25. August 2011 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 16: Follow That Bird! Help Me Identify a Bird…. · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

That beautiful garden from last March-May?  All but dead.  The insane heat, plus the lack of rain earlier this summer made it tough to maintain after our vacation.  Between the tomato hornworms, blossom end rot and other crap, I just said “forget it”.  It was too hot to even stand outside to prune.  No fun!

My herbs are surviving, which can be expected since they typically survive on less water than fruit-producing plants.  I let my basil go to seed — I tried to keep the seed stems picked off, but couldn’t keep up — and lately it’s been a popular hangout for my backyard birds.  More popular than the two bird feeder areas I have on a different part of the yard.

This has been fun because the garden containers are right outside our back door and the kids can watch the birds while they’re eating breakfast in the morning.  We’ve been seeing finches, sparrows and cardinals hanging out at my basil, and even the occasional bluebird who is after the bugs that hover around my herb flowers.

This photo was taken through my screen porch, there’s a house finch among the basil.

Latecomers hang out on my cucumber trellis to wait for their turn.
Much less traffic at the bird feeders.

This morning I had my usual assortment, but then this HUGE bird was trying to get in on the action.  (“Huge” is relative — I have a blue jay that hangs out in the front yard, but this is the biggest bird I’d seen in the back).  I haven’t researched what kind of bird he is, but I’ll post the pictures here and see if you can help me out.

My hypothesis: a northern mockingbird fledgling.

Add caption

24. July 2011 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 15: Great Blue Heron in Action! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

First of all, I learned that it’s “heron” and not “huron“.  Oops.  I was wondering why my Google searches kept directing me to Michigan-related websites…

Last night Dave and I went on a good old fashioned DATE!  The kids are visiting grandparents in the northeast through next weekend, and even though Dave’s hard at work these two weeks, we had a fantastic weekend!  Yesterday we went tubing on a creek in the northern part of the Florida Panhandle, then we went parasailing and wrapped up the evening with a delightful steamed seafood dinner.  I’ll be blogging about our parasailing next, but for now I wanted to share this cool series of iPhone pictures I took of this Great Blue Heron* enjoying some fish.  I didn’t have my good camera with me, since I didn’t want to lose it on the parasailing boat.

I thanked the family who bought the fish feed that lured the fish for the bird to eat…

*Yes, I’m capitalizing the full name of this species of bird, per this journal article.

He started out on the dock, staring intently at a patch of water near the public fish food machine.

Staring hard…

Now he’s on a floating platform just below the fish feed machine…he moved to this spot after a kid put 50 cents in the  machine and got a handful of fish food.

Splash!  He quickly darts his beak into the water as the fish come up to get the feed.

He got one!

After swallowing the first fish, he’s immediately on the lookout again…


Another one!

You can see how the fish has enlarged his neck.
07. January 2011 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 2: Backyard Birding · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

New state, new house, new batch of birds to look for! I’ve posted on and off about the birds that have come to visit our houses in both North Carolina and Nebraska (ironically, I got woodpecker pictures in both places). Now it’s time to see what Northwest Florida brings to our backyard!

First of all, here’s a picture of our backyard. Don’t laugh too hard at my photo-merging abilities, the point I’m trying to make here is that our backyard is absolutely DEVOID of trees, bushes, shrubs, etc.  Google maps shows several tall trees in the center of the backyard, but those must have been taken out.  Nothing here now.

From 2010 01 07 More Backyard Birding

But check out all the trees and brush right on the periphery of our fenceline. Oleander, live oak, pine, magnolia.  I figured I could work with that.

My thoughtful dear husband got me a multi-hook birdfeeder/birdbath center for Christmas. A great gift, I might add! I invested about $30 in 3 birdfeeders for the hooks.  And made a point to place it close to that oleander bush along the fence line.  The birds are more likely to visit if they have a hiding place when Howie or the boys come out.

