Saturday, April 9, 2011

NWA 4/8/11

A Northwoods Almanac for April 8 – 21, 2011

Reliable Crows with Family Values
            Jack Bull in Winchester has been feeding birds for many years at his home on South Turtle Lake. But he particularly enjoys feeding a crow that has been coming to his home for nearly a decade. Jack and his wife Barbara returned just two weeks ago from wintering in Florida, and within 15 minutes of Jack putting out food on his deck, the crow was back.
            How does he know it’s the same crow? Well, he doesn’t – , in fact he thinks it may be one of the chicks of the original adult he began feeding years ago. But it seems clear that the crow is a family member because it landed on the deck rail, went directly to the can of food that Jack put out special for it, picked it up, and flew away as it, or a family member, has done every day for years. Somewhere, Jack suspects, there is a small landfill of catfood cans that these crows have hauled away.
            Every year, Jack makes a concoction of bacon grease, bread, egg yolks, and other kitchen wastes, puts it in a shallow, wide can, and places it on his deck, thus making his home into a five-star restaurant likely noted in all the crow tourist brochures.
            The original crow that first came to eat his delicacy also brought in its chicks. Jack thinks that this adult met its demise somewhere along the line, and the current visitor is one of those chicks. It would be helpful to band this fellow to be certain of its identity, but folks that feed birds don’t have that luxury. Instead, we have to try to make identifications from either small physical characteristics or specific behavioral traits.
I find Jack’s long-standing relationship with this crow family really interesting because crows have a highly unusual family structure. Crow families often are extended families with parents, offspring, and immigrants from nearby families forming a social unit throughout the year and into successive years. Some of these families even form a cooperative breeding unit with helpers that assist in raising the young of the year.
For instance, in a study of cooperatively breeding groups in Florida the cooperative groups consisted of three classes of birds: the breeding pair, yearling helpers, and adult helpers. The groups began with 7 to 9 birds but shrank as the nesting season approached to the breeding pair and 2 to 4 yearlings. The adult helpers were driven away by the breeding male while nesting, unless there were no yearlings or only one in the core group. Still, the adult helpers that were driven away stayed on the group’s territory and later came back to the nest to help feed the nestlings when the breeding male’s aggressiveness had waned.
In a study of banded crows in Encino, CA, older offspring were not driven away. In another study of cooperative groups in Stillwater, OK, the social unit had up to 12 individuals, including several adult helpers.  In a study done at Cape Cod, MA, 94% of the crow groups there bred cooperatively with an average of 4.4 crows per group (ranging from 2 to 10).  The groups in Massachusetts included the breeding pair and offspring over one year old, with the offspring staying on the natal territory as nonbreeding helpers for at least four years. At Encino, CA, 42 of 115 breeding pairs (37%) had auxiliaries (helpers) – of those, 32 (75%) had 1 auxiliary, 8 (20%) had 2, and 2 (5%) had 3.
Cooperative breeding also was noted in a study in Ithaca, NY, where some auxiliaries delayed breeding for up to 6 years.
With all this variability, it’s difficult to make good generalizations about the family structure of crows. Both sexes sometimes stay on the nest, and sometimes don’t; not all the auxiliaries are the offspring of the breeding pair—some move in from other families; and not all the auxiliaries help.
Helpers do things like bringing sticks to the nests, feeding the incubating and brooding females as well as feeding the nestlings, guarding the nestlings and fledglings, and helping to keep the nest clean. In one study, helpers and nonhelpers begged from, and were fed by, one or both breeders, particularly the male. Apparently one doesn’t have to work within the crow social structure to be fed.
So, what to make of Jack’s crow? Beats me. Is it carrying the food back to a cooperative breeding group? Do they have a mountain of cat-food cans beneath their nest? Don’t know. One way or another, it was very heartening to Jack to be greeted home by this crow, to know that there’s continuity in life, and to know the crow was looking forward to seeing him as much as he was looking forward to seeing it.

