Friday, December 19, 2014

Bird Count 2014: I'll Have Some Coffee With My Grouse

Water drops on branches
Last weekend, I went on the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count with Ms Ball and Ms Hermes. The CBC is an exercise in what's called "citizen science." Ordinary folks help collect data and send it to scientists, who then analyze it. Folks walk or drive through a designated territory and count how many and what kind of birds they see. They send this information to the local coordinator who then sends the information to the National Audubon Society.   This was my second year of tagging along. Instead of being cold, snowy, and bright, as it was last year, the weather was warm, wet, and foggy this year. Ms Ball kept saying that it smelled like spring...
Ms Ball looking for birds.

I drove us around the usual parts of Carlton County, including Jay Cooke State Park, while Ms Hermes kept careful watch through her binoculars and Ms Ball kept a running tally of bird species and numbers. We saw lots of chickadees, of course, and redpolls. I spotted a robin, the only one of the day. 

Ruffed Grouse
We also saw four Ruffed Grouse in the State Park. One flew up into a tree and sat there for quite some time, enough time for me to get a photo, though not a very good one. I have a lot of pleasant memories of going grouse hunting with my dad. We'd walk through the woods in the autumn, or rather, I'd walk a good distance behind him for safety's sake, and while he looked for grouse, I'd pay attention to the autumn wildflowers and fungi...

One set of exposed mouse trails.
Ball, Hermes, and I did some walking up at Oldenburg Point in the Park. We didn't see many birds, but we saw a lot of exposed mouse trails. Mice (and similar creatures) burrow under the snow, building networks of trails as they go, but then when the snow melts, as it did last week, the remnants of the trails are visible. This reminded me of cross-country skiing when I was a child. One time, my dad thrust his ski-pole into the snow, and when he pulled it up, he found he'd speared a mouse! 
And another set of trails.

Often, as we drove and walked, we'd stop for a bit and just look and listen. Sometimes, Hermes would pish for chickadees. I've come to expect this day to be a wonderfully calm and quiet exercise in looking and listening, two activities our over-scheduled, rat-race of a society doesn't value much...
Just a portion of the spread.

When we stopped for lunch at the Jay Cooke State Park River Inn building, however, the peace and quiet turned into a riot of food and laughter! 

Once again, we brought too much food. Ms Ball made her focaccia bread. There were the obligatory garlic-stuffed olives, along with roasted pickled peppers, mozzarella, potica, and various kinds of cookies from Gannucci's Italian Market. I brought some noodle salad with a spicy peanut dressing, some panettone (which I did not bake!), and a green bean dish with shitake mushrooms and a fermented black bean sauce.

Ms Ball with green-bean walrus tusks.
Just like last year, some food-related hijinks ensued, as both Ball and Hermes like to play with their food. They gamely agreed to pose for the camera.
Hermes making potica-eyes.

The highlight of the meal, however, was something very simple and elegant. Ms Ball had brought a thermos of coffee (which she made with cinnamon) and some china cups and saucers to serve it in. She remembered to bring cream and sugar, too! Ms Hermes and I hadn't had coffee in a long time. (I probably hadn't had a cup of java in more than 20 years!) It was just what we needed on such a damp, chilly spring winter day.
Such an elegant indoor picnic!

Once again, I invited my favorite "bird nerds" to come orchid-hunting with me this spring--it didn't happen last year, but maybe this year it will...

I hope you all have a great break, filled with peace and quiet, walks in the woods, good food, and laughter. See you in 2015!

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