Just … wow

What snazzy markings on this female red-headed woodpecker

Off and on today I watched red-bellied woodpeckers fly back and forth to our suet feeder, and marveled at how glorious they look against the sparkling snow. They are such large birds compared to most other birds that come to our feeders, and so beautifully colored with the scarlet markings on their heads, handsome black and white checkered feathers, and rosy colored tummies.

As horribly cold as it’s been, and snowy, I wouldn’t want to live in a place where I couldn’t see these birds framed against the snow and red branches of our native dogwoods. When I see them like this, my reaction is just … wow.

Whoooo’s There?

We're talking one huge feather!

I found this feather underneath our old birch tree about a month ago, and wasn’t sure at first what it was. We have all kinds of big raptors that cruise our property, including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and the smaller Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks. We also have a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls that live a few hundred feet from our house that we hear hooting every night. With the barring on the feather, I could rule out the Bald Eagles, but don’t know enough about feathers to have even made a semi-educated guess as to which bird it came from.

One of my friends is a birder, and she in turn knew an expert in raptor identification. He knew what it was immediately, and explained that the key to figuring out what bird this came from was the shape of the feather, in particular the rounded tip and the soft downy center. It’s a Great Horned Owl feather.

I’ve found several more feathers like this since then in the yard, concentrated under two different trees. So now I know where this winged tiger is roosting at night when he (she?) serenades us with soft hooting calls.

The owls are amazing birds, huge, with a wingspan that can reach sixty inches. Their flight is utterly silent, making it more than a trifle scary when they seem to appear out of nowhere, swooshing overhead at night, at times less than twenty feet above our heads.

Sometimes called the “tiger of the night,” a Great Horned Owl is a formidable predator. It enjoys rabbits, but also hunts many other mammals, birds and reptiles–even skunks. We know when ‘our’ owls have enjoyed a feast of skunk by the pungent odor that wafts downwind from them. Getting sprayed by a skunk doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

The owls originally nested in an old silver maple tree, and we had the rare gift of watching them raise three owlets. They lost that nest when the branch holding it tore off during a particularly severe thunderstorm. Amazingly, all three owlets survived, clinging to the tree. Within a day the adults coaxed the three owlets to take their first flights, accompanying them in short hops and guarding them throughout until the owlets reached the safety of some nearby pine trees. The adults rebuilt their nest in the pine trees, so we haven’t been able to watch the nest as the foliage on the pines is too thick. However, I saw them building a new nest this last week, once again in a nearby silver maple tree. I’m hoping come January we’ll be treated to watching fuzzy owlets peer out at the world from their nest!

Miss Me?

So, I haven’t been posting.

I’d whine about why, but frankly you probably don’t want to hear much if anything about it and I certainly don’t want to dwell on it. In a nutshell, being disabled sucks. There are weeks at a time–even longer, sometimes–where it takes all my energy to manage the basics of everyday living, with a body that just doesn’t work very well at all. I end up without any energy, strength or functionality left over for the good stuff, like writing a blog post or two. That’s just the way it is, and I post when I can. *sigh*

‘Nuff on that.

We’ve had an absolute outbreak of bunnies, and a real bonanza of other wildlife this year. In one week alone, I saw a very handsome male ring-necked pheasant, blue herons, sandhill cranes, turkey vultures, an osprey, loads of bald eagles, great horned owls, Eastern bluebirds, rosy breasted grosbeaks, purple martins, turkeys, redtail hawks, the usual cardinals, bluejays, goldfinches, wrens, killdeer, robins, grackles and starlings, and some beautiful water birds including not just mallard ducks and Canada geese but also cormorants and several flocks of white pelicans. Wow. I’m seeing deer, some coyotes and for the first time ever caught a glimpse of what I think was a weasel in the yard. It moved like the mink I used to see many years back when I’d be trail riding, but was much smaller. I’ve suspected that we have a weasel, from some of the signs I’ve seen about the yard this spring, but this will be a first for us if one really has moved in and established a territory.

The dragonflies and damsel flies have also arrived, and are as beautiful as ever. The dragonflies seem like they are the size of B52 bombers, compared to the damsel flies in particular, and its a bit startling when they zing right past your ear. I’m also seeing butterflies, including monarchs, Eastern swallowtails (both yellow and black) and a lovely tiny blue butterfly/moth that I haven’t identified yet. No honeybees, sadly, but a goodly number of bumblebees, which is heartening.

I’ve done a guest post over on Cattlebarroness, about what it was like to move from The City to a rural State, so do hop over there and check it out. Lian is delightful, and her blog is a treat to read–pay her a visit and enjoy yourself!

Poking Around Under The Hood

Doing some changes under the hood to the code and layout. If things appear wonky off and on for the next several days, that’s probably why.

We’ve had 14.5″ of snow since last night.

Fourteen and a half. Inches. Of. Snow.

The local Fox TV meteorologist says that it’s the seventh largest snowfall recorded for a 24-hour period since the State started keeping records. It’s a bit… much… even for us.

The wind was incredible, too, so we have some amazing drifts, a few more than three feet high.

Right now, Michael is testing out our new snow thrower, creating a path for the bunnies to get around the yard more easily to get to his shop. It’s a powerful but small electric model that is a replacement of the one we bought last year. That one had a factory defect, which made it eat its own drive-belts like candy. We finally boxed the thing up after repeatedly fixing it, shipped it to the manufacturer and asked for a new one. Within two business days we had a brand-spanking new replacement in our frustrated paws. That’s my idea of how customer service should resolve legitimate problems with defective items!

We filled the feeders before the storm hit, and I’m glad we managed to get that done. We had a rush of cardinals as evening set in, looking for dinner. They’re the first birds I’ve seen all day, as the heavy snow and winds have sent all the wildlife into deep cover.

One thing this storm has done: I always want a white Christmas, even if it’s only an inch or two of snow. It just makes it seem like “Christmas,” somehow, to have snow.

After today, I think that’s covered, for this year at least!

Trumped!

So, Oh Best Beloved, do you remember the post about the grasshopper eating my dahlias? My friend Kim read it and sent me this photo to show me what’s chomping on the ornamentals in her yard…

Moose noshing down a tree in Kim's yard!

Oh. My. God. Yes, that really is a moose eating her tree! Having seen this, I’ve decided that a little bitty ol’ grasshopper nibbling away on a dahlia is quite manageable. You know. Putting it in perspective and all.

Although I’ve never done this before, I’m going to add a shameless plug here for Kim… She’s Kimberly Rousch, the wild bird artist. Kim paints incredible watercolors of wild birds that accomplish what few artists can: they capture the essence of the birds. Her work has been accepted into Birds in Art, and her painting “Killdeer” is in the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum collection.

Kim Rousch - Grebe On Purple Watercolor.

Kim currently has this piece, called “Grebe On Purple,” available for sale – isn’t it gorgeous? Butter Side Down readers can contact Kim privately if they’re interested in buying “Grebe on Purple,” or to see more of her portfolio. Kim also does commissions, including portraits of pets, and every one of her paintings that I’ve seen I’ve loved.

Ok, end of shameless plug…

You know, even though I’d love to (safely) see a moose like Kim’s up close and personal, I’m sure glad I don’t have to deal with moose mowing down my flowers and trees!

* “Grebe On Purple” copyright Kim Rousch. All Rights Reserved. Image reproduced here by permission. *