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Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 9:10 am

Wintering songbirds thrive despite the cold

post by JIM NIGRO in nature, outdoors, songbirds

Thanks in large part to a constantly filled bird feeder, the Winter of 2015 has seen an abundance of feathered visitors in and around our yard. This cardinal waits on a snow-covered spruce bough between feeding forays.

The smaller birds, like this junco, begin to arrive at first light -- not at sunrise mind you -- but when the first hint of gray light begins to permeate the darkness.   

The blue jays arrive a bit later. After a pit stop in the apple tree to make sure the coast is clear, they will flit back and forth between the tree and the bird feeder....

as does this cardinal.

A trusting sort, the chickadee will occassionaly take seed from your hand.

Not so with the tufted titmouse....it flits about rapidly; It's been difficult to take its picture.

A blue jay in the "crow's nest" of the apple tree. The apple tree is the closest bit of cover to the bird feeder. There are small brambles and thickets just inside the small woods, but the apple tree is usually where all of our "guests" bide their time while waiting a turn at the bird feeder.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 9:33 am

The red-bellied woodpecker expands its feeding grounds

post by JIM NIGRO in nature, outdoors, red-bellied woodpecker

There was a time when the red-bellied woodpeckers never ventured into our yard, instead choosing to scour the bark of the big cottonwood, as seen here, or sidling along the branches of the box elders and walnut trees along the edge of the adjacent woodlot.

In the hardwoods the red-bellied woodpecker was something of a loner, but he doesn't mind sharing space at the bird feeder.

Often mistaken for a red-headed woodpecker, the red-orange streak on its abdomen indicates how the red-belly got its name.

A bluejay joins the red belly for a suet feast. No doubt attracted by the slabs of suet we've put out in recent winters, the red-bellied woodpecker has become a freqent visitor to the bird feeder.

While it may not qualify as a "blue moon occurrance," I haven't seen a red belly in the apple tree until this day. Being in close proximity to the bird feeder, the apple tree provides thick cover and protection from winged predators.

Friday, December 26, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Photo: A snowy owl

post by Howard B. Owens in animals, batavia, birds, Genesee County Airport, outdoors

Here's one of the snowy owls out at the airport in a photo by Dylan Brew, of Schoen Productions.

Thursday, December 25, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Photos: Local bird watching

post by Howard B. Owens in nature, outdoors

Dylan Brew, of Schoen Productions, shared these photos he took of some feather-covered visitors he had today.

He identified them (though I'm not sure I'm posting them in the right order) as: Carolina wren, white-throated sparrow, tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Creature comforts: enjoying the warm weather respite

Long migratory flights have been put on hold in recent days. Here a drake and hen mallard take advantage of the open water on "celery brook" to do some dabbling.

Downstream from the River Street bridge, a pair of Canada geese appear to be feeling their oats.

Framed by phragmite plumes, these Canadas enjoy the open water of the "sandwash." 

The placid surface of a local pond creates a mirror image of this lone cormorant.

Even domesticated critters are taking advantage of the warm weather -- apparently in this case the grass is greener on the other side!

What are the chances strains of Silent Night will permeate this little valley in Middlebury tonight?

Wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas!!!! 

Monday, December 8, 2014 at 10:35 am

The Day the Duck Hunters Died: a look back at waterfowling's darkest hour

It was a time when much of the country was still feeling the effects from the Great Depression. In rural America the contents of a hunter's game bag greatly helped add to the family larder. Water fowl bag limits were quite liberal at the time and shotgun shells nowhere near as costly as they would become. A box of birdshot cost $1.25 -- a mere farthing by today's standards.

According to the Minnesota Public Radio archives, the autumn of 1940 was unseasonably warm throughout the state. The area had experienced a real Indian Summer during October that year and November began much the same way. Because warm autumns aren't conducive to great duck hunting, the wing shooting hadn't been much to write home about -- at least not until this day.

The morning of November 11th dawned sunny with the thermometer reading 50 degrees -- almost balmy for Northern Minnesota so late in the year. The temperature would climb to near 60 degrees. For outdoorsmen it was practically shirtsleeve weather. A good number of sportsmen heading out to the backwaters of the Mississippi where it flows past Winona were dressed accordingly -- nothing more than a canvas hunting jacket over a light shirt. 

In addition to the sloughs and backwaters of the upper Mississipi watershed, the river is dotted with a maze of islands where it flows past Winona, making the area ideal habitat for duck blinds. And this is where a good number of duck hunters headed that November day. 

By early afternoon the sky clouded over and a wind came up. It was a light wind at first and with it came the rain -- prime conditions for hunting ducks. The temperature began to drop and sure enough, the ducks began arriving in good numbers. Big flocks numbering in the hundreds at first, but before long the ducks were funneling into the backwaters of the upper Mississippi by the thousands. After a while the rain turned to sleet and still the ducks poured into the sloughs and backwaters. The sky was black with ducks and a few geese mixed in as myriad waterfowl all across the upper Mississippi flyway were silhouetted against gray storm clouds.

What appeared to be dream conditions for the duck hunters was really an omen, a forebode warning. In their zeal the gunners totally misread Mother Nature's danger signal. The ducks, countless thousands of them, were seeking shelter from an imminent storm. The hunters, meanwhile, merely thought it their good fortune to be afield for a waterfowl movement such as was taking place before their very eyes. They had no clue what was bearing down on them.

