Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bird in a Bottle

Last weekend at Hasty Brook wasn't all about the fire. It was also one of the birdiest weekends I've ever spent up there. I'll be stretching it out over a few posts because there was such good birding. One of the first birds I heard was the Veery. A friend recently said the Veery sounds like "a bird in a bottle." That's such a perfect description. Have a listen here. Veeries sing up at Hasty all day and well into the evening. I remember the first time I hear a Veery up there a few years ago. I had never heard such a sound in my life and honestly wasn't even sure it was coming from a bird. That first summer I couldn't even get a look at one to identify what I was hearing. That was when I decided to buy a birdJam (hi Jay!). I spent quite a few hours scrolling through the birdsongs trying to find that magical song. Finally, I found it. I identified the Veery by its song! The next spring, armed with my field guide and knowing finally what a Veery looked like, I caught a glimpse of the Veery. For the next few years I looked forward to hearing its lovely song and I saw them a few times but could never catch a photo.

Last Saturday hearing Veeries all around me I pulled out my birdJam to call one in.
In he came! That Veery flew in and I don't think he left my side the whole weekend.

Sitting on the hill watching warblers, there was the Veery.

Down by the creek, watching the water go by, there was the Veery.

Sitting watching the sunset, listening the the Common Loons fly over to the little lake, there was the Veery.
I walked along the creek looking for wildflowers and there the Veery popped up watching me.

Saturday evening after the fire, and after we washed up and had our dinner Art and I found a spot to sit and relax, a spot where we couldn't see the blackened grass and brush and trees.
The air was soft and the light was golden. The Veery flew in and sat in the spruce just a few feet away. And he sang.
I like to think he was singing of spring and new life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hasty Brook Fire

Memorial Day Weekend will stay in my memory forever. Lots happened but I'm hoping to share the lessons we learned about fire safety. Bonfires in the fire ring are a big part of our time up there. They are enjoyable on many levels but mostly they are a time for conversation for us. Art and I had a bonfire Saturday morning, burning some punky wood that he had cut a few summers ago. We had cut some trees last month to prepare the site for our garage and we wanted to burn up the older wood and stack the newly split wood to dry. We let the fire burn all the way down to ashes and decided to drive over to our nearest neighbors to visit for a bit. We did not douse the ashes with water. Mistake number one. While visiting we smelled smoke but really didn't think much of it. The neighbor pointed out the DNR (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) fire spotter plane flying overhead. Feeling uneasy, we headed back. We were gone for less than an hour. As we drove up our long driveway the smoke was thick and we knew we were in trouble. We have a clearing with woods on three sides. The fire was on all three sides.

Art jumped out of the truck running toward the fire and I drove like a maniac back to the neighbors to ask for help. They followed me back with shovels and rakes. In the photo above you can see that we had piled more dry wood near the fire ring to burn later in the day. Mistake number two.

The area to the north of the fire ring is a thick stand of small aspen mixed with beaked hazelnuts. It's so thick you can't walk sideways between the growth. The fire was heavy in here. Luckily in this are it was primarily grass and leaf litter burning. This was the area that I was working. The neighbor told me to shovel the fire back into the black- meaning move the fire back to where it had all ready burned. At one point I felt panic as I realized that there was fire burning on all sides of me. I walked through the low flames and kept on shoveling. Fortunately I was wearing jeans and sturdy shoes. I was still scratched and bleeding when all was done.

The fire extended down the hill on all three sides beyond what we could originally see. The four of us just kept shoveling. We bring a 50 gallon water jug up there when we go but don't have a well so there is no source of running water. The creek is about 20 feet below our camp site and at least 50 feet away. There was absolutely no time to haul water from there. About 20 minutes into it, it seemed we had gotten most of the grass and brush fire out. Two DNR water trucks arrived with four fire fighters. Without any talk, they went to work to make sure they could contain the fire.