First Paddle of the Year
            The Manitowish River has been tempting me ever since it opened up by our house on March 12th. So on 3/27, even though Mary and I had just skied in the morning and the high for the day was 27°, Bob Kovar and I dragged our kayaks across the snow to the put-in on the Manitowish, and launched the first paddle of the year. We immediately kicked up two trumpeter swans and ten Canada geese, the swans doing a low fly-by while trumpeting, an exceptional greeting to begin our paddle.
            Ice hung out over the water in graceful, gravity-defying sheets, indicating how high the river had been when the ice first formed, and how comparatively low the water  is now. Animal tracks were seemingly everywhere along the banks, with otter slides and prints particularly common. We came across one group of otters that Bob identified well before me – all I saw was a brown mound on the snow up ahead, but Bob saw the mound moving! The otters quickly noticed us and slipped into the water, although one hung around awhile and kept an eye on us.
            Waterfowl were surprisingly few. We came upon several more flocks of geese, another pair of trumpeter swans, and a pair of common mergansers, but that was it over the course of our 1¼ hour paddle.
            Perhaps most notable was how quiet it was – just the dip of the paddles, the mild wind, and our voices sharing stories from the last few months of winter. As friends do, we shared the highs and lows, the disappointments and successes, the hopes and fears, and laughed through it all. It was cold, despite our bundling up, so we paddled steadily, though the current was doing more work than we were. The most difficult moment? The pull-out when we had to get back onto shore over the protruding ice.
            It was a fine first paddle, and, as always, one that helped frame our lives in the right spirit.
On, 3/19, Sue Aitken reported seeing common mergansers on the Manitowish River. On 3/22, Nancy Burns observed the return of hooded mergansers to the Manitowish.
On 3/27, John and Gale Werth reported seeing the first black duck on the Manitowish in Boulder Junction.
We’ve been gone over the last week, so we’re behind in our own sightings and in reporting other people’s sightings – we’ll catch it all up in my next column.

Loons Back in Wisconsin
As the ice comes off lakes in southern Wisconsin, birders are reporting common loons arriving, particularly on Lake Mendota and Lake Monona in Madison. The last report I saw listed 20 loons on Lake Monona on April 4.
Jennifer Heitz reported seeing a loon on March 31 on the Wisconsin River near Tomahawk, so some loons have already moved north and are utilizing open water where they can find it while they await ice-off on “their” lakes.

Websites for Loon Migration Routes and Migration on Radar
            For specific information on the loons that the WDNR and USGS are tracking with the use of satellites, please go to:
As an example of the information that can be found there,  Loon # 55480 is currently hanging out at Eagle Lake in SE WI (as of 4/4/11) and a number of other birds have left the Gulf of Mexico and are heading our way.
             To see a great video on watching bird migrations by using weather station radar, see:

Celestial Events
            We’re gaining daylight rapidly! By 4/14, we’ll be up to nearly 13 ½ hours, with the sun rising at 6:15 a.m. and setting at 7:44 p.m.
            Ice-out usually occurs for most of our lakes in mid-April. April 16 marks the 38-year average date for ice-out on Foster Lake in Hazelhurst according to Woody Hagge’s data. Once, the ice goes off, Foster lake averages 224 days of open water.
            Look for the full moon ( the “Maple Sugar Moon”) on 4/17.
            April 20 marks the day when our average low temperature finally reaches 32°F.

Birds of SE Arizona
            Mary and I just returned late on Monday night, April 4, from a 5-day birding trip to southeastern Arizona, and we totaled 122 species! Of the many trip highlights were nine species of hummingbirds, most of which we could watch at length coming to various feeders. More on this trip next column – there are lots of birds moving our way! 