Predicting the weather in those years was not the science it would one day become. If those early meteorologists had at their disposal the sophisticated weather-predicting equipment of today, they would have known a strong storm that had originated in the Pacific Northwest had barreled across the Rocky Mountains and, instead of weakening after crossing the Continental Divide as is usually the case, it tapped into an intense low-pressure system carrying plenty of rain from the Gulf of Mexico before colliding with a frigid arctic air mass from Canada. A recipe for a weather disaster was in the making.

As the temperature continued to drop, the sleet turned into snow and what had become a stiff wind began increasing in instensity, growing ever stronger. Still, the waterfowl kept coming, providing the gunners hunkered down in the cattail-lined sloughs the duck hunt of a lifetime. The bag limit at that time consisted of 10 ducks and for those who had yet to fill their quota, with so many birds on the wing, it appeared to be just a matter of time before doing so. Thus, in the excitement of the hunt, shotguns continued to boom throughout the backwaters of the upper Mississippi.

"THE WINDS OF HELL"

The time eventually came when those who had refused to abandon their duck blinds earlier would have to pay the consequences one way or another. Mother Nature was about to unleash her fury.

The wind continued to strengthen and the hunters who had yet to leave, those still in the elements, knew they had made a dire mistake. For the hunters on the river islands, blinding snow and 70-mph winds made getting back to shore next to impossible. While a scant few somehow managed to get back to shore, for most it was an exercise in futility. Without outboard motors, wooden rowboats and skiffs were no match for the whitecaps and five-foot waves that stood between them and safety. It would prove to be at best a harrowing ordeal for those stranded anywhere among that maze of islands.

By nightfall the temperature had plummeted to 2 degrees but hurricane-force winds created a windchill of minus 55. In desperation, boats, decoys and duck blinds were burned in an attempt to provide warmth. Some repeatedly walked in circles to keep their blood flowing, others struck themselves over and over, pounding themselves in the arms and torso to keep the circulation moving.

What awaited rescue personnel the next day were a series of grim, surreal scenes. Throughout the region hunters were found lying prone, some beneath their duck boats, others covered by the drifting snow. One man was found standing in waist deep water -- he was frozen solid, his arms still clinging to a tree. Raging winds had driven the river up and over what little dry land, if any, was to be found on that particular spit of land.

One teen survived only because the family's two black labs had nestled on either side of him and remained that way throughout the night. The boy's brother, father and uncle weren't so fortunate. While many froze to death, others drowned in their attempt to cross the river sloughs in low-slung duck boats that were no match for five-foot waves and 70-mph winds.

The deadly storm ravaged parts of three states and was the reason for a head-on collision between a freight train and a passenger train loaded with duck hunters. Unable to see in the white-out conditions, the passenger train's crew missed a trackside signal. On Lake Michigan three freighters and two smaller boats sank, claiming 66 lives. All told, the storm was responsible for 160 deaths. Of that total, nearly 50 of them duck hunters, the majority perished in the upper Mississippi watershed near Winona.

The cataclysmic weather phenomena which struck the Upper Midwest on Nov. 11th, 1940, has since been labeled in many ways. For some it was the Armistice Day Blizzard, others called it the Storm of the Century. One newspaper's headlines referred to it as The Winds of Hell.

However that tragic event is recalled, in the annals of waterfowling and for the family and friends of those who perished, it will no doubt be remembered as The Day the Duck Hunters Died.

Friday, December 5, 2014 at 10:49 am

It's late autumn and the critters help themselves to whatever's available

post by JIM NIGRO in outdoors

This gray squirrel found a weathered and wrinkly apple on the ground and decided on taking it back into the apple tree before gnawing away.

The red squirrel stuck with more traditional fare -- a black walnut.

A nuthatch is waiting to have a turn at the bird feeder.........it might take awhile.....

or until this gray squirrel is done gorging itself.....there has been a variety of birds coming to the feeders: cardinals, juncos, chickadees, blue jays, etc.....and quite often they all have to wait for the squirrel to finish.  

A "well-insulated" mourning dove.........

and a finch that seems to be contemplating whether or not to head South.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Snowshoe Rentals

post by Judy Spring in outdoors

Snowshoes are available for rent at Genesee County Park & Forest Interpretive Nature Center on Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm-3pm during the months of December, January, February, and March, weather permitting. Rentals are on a first come-first serve basis and must be used at the Park. $5/pair of snowshoes. For more information, call #585-344-1122. Genesee County Park & Forest, 11095 Bethany Center Rd., E. Bethany NY 14054. 

Friday, November 14, 2014 at 9:45 am

Watching the waterfowl

post by JIM NIGRO in nature, outdoors

The ballet of the honkers.....gathering speed prior to take off.

"In sync"...they just need some altitude - quickly!  

A drake and hen mallard enjoying a sunny morning on the Tonawanda.

A lone ring-necked duck in a small unnamed tributary off Old Creek Rd.

Canada geese making chatter and resting between flights

For now, their flights consist of short hops in search of grainfields. All too soon the flights will be much higher in altitude and much longer in duration, after which we won't see them again until late winter or early spring.

Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Early November pics from Genesee County Park

post by JIM NIGRO in Genesee County Park, nature, outdoors

As of last weekend there was still a splash of color at Genesee County Park & Forest, as seen along Memory Lane, the main road in the park. 

Soft morning light really enhanced the golden-bronze tint of beech leaves....and it seems that the fallen leaves weren't totally ignored.....

as some creative soul put them to good use.....

Maybe it was this wooly bear and some of his friends...they were out in number on this day.

A blue jay keeps a wary eye on Claudia and myself.

These pics are barely a week old and the scene above is already a memory. Before we know it the park will be cloaked in winter white. Hope to do some snow shoein' here this winter and if we do, I know we'll remember this sunny autumn morning.

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