This picture above show the scariest part of the fire. There are two birch clusters here with a spruce tree behind them. When we drove up the birch trees on the left were burning at least 30 feet in the air. The red object in the photo is a big metal bell. The burning bark eventually burned itself out and thankfully the trees were healthy and green and the wood didn't burn. The fire fighters were very concerned about the high flames though as they can send off bits of fire to blow away and cause secondary fires. There were several large spruce trees in the burn area but luckily none caught fire.

The fire came within just a few feet of this downed spruce. This tree went down last fall in a wind storm. The way it fell, the top half is hanging about 15 feet above the ground at the creek level, making it very difficult to cut up. The wood and needles are dry and if it had caught fire it would have gone up like a roman candle.

Another area where we were fortunate that a spruce didn't burn. The ground drops off past where the burn shows and the fire continued down the hill.

Here you can see just how close the fire came to our camper. The fire fighters also spent a good deal of time chopping open a dirt pile containing the stumps and roots that the bulldozer guy pushed out of the way when he built our driveway and clearing a few years ago. The fire had gotten down under ground and peat and wood were burning deep in the pile. The fire fighters also cut down several birch snags that were burning on the inside. One in particular was white and untouched by flames on the outside but had burned on the rotting inside all the way up so that flames were shooting out of the top. They were actually able to push that snag over, bust it up and get the fire extinguished. Smoldering stumps were also a worry. Once all of the flames were out they poured many gallons of water on the smoldering stumps and that smoking dirt pile.

When the danger was over, one of the trucks left for a refill and another call. The smoke spotting plane was radioed and released. Two fire fighters stayed for quite a while checking and double-checking for hot spots. The crew chief, once he could relax a little, spent some time walking the perimeter of the fire, showing us what to look for so we could continue checking for smoke and heat. He said it was clear that the fire had originated in our fire ring and believed that the swirling winds had picked up glowing bits beneath the ashes and blew them to the nearby wood pile. He offered suggestions to prevent such a thing from happening again.

Never leave ashes unattended. Period. Douse the ashes with water.


Don't stack wood within 15 feet of a fire ring.


Don't leave old snags standing near a fire ring. We had just discussed these snags the evening before. They are bird magnets BUT there are lots of them in our woods so these will go.


Clear the ground around a fire ring of all organic material for at least 10 feet. We put ours in 3 years ago and the ground was sand and gravel then. Each year however, grasses and weeds seeded, grew and died. That was enough to burn. We need to pull anything that grows to keep the gravel bare.

Make sure to have at least some water handy- enough to put out the fire in the ring.


Have tools available to put out a small fire (shovels and/or rakes)


A few hours later a conservation officer arrived to look over the damage. He only issued us a warning because the fire had started in a fire ring. If the fire had started as a brush pile burn we would have been ticketed (felony) and it would have cost BIG $$. It's pretty likely that we will be charged the cost of the fire fighters' time and consumed resources. Fair enough. I am eternally grateful for their help. Art and I and the neighbors were able to contain most of the fire, but we wouldn't have been able to handle some of it. The fire crew came again Monday morning to feel for warmth. They will check it again today.

They estimated that only a little over a tenth of an acre burned. Small compared to the other fires they fought last weekend, but huge to my heart.

I know how very lucky we are.

But I get physically ill thinking about what could have happened. I will never relax around fire again.

I came away with cuts and scratches and a cough from the smoke. Art was wearing shorts and has a few decent burns and blisters on his legs and hands. Thankfully we were both wearing sturdy shoes but the soles are burned. No one was hurt, the camper didn't burn.

Feel free to scold me. We should have known better. But if one person can learn from our mistakes- I'll feel better.


Thank you to neighbors Mark and Rene who without hesitation ran to help us.

Thank you to the DNR for spotting the smoke, and for calling in help.