From 2011 01 03 Backyard Birding

I figured it’d take about a week or so before birds would catch on that a new feeding station is here, but it didn’t take that long at all! I assembled this on New Year’s Day, and by the morning of the 3rd, there were numerous goldfinches having a grand old time eating, chatting it up and splashing in the birdbath!

From 2011 01 03 Backyard Birding

Over the past week, I’ve been seeing more and more types of birds visiting our feeder, most recently (this morning) I came across my first chickadee!

I’m also getting some pictures of other birds that are visiting not just our property, but also the trees and shrubs at our neighbors’ properties. There are numerous pine-tree wooded lots scattered about our neighborhood.  Bald eagles live at the tops of the tallest pines and sometimes we’ll see them gliding between one set of treetops to another.  At about 25-35 feet.  They glide so gracefully — I hope to get a picture of one of them soon as they fly over our house.

This is definitely some of the widest variety of birds I’ve experienced. Enjoy some pictures! Pardon some of the poorer quality shots, I’m standing pretty far back, zooming in as much as possible.

Mr. Cardinal’s lady friend is in the brush just above him.  They’re so incredibly shy, I’m really proud of this shot.
From 2011 01 03 Backyard Birding
This is a “brown-headed nuthatch”, I mainly see groups of these birds hanging out on the palmetto palm trees in the front of our house.  They’re distinctive in that they walk along the trunks of trees.  I have a suet feeder out front for them, too.
From 2011 01 03 Backyard Birding
One of the dozens of “winterized” goldfinches that hang out there.  I also see plenty of house finches, but haven’t photographed any yet.  Note the tinfoil at the top of the hooks…I’d read that those will attract the birds.  I’d say that whoever wrote that was right!
From 2011 01 03 Backyard Birding
This is a “palm warbler” and he’s spending the winter down here.  This guy wasn’t shy at all and let me get pretty close to take his picture.  Jacob found him foraging under our shed.
From 2010 12 29 Palm Warbler
There are 3 birds in this picture, I think it’s a type of warbler at the top, but I’m not sure what kind of birds those are in the middle and bottom.
From 2010 01 07 More Backyard Birding
A male hairy woodpecker.  This is one of the kinds of birds I’ve seen in NC, NE and now here in FL.  They eat at the suet feeder in front of our house along with the nuthatches.  His lady friend (who doesn’t have a red head) is perched on this tree also, but lower down.  I had a hard time photographing her because of all the brush.  He’s about 20′ up at the very top of this tree.
From 2010 01 07 More Backyard Birding
The best bluebird picture I’ve captured so far.  These folks are also pretty shy.  Most of the bluebirds hang out on the RIGHT HAND side of the backyard, not sure why.  Maybe because all the feeders are on the left (our neighbors on the left have feeders too) — and there’s more room/quietness for foraging for berries and bugs on the right side?  Considering a bluebird box for the right side of the backyard.
From 2010 01 07 More Backyard Birding
Female bluebird.  I waited and waited for her to turn sideways so I could get a better shot.  Oh well.
From 2010 01 07 More Backyard Birding
Here’s my chickadee, this morning is the first time I’ve seen him at our feeder.  I’m guessing it’s a Carolina chickadee, since we’re at the furthest southern extent of the chickadee range.  They’ll winter over along the Gulf Coast.
From 2010 01 07 More Backyard Birding
09. December 2010 · Comments Off on Getting Settled In…. · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

Howdy!  It’s been a few days.  I’m sure you’ve ALL been at the edge of your seat, spending all your time wondering, “How has Major Mom been with the move?”

I’m sure you’ve been up all night worrying about me, right?

Of course you have 😉

So we had our stuff delivered on Wednesday, December 1st, and Dave and I spent a marathon FOUR DAYS doing nothing but unpacking.  Dave had taken a couple extra days off after our stuff was delivered to help with unpacking.  Somewhere in there on Thursday I made it to Hurlburt to do my first commissary run, and on Friday I attended a base spouses’ orientation that I probably didn’t really need.  It was more like “Military Spouse 101″…don’t get me wrong, it was a great class, but I was probably not the right audience.  I found out Hurlburt Field does this other spouses’ orientation that includes a bus tour of the base and that’s more what I’m looking for.  I’ll sign up for that course in January.

