Sunday, December 30, 2018

Happy New Year!

A sleek American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, in mid-caw.

And this thought for 2019 from Alfred Lord Tennyson: 
Hope smiles from the threshold 
of the year to come, 
whispering, "It will be happier."  
Click to enlarge.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas!

The maple tree outside my window has a hole that is used by a family of squirrels. I see three or four of them going in and out and sometimes just sitting in the entryway looking cute. While I was drinking my morning coffee today, I noticed that there was an incongruous branch of white pine up there, pictured above. Is it a squirrel Christmas tree? I'm sorry it's a blurry shot, but when I was more awake and went back to take a better picture, the pine branch was gone. Did they pull it inside to help insulate... or to decorate? Click to enlarge.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Appreciating Cardinals

It has been raining and gray here for days that feel like weeks. It seems to make the red cardinals stand out even more than usual. Click to enlarge.
It reminds me of something Terri Guillemets wrote:

"Winter is the slow-down
Winter is the search for self
Winter gives the silence you need to listen 
Winter goes gray so you can see your own colors..." 

On the technical side, when I was picturing red cardinals on gray backgrounds, I realized that although my camera can take a selectively colored photograph like that, I did not know how to change an existing color image to only show reds and grays. I figured out how to do it with Photoshop. (I have CS 5.) I opened this jpg and called it Layer 1. Then I chose Color Range from the Selection menu, and then Reds from the Selected Colors pull down. I copied that selection to a new layer. Then I used the Adjustment option from the Image menu to change Layer 1 to Black and White. That's it. Red cardinals on gray backgrounds.

Works well for house finches, too.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Holiday Botany Review

I was in a garden shop full of Christmas trees the other day, trying to remember the differences between pine, spruce, and fir. Here are some clues to tell them apart. 
Pines, spruces, and firs are all in the pine family and have needle-like leaves, but their needles are arranged differently. Pines have needles in bundles or clusters, like the white pine pictured here. Can you make out the five-needle bundles? Click to enlarge. 
Firs and spruces have individually attached needles, but attached in different ways. The fir needles pictured here are flat and blunt and typically feel soft. If you pull one off, you'll see the attached end looks like a tiny suction cup. 

The single needles of spruces are stiffer and sharper than those of firs. I got poked a few times while moving this little spruce branch around to photograph. Spruce needles are four-sided or triangular, not flat, so if you pull one off you can easily roll it between fingers. They are attached with tiny woody peg-like structures that stay on the branch when the needles fall, making the branches feel rough. 
Here's a bit of leafless peg-rough spruce branch. So... that's the kind of thing I was thinking about when I went to the garden shop.
Imagine my surprise when I saw these. 
And this. 
And these. 
We may need a whole different kind of field guide here. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Guardian Crows

The bird feeders at my place are really busy these days. I see lots of chickadees that are, so far, too fast for me to photograph. The tufted titmouse above and all his relatives are busy all day taking seeds from the feeders and stashing them in secret places for later. 
Downy woodpeckers are busy pecking at seeds and suet. 
Here's a female downy waiting and watching. 
I can depend on visits from a few dozens lovely red house finches every day. 
Cute little white-breasted nuthatches flit between feeders and trees, hanging upside down to take seeds and running acrobatically along tree trunks and branches. Click to enlarge. 
All the bird activity attracts hawks. This is an immature red-tailed hawk. 
Its tail isn't red yet, just striped. It sits and watches the little birds at the feeder, looking for an opportunity to catch something tasty. 
But crows are also watching. They keep an eye on the hawks. Yesterday I heard a racket outside and when I looked, half a dozen crows were dive-bombing a red-tailed hawk that was sitting in a tree. When crows harass a predator like this, it's called "mobbing" -- they cooperate to bother the hawk, usually to keep it from messing with their young. The little birds at my feeders benefit, too. Thanks, guardian crows!