Thank you to the DNR fire fighters for doing your jobs so well, and for the kindness and reassurance you showed us afterwards.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

NOT Birding By Boat

Our scheduled trip for Friday was called Birding By Boat. The group would ride in rafts, gently floating down the New River (I was assured it wouldn't be the white water section), taking in the lovely scenery along the way. We'd been having quite a bit of rain, mostly in the mornings and I wasn't enthused about sitting in a wet raft. I was OK with getting off the bus in the rain for birding but actually sitting on a wet seat? Mmmm...not for me. I had had a major "hit the wall" the evening before. I'm not complaing at all. I had heard and seen so many remarkable birds that day but I was feeling like a super-saturated solution. Dig back in your brains and find that chemistry term. Need help? This from Wikipedia:
The term supersaturation refers to a solution that contains more of the dissolved material than could be dissolved by the solvent under normal circumstances.
Small particles (seeds) can trigger the separation of the dissolved material from the solvent. In solid form these seeds can lead to the formation of crystallites or even large single crystals.
In simpler terms, if I tried to identify or photograph ONE MORE BIRD- My brain would turn to stone. I had run into Jeff Gordon that afternoon and he asked me if I'd had a good day. YEAH! Did you get any lifers? YEAH!
What did you see? Mmmm...can't remember.
Who were your trip leaders? Uhhhh...can't remember.
Where' did you go? Duhhhh...I don't know.
I was fried. Dinner was fun, a chance to chat and laugh and relax. Five minutes into the after-dinner program my eyes slammed shut. I didn't want to disrespect the speaker or embarrass myself so I quietly left the room and headed back out to my car. I passed Geoff Heeter on the way and told him that I really needed some down time and because the weather forecast was for heavy rain the next day, I would not be attending Birding By Boat. He asked me to rethink my decision and at least check the weather in the morning. OK.
Early the next morning, Mary tapped on my door for wake-up and she told me that the Birding By Boat had been cancelled! Heavy rains with possible lighting meant no river travel. Geoff Heeter and Jeff Gordon would instead lead a bus trip they quickly dubbed "Winging It". I had slept well and felt my brain had decompressed so I dressed to go.
On the bus, Jeff asked everyone if there was a particular bird that they wanted to see. Having been mocked by Carolina Wrens during my whole trip to Cape May last October, I mentioned that I'd REALLY like to see one. I know for a fact that a Carolina Wren would not be a lifer for anyone on that bus but me, but Jeff promised to get one for me. Our first stop was a golf course. Hardly off the bus, Jeff called out Northern Rough-winged Swallows. LIFER! Jeff's head perked up as he heard a Carolina Wren singing just up ahead. He played a little birdjam (Hi Jay!) and called that baby right in. HA! GOTCHA! LIFER! Jeff made sure I got a good long look at the Wren. My pictures are lousy, but I don't care. I travelled many, many miles to get that delicious bird.
Thank you Jeff.
Within minutes Geoff and Jeff had an Orchard Oriole in sight. LIFER! That's three lifers in about five minutes. Am I glad I went? Yes, yes, yes.
We started walking across the grass toward a stand of evergreens when suddenly one of the leaders (Jeff or Geoff) called out "Cape May Warbler." I stopped in my tracks with a lump in my throat. Way back when I bought my first field guide Birds of Eastern and Central North America by Roger Torey Peterson I thumbed through the book, looking at all the wonderful birds, making a mental list of the ones that really tugged at me- either for their beauty in form or flight or for the bit of natural history that told of their lives. The Cape May Warbler was on that list. And there it was.
Geoff quickly got it in the spotting scope and I could barely see it through the tears in my eyes. After everyone got a good look, Geoff cranked up the magnification and offered looks again. I was speechless.
Thank you Geoff.
I cannot tell you how many photos I took of this bird. I'm thankful for digital.

This Cape May Warbler made four life birds for me in about fifteen minutes.

Here's the Jeff/Geoff team looking like the professionals that they are. Awesome birders, generous and patient, and lots of fun. Thank you guys!

