Wednesday, December 16, 2009


"Fall has fell and it is colder than .... usual." I remember this "slogan" when I was a little kid, as I read the clever Burma Shave signs along the scenic byways. The slogan holds true this December, as the bitter north wind creates -20 to -30 wind chills.

The birds seem to be taking this weather in stride; similar to the humans that inhabit Cook County. Most of the human "snow birds", have flown the coop, headed for the sunny south... the rest will follow after the Christmas celebrations with family and friends.

In this December cold weather blog, the American Crow, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay & Bald Eagle are pictured. They are hearty residents of this "frozen tundra" over looking Lake Superior. The only bird on the list that really should be "out of here", is the American Crow... they usually have departed by the first of November. November, however, was beautiful... warm & sunny. So I am assuming, Mr. Crow is winging his way to central, southern Minnesota and points south. Why they think central and southern Minnesota provides a warmer and more comfortable environment is beyond me... I think if I were the crow; points south would be the preferred destination.

The Pileated Woodpecker has flown our woods for the years we have lived on Cedar Ridge.  This is the first year he and his mate have landed on our suet pole and hammered out their treat.  They have returned each day in the early morning and at dusk, chiseling out huge chunks of frozen suet.  We have concocted a mixture of lard, cornmeal and peanut butter to fuel the winter bird's furnaces.  All the birds listed in this post partake of the suet mixture... but big "Woody" is king of the buffet, emptying the top hole of the pole in minutes.

The Bald Eagle is a twelve month inhabitant of Cook County. They fly the shoreline of the Big Lake for the entire winter season. The inland lakes are now frozen over and the Big Bird is here in all his splendor....

The "usual suspects" that I see each winter day are the Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay and the Downy Woodpecker. The chickadees and the RBs follow me each day, enjoying the hulled sunflower seeds I offer up.

The Blue Jays number 6-8 each morning, perched in our white cedars. It doesn't matter the temperature, they perch quietly in their blue splendor, waiting for their morning "presidential seed mixture", containing peanuts, sunflower seeds and cracked corn. I don't know of a bird that has all the stunning shades of blue in their feathers... I jokingly refer to them as a "flying, blue paint sample chart."

The little Downy is the most social of the woodpeckers, at least on Cedar Ridge. I have had them land on the sleeve of my Thinsulate suit, confused by the birch bark camo pattern... I often think I should carry a form of a suet cake for them. I am sure they would land on it in due time.

I love the winters here in the Arrowhead and these birds make each day more enjoyable. In the coming weeks, I look forward to the arrival of the Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings... accompanied by the beautiful grosbeak families.  Hopefully, I will be able to add some of their stunning colors to the blog in the weeks to come. 

Over the river and through the wood, To grandfather's house we go; The horse knows the way To carry the sleigh, Through the white and drifted snow. 
Mrs. Lydia Maria Child

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


The migration is about over for Cedar Ridge. The last of the sparrows have passed through, that being the American Tree Sparrows. Winter has set in, although the calendar tells me it is fall.

I have been neglectful of my blog since September... I have been editing thousands of photos and making greeting cards for various individuals. Winter should provide more time for posting various birds and animals. In the meantime, I will post these photos of the last couple of months... I hope you enjoy them.

                                                                        Winter Wren     
                                                                      Whitetail Buck

                                                            White-crowned Sparrow
                                                              White-throated Sparrow

                                                                  European Starling

                                                                       Rusty Blackbird
                                                              Red-breasted Nuthatch

                                                                 Pileated Woodpecker

                                                                      Myrtle Warbler

                                                               Orange-crowned Warbler

                                                                   Nashville Warbler

                                                                    Myrtle Warbler
                                                                Lapland Longspur

                                                                     Jean & Friends

                                                                      Hermit Thrush

                                                                     Hermit Thrush

                                                                        Fox Sparrow

                                                           Black-capped Chickadee

                                                                             Blue Jay

                                                                  Blue-headed Vireo

                                                               Black-capped Chickadee

                                                              American Tree Sparrow

                                                                         Fox Sparrow

                                                                    Evening Grosbeak

                                                                           Bald Eagle

                                                                  Downy Woodpecker
                                                                     Dark-eyed Junco


Friday, September 11, 2009


This summer, our berry crop has been excellent. Every day, on my photo jaunts into the Superior National Forest, I stop and eat wild raspberries and thimbleberries. I never carry water or snacks with me; mostly because of camera and lenses weighing me down.

