Sunday, November 29, 2015

It's Chilly Out There

November 29, 2015:  Out my front window.

Black-capped Chickadee on Hawthorn
Brrrrr.  It’s chilly out outside. We’ve had a hard frost the last three nights – nothing compared to the central Wisconsin winters I grew up with.  But I’ve lived here for over thirty years and I've gotten cushy.  Freezing seems chilly.  Hard to believe I used to sleep in an unheated bedroom with my window open until it got really cold.  As I remember, I had to keep the window open until 20 below zero, but perhaps time has only made it seem as cold as that.  I was the only member of the family sleeping upstairs, and my father wanted to just holler up from outside to wake me up.  I don’t think he had any idea how bone chilling that room was. Maybe I only needed to keep the window open until it got below zero.  I do remember it was COLD.

I even remember my sleepwear from those days.  Wool socks and a viyella nightgown sewn by my grandmother. Much to my surprise I found viyella on Wikipedia.  It was a blend and cotton and merino wool – “The first branded fabric in the world.”  Now the term relates to a fashion brand, but not when I was a little girl holding onto my toes.  Funny how I even remember the name of the fabric and that it had wool in it.  It never seemed warm enough for wool.

Those nightgowns make me smile even now.  ‘Posey’, as we called my grandmother, always started with a pattern, but she hated to waste fabric, so she’d find areas on the nightgown to add extra fabic:  a fuller collar, wider sleeves, more material in the body, and fortunately long enough to tuck around my feet when I curled up.  Posey sewed them by hand!  That makes her sound like some comfy woman from the hills, but, no.   Posey was a proper Bostonian.  Never wore a pair of pants in her life.  
The Living Room When I was a Little Girl
I remember once counting the blankets on my bed – 13.  If I’d had any sense I would have slipped in between them, but I didn’t.  I’d go to sleep trying to hold my cold toes.  By morning my bed was finally warm and I’d enjoy the beautiful patterns of frost crystals on my windows.  Then I’d dress as fast as I possibly could and run downstairs to toast myself at the wood stove.  The stove was taller than I was and my father would have a good fire going before he called me.
Sketched from my Living Room Window
So watching the chilly birds has sent my mind a-wandering.   They agree with me that it is chilly outside – they are all fluffed up.  Our Anna’s hummingbird was one of the first to arrive this morning.  He looked more like a colored egg with a long bill, than a hummingbird.  I noticed his feeder had ice crystals so I quickly warmed more nectar and hung another feeder.  Robins were early too.  They ignored the all the beautiful red fruit on our hawthorn until the fruit froze.  I suspect it softens the fruit … or maybe their need for calories just puts hawthorn on the menu when it gets cold.  Some of the robins made a point of sitting on their feet while feeding – keeping those toes warm just like me. 

Soon more fluff balls arrived:  house finches, juncos, a song sparrow, and a pair of towhees.  They all looked as if they tripled their weight in the last couple of days.  It’s wonderful how they can fluff their feathers to keep warm.  Most birds can settle onto their feet and keep them warm too.   The poor ol' heron has to settle for warming one foot at a time.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Silly Season for Bucks

Klamath Basin, California:  Nov 11-14, 2015

Most any time I’m down in the Klamath Basin my heart sings.  Imagine miles and miles of flatlands spotted with marshes a few lakes.  Mountains rise in the distance:  Mt. Shasta, the Steens, peeks of the Cascades.  Man has removed water from much of the Basin and replaced it with huge fields of agriculture, but the remaining wetlands and water are a rare gem. 
It’s far enough from home we usually go for at least three days.  Each trip is different.  When we were in the Basin a month ago the official count was nearly a million ducks and geese pausing in the Basin on their way south, but we couldn’t find a single great horned owl.  This trip I suppose there were a mere half a million ducks and geese -- plenty to keep me happy – and we spotted 8 great horned owls.  One owl on a telephone pole, one deep in a crevice, one with a fresh grebe clutched in its talons and two full-sized owlets begging for their share, and the rest day-roosting in willow trees.
Early in our trip we watched a loggerhead shrike hunting grasshoppers and a California quail greeting the morning, and, best of all, we realized the mule deer were in the rut.

Mule deer take the rut very seriously.  On our trip to the Basin a month ago there was hardly a buck to be seen, plenty of does and fawns, but the bucks were still up in the high country.  Come rutting season they know where to find the does and down they come.

We found ‘Junk Yard Joe’ our first morning in the Basin.  The morning had started out with hoarfrost on very twig, blade of grass, and sagebrush.  Finding Junk Yard Joe could have been magical … hoarfrost and those magnificent antlers.  But a couple of his does were picking their way between an old toilet, tattered blue tarps, and scrap metal.  This stuff was piled next to an empty house standing in an island of large cottonwoods.  Junk Yard Joe was interested in his does, but the ambiance just wasn’t there.
We continued on our way looking for a different buck.  The hoarfrost burned off quickly, but the air remained crisp and chilly.  Most of the Basin is wide open -- few trees.  We spotted a couple other bucks off in the distance, and one resting.
Soon we came upon a bald eagle dining on fresh duck, probably a duck wounded by a hunter.  Raptors eat well during hunting season.  Two ravens were keeping the eagle company.  One kept trying to steal food, but the other sat aloof on the opposite end of the telephone pole cross beam.
After finishing his duck the eagle flew on down to the next pole.  Much to our surprise we found a raccoon napping on a bird house on the same pole.  The raccoon seemed quite content on his high perch and the eagle paid him no attention.
Late in the day we found what we were after … a rutting buck reasonably close to the road.  Two bucks were keeping company with 11 does and fawns in an alfalfa field.  The biggest buck had picked his doe.
He kept attempting to mount
and she kept slipping away.
But the buck was determined.

Even this didn't appear to be successful.  She wiggled away too quickly.
No doubt this time.

And that ends it for the Silly Season in the buck world.  For about ten days the buck’s life focuses on chasing the does.  Usually the bucks are all too elusive, but during the silly season they have more important things on their minds than us.