Thursday, April 3, 2014

Gone Fishing!

Spring is such a wonderful time of year!  …. and I think life is too short to spend indoors when life is popping outside.  Yesterday I got to watch a bushtit building her nest and my first apple blossom just might open tomorrow.  For awhile I'm going to savor every moment of this wonderful time of year and come back to blogging when the hot weather settles around us.

Ta Ta!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stewart Pond Sketches


I’ve hardly had time to breath lately, but I still have been getting out and sketching.  Our local pond provides a wonderful place to sketch and photograph.  Here are some recent field sketches from there: 
Lots of activity at the pond.  One double-crested cormorant sits on top of a post while the other chases after a common merganser with its fish.  I had to chuckle because just a few days earlier a similar merganser stole a fish from a hooded merganser (which is quite a bit smaller).  This time the cormorant won and the merganser had to give up its fish.  

Also a seven ducks come 'slipping' in to the pond.  I love how they twist sideways when they want to loose altitude quickly.  …. and one great egret flies by. 
Canada geese squabbling on top, mallards in the middle, and a ring-necked diving on the bottom. 
 The whole page of Canada geese.  Sketching a variety of poses is such good practice.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

We Call Him Flitter


Ruby-crowned kinglets have got to be one of the hardest birds to photograph!  The little stinkers never stay still.  They flit, bounce, twist, and pop off to the next spot.  Dale and I call them ‘Flitter.’

Today, March 7, Dale and I have found a busy winter flock of little birds – more ruby-crowned kinglets than we’ve ever seen together (6?  12?).  They flit about too much to really count.  They just seemed to be everywhere. At least two chestnut-backed chickadees, and some black-capped chickadees bounce about too, but in a more sedate manner, if one can call a chickadee sedate.  Spring warmth has opened the pussy willows and spring showers have watered all gardens of mosses and lichens.  This stretch of the Umpqua River flows through dark forest, but along the river edges are patches of alder, willow and maple.  The willows are a-buzz with bees and a few flies.  The flock of birds pick about in all the trees, sometimes pounding away on something hard; three times I saw one with a little caterpillar about an inch long; mostly he is busy, busy, busy moving from one spot to another. 

Dale and I each spent about two hours doing our darndest to get sharp photos of Flitter.  The biggest challenge is to get a peek of the male’s red crown.  He can hide it entirely – which he usually does.  When aggravated he raises a bit of red and he can flare it into a glorious patch of red. 

Finally I had Flitter close and a little peak of red was showing ….. click!  I was sure I’d gotten that little feller until I looked at the image on the back of my camera – tail feathers!   Click! More tail feathers!  Three times in a row all I got was tail feathers.  I began to think of a few other names to call Flitter. 

Sometimes being an artist is really handy.  I went back to the car and loaded up with my stool, sketchbook and paint.  By now I had been watching kinglets for about two hours and had them pretty well sketched in my brain.  I sat down and drew what I couldn’t get with the camera.  Dale had more picture patience and kept on photographing. 



This photo of Flitter was taken in Yellowstone, one of the places ruby-crowned kinglets breed.  I well remember the day we heard something blasting forth from the top of a Douglas Fir and about broke our necks trying to figure out who had such a big voice -- a ruby-crowned kinglet.  They don't breed near home and so we weren't familiar with their song.  Fortunately sometimes they come down to lower levels to sing too.  This little guy was tucked in bushes near a pond.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Twee, Twee, Twee, Twee

March 3, 2014:  Roseburg, Oregon

Friends in Wisconsin and family in New Hampshire are still talking about below zero weather, meanwhile we just finished our first mowing of the lawn. If we had waited any longer we’d have to get a hay bailer out there.  Our lawn is lush and green all winter, then dry and crunchy by mid summer.  The spring challenge is to find a day when the grass is dry enough to cut, dry enough so we don’t stall the lawnmower more than just a few times. 

Daffodils are blooming and my ornamental cherry just popped into bloom. 