Anyway, by Sunday the 5th, we had unpacked just about every box and each room in our house was presentable.  I could take over with the “refining” while Dave reported back to work.

My current challenge: getting our daily routines in place during all this holiday hub-bub!

On Saturday we made it over to the beach for a quick photo shoot so I could get some Christmas cards made up.  On Sunday night the boys and I made our first batch of Christmas cookies.  I’ll be making dough for some sugar cookies tomorrow.  Tonight the boys and I got the bulk of the Christmas cards addressed, stuffed, stamped and put in the outgoing mail for tomorrow.

It’s great having the boys help with the holiday activities this year:

Helping with a family favorite cookie recipe: Holiday Cookie Surprises

Jacob stuffed Christmas card envelopes for me, while Timmy helped with putting on the stamps.  You can turn your laptop upside-down and squint for a sneak-peek of our Christmas cards 😉

As for school, the boys seem to be doing pretty well.  Jacob has a LOT more homework here than he did in Bellevue, but like the school supply issue, I think the amount he’s getting here is more par for the course.  Jacob has commented more than once that the schoolwork here is more difficult than it was in Nebraska, but I think it’s more of a laziness thing for Jacob.  He just actually has to do more work.  I’ve had to exchange a couple e-mails with his teacher to seek clarification on some of the classroom procedures.  She always replies quickly and has great communication with the parents.  I won’t argue there!

Timmy is absolutely loving his new Kindergarten class.  He misses his Nebraska friends, and talks about his friends Roger, Micah and Jackson quite a bit.  We had to exchange a couple e-mails with Timmy’s former teacher about some school supplies he left behind, and it was nice to catch up with Mrs. Brockhaus!

The boys are taking the bus to and from school.  I was pleasantly surprised at all the security that seems to go into riding the bus around here.  I can only coordinate directly with the county school district transportation office to arrange the pick up/drop off at our new house, and the elementary school kids don’t have bus stops.  We are instructed to wait at the end of our driveway for pick up, and the boys are dropped off at the end of the driveway in the afternoons.  I’ve met the bus driver “Miss Irene”, and the kids just play in the front yard until the bus comes.  Our street is arrow-straight and we can see the bus turn onto our street from 1/2 a mile, and 2 stops away.  Taking the bus really opens up the length of the school day for the boys, but the boys haven’t complained.

We’re enjoying our new house quite a bit.  I’ll have to give up a lot of my gardening, since the homeowner has invested heavily in the front-yard landscaping and I won’t want to mess with a good thing.  The backyard is ab-so-lute-ly BLANK.  Grass.  That’s it.  The backyards around us have more trees and bushes, and therefore the wildlife seems to hang out there.  We have seen numerous birds in the neighboring yards…on our 2nd day here I had the honor of seeing EIGHT bluebirds sitting on the fenceline.  I didn’t have my camera with me, so I couldn’t get a picture, although it would have been a nice one.

This morning while waiting for the bus, Jacob saw a Northern Flicker in the one non-palm tree in our front yard.  He was making funny noises, and Jacob was attempting to communicate with it.  I’m glad all the birding in NC and NE has paid off 🙂

And finally, I’ll share my newest hobby: a small fountain/pond in my yard.  Among the fancy front-yard landscaping is a pond/fountain, a plain fountain and a birdbath!  I’m looking forward to seeing more birds in the front yard when the weather gets warmer.