Later we stopped along the river and I got another lifer:
Warbling Vireo

It was a beautiful spot along the river.

We made a quick stop just to grab pictures of this lovely waterfall. Happily, no lives were lost crossing the wicked, steep, curved hill. We were told that road carried a lot of commuter traffic (at high speeds).

Another stop along the day was this park with clearly marked signs.

"Come on everybody! Let's go this way."

A sweet Yellow Warbler sang for us.

All together it was an EIGHT LIFER day for me!

Warbling Vireo
Purple Martin
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Carolina Wren
Cape May Warbler
Orchard Oriole
Yellow-throated Warbler

Our dinner that night was at the Cathedral Cafe. Jane, Kathleen and Mary brought "a few" bottles of wine to have with our dinner.

After a delicious dinner prepared by Dave Pollard and his family, Kathi read a poem she had written called "Birding With Bill." It was sweet and funny and very well crafted. Julie Zickefoose gave the talk later, sharing stories of some of the birds that have affected her life and the lives of her family. I was so touched that Julie included me in a section on Turkey Vultures and was delighted to know that she and I share strong feelings for this spectacular bird. She spoke of totems and their meanings and how important TUVU's have been to her at various times in her life. I am comforted to know that there is someone else out there who understands my depth of connection to this bird that most find less than attractive.
Thank you Julie.

I love this picture. I took it from what I'm guessing was the choir loft. I can see so many of the people that I got to know at the New River Birding and Nature Festival, people who shared their knowledge and mad birding skilz. People who shared their stories and laughter, smiles and hugs. Seriously folks, if you're thinking of attending next year- do it.

Beth brought her cement chicken to serve as the Flock Mascot. It weighed a TON but did a gooood job!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Take on Cranberry Glades

Up at 0500 with a tap on my door from Mary (since my alarm clock didn't work), hit the shower (we had 8 women and two showers so planning was a MUST), off to Burnside by 0600 for a hot breakfast and then pile in the vans by 0700 for our day trips. This was my morning routine for the week. Tuesday's trip was to Cranberry Glades, a ninety minute drive on mostly twisting narrow roads. Geoff Heeter drove our bus that day. "Oh shit!" popped out of my mouth more than once when he'd swerve a bit off the road and drop (several inches) down onto the shoulder. GULP!

The drive didn't seem that long though as we spent the time chatting and laughing, getting to know each other better. Most of the Flock was on this trip.
Jane, Kathi (with her back to us), Mary and Tim. Kathi had the coolest birding vest. Mary's getting a start on her "warbler neck."

It wound up being another really hot day but it stayed cool on the boardwalk under the shaded tree canopy. It smelled so good up here. Kind of like home in Minnesota.

I tried to take a panoramic shot to show how we were really in a bowl. At this higher elevation of 4000 feet there was no leaf-out yet. I think for me, the most memorable bird sighting on this trip was this Blackburnian Warbler.

He sang over our heads for quite a long time.

Moving from tree to tree, giving us different backgrounds to photograph.

I saw my first and only Blackburnian last spring at a park near home so this one wasn't a lifer, but it was pure eye candy.

This Black-throated Green wasn't a lifer either, but we got to watch two of them singing on their territories. The dividing line happened to be the road we were standing on so from time to time the two would duke it out right over our heads.

Keith Richardson, Dick Dennis (with another cool birding vest!) Connie Toops, Kathy Dennis (Denapple blogger) and Jane.
What I learned this day:
I LOVE hanging out with birders.
The Flock rocks!
I hope Geoff doesn't drive any more.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Birding By Butt Day at New River

I'm still in a twirl trying to process my pictures and memories of my week at the New River Birding and Nature Festival in West Virginia but I'm WAY behind in posting so I decided to just jump right in. (For some reason I'm not able to build links, sorry.)
Look at these beautiful Kathies! That's Kathie from Sycamore Canyon in Tuscon on the left and Kathi the Katdoc on the right. About every third woman at the festival was a Kathie/Kathi/Cathy/Kathleen etc. Coming from Tuscon poor Kathie was always cold.

