A perfect day

is skiing (cross-country) without a coat in MN in February, when the sun is out and is high enough in the sky to actually be warm.

Over the bridge, and through the woods, to see what I could see.

reservoir bridge

dee-dee-dee, these little birds are already starting to sing their "phee-bee" song

dee-dee-dee, these little birds are already starting to sing their “phee-bee” song

Moss and fungi on a log.  As soon as snow melts off the surface, the moss greens up.

Moss and fungi on a log. As soon as snow melts off the surface, the moss greens up.

Turkey tail fungi sort of resemble the real thing.

Turkey tail fungi sort of resemble the real thing.

Chattering at me from his tree top  perch.

Chattering at me from his tree top perch.

I made a few stops for photos on my 5 mile route, but even so, I can walk/run this trail in the summer much faster than I can ski it.   But today, I was in no hurry to end this peaceful, perfect day.

A really cold day

It’s -13 F (or -25 C) at 8 a.m.  The screen door handle is so cold it sticks to what little moisture is on my fingers.  Both the upper and lower panes of my leaky kitchen window have a lovely crop of fern flowers.

The view looking out my kitchen window at the garage -- cold!

The view looking out my kitchen window at the garage — cold!

Fern flowers are really quite pretty.  For explanation of how they form, see my earlier post,

Fern flowers are really quite pretty. For explanation of how they form, see my earlier post, Jan. 20, 2012.

Despite the chill, the chickadees, goldfinches, and nuthatches are already busy at the feeders.  You have to be impressed that such little birds that weigh less than or about the same as a packet of ketchup can stay warm in this frigid cold.

American Goldfinch, taken through my porch window.  I'm not opening the windows today!

American Goldfinch, taken through my porch window. I’m not opening the windows today!

No bad weather seems to stop these little guys.

No bad weather seems to stop these little guys.

Fern frost

If you have leaky windows with semi-moist air on their interior and very low temperatures on their exterior, “fern flowers” or fern frost can form on the inside of the windows.

Such was the case this morning after a sub-zero overnight low:

The sun actually warmed up the thermometer a little; air temperature was -1 F.

The sun actually warmed up the thermometer a little; air temperature was -1 F.

And my kitchen window had grown a lovely crop of fern flowers overnight.

fern frostfern frost

 

Easy to see why it’s called fern frost, since the ice crystal patterns resemble the leaves of a fern.  But why does it take this shape?

Moisture from the air condenses on the cold window, but instead of forming a liquid pool, the very cold window temperature causes the water to go directly from gaseous to solid state.  Ice crystals form around surface imperfections in the glass, like scratches, dust, or dirt (I’m sure there is plenty of that on these windows).  These initial ice crystals then serve as “organizing” points for the further deposition of ice, and eventually, a lacy pattern appears.

The cold morning air didn’t seem to bother the intrepid avian visitors to the feeders though.  They just fluffed up and toughed it out.

American Goldfinch enjoying a morning treat of thistle seed.

American Goldfinch enjoying a morning treat of thistle seed.

Did you even notice how Black-capped Chickadees seem to be almost spherical in shape when fluffing out their feathers.

Black-capped Chickadees seem to be almost spherical in shape when fluffing out their feathers.

Pileated Woodpecker prize

Success!  At last I found a Pileated Woodpecker that sat still long enough for me to photograph.

Tap,thunk, bonk, just like a hammer on a hollow log — that’s what a pileated woodpecker sounds like when it is chipping away dead wood in its search for food.  I heard the bird but couldn’t find it, until I finally caught just a flash of red in the sea of brown bark.

This bird visited every broken branch in a group of large, mature oaks for about 15 minutes, but it was impossible to get a clear shot of it with all the spiny buckthorn undergrowth in the way.  Why are there always branches between me and my subject?

Compared to the rat-a-tat of downy woodpeckers, this bird’s bill operated in slow motion.  But each strike was a measured blow, like a chisel, and when that bill hit the dead wood, the chips did fly — out of the hole, onto the bird, etc.  In several of my photos, I noticed the bird pulled its nictitating membrane (thin skin located between eyelid and cornea/sclera) over the eye, making it look gray.  I assume this is for protection from flying wood particles.

I think this is a female; she has black instead of red feathers above the beak (forehead area), and she has a black chin stripe instead of a red one, as in the male.

Their body size is impressive, as are the large feet with strong toes and long nails.  All woodpeckers have two forward and two backward pointing toes which enable them to perch on vertical surfaces.  Short, stiff tail feathers offer additional support as a prop against the tree.

After the woodpecker finished excavating, chickadees came by to check out the hole and see what the woodpecker might have exposed for them to eat.

Pileated Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout their range, and seem quite adaptable to a variety of forest types, including suburban trees.  Like northern flickers, they may specialize on ants, excavating their galleries deep in the wood and then lapping them up with their long tongues.  But when insects are in short supply, they eat fruits, nuts, berries (including poison ivy berries), and even seed from bird feeders.  I’ve seen them at my feeders already this winter and will keep looking for the perfect photo op (i.e., bird without branches.