NWA 3/25/11

A Northwoods Almanac for 3/25 – 4/7/11

Sightings – Spring Arrivals!
            “Spring” arrived on 3/20 with several inches of snow and another 12 to 16 inches forecast for 3/23, but such is life in the Northwoods. Remember: this is normal. The anomaly would have been if spring had really arrived with warm sunshine and green leaves.
The Manitowish River opened below our house on 3/12 – the 21-year average is 3/17. From our limited vantage point, we’ve seen only a few geese so far, and no other waterfowl, but the water is clearly beckoning.
            Despite spring’s reticence to genuinely arrive, some birds have returned, although many may be questioning their haste after Wednesday’s snow. In Manitowish, grackles returned on 3/17, while both red-winged blackbirds and northern juncos appeared on 3/20 (the 14-year average for red-winged blackbirds returning to Manitowish is 3/21). Carl Ashe in Lac du Flambeau beat us by one day when he reported seeing redwings on 3/19.
            Nancy Burns reported the first goose in our area on the Manitowish River on 3/8 – the 14-year average is 3/17.
            We’ve yet to see our first robin, though others have: Margaret Hudson on Upper Gresham in Boulder Junction saw a robin in her yard on St. Pat's Day, 3/17, as did Kathleen Sanftleben, who saw three robins on a church lawn on Hwy 70. Jim Sommerfeld on Middle Sugarbush Lake in Lac du Flambeau reported his first robin of the year on 3/19. The 13-year average for the return of robins in Manitowish is March 23.
            Rolf Ethun reported seeing the first sandhill cranes on 3/11 when he observed six cranes flying over Hiawatha Lake in Winchester. We saw our first crane on Powell Marsh on 3/21.
Pete and Carolyn Dring reported seeing a tree sparrow on 3/20, as well as two hooded mergansers on 3/21 on Helen Creek. In Manitowish, we haven’t noticed any migrating tree sparrows as of yet, but we had two tree sparrows overwinter at our feeders, which was quite unusual. And on 3/19 we noticed a tree sparrow with only one leg hopping around in our feeders and seemingly doing just fine.
Tundra swans began moving through southern Wisconsin last week and small numbers should be appearing in our area soon – best sites I know to see them are the Munninghoff Marsh on the Wisconsin River south of McNaughton and Little Trout Lake in Manitowish Waters.
Phil Williams in Winchester reported seeing several trumpeter swans on March 21 and sent several excellent photos, as did Wil Conway who observed a pair of trumpeters in Lac du Flambeau. Carl Ashe in Lac du Flambeau also sent photos of trumpeters.
The first common loon report came in from southern Wisconsin on 3/17, so they’re beginning to gather on available open water and will soon be scouting our area for open water.
            Woodcocks were reported “peenting” on 3/13 in southern WI. Listen for them at dusk – they will be arriving soon.
            On 3/21, Janet Alesauskas saw a great blue heron flying over the Save-More parking lot in Minocqua and landing on the top of a tall pine, while Nancy Burns observed one flying over the Wisconsin River the same day.
And finally, Laurie Timm on Witches Lake reported seeing chipmunks surfacing above ground on 3/16.

Eagles Migrating and Nesting
The bald eagle pair that we watch across the Manitowish River is now clearly incubating eggs. We were able to see an adult sitting on the nest on 3/16. Incubation takes about 30 days, so we may see chicks in mid-April.
While some eagles are already nesting, we took our first family hike of the year on the Powell Marsh dikes on 3/19, and we were treated with eight eagles migrating low over our heads. The annual raptor count from the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center west of Ashland got underway in northern Wisconsin as of 3/11. On 3/17, the counters tallied 41 bald eagles going by.
If you want to watch eagle behavior on nests, Jane Flanigan sent this link for a live eagle nest cam:
while Janet Alesauskas sent this link for a live eagle cam at Norfolk Botanical gardens:

The Arrival and Departure Dates of Wisconsin Birds
If you want to know what the record early dates are for birds returning to Wisconsin, see this website:
Keep an eye on weather radar to see when and where birds are migrating this spring. Look at the radar before sunset to see what the weather is actually like, then look again a half hour to an hour after sunset to see the “blooms” of migrating birds that have taken off and are heading north.

