Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Birding & Preserving

I had the day off today and got up early to make the best of it with a bit of morning birding before heading home to finally tackle a batch of blackberry jam.  I'd do some local powerline birding and make my way along the trail and hear the Electric Company cutting down trees much to my dismay and was about to turn around when I flushed a large bird out of tree cover.  Based on the quick glance I got of it, I was pretty sure it was a Barred Owl but decided to stick around to see if it would return.  After a couple minutes with no luck I bush whacked deeper into the canopy and would finally get it again and it would take one quick look at me and fly off which frustrated me due to the mini second look I was able to get.

I'd decide to head back home after an hour as it was obvious the owl didn't want to be seen and really couldn't explore with the power company there so figured I'd get an early start on my jam and head back over there when I was done.

Because this is what awaited me.  This is only a portion of the wild blackberries I have in my yard which is more than enough for me and the birds so instead of wasting them, I preserve them.  I freeze many for winter baking but my favorite thing to do is canning.

The birds would be knee deep in berries too, but preferred the mullberries just as they always do including the Gray Catbird above.

And the Baltimore Oriole's along with their begging fledglings who can't get enough of these sweet juicy berries.  They know how to get the berries themselves but they would rather the parents do it for them which they happily do.

And of course the Cedar Waxwings who will continue to inhale these things when overly ripe and fermented and get a little tipsy.

I'd be busy with my own berries and finally gather enough for one batch of jam.

Let me tell you the work is tedious as these are the wild ones so you are basically trying to get berries blocked by many pickers.  Long pants and boots are a must because if you have any ankle available, the red ants will find a way to get at them and bite.  The mosquitoes also seem to like the area but I was okay on that front as I had sprayed myself in the morning for birding.  In fact, these brambles are so notorious for  mosquitoes that malaria outbreaks were a common worry amongst pioneering housewives who would brave the threat as they knew how delicious the blackberries were for pies and jams so took the chance to keep their pantry's stocked for the winter.

 After doing the worst part of the job, I'd be happy to put it all together and start cooking.  My blackberry jam recipe is actually simple and I don't like adding too many fancy ingredients so it's basically 7 cups of blackberries, 4 cups of sugar, 1 lemon (with the zest) and a 1/2 packet of pectin.

While that was thickening I'd start working on making some scones to accompany them because the two go well together.

And this would be the end result which I'd pair with a cup of Earl Grey tea to give lunch a little English flair.

After being properly fueled I decided to head back out in attempt to get a really good look at the Barred Owl.  Yes, I was 99.9% sure what I saw was the owl, but didn't like the quick glance I got of it and for all I knew it was another Red-tailed Hawk screwing with my head as part of a joint conspiracy to get back at me for my stalking and pictures ;-).  I'd get to the exact location I flushed it before and have a bunch of green flies flying around me and got so annoyed I clapped my hands and sure enough that flushed the bird.  CRAP! I'd think what a boneheaded thing to do.  I'd walk around a bit and then try a really lousy imitation of one as I knew it would be louder than my Droid.

Suddenly the woods would be filled with a pathetic mimic of "Who Cooks for You, Who Cooks for youuuuu.." I'd feel really funny doing this considering the Electric Company's truck was still in view so figured they were taking a break from the chainsaw for lunch and was wondering if they could hear me.  I'd get a little deeper into the canopy and try it again.  Still nothing, I started thinking perhaps the bird would prefer a duet and was trying to grasp how I could loudly mimic the second part of the duet which I remember as "biscuits and graaa-veee (hey! it works and makes sense when you put the two together! ;-))  Luckily the owl would spare us both the agony of such an attempt and fly in close by to check me out.

HA!  I knew it!, I thought.  I'd take a picture of it and thank it for not being a Red-tailed and hoped it would stick around some for more gawking.

But the owl wanted no part of me and turned around and flew off as quietly as it flew in.  Sigh, what a gorgeous bird to get especially with the eye.  Yes I'll check any kind of owl off my yearly list by just the call, but to get one in view is a lot more special in my opinion.

The day wouldn't end there though.  Around 5 or so, I'd see it cloud up with the potential for rain so off I went to my usual spot to check for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Of course by now I know the task is pointless but I do it none the less as I find birding in the light rain to be rather peaceful with the sound of raindrops hitting your jacket and the smell of the wet earth beneath your feet.  Everyone else is indoors to escape the weather so that means I'll have the place to myself and sometimes that's just what I want so off I went.

I'd get there and see my pal the hare run off which I thought was odd as it usually doesn't do so unless I'm close enough for a good photo but I shrugged it off and went on my way.

                        Pardon the lousy shot but he's the main subject of the story so had to include him

I'd then hear a scolding call and realize it was a Baltimore Oriole.  Now I've heard these birds scold before, but it's usually short term so was taken aback by the length of its scold as it would be right up there with the Tufted Titmouse.  It would fly from branch to branch and continue with the scold which caught the attention of a nearby Gray Catbird who would also be giving its alarm call and following the oriole.

This in turn would catch the attention of both the male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Which in turn would catch the attention of the Prairie Warbler

Who was in the same area as the Eastern Towhee so out he popped to see what all the fuss was about

All the excitement drew the Tufted Titmouse from across the path and now it too was scolding

 And the Black-capped Chickadee wouldn't be far behind him.

And neither would this bizarre looking Song Sparrow

Who was being followed by this juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird (Facepalm)

The scolding and bird activity would be so heavy that even I at that point was getting alarmed.  Could it be a cat??  No, not here, there's no houses around.  A Fox?,  good possibility but I don't see it.  A hawk?  Perhaps but I've never seen birds act like this over a buteo and if it were an accipiter they wouldn't be perched up and hollering.  Hmmmmmm.......Could it be me??  Nah, I come here all the time and they all know me by now I'd think......Still.....I'd feel self conscience at this point as I was being polite and quiet so couldn't understand what all the panic was about.  I'd suddenly hear the call of a Blue Jay.  Aha, I'd think....Nest Robbers.  Makes perfect sense as the birds all band together as one whenever a corvid comes hunting for eggs.  The thing is the Blue Jay would fly by and a few seconds after that I'd see a Cooper's Hawk coming from the same area and go past the tree line.  I don't believe there's anyway the birds could have sensed the Coops from as far away as it was and it didn't appear in hunting mode so considered it a coincidence. I'd continue along my way still mystified by the whole experience and could still hear them all as I made my way up the hill.  Have no idea what it was all about but it was interesting to say the least.  I guess birds are like people and when one neighbor's in trouble everyone acts neighborly.

Take care all

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