Saturday, March 28, 2009

Redpoll migration

Yesterday, there were 100+/- redpolls in our yard feasting on seeds. The trees were full of trills and chirps, and the air swarmed with birds dashing to and from the feeders to the ground to the trees to the feeders again. We have had to fill the bird feeders twice a day for about two weeks. Every day we seem to have had more redpolls. Now, the feeder is empty except for a couple of chickadees and less than a dozen redpolls. There are about 40 redpolls that have been hanging out at various times today, but the huge flock that was here yesterday has vanished. Could it really be time for them to leave?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rumble Creak

Last night we had an earthquake somewhere beyond Beyond Ester. In the past, I have experienced earthquakes as the ground or building swaying, sometimes a shudder that seems to emanate from underneath. But last night, the symptom was a sudden craaaccckk from the logs in the house. Earlier, it had been very windy, so when I heard the logs cracking and creaking, I took the dogs out to determine if we needed to evacuate the house, gather kitties, and head to a storm shelter. After eight years in Iowa, one of my first reactions to strange surging sounds is to find a solid shelter. But when the dogs and I opened the door to the outside, all was silent. No fiercely clanging windchimes, no madly swaying birch trees. We came back into the house, and I noticed that my alarm clock had tipped over. Some of the dishes had slid in the cabinets. Kali, the complacent and usually oblivious elder cat, was sitting up, her eyes wide. Ahhhhh... an earthquake, I thought. This morning, I mentioned my experience to my co-worker, who directed me to UAF's Geophysical Institute earthquakes info page. What a wealth of information! It looks like the earthquake we experienced was about 150 miles south of Beyond Ester. I'm curious about how the shock waves travel... do they emanate through rock like water waves? Or more like sound waves traveling through the air? Regardless, it was an interesting experience, but not one that I need to replay. Visit the Geophysical Institute to read stats on the Beyond Beyond Ester Earthquake here: This is also the site where I got the cool map, above. Thanks, GI!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Curious chickadee

We have a most curious looking Black-Capped Chickadee. It's got a deformed beak. Its beak is very long and curves down in a graceful arc. Before any of you soft-hearted folks like me start wailing and gnashing your teeth, let me assure you that it seems to be doing just fine. This chickadee has been a regular visitor to our feeding station all winter, and it survived the unusually extended cold, the -50s, the wild winds, and all of the other... >cough cough<... interesting weather events this year. I have watched it pick up seeds on the ground, and also watched it pick seeds out of the seed hopper. Two days ago, I shoveled snow off the deck and it came and watched me work for several minutes. It hopped along the logs and seemed to be hunting for bugs. Our neighbor, the ornithologist, says that there are several reports of chickadees in the area with deformed beaks. Actually, I have seen this chickadee so many times and have so many photos of it, that I suspect there are more than one. Could be several who are regular feeder visitors, which is why I have so many sightings.

We have over 4 dozen Redpolls, both Common and Hoary, a Hairy Woodpecker pair, a female and male Downy Woodpecker who may or may not be a mated pair, one Boreal Chickadee, and three Grey Jays who are regular feeder visitors. We installed a new tray feeder this week, along with the suet and the mixed feed hopper and the sunflower feeder. The tray hopper was an immediate success, especially with the Hairy Woodpeckers and the Redpolls. One Red Squirrel visits, who seems to nest west of the house somewhere in the woods. We don't have any house nesters this year, thanks, I suspect, to the efforts of foxes and the ever butch Borealys.

One more interesting noteworthy ornithological event... After I shoveled the deck two days ago, I was pooped. There was four feet of snow to shovel, and I've been rather sedentary this winter, so after I scooped all but the last 1/2 inch of ice off the deck, I collapsed in a chair next to the wall and basked in the sun. I was in heaven. It was warm and bright, in the 20s, and the sun reflecting off the wall of the house and the snow felt glorious. All of a sudden, 14 Redpolls swarmed down and surrounded me! I did not dare move, and I watched them out of the corner of my eyes. They were pecking tiny bits of ice, probably October's sleet storm, gobbling them greedily. One was so close to me, I measured about 4 feet away from me, and pecking ever closer and closer. Then I glanced down and saw that two of them were under my legs! They were just inches from my body, and were happily snatching up tiny ice balls. Even when I shifted my legs a bit, causing them to fly away, the entire flock returned in seconds to continue to peck and munch. I felt like I had melded into the Alaska wilderness and was just part of the background for the birds. I used their enjoyment of the tiny ice balls to call it quits on shoveling the deck. After all, I had uncovered a layer of October sleet that they really appreciated. Who am I, a mere mortal, to deny these lovely birds what they want? :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great balls of fire!

Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire! We had quite the sighting last night here Beyond Ester. About midnight, the dogs and I were outside for our night-night potty. A flash caught my eye, and I turned to the east just in time to see a huge electric blue meteor streak down. The ball itself was preceded by two streaks that seemed connected to the meteor like legs. It was electric blue, neon blue, pure crystalline warm current Pacific Ocean water blue. For quite a few seconds I wondered if the Martians had landed. After I reported to Kayt, who had been asleep but had to be woken up for the occasion, the dogs and I walked towards where I had seen it. I half expected to see a smoking spaceship crashed at the old Chandler homestead. First thing this morning, I emailed a reporter at the local newspaper to ask if anyone else had reported seeing the meteor. As my extremely excellent fortune would have it, the reporter had also seen it! It was an amazing and thrilling sighting. I will never forget it. The dogs, by the way, were unimpressed.

Meteor Mark of reports that we are in the midst of a very minor meteor shower, the y-Normids, that will peak about March 13.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Midnight moonlight

Midnight in March, just two or three days from the full moon. The last full moon we can appreciate in Alaska until September arrives. In April, the days are so bright and long that the moonlight dissipates, disappears in the eternal twilight. But tonight, I have tonight. We got about 20 inches of new snow this past week. The biggest snowstorm since 1970 has just left us with huge quilts of puffy smooth snow. The wind blew for a full day, lifting and piling the snow into berms as tall as houses. There are curves sculpted in the yard, against the house, adorning the edges of the woods. The snow in the woods is deeper than the dogs, so they stick to the trails and paths they have already worn. Without snowshoes, the snow comes to my waist, so I too, stay on the trails to feed the birds, potty the dogs. Even with this latest snow, we know spring is near. There are unmistakable signs that even the blizzard cannot hide. Three dozen redpolls at the feeder. Daylight at 7:00 PM even during the storm. The heaviness of the snow, the size of the flakes, as large as coins and nearly as weighty.

This night, the first clear night in a week, Orion stalks our southern sky. The Three Sisters clutch at the spruce trees as they spin overhead. Polaris dips below the birches in the north, the Big Dipper wheels a full circle, dumping out its milky contents onto the universe at near morning. I startle awake as if something cold splashed on my face. Just the puppy, nudging me to take her out for an early morning potty. The bird feeder is empty; in the half twilight, I fill it, and sleepy chirps surround me. The puppy and I stumble back to our bed, snooze for another three hours until Kayt wakes. Spring may not be here yet, but the shift is apparent. The snow has stopped falling, and the moon casts purple shadows across the drifts, the steep valleys, the sharp clefts, the sudden and shocking rises where yesterday there was smooth plain. I dreamed about Ben and Jay and all the good young men we love in their shirt sleeves building stout cabins on our land. Life is good.