Oldest Known Bird
In late February, the oldest known wild bird in the Northern Hemisphere was spotted at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The bird, a female Laysan albatross, is at least 60 years old, and she's a new mother! For a picture, see
The website notes that this bird has sported and worn out five bird bands since she was first banded by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956 as she incubated an egg. At the time, he estimated the albatross to be at least five years old.
This bird has likely raised at least 30 to 35 chicks during her breeding life. Since adult albatross mate for life, with both parents raising the young, it's possible that this bird has had the same partner for all these years.
Almost as amazing as being a parent at 60 is the number of miles the bird has likely flown. Adult albatrosses average about 50,000 miles a year, so this bird has flown at least two to three million miles since she was first banded, the equivalent of four to six trips from earth to the moon and back again, with miles to spare.

Pileated Woodpecker Courtship
            Sandra Wenzel in Sayner called on 3/11 to share her delight in watching a male and female pileated woodpecker engage in some of their synchronized courtship behaviors. She watched them for over 45 minutes as they moved in unison on either side of a tree, their heads swaying in an arc, every action repeated by the other like they were looking in a mirror.
Pileateds engage in other courtship behaviors including wing spreading and crest raising displays, Wok and Wuk calls, demonstration tapping, and drumming. They may also utilize bark stripping, hopping, bowing, and head ducking while facing one another on the ground or on either side of a tree.
One way or another, courtship displays mean spring is upon us despite the wild variations of weather. All birds engage in their own specialized courtships – watch and listen for them!

Last Looks
            While birds begin to pour in now from their southern wintering locations, some birds that wintered in our area will soon be departing for their far northern nesting locations. We’ve had a recent influx of common redpolls and pine siskins, most of which are just passing through. The pine grosbeaks we’ve been so pleased to have all winter will soon be on their way. And we saw a northern shrike on Powell Marsh on 3/19, and they, too, will soon be gone. Enjoy them while you can – all except a few pine siskins who remain to nest here won’t be returning until next winter.

Celestial Events
            On 3/31, look at dawn for Venus about 6 degrees below the waning crescent moon. The new moon occurs on 4/3. We reach 13 hours of daylight on 4/5!
            For planet-watching in April, look at dusk for Saturn rising in the east. At dawn, look for Venus low in the east, Mars low in the southeast at the month’s end, and Jupiter also low in the east at month’s end.

NWA 3/11/11

A Northwoods Almanac for March 11 – 24, 2011

Sightings – Barred Owls
Jim Sommerfeldt on Middle Sugarbush Lake in Lac du Flambeau sent me two pictures of a barred owl that has been visiting his feeders. One photo was of the owl looking for a meal, and the other was right after he got a meal. To get the second photo, Jim watched as the owl swooped down to grab a red squirrel, but missed. Jim then noted, “The owl then took off and landed on a branch close to my feeders, patiently waiting for a meal to return. After 10-15 minutes, a red squirrel ventured out from a snow tunnel, and with his back to the owl, started to feed on sunflower seeds on the ground. The owl watched for 10 seconds and then went in for the kill . . . I don't know how the kill was made. But the owl had his back turned toward my house, and then he spread his wings . . . It seemed like he was in that position for a minute, and he was constantly turning his head around. After the minute he picked up his prey and took off.”
                Rebekah and Willie Tollard in Minocqua also sent me a photo of a barred owl that has been hunting around their feeders since the beginning of February. 
            Other people have contacted me in recent weeks with sightings of a barred owl perched near their feeders. Their presence at feeders usually occurs late in the winter when these otherwise reclusive owls are unable to find prey in their natural deep woods habitat and are starving. I suspect the hard crusted snow has both diminished their ability to hear rodents tunneling through the snow and to then plunge into the snow to capture them.