One particularly beautiful day, I stopped in a clearing that had a dozen or so wild raspberry plants. I indulged in handfuls of the luscious wild fruit... also popping in my mouth a few tart thimbleberries that mingle among the raspberry plants. Thimbleberries are a unique wild fruit, they remind me of the "Sweet Tarts" I enjoyed as a kid. They are quite large and when you pick the over ripe ones, the juice runs and stains your fingers. The following photo shows the relative size of the thimbleberry in relationship to my model.

As I quietly "browsed" in my patch, I made my way around a large spruce deadfall. I noticed the tops of the hazelnut bushes moving back and forth. Now this was nothing new to me, since the red squirrels and chipmunks were in the height of their nut collection. The movement produced a black furry ear... then a large black, furry face. It seems I was lunching with one of my resident bears that roam our ridge.

The wind was in my favor, which at the moment wasn't much at all. He walked quietly out of the berry patch to my little trail. I thought for sure that he would go the opposite direction, into the wind. Wrong... he turned and walked in my direction about 30 feet from me. I had my 400 lens on my camera, so all that showed up in the view finder was this very large furry face. Plus it was dark for my f/5.6 lens, so I was shooting at 1/60th of a second; which hand held is not conducive to clear photos. (The shot below the title is what I ended up with)

I have my camera set for high speed bursts, so when I was snapping photos it makes a fairly loud, machine gun sound. He stopped and looked at me and couldn't figure out the sound.... he stood there for a few minutes and decided this was not the direction he should be taking. So he turned and disappeared into the forest. Normally, when I see or am around a bear and he sees me or gets my scent, he ends up crashing through the forest like a runaway train. But this bruin seemed to be enjoying the day and his berry lunch and left for reasons unknown.

It was an enjoyable respite for me, good berries, company, but poor conversation.

Some other bear friends of the past.....

"Bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters. A bear's days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsings like ours and was poured from the same fountain..." - John Muir

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Smallest of the Small

One of my recent posts chronicled the nesting and fledging of the Chestnut-sided Warbler.  A few days ago, I took the final shot of a juvenile chestnut in his "full dress", getting ready to depart for his long trip to Central America or northern Colombia.  To me it is an amazing story; each spring their long flight ends on our Cedar Ridge.  The chestnuts build their nests, lay their eggs, feed their chicks and fledge their young in a matter of two and a half months.  Now, they are readying for that long trip back to the tropics.

Yesterday, as I was refilling the hummingbird feeder, I had eight or so "Rubies" watching me from the cedar trees.  I stood there watching them buzz each other and jockey for position at the feeder.  I know they are fattening up for their long trip south and their migratory story is even more compelling than the Chestnut-sided Warbler.  It is hard to fathom that this 3 gram speedster, will fly non stop across 500 miles of the Gulf of Mexico.

I have found nests of the hummingbirds in the forest and they are not only intricate, but fabulously camouflaged. They are usually located 10-20 feet above the ground, on a tree branch. Each nest I have found has a beautifully decorated exterior of lichen that exactly matches the tree limb. It is a work of art.

The female lays two eggs, about the size of a pea or jelly bean and by this time the male has "flown the coop." (Maybe this is why all the females at our feeder, continually chase the lone male out of the area). The incubation phase is usually around 12-16 days. The nesting period is longer than the chestnuts which is 11-15 days, the hummer's don't leave the nest until 15-30 days. Most will "practice" wing stretching and beating their wings rapidly for exercise. They will then make maiden voyages from the nest to trees in the area and back again. The fledglings will stay around the nest for a number of days being fed by the mother.

We have around a dozen Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visiting our feeder. They are extremely territorial, protecting their precious, liquid food source. At the moment we have only one male at the feeder and he is rudely welcomed at all times. This action by the females is quite interesting, because in most cases it is the male that aggressively protects his food source. It is reported that the older males are usually the first to arrive in the spring and first to leave in late summer. So I suspect that my lone male is a younger hummingbird.

One hummingbird stat that I found interesting is that many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds travel more than 2000 miles from Central America to Canada. Since our Cedar Ridge is located around 40 miles from Canada (as the raven flies) it is an impressive accomplishment... twice a year.

In the fall of 2008, our last Ruby-throated Hummingbird departed September 19. I imagine the weather will play an important role in their decision to leave our area. Until then we will be watching their feeder antics and do our best to fuel them for the long, perilous journey.

Hummingbird darts lightly through the world, spreading its message of joy and beauty, and teaching us to appreciate the wonder and magic of everyday existence. Hummingbird brings the gift of joy. Learn to laugh and be happy. ~ unknown