The pond was certainly a nice bonus to our house — and we were pleasantly surprised to see 4 good-sized goldfish swimming around in the pond.  The weather’s been so cold the fish are more or less dormant so it isn’t very interesting.  They’re also pretty shy, hiding under the fountain column a lot of the time.  The algae in the pond has been a problem.  So these past few days I’ve been spending 30-45 minutes per day working on cleaning out the pond.  As of now, I’ve done a 2/3 water change, scrubbed the algae off the concrete, and I’m making sure to run the fountain during the day so the water is well aerated.  The water I add to the pond is from a well, which means I don’t have to worry about chemical treatments or anything like that.  Every time I’d agitate the water the algae would stir up and become almost opaque green — seeing the fish at all has been difficult.  Once the temperatures warm up more in a couple months, we’ll start feeding them and hopefully we’ll see them come out more often.

The fountain.  The pump sends the water up to the very top of the column and then it trickles down the “trays” that are spiraling around the column.  It’s very pretty, but I’ve been challenged with setting the water pressure such that the water doesn’t blast out of the trays sloppily.

Here’s one of the fish on a rare occasion that the algae in the water was settled to the bottom.  The boys haven’t named the fish yet (I see that coming real soon), but this one likes to hang out near the warmer pump unit when the water’s cold.  We have two gold ones, and two calicos.  Each are 6-8″ long.

16. March 2010 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

Today I stayed a bit more diligent with the iPhone in an attempt to capture snow geese and I had an immediate success! This formation was flying right over Jacob’s school while I was waiting to pick him up, stretching from the southeast towards the northwest! Before the schoolbell rang, you could hear the geese honking like crazy. Then the kids started pouring out the door. Starting at about 20 seconds into the video, if you look closely you can see the formations undulating and changing shape. Geeky, yes, but also very fascinating.

You try flapping your arms from the Gulf Coast all the way up to the northern coast of Canada!


14. March 2010 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 10: Snow Geese · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

For the past 2-3 weeks, it’s been slowly warming here. I wish I had blogged a little more about the extreme bitter cold we experienced here, and the record-after-record-after-record snowfall we had here in the Omaha area since December. I’ll be updating our “Vollmer Weather Curse” post soon with this past winter’s craziness and I promise more details then.

With the ever-so-subtle signs of spring coming, we’re noticing the skies (“skies?” there’s only one sky!) absolutely full of snow geese. Thousands of them flying in their trademark “V” formation…as far as the eye could see across the sky. The first couple times the boys and I have seen them, they were clearly flying north.

I haven’t taken any pictures of the geese migrating (I know, Maryann’s going to murder me!), but I found this blog post that summarizes my first impressions of the geese in the sky, along with a picture of what I’ve been seeing. Note that the post was about the same time of year, just 3 years prior.

At first, I assumed that these were Canada geese. After all, they were loud and prolific, right? But driving down Platteview Rd., which is the way I usually drive from my house to our church and our local shopping center (Shadow Lake Town Center), I saw one of the formations put themselves down on a rural field. Again, since I don’t take pictures while traveling 55 m.p.h. down the road, I’ll just steal this picture here, which pretty accurately captures what I saw:

Wait a sec — those aren’t Canada geese! What are those?

So I went home and consulted my handy-dandy Peterson’s Field Guide…

…and discovered that they’re actually snow geese. Here’s a close up picture (which I again stole from someone else…):

So I read a bit more about snow geese and that was all well and good. Yep, there are a lot of them. Yep, they migrate up the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys in the late winter/early spring towards their summer breeding grounds in extreme northern Canada. Yep, the state of Nebraska has a special extension to their hunting season from February 6 – April 18 of this year expressly to help with the populations of these geese as they continue to grow.

Last week I noticed something strange. I saw more and more “V” formations NOT flying north. I saw some moving west south of our neighborhood. I’m guessing that movement is related to their following the Platte River. We live about 1 1/2 miles north of the Platte River, just before it dumps into the Missouri. I was okay with that explanation.