Other Sightings of Note
Sharp-shinned Hawk: Licia Johnson, a naturalist at the North Lakeland Discovery Center, sent me a photo on 2/10 of an immature sharp-shinned hawk plucking a chickadee. She added, “The rest of the chickadees were going crazy!”
Raccoon: Ralph and Monica Haugen in Crystal Falls, MI, were surprised to observe a raccoon eating sunflower seeds that they put out for the birds. Ralph noted, “This is the first time in the ten years we have been living here that we have observed a raccoon out this early. We still have about 10 inches of snow on the ground.”
We’ve had raccoons occasionally visiting our bird feeders all winter, which is a first for us. Raccoons don’t hibernate, but rather become torpid or somewhat dormant, usually holing-up for most of the winter, and once in a while sauntering out if the temperature warms substantially.
Bobcat: Pam and Ron Ahles on the Pike Lake Chain looked out their bedroom window on 3/6 to see a bobcat sitting in the snow. “We observed him for sometime along with our house cat, before he saw us and took off.” 
Ermine: Bob Kovar sent the following on 3/1: “Yesterday, I jumped in my hot tub to try and walk again after skiing the Birkie. I just got in when an ermine came running out from under the access door on the side. It ran up my walk and disappeared under my stoop. A minute later, it came back out, wanting to get back inside the tub access door. For 10 minutes, it came and went, even coming right up to the tub and looking up at me! I was amazed how unafraid of me it seemed.”
            More on Snapping Turtles and Otters: In my last column, I reported Joe Mastalski’s sighting of numerous snapping turtles eaten by otters. Last week, Jon Hollander sent me some pictures of that spot along the Kaubashine Creek where the water flows all winter and there are a number open spots. He noted, “Sure looks like otters have been digging turtles out of the mud and having a feast. We saw seven recently eaten turtles. The pictures are of the largest, at 26” overall and 14” across the shell. Most of the others were nearly as large. There were otter tracks all around the area.”

Spring Migration Begins!
The statewide Wisconsin BirdNet has been full of excited observations of the first spring migrants returning to the southern part of the state. Sandhill cranes are back, as are the first vanguard of song, fox, and swamp sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, robins, winter wrens, northern harriers, turkey vultures, killdeer, great blue herons, and snipe.
Waterfowl are in particular abundance, with 15 species present.
             One observer in Dane County found five eastern bluebird eggs in one of his next boxes on March 3, which would mean the hen had to start laying in February.
            Last week, Jeff Richter from Mercer reported seeing 75+ common goldeneyes below the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage Dam at Robinson Landing.
            Bill Bassett in Hazelhurst called on 2/28 to report seeing a belted kingfisher on the Tomahawk River!
            Coming soon – expect the first robins and red-winged blackbirds to appear in our area right around spring equinox.

Hopkins Law
            The sightings in southern Wisconsin always lead to the question of how soon we can expect the same species to appear in the Northwoods. We can relatively accurately predict the date of the first bloom of our spring flowers based on “Hopkins Law,” which says that phenological events (the seasonal march of observable biological events) vary at the rate of one day for each 15 minutes of latitude and one day for each 100 feet of altitude. So, for instance, if we compare biological events in Madison to those in Manitowish, Hopkin’s Law says there should be a 21-day interval between the two areas, given the distance apart and the differences in elevation. 
            How did I come up with that figure? One degree of latitude is about 69 miles, and since 15 minutes is one fourth of a degree, we can say spring moves north at a rate of about 17 miles per day. And since Madison is 250 miles from Manitowish, it should therefore take spring about 15 days to reach Manitowish from Madison (250 divided by 17). But because Manitowish is in the Northern Highlands region, which is higher in altitude (1600 feet) than areas around Madison (about 1,000 feet), we have to add an additional six days to the total. Thus, it takes about 21 days for spring to reach us, marching at an average rate of around 12 miles per day.
            While bird migration is touchier to predict than wildflower blooming, the long and short of this is, if a friend in Madison calls to say she saw her first robin on March 1, Mary and I should expect to see our first robin around March 22.
            I offer no money-back guarantees on this formula. Variations do occur along the Great Lakes, where “spring” is moderated by winds coming across the cold water. The figures are also considered valid only up to June 1, when other factors take control.