And today nature surprised me with a bird call I wasn’t familiar with.  Dale and I were walking about a block from home and heard, “Twee, twee, twee, twee” – about four insistent calls, a brief pause and then four more.  I’d just heard a junco trilling his little heart out, the first of the season, and now this strange call.

Fortunately the little bird had the decency to show himself.  He spooked to a new location.  Even though all I had was a silhouette, I knew immediately I was looking at a white-breasted nuthatch. He clung to the side of a birch in proper nuthatch fashion and then flew to the tippy top of another tree to sing.  There he sat, way up above the neighborhood singing his little heart out. 

When we got home I did a little searching and found white-breasted nuthatches sound a little different in different parts of the country.  Mine sounds very much like a recording from Monterey Bay, California that I found on http://xeno-canto.org. 


http://xeno-canto.org is a wonderful web site for checking out bird songs. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Henrietta: Part IV …. the last chapter


The story appears to end on Oct 9.  

Be sure to read through to Feb. 8

 As the summer progresses I learn to make a point of catching a fly for Henrietta early in the day.  If I wait until it is beastly hot outside, the flies get scarcer and I just get hot trying. I am still a woose when I hold a fly with the tweezers.  I have to concentrate on holding steady when she rushes down to grab.  I know she is harmless.  I know I am an enormous monster in comparison, yet I still have to focus hard to keep from flinching. When it is over I step back and take a deep breath.

For several days most of my notes are about the challenge of catching flies and Henrietta taking her dear sweet time to come and get them.  She isn’t as quick to grab as she was when she had a lot of growing to do.   I’m beginning to think I have the biggest, fattest European garden spider in the neighborhood.  Maybe Henrietta is getting tired of flies for dinner.
Henrietta is hiding in the tangle of string -- too hard to really see  The plastic bag has stinky fish goo.

Aug 29, 2013: Flies are becoming scarcer I spend more and more time trying to feed Henrietta a fly a day.  I am so tickled when she catches her own prey, usually the prey is a moth, caught during the night.  But recently I notice she has eaten a yellow-jacket (hornet). She left the hard parts in a little ball, all wadded up and dropped beneath her web. I have a stroke of genius.  I hang my plastic bag of fish goo just below where she spins her web.  Yellow-jackets love the stinky goo.  Now Henrietta generally catches one or more yellow-jackets a day – all by herself!

Henrietta hasn’t molted again.  I think she is ready to lay eggs if a male would just come along.  So far no such luck.  Her new webs are not as pristine as when she was younger. Dare I say it?  Her web is a little sloppy.  I wonder if her heavy abdomen is clumsy.  She certainly doesn’t look very athletic any more.  Also she has fewer rays than when she was young and no longer makes as large a web as she used to.

Meanwhile we’ve had lots of company.  Each guest is warned not to splat my spider on the deck. 

Sept 13, 2013  I check Henrietta every day, usually twice a day or more.  Life goes on, but I’m convinced I should have named her Elizabeth I, after The Virgin Queen of England 1533-1603.  No sign of a male visiting, or of an egg sack.

Some days she just goes head first into her hidy-hole and doesn’t even seem to be interested in keeping a leg on the tension line of her web (which tells her if she has just caught something).  But she does keep building new webs, not every day, but most days.  And I know she still munches down a meal every so often.  I’ve given up holding a fly into her web because she doesn’t respond -- very different from when she was young and lean and ever so eager.  In the daytime she usually catches yellow-jackets, thanks to my bag of fish goo.  Mornings I often see little hairs where a moth got caught during the night.  I can only assume she eats those too.

We’ll be leaving soon on a trip.  Will she still be there when we come back?

Oct 9, 2013 .... Home again.  No sign of Henrietta, just a dangle of tattered web.  I assume the end of my story is going to just be left dangling ……



Feb 8, 2014 ….. No!  it is not the end of the story!  I was working on my blog post today and went to www.bugguide.net to make sure I spelled Henrietta’s Latin name correctly – and there I found a photo of a European garden spider’s egg sack.  In January I photographed one just like it! I hang a chunk of canvas on a post at the other end of her cloths line.  Within its folds I found this bright yellow egg sack.  I’d never seen one like this before and at the time didn’t even think of Henrietta.  Now I’m hoping it is hers.

