then next. But all that is changing, and it's changing very rapidly. The suddenness of the decline – not only in threatened species, but in relatively abundant ones, such as the neotropical woodland warblers – is very worrying. No bird species can any longer be taken for granted....

"Canary in the coal mine" – which comes from a time when miners knew that if their caged canaries toppled over it meant imminent asphyxiation for them – is not an empty phrase: where birds are dying now (through poisons, habitat destruction, and famine), people will die later. The die-off in seabirds, for instance, signals a die-off in sea life, including fish. It doesn't take a very smart augur to read that kind of bird omen....

Still, "'Hope' is the thing with feathers," wrote Emily Dickinson. Too often, these days, it isn't. But in the case of the albatross, it is, if we're reading the bird signals right. Or at least it could be; which is the nature of hope.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cold Weather Birds

With the recent cold weather large flocks of Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings, and Horned Larks have gathered in the wheat fields with remaining heads of wheat poking above the snow or alongside the highways. I found one field that the birds were foraging in and tried one afternoon to get some photos, but my four year old helper really didn't help that much. Sunday I tried again without the help and managed to get a few photos.

They were difficult to get close to. The single birds were uneasy when they were by themselves and took off way too soon, and the flocks always seemed to have one bird that was less tolerant and would get the rest of the flock to join them in flitting just out of good camera range. Then there were the times that they all seemed to just decide they needed to be someplace else and the whole flock would rise up as one and head off to the north. After a while they would return to the field in front of me in small groups from all different directions.

I never did manage to get any photos of the Snow Buntings, but the long weekend is coming up!

Later on I went back to the area where the Rusty Blackbirds (now apparently down to one bird from the four or five I originally found) had been foraging. I found this bird working around the water's edge.

Common Goldeneyes circled around me and headed back down the creek to find a place to land.