Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Of living things and categorization.

Birds

Things have been happening! Things that started with “n”, and ended with “uthatches on our birdfeeder”! Humor aside, it’s been a thrill to see something other than mourning doves, cardinals, song sparrows, tufted titmice, and black-capped chickadees on that dastardly thing. Come spring, we might even get a finch or three on it.

Off-feeder, a pair of eastern towhees* was spotted digging tunnels to China at the base of the adjacent brush. Both song sparrows and towhees have this entertaining way of getting to food.. that is, hopping back and forth on one spot while digging into the ground/leaves with their claws. Dirt flies. Leaves and seeds do too, presumably. When there’s snow on the ground, song sparrows can make holes deep enough to almost completely submerge themselves.

An occasional blue jay would also land to graze under the birdfeeder with the mourning doves, but rarely stays long, and never ascends to the actual feeder. No sight of mockingbirds in the past week, but plenty of passing-by ravens.

(*Field guide to the birds of north America, by National Geographic, is what I use for identification. It has yet to fail me.)


Houseplants

Otherkitty’s been eating African violet flowers, which saddens me greatly. It’s not like there’s much protein in them. Spider plant bloomed with a single mildly exciting white flower, with more to come in the nearby future, if the buds surrounding the lonesome offshoot is anything to judge by.

A violet grown from leaf gotten in a plant trade back in Champaign (almost a year ago) is finally showing some buds. The girl told me that it’d flower white with purple edges, which, if true, would be awesome. The only AV around here that’s even close to white is a wine-colored chimera with faint pink stripes in the center of each leaf.


Hiking

Birds seen: ducks, crows, golden-crowned kinglets, cardinals, bluejays.

The mountainous wastelands of Virginia have been buffeted with snowstorm after snowstorm this winter, which made our usually daily hikes uncommon at the very least. We did manage to get out for three hours this past Sunday, which almost, but not quite, made up for it.

The first part of the trail is bordered by pastures, so getting a good look at some farm animals or even an occasional groundhog is a standard deal. This time around, a small herd of rather shaggy horses was grazing a short distance from one of the fences; two of these actually deigned to come up to the fence in response to a meager offering of dry grass. So, we got to scratch some horses behind the ears. Which isn’t earth-shatteringly exciting, but still is rather neat: one doesn’t get to be close to large, domesticated animals on a daily basis.

Having left the pastures behind, we then detoured off the main branch of Creeper Trail into a heart-wrenching climb which lead us up, sideways, and up again, zigzagging up a tree-covered slope, and occasionally sliding down on the outcroppings of gravel. El thought he was going to have a heart attack, then didn’t. On the way up, we’ve noticed a pair of tiny birds with golden-red spots on their heads, which were later identified as kinglets. These things were actually smaller than chickadees; barely the size of golf balls.

Eventually, we ended up at a place where a series of paths converged, and decided to go back, only to find a branching off of the trail which we haven’t noticed before. This branching lead to a marvelous little valley, filled with still-green plants (of what sort, I know not), and a number of sink holes.



Sink holes are just what they sound like, holes in the ground, dipping into some cave. The mountains are riddled with them in some places. A number of old trees with low-lying branches were scattered throughout the clearing, their limbs- coated in moss and lichen. The birds were rather prevalent as well, chittering in the trees, and likely glad to be out of the cold.

We stayed in this sanctuary for a good twenty minutes, before turning back. Sadly, I doubt we’d make it there during the summer, as the number of dry stems indicated that we’d have to tear our way through a veritable jungle of fireweed to make our way across.