But what about a couple of “V” formations flying in huge circles? Big circles…like 1/2 mile radius circles. I was driving Timmy to preschool when we saw that happening, so I mentioned it to Mrs. Brown, Timmy’s preschool teacher. She said that snow goose flocks were very territorial and the circling flocks were probably looking for a place to put down near a water source, and were being chased off by other flocks already in place. At the time, the snow hadn’t completely melted, so many food sources were still under snow pack, particularly in the corn and soybean fields.

I do wish I was more a Johnny-on-the-spot with getting pictures of video of these formations. I just got a new iPhone 3GS last week and it has a video capability, so maybe I’ll get lucky that way.

09. May 2009 · Comments Off on My Goldfinch! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

I’d been seeing a goldfinch come by every once in a while for the past 10 days or so, yesterday I was finally able to get a picture! He’s on the thistle sock on the right.

From 2009 04 29 BirdOnFeeder

Stay tuned!  I have lots more to talk about, I’ve just been addicted to Bejeweled Blitz lately on Facebook and have been slacking off other responsibilities…on Facebook you can play against your FB friends, talk smack, etc.  My sister and I have been neck and neck, as soon as her high score tops mine, I stop what I’m doing, sit down and play, play, play until I nudge past her.  I’m terrible.

03. May 2009 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 8: Spring….FINALLY! Eastern Nebraska Birding 101 · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Today was a gloriously beautiful day!  I can’t believe I was able to enjoy just about all day outside…I mowed the lawn for the first time this season, worked more on my garden, and planted a couple of containers with annual flowers purchased yesterday from Timmy’s child care center’s fund raiser.  I enlisted Timmy and a couple of neighbor children this evening to “dig for earthworms” in our future-hop-plant plot, thereby loosening the soil for me.  They found some 30 earthworms that I had them deposit in my compost pile…which needs a lot of help this early in the season….

…and I’m still outside and it’s so wonderful I’m going to take a picture with my uber-cool built-in-webcam:
From 2009 04 29 BirdOnFeeder

Ta Da!

Can you see the bird feeders in tbe background? Maybe you can, then again, maybe not…

When we moved into the house in early August of last year, one of my first acts was to hang a birdfeeder on the tree in the backyard.

No action. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. The only birds around seemed to be giant blackbirds and they didn’t eat the black sunflower seeds I offered…

The week I came back from the desert, I saw some small brown birds around in the neighborhood…and that reminded me to re-invigorate my birding efforts.  I went nuts installing feeders all over my yard.  Can you count 6 of them here?  Look REAL closely:

From 2009 04 29 BirdOnFeeder

I remember from North Carolina that inspiring birds to come to your feeder as opposed to someone else’s takes some time and effort.  I had a perfect backyard in North Carolina, with a hedge of wax myrtle about 20 feet behind my house to provide nesting and hiding spots.  It wasn’t until the spring following our arrival — I hung our first feeder right away there, too — that I saw anything worth talking about.

Same as this time…we moved about the same time of year (latter half of July), so it’s now spring and my bird feeders are coming alive with activity.

Of course, being in a new part of the United States means a new group of birds to learn about. In North Carolina I was greeted with house finches, goldfinches, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wren, tufted titmice, myrtle warblers, cardinals and eventually, hummingbirds.

I’ve been once again sleuthing to learn about eastern Nebraska suburban birds. In mid-April all I was seeing were grackles, European starlings, and robins. Since robins don’t really partake of bird seed (they’re mainly carnivores, eating worms instead), and the grackles and starlings were too big, my feeders remained quiet.

Until this week.  I started to see some brown birds feeding routinely, and I saw a downy woodpecker off and on.  I stood inside at my kitchen window with my Canon Digital Elph camera set on 12x zoom and attempted to photograph the bird action so far as best I could….

From 2009 04 16 BirdsInYard
From 2009 04 16 BirdsInYard
From 2009 04 29 BirdOnFeeder
From 2009 04 29 BirdOnFeeder
From 2009 04 29 BirdOnFeeder
From 2009 04 29 BirdOnFeeder

The birds are as follows: downy woodpecker, robin, house sparrow, American pipit or female house sparrow, another house sparrow and common grackle.  Thanks to Maryann for helping me identify the sparrows — definitely a new species for me to identify!