Celestial Events
            Spring Equinox occurs on March 20, a devious bit of chicanery that teases us into thinking that spring should be here. Cast such thoughts far away if you wish to avoid the roller-coaster that March often so charmingly lures us onto. March is the Trickster – make no mistake. If you have an expectation of consistently improving weather that will be evident every day, you are doomed. The only way to win the game is to wake up every morning thankful for whatever the day provides, be it a blizzard or 50°.
            March’s full moon occurs on the 19th, and is known variously as “Sap Moon,” the “Crust on Snow Moon,” and the “Crow Moon.” It’s even known as the “Death Moon,” I suspect because of how deadly the month can be for wildlife, as well as historically for how deadly it was for people when food ran out. This will be the largest full moon of the year because it is the closest – a mere 221,567 miles away.

Conserve School
            I spent two delightful afternoons last week leading high school students on winter hikes at the Conserve School near Land O’Lakes. My topic was “transitions into spring,” which was not only premature but delusional. However, we had fun with it anyway.
            If you’re not familiar with the Conserve School, I recommend visiting their website (, and then, better yet, visiting the campus. Conserve School is now a one-semester residential school for high school juniors focused on the theme of environmental stewardship. The college preparatory curriculum immerses students in environmental history, nature literature, and the science of conservation on a beautiful 1,200-acre campus, with a significant portion of the curriculum delivered via outdoors, hands-on, active learning.
            What’s more, there’s no cost – remarkably, all students receive a full scholarship for tuition, room, and board. If you have a son or daughter who loves the outdoors, you owe it to them to check the school out.

Connection and Compassion
            Mary and I have been leading outdoor trips in the Northwoods for 21 years now, and when I’m asked what we hope to have happen on our outings, my stock answer has always been that I hope we help people to gain a deeper sense of place in the Northwoods, which we hope then leads to a stronger commitment to stewardship.                        Recently, however, someone asked me what it meant in the simplest terms to have a sense of place. And while it took me a while to unwrap it, I think it comes down to two things – having as many connections to a multitude of species in nature, and then translating those connections into the deepest compassion possible for all life. By compassion, I mean to look out for another’s best interest, to honor the sanctity of another’s life. You do this by putting yourself in another’s skin, and making a place for them in your mind and heart.
            Making a place for another is a way of personalizing the broader concept of having “a sense of place,” which is our larger relationship to a landscape and to the enormous community of life it holds.
            In any life practice, it seems to me that we have a choice – we can emphasize teachings that speak of dislike, contempt, disdain, hatred, and exclusion, or we can emphasize teachings that speak of compassion and of making a place for others. Mary and I have chosen the latter path, and while we will always struggle mightily to both articulate it and to live it, we at least feel our feet are on the right path.
            A final note: see “The Charter for Compassion,” a call to action for people to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves –   

NWA 2/25/11

A Northwoods Almanac for February 25 – March 10, 2011

Sharp-shinned Hawks
Jody Loeffler on Anvil Lake recently reported finding a male sharp-shinned hawk dead in her yard. Shortly thereafter, she noticed another sharp-shinned perched in a tree above where she found the first hawk, and she wondered if it might be the mate of the one she found dead.
Never say never, but I’d be surprised if they were a mated pair given that sharpies usually migrate alone (66% of 271 migrants in a study in Central Park, New York City) or in small groups of several individuals that often include broad-winged hawks, red-tailed hawks, and American kestrels.
The literature on sharpies says they are presumed to be monogamous, but there are no studies that actually document this, and there is no information on the duration of their pair bond. While researchers have noted that their nesting territories are frequently reused, the identity of the pair members has never been ascertained. Thus, surprisingly, there’s no study I can find that would indicate whether or not sharp-shinneds overwinter with their mates.
Jody’s sighting of the sharpies is interesting in that sharpies are not considered “usual” over-winterers in northern Wisconsin. Occasionally we have counted one during our Christmas bird counts, and rarely have people called me in the winter with sightings of a sharpie hunting their bird feeders.                                    
Sharpies are only about the size of a blue jay, but they are also the most sexually dimorphic of all North American raptors, with males averaging only 57% of the body mass of females. So, differentiating a large female sharpie from a small male Cooper’s hawk, which look almost identical, can be really tricky.
Their small size helps make both genders masters at capturing songbirds. Numerous studies show that songbirds consistently represent 90% of their prey items.                        Sharpies are particularly well known for hunting songbirds in parks and near houses, and they’re often seen taking prey at bird feeders. Thus, they’re a mixed blessing to see at this time of the year, because their presence means an ever-diminishing number of songbirds will be appearing at your feeders.

