Walking through the woods in a graupel shower this afternoon prompted me to do a little more research on the phenomenon. Just what is graupel, anyway, and how does it differ from other forms of frozen precipitation?
Clark’s Nutcrackers are amazingly intelligent birds that have been linked to the Whitebark pine trees that are beleaguered by disease and beetles, but it appears that their resourcefulness is helping them transition to other sources of livelihood.
The short answer: When it’s an American kestrel. The kestrel, sometimes referred to as a sparrow hawk, is actually the smallest species of falcon in North America, as well as the only type of kestrel found here. (And there is some debate over whether or not the American kestrel is a “true” kestrel.)
Spirited, social, active, acrobatic, gregarious, friendly. Maybe I should add ‘compassionate’- see the story below! Watching these little birds as they bounce along on the airwaves on their way to the bird feeder in the morning is mood-lifting. Always on the alert, head switching back and forth, they sound the first alarm when something of concern approaches.
Certhia americana is the only North American member of the Certhiidae (Treecreeper) family. Thanks to its long, thin tail, it measures 5.25 inches, but it appears to be about the same size as a Pygmy nuthatch, with which it could be confused. “A prisoner of the forest, the creeper seems unable to escape the gravitational pull of the tree trunk on which it creeps, ever upward” writes Bryan Pfeiffer. They live in mature coniferous forests, not wandering far afield.
Pat Jaquith’s wonderful post about nuthatches reminded me of how much I enjoy watching them. We have several bird boxes around our house, and pygmy nuthatches will regularly occupy two specific boxes–and, as you’ll see in the videos below, this can lead to some territorial issues.
We hit the jackpot on Nuthatch species– well, almost! Three of the four Nuthatch species in the US live here! We have Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches. While each has a favored tree species, our mixed forests are great places to see all of them. Nuthatches grab a seed, wedge it into a bark crevice and hammer it open as if using a hatchet – thus, their curious name! They are well-equipped for gleaning insects and seeds from all directions. Their clawed feet hook into bark providing sure traction as they cruise up, down, and around looking for food. While our environment provides everything they need, they are frequent visitors to bird feeders, gardens, and water holes, making even more opportunities to observe their acrobatic talents.
Winter is a good time to spot unusual things when the leaves are off and grasses are dry and beaten down by snow. Sometimes it just takes a splash of color that you wouldn’t expect to draw your attention to an unusual growth. The galls in this article all are caused by different insects but are benign, that is, they usually don’t harm the plant they are on.
Skip’s journal post about Pileated Woodpeckers inspired me to add a few more images and some of my observations of these unforgettable birds that the American Birding Association has named the 2021 Bird of the Year.
Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in North America. (The ivory-billed woodpecker of the southeastern US swamps and marshes is larger, but it is considered “definitely or probably” extinct.) While pileated woodpeckers are not exactly rare in the valley–I’ve encountered them year ’round in the Happy Valley State Trust Lands and the Pig Farm State Trust Lands (see Locations)–they are infrequent visitors to areas of the valley with fewer trees and more houses. That’s why it’s such a rare treat to see one in the back yard.
The Whitefish Lake Institute is offering the year’s first Science Quencher—a “lightning round” set of presentations on local science projects by local experts. Online registration for the Zoom meeting may be found here. Check the flyer for more information.