I think I also am seeing a black-and-white warbler hanging out along the tree trunks, especially the rotted out trunk that’s been infested with termites.

The sparrows are definitely telling their friends about this place…there are more and more every day…

This morning I saw my first goldfinch, but didn’t get a chance to photograph any yet.  Maybe in the morning.  I’ve also seen a couple of cardinals, they sit VERY high up in my backyard trees…but when they sing they’re LOUD!

For now, I’m listening to the songs of a pair of robins who sit perched in my tall trees…a regular thing here now and I’ve loving it!

16. February 2008 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

(Thanks Maryann for reminding me about this this year!)

Looking for a fun activity with the kids this weekend? Check out Cornell University and the Audubon Society’s annual “Great Backyard Bird Count”.

This is a really easy way to help the birding world keep tabs on the migration/habitat patterns of North American birds, and unlike other bird counts, you don’t really need pre-registration or anything like that. You can observe for as little as a 15 minute increment for your counts to be integrated. Do it between now and midnight on the 18th to get your observations counted.

So all you have to do is go to the GBBC link and select the yellow “GO” link to input your findings. Even if you do all the observing ahead of time, you can put in the findings after the experiment is over and it will get into the results within 2 hours. My reports are already there!

And if you’re a statistics weenie like me, make sure you check out the results link at the top of the web page and see what kinds of cool data has been collected so far!

So I’m spending the next 2-3 days, Peterson’s Field Guide in hand, in the kitchen and backporch quietly observing. I’m trying to get Jake to help, and he seems very interested, but he can’t keep still and quiet enough. He gets all excited when he sees a bird and starts to dance around.

30. January 2008 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

About a week ago I rearranged my bird feeders. I also changed the type of bird feed I offered, from a general small seed mix to only black oil sunflower seeds. In addition, I took down my windowside hummingbird feeder and replaced it with a windowside standard feeder, filled with sunflower seed. I also switched one of the feeders into a nijer seed feeder, hoping to bring back my goldfinches.

From that point up till this weekend, there was very little bird activity. The new arrangement and feeding options probably spooked everyone for a while, but starting this weekend, our friends started to return.

Today I was able to photograph both Mr. AND Mrs. Hairy Woodpecker, a red finch, a tufted titmouse, a Carolina wren, a Carolina chickadee, and Mr. Bluebird. The cardinals were around, too, but I didn’t get any pictures of them. The goldfinches have been around, but I didn’t see any of them today.

I was crouched towards the floor of my kitchen, camera in hand, all the while trying out different settings in an attempt to get the best closeup shots. Here are some of the best ones I got this afternoon. This was at about 3pm.

From 2008 01 30 Bi…

Mr. Bluebird on the gutters along our back porch. If this were a cloudy day he’d probably appear much more vibrantly colored.

From 2008 01 30 Bi…

This is Mr. Woodpecker chowing down on suet. This is typically how he’ll remain for up to 10 minutes. After he finishes, Mrs. Woodpecker will come by.

From 2008 01 15 Ha…

Here’s a shot of him from Jan. 15th, you can see the red patch on the back of his head better.

From 2008 01 30 Bi…

Mr. Housefinch looking right at me!

From 2008 01 30 Bi…

This is the first picture I’ve been able to take of a bird at the window feeder. ANY motion usually scares birds off. This is a Carolina chickadee.

From 2008 01 30 Bi…

Here’s chickadee’s cousin, the tufted titmouse. They’re in the same family.

From 2008 01 30 Bi…

So here’s MRS. Hairy Woodpecker for her meal. How subservient — she typically waits for the man to finish his meal, then she takes whatever’s remaining. Not that Mr. W has taken everything. That’s the squirrels’ job!

Enjoy! Click here if you’d like to see more of the pictures. I’ve uploaded 36 of them, out of the 65 that I took.