Saturday, October 30, 2010


The past couple weeks I have been fortunate to photograph Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. They have been passing through here each day and landing in an old gravel area next a road that leads into my driveway. Each morning I have been staked out by some small spruce trees, waiting for them to land and feed on weeds and seeds.

Lapland Longspur

Snow Bunting

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur

I have spent many hours watching the longspurs and buntings... and have begun to understand their quirky flight habits. It seems that each flock closely resembles a kindergarten class. I see the "line leader" swoop in and perch on a taller weed or rock. He almost always is the most colorful male of the flock and peruses the area and may peck a few seeds. He then either flies off and brings back the rest of the flock or the flock joins him in his newly found area.

Snow Bunting

I slowly move towards them taking a few steps and then waiting five minutes or so... then repeat until they are used to my presence. This goes on until the "line leader" cheeps and they are off with their flashing, white wings. More often than not, the flock will fly in a large circle and land almost in the same spot or a short distance away. Once, they flew in the circle and I had them land a few feet from me... to close to focus with the 400.

Snow Bunting

John Burroughs rises to his best literature as he speaks of the Snow Buntings ("Far and Near"): "The only one of our winter birds that really seems a part of the winter, that seems to be born of the whirling snow, and to be happiest when storms drive thickest and coldest, is the Snow Bunting. The real snowbird, with plumage copied from the fields where the drifts hide all but the tops of the tallest weeds, large spaces of pure white touched here and there with black and gray and brown. Its twittering call and chirrup coming out of the white obscurity is the sweetest and happiest of all winter bird sounds. It is like the laughter of children. The fox-hunter hears it on the snowy hills, the farmer hears it when he goes to fodder his cattle from the distant stack, the country schoolboy hears it as he breaks his way through the drifts toward the school. It is ever a voice of good cheer and contentment."

Snow Bunting

It is a celebration for me, to have the opportunity to observe these beautiful tundra birds at close range. I think they are the most uniquely marked birds I see in the late fall and arguably the most docile along with the Lapland Longspurs. I look forward to the return of these beautiful birds in the spring... adorning their gorgeous breeding plumage.

Lapland Longspur... spring breeding plumage

Snow Bunting... spring breeding plumage

"One bleak March day,...a flock of snow-buntings came...Every few moments one of them would mount into the air, hovering about with quivering wings and warbling a loud, merry song with some very sweet notes. They were a most welcome little group of guests, and we were sorry when, after loitering around a day or two, they disappeared toward their breeding haunts." Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, October 14, 2010


October on the ridge is usually a month of transition. Last year at this time we had snow on the 10th of October and lows the last half of the month in the 30's and 20's. Then November and deer hunting arrived and we ended up with warm temps and golfing weather.

Now in mid October, we have enjoyed warm temperatures with highs reaching the 60's and 72 on October 9th. The fact of the matter is, so far, the whole 2010 year has been incredibly warm and pleasant.

We had a half dozen or so deer we fed in our yard this past winter. Usually they stay until the middle or end of April and sometimes the first week of May. This year, they exited in mid March because of the exceptionally warm temps. Here on our ridge we had a grand total of 18 inches of snow for the entire 2010 winter. Inland there was "thigh high" snow at mid winter, but all we got was rain off the Big Lake. I took photos of drumming Ruffed Grouse in a light Gore-tex jacket the whole month of April.

The spring advent of the wood warblers was quite disappointing, as mentioned in a previous post. A number of species either by passed our ridge, flying at night or completely blew us off, missing us for the entire nesting season. In the breeding and nesting season of 2009 we identified 21 species of warblers. This year we spotted 16 species and in 2008 we saw a grand total of 23 species. I had hoped because of the wonderful weather the warblers would have a banner year. It ended up being the opposite, with an added negative, full blown leaves... two weeks early.... making warbler observation and photographing, difficult at best.

Each fall, the media weather prognosticators, gaze into their crystal balls and make an educated guess about the impending winter wrath. If their predictions are anything like the year of 2010, they will be dead wrong.

I always used two scenarios in my winter prediction: 1. the width of the band of the "Wooly Caterpillar." 2. An elderly Native American gentleman used to fish on the banks of a creek that flowed behind my house. I would sit and listen to his historic stories about past Native American encampments in the area of my house. The topic of winter came up. I thought that certainly, this wise old sage would enlighten me with a similar wise prediction. Not missing a beat, with a twinkle in his eye, he said.... "By the the size of the white man's wood pile, it is going to be a bad one." .... This year the 40 pound bags of wood pellets, for our pellet stove are piled quite high. We will see if the snow matches their height....

The first 14 days of October had interesting birds stopping by. Some are my "usual suspects" that remain here with me all winter, such as the Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, Bald Eagle and the Downy Woodpecker.

Bald Eagle

Blue Jay

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Downy Woodpecker

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Others such as the Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and Lapland Longspur are passing through.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Fox Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco Juvenile

Lapland Longspur

The Purple Finch seems to be here at various times throughout the winter months.

Purple Finch

A couple more of my friends that flew in...

American Tree Sparrow

White-breasted Nuthatch

And one that trots in each night...

Gray Fox

"Entering Winter" can be like a slamming storm door or a slow progression of "Indian Summer Days." I have discussed this proposition with my chickadees and nuthatches and we all hope it is the latter.