Mary and I have recently noticed some gravity-defying snow hanging far below the tree branches it is attached to. Snow does some amazing balancing tricks, shaping itself around branches, roof eaves, and other surfaces with an apparent disdain for ordinary physics. Snow can actually flow around objects without breaking, behaving a bit like water in very slow motion.
This process, called plasticity, provides benefits for small mammals living under the snow. As snow flows off a boulder or downed tree trunk, it eventually reaches the ground a short distance away, creating a hollow or tunnel on either side of the object. Within the tunnel, mice, voles, and shrews, and some wintering insects can move freely and easily alongside the tree or boulder, while being insulated and protected from the outside world.

Sightings – Evening Grosbeaks
            Al and Pam Eschenbauch in Presque Isle report having a “herd” of four dozen evening grosbeaks at their feeders, an increase from the two to three dozen they have had off and on at their feeders since late December. In previous years, Al notes that they have also had 4 to 5 dozen of the “brazen, feathered pigs” all winter.
            Al and Pam’s experience is quite uncommon these days – very few people are reporting any evening grosbeaks at their feeders, much less several dozen. A decade ago, they were very common, and many of us also referred to them as “feathered pigs” for their prodigious appetites at our feeders. Not any more. Most of us would be absolutely delighted to be buying far more seed if the evening grosbeaks would just return to our feeders.
Mary Madsen on Twin Island Lake in Presque Isle noted in an e-mail that “this is the first winter we can remember that we have not had evening grosbeaks.  Happily, today [2/20] a "pair" showed up at the feeder.” 

Sightings – Cardinals
Mary Madson in Presque Isle also noted, “I can't believe that our cardinal has been a regular at the feeder all winter. I use to think I was lucky to see one every few years.”
In Manitowish, we have had a female cardinal visiting our feeders all winter as well.

Sightings – Pine Grosbeaks
            Glen Esswein in Woodruff reported:  “Over the last two weeks, we have had a flock of about 20 to 25 pine grosbeaks in our flowering crab tree. They are all females –  no males have shown up. They share the fruits with a flock of cedar waxwings.”
            In Manitowish, Mary and I still are lucky enough to have about 18 pine grosbeaks, a mixed flock of males/females/juveniles, grace our feeders every morning.

Miscellaneous – Barred Owl, Hairy Woodpecker, Badger
Bob and Chris Frenz sent me several photos of a barred owl that was sitting one morning on a branch above their bird feeder in St. Germain.  
 David Lintereur in Lake Tomahawk watched a hairy woodpecker pecking at a deer carcass. He said it was standing on the ribs, and there was still quite a bit of meat left. I noted in my e-mail response that the woodpecker was almost certainly eating the fat that was on the carcass and that many bird species, including chickadees and nuthatches, gladly utilize high energy fat to help them get through a long winter.
John Granger called me to say that over many years he has seen several badgers near Two Sisters Lake in McNaughton, and he didn’t realize they were rare! John’s sightings make me envious – I’ve still never seen a badger up here, though I’ve seen their holes many, many times.

Celestial Events
            As of 2/27, we’re up to 11 hours of daylight, and by 3/8, we’ll receive 11 ½ hours of daylight. Spring equinox is coming up!
Before dawn on 2/28, look for Venus just one degree south of the waning crescent moon.
The new moon occurs on 3/4.
We reach a milestone on 3/6 – our average high temperature finally reaches 32°F.