Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Nuthatch Whisperer

The last three holidays where I have visited my family (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter) have all involved some interesting weather. Thanksgiving and Christmas weather events were both well-documented in previous blog entries, so I will just focus on this past Easter weekend.

Return of winter? This morning's 3 inches of snow on the North Shore.

I left for the North Shore on Friday in the midst of a winter storm warning. And this morning, just in time for my trip home, we awakened to 3 inches of wet, heavy snow. This winter really has it out for me!

However, unlike the previous trips, I managed to dodge the brunt of the action. The heaviest snow from Friday passed south of the Twin Cities, leaving the roads only slightly wet (my only worry was looking out for the 100+ deer that were dining on the grasses in the newly melted ditches...they were everywhere!). And this morning, the temperature warmed to the mid 30's, so the roads cleared off in no time. Finally, I lucked out for my winter...er, excuse me...I mean "spring"...travels!

But a lot of fun things happened in between the trip up and the trip back. I spent a long Easter weekend at Mom and Dad's and got to see the whole family, eat well, run, visit friends, trek in the woods, and bond with birds.

Easter ham with all the fixings!

We celebrated Easter on Sunday at church, and we capped off the day with family and friends back at Mom and Dad's place for dinner. Dad picked up a double-smoked ham from Old World Meats in Duluth that was quite possibly the best ham I have tasted. (I am still enjoying leftovers, by the way!) And one of our friends, Cathryn, made an absolutely awesome homemade apple pie for dessert. Yum! What I am saying is that we all ate extremely well over the holiday weekend! :)

I went running three times. Despite being cold on Saturday morning (14 degrees), I did 8 miles. Sunday and this morning offered warmer temps in the 20's for my 5 miles on each of those days. Pretty good running overall.

In addition to running, I also spent a lot of time in the woods hiking with Mom and Dad. While the mornings were cool, we were blessed with some beautiful, clear days in the mid to upper 30's. I don't know if I have ever seen the sky so blue.

The ice blue skies of the North Shore. Also, Dad appears in this photo somewhere. Can you find him? This is kind of like "Where's Waldo?" :)

Our hikes take us back in the woods to find our resident bird friends. The chickadees are always there to greet us looking for their handout of sunflower seeds. And of course, Norris was there. He is the assertive little red-breasted nuthatch with a whole lot of swagger who I have talked about on a number of occasions.

And this time, I also got to meet Noreen.

Dad hikes in the woods daily, and Norris always makes his presence know (even on the worst of winter days), as he is truly the guardian of the cedar grove. Nothing gets past him. If a predator is in the area, Norris and his band of chickadees sound the alarm to alert other birds of danger. It is really remarkable how smart these bird are. This intelligence, coupled with a bold and daring personality, has made Norris a fun mascot on our hikes.

All throughout the winter, Norris had his companion in tow, who Dad has dubbed "Noreen." Noreen is a female nuthatch, and we know she is the significant other of Norris because he is territorial and will run all other nuthatches out of the area. Except for her, that is.

While Norris is fearless and will swoop in at will to grab his sunflower seeds from your hand, Noreen is a skeptic. She would flutter around your hand and head, but never sat down. Instead, she would simply follow Norris around and take the seeds that he was stashing away!

On Monday, Dad and I were hiking near the cedar grove feeding Norris and a number of chickadees. Dad went off to photograph a woodpecker in a nearby tree, leaving me standing near the trunk of a large cedar with all kinds of bird flying around me. I had a number of chickadees taking turns grabbing seeds from my hand. Suddenly, I see Noreen climbing down the trunk, very interested in what was going on.

I am not sure if she got sick of seeing the steady procession of chickadees visiting me, but curiosity got the best of Noreen. She took off, fluttered over my hand for a second, landed, grabbing a sunflower seed.

By the time Dad returned, he was astonished to learn that Noreen had visited me several times for seeds. She obviously learned that I was harmless, eventually becoming more and more comfortable making a beeline straight to my hand.

Even with Noreen learning this new trick, make no mistake that Norris still rules the roost. On a couple of trips where she was sitting on my hand, Norris barged in, forcing Noreen to jump to a branch, or sometimes to my shoulder or hat! She was a treat.

Yours truly with my new friend Noreen

Dad insists Noreen has never landed on him before, and he was out there every day this winter. I joked during our hike that I must be a "nuthatch whisperer" or something. :)

With that, I left Noreen and Norris this morning, all the while hoping they will be fruitful and multiply, ensuring future generations of birds in the cedar grove will not be without their guardians.

A nice way to wrap up the Easter weekend.

Until next time,

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