Susan, Mary and Tim.
Susan is an old friend since we met last October in Cape May. Mary could make me dissolve into a fit of tear-squirting giggles just by looking at me. Tim is hilarious. He flew into Charleston a bit ahead of me but waited for my flight so we could caravan on to Opossum Creek Retreat. When I came around the corner toward the baggage claim area and I saw his smiling face I could have just melted. Out of everyone, I was most nervous about meeting Tim. I needn't have worried- Tim is wonderful.

Birding by Butt included a banding demonstration by Bill Hilton Jr. from Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History near York, South Carolina. I have subscribed to This Week at Hilton Pond longer than any other blog.

Bill has done extensive work banding and researching Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I took many photos of Bill banding birds that day but found this photo particularly moving. Look at this hummingbird's tiny foot grasping the lead on his mechanical pencil.

After each bird was banded Bill chose someone to release the bird. Look at the priceless expression Kathie's face. Her joy was a delight to share.

BITE that finger!

Jane, Susan and I took a quiet stroll and found a great birding spot on our own. This Scarlet Tanager looked like a Christmas light in the tree-top.

Another shot of the Hooded Warbler which I believe was my first lifer of the trip.

Earlier in the afternoon on a birding walk Geoff Heeter pointed out this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher working on her nest. She would fly in with bits of lichen and gently tamp them down into place with her chin.

I spent time every day on the big covered porch out back at the Meadows. This day someone spotted this Eastern Bluebird baking in the sun on the lawn. Not sure if he was anting (do Bluebirds do that?) or just soaking up the sun. Maybe he knew that rain was going to be coming later in the week.

Art and I are headed up north to Hasty Brook tomorrow morning. We're hoping to talk to our builder again to firm up our plans for moving forward with building this spring.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

New Friends at New River

Sorry it's taken me so long to get a blog post written about my week in West Virginia. I'm having a hard time gathering and processing my thoughts. The New River Birding and Nature Festival was amazing on so many levels. The birding was fabulous- twenty-eight lifers for me! Our Farmhouse at Opossum Creek Retreat was as comfy as could be and rocked with laughter. The hospitality shown us was warm and kind- like family.

My head is spinning with the stories and memories and as glad as I am to be back home, I'm feeling quite sad and adrift. I met Susan, Laura, Katdoc and Beth last October in Cape May but the rest of this group were new meetings. I've always believed that we reveal enough about ourselves through our blogs to let readers know a bit of our character so I had ideas of what these bloggers would be like. Every last one of them are delightful, sharing and loving. I have never laughed so long and so hard. I was constantly wiping tears from my eyes- mostly from laughter but often from the emotions of the moment.

I spent a week in a most beautiful part of our country that I'd never seen before with guides that cared deeply about the area and about sharing their knowledge and talents. It was obvious that they loved showing us both life birds and common birds. I spent a week with people who loved birds as much as I do. I fit in. I formed new friendships and deepened old ones. I miss the "Flock." I still have several hundred photos to sort through and edit and of course there's work around the house to catch up on. I don't want to hurry through my pictures and memories though. I'm holding them all close.

This is most of the Flock:

Beth from My Life With Birds

Tim from From the Faraway, Nearby

Nina from Nature Remains

Jane from Jalynn's Window on Nature

Barb from My Bird Tales

Kathie from Sycamore Canyon


Laura from Somewhere in NJ

Bill from Bill of the Birds

Kathi from Katdoc's World

Mary from Mary's View

Jane from Wrenaissance Reflections

Kathy from Life, Birding Photos and Everything

Susan from Susan Gets Native

not pictured:

Kathleen from A Glorious Life

Julie Zickefoose

Jeff Gordon

Jim McCormac


I hope I didn't miss anyone on the list, but I miss you all.