I wonder how many little Henrys and Henriettas will be on my deck next spring?


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Henrietta: Part III

This is Part III of four parts about a European garden spider.
July 19:  Most days I feed Henrietta a nice fly.  I’ve become quite the expert fly catcher.  I remembered that when we clean fish, flies are a nuisance.  So I saved a ziploc bag that recently held a salmon steak.  I keep it on the deck, zipped shut most of the time.  When I want a fly, I open the bag and set in on the grass.  Whew!  Stinky!  Usually a fly or two is there within a couple of minutes.  I just pop my net over the bag and presto, I’ve got another fly.  Sometimes I catch one that is too large and it breaks free when I put it into the web. I try hard to catch one not too big, and not too small.  Fruit flies are hardly worth my effort; small ‘houseflies’ are about right. 


I think if it wasn’t for my services Henrietta would have moved to a better location to keep herself fed.  I hardly ever see prey she has snagged.  Sometimes I feel I should feed her more often than ‘most days,’ but she seems to be doing just fine.  She has grown significantly. I noticed her web was quite small after her last shedding; then each day a little bigger until is reached about 10 x14 inches.  If her web stays in good shape she doesn’t spin a new one every day, but more often than not my flies make a big hole in her web. I’m such a klutz, even with the tweezers.  When I go to bed, her tattered web is still there; when I get up in the morning, a pristine web hangs in its place.
Henrietta doesn’t seem to mind my being just inches away when she is at work.  I always thought a spider wraps prey immediately, injects it, and then sucks the insides out.    Often she does that, but that isn’t what I’m seeing today,  at least not with this rather small house fly.  She kills it first.  Once the fly is dead, she quickly twirls it round and round with her hind feet while she encases it in silk; then she drenches the silky wrap with some kind of moisture.  Once drenched, she slowly turns the fly, eating it. The blob gets smaller.  Part way through dinner Henrietta goes back to her hidy-hole with her fly. More slow turning and munching.  About forty minutes after capturing the fly, the fly is reduced to a tiny speck.  I think Henrietta ate every scrap.

I know Henrietta is done feeding when I see her get back into monitoring position.  Sometimes she waits in the center of her orb, but often she waits in her hidy-hole with one or two legs touching a special line which stretches from the hidy-hole to a spot near the center of the web.  Vibrations along the line tell her when a fly is caught.  She runs down this line to the web center and from there goes to the fly. 

July 23:  Henrietta has cleaned up her web and guy lines and sits about three inches from her hidey-hole.  I told Dale she looks very plump.  She probably ate the whole thing (the net). 

July 28, 2013  5 PM:  Henrietta has been in her hidy-hole since July 24.  Today she is still there, but her abdomen looks significantly smaller and her legs longer.  She has shed again!

July 30, 2013  7 AM: Henrietta has a new web.  It is small by her standards, but I expected that.  Her first one after her last shed was also small-- 5 1/2  x 7inches.

PM .... Henrietta is getting me into trouble.  We were gone all day.  Too cool to catch a fly when we left this morning and too late to catch one this evening.  But I feel sorry for her.  I put a pot on to boil for our pasta and then go outside to see what I can catch.  I catch a fruit fly on my compost bucket and put it in her web --- but the wind is blowing so hard she didn’t seem to know it is there.  Maybe he thinks such a tiny morsel isn’t worth bothering about. 

Multiple net swings and I came up with a bigger insect .... looks a little like a small caddis.  I am torn between figuring out just what kind of insect it is and feeding Henrietta.  Henrietta wins.  By now Dale has found my pot of water madly boiling away.  Gads!  It is hard to multi-task between my own tummy and Henrietta’s.  I pop the fly into her web and attend to my own cooking. My treat is alive but not very active.  It takes Henrietta a few minutes to attack, but I get to eat my own supper knowing Henrietta has hers.