Journal for November 2003


We did a little more work on Hidden Oaks Point – a good place to be, since this is a hunting weekend.

There was a flock of bluebirds checking out the bluebird houses – I saw at least 6 birds.  Do they think it’s spring?

Brad, Mike’s friend who is going to hunt here, came to walk the place today.  It was fun showing it to him – we saw the whole place – at least all the prairies – in one day.  We saw huge flocks of starlings up on the soybean fields – Clif had harvested them last week, so I guess they were interested in all the leftover beans.  There were several hundred starlings – the first time I’ve ever seen them here.


Real snow today!  We marked off the Narrows Field right in the middle of the thickest part of the snowstorm.  We were fine until the end, when we drove down the hill with our wet gloves and wet hats.  We divided it into 13 parts – not really acres, although there are about 12 ½ acres.  After we got down the hill, and in the house, it stopped snowing.  But the snow is covering all the trees and fields – it’s gorgeous.  The birds needed a little help finding their food – it was covered with snow.  Now they’re all eating busily.  There are lots of purple finches these days, as well as the usual – blue jays, goldfinches, nuthatches, chickadees, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, juncos, and cardinals.  The red-bellied woodpecker has nearly stopped flinging himself against the windows – he only does it a few times a day.  There’s a junco with odd markings – lots of white where there should be gray – maybe a partial albino.


This has been a busy weekend.  Saturday we tried burning the East Center Valley prairie.  The first problem we had was how to start the drip torch – matches didn’t work, and our lighters ran out of fuel, so we ended up using a candle inside, so the wind wouldn’t blow it out.

Then we got out to the prairie.  The wind was from the south, not very strong, so we started burning at the north end, the lower section, next to the road.  And it just wouldn’t burn.  We would start it, and it would flame up, and then go out, or burn hard in one place, but not move.  We decided that part of the problem was not enough wind.  We did a small area, with lots of effort, and using up lots of fuel from the drip torch, but it was frustrating.

So, Sunday we decided to try again.  Jackie and Dan were interested, so they came over and helped – they ended up helping a lot.  Jackie did the drip torch, so both Mike and I could carry water, and Dan watched the bottom edge, and encouraged the grasses to burn if they weren’t catching.  It was quite a bit windier, but the lower part still wasn’t burning well.  When we tried the top – above the path – it burned much better.  I think it must be quite a bit drier, since it’s up farther on the hill.  It worked perfectly – we burned nice sized chunks, back into the black, burned area – each burn was good and hot and moved fast – there was always a moment when I worried that it would get away from us, but actually it was very controlled, and stopped as soon as it got to the burned edge or the firebreak.  It went fast and was really fun.  We did some of the lower area, and some of it burned, but it was harder, and not as much fun.  Now most of the top is done, so Mike and I can try the lower part on our own sometime.  It’s nice to have a huge firebreak all along the top edge.

Today we took out most of the beaver dam at the culvert under the driveway.  The beavers had worked on it a lot since last week, and we wanted to get the creek lower for the winter.  It’s harder work when you’re trying not to get wet – it was only 30 degrees today.


Yesterday and today have been cool and damp, so no burning this weekend.  But it’s beautiful, and very quiet.  Last night the coyotes started howling at about 1 in the morning.  It sounded like they were right on top of the rocks behind the house – at the edge of the woods.  I could hear barks mixed with the howls – the first time I’ve heard that.

Today we pulled out the beaver dam in front of the culvert again.  The beavers had been working hard on it all week, but it wasn’t as silted in as the old one had been, so it didn’t take us long to get it out.  And we discovered some new tools that work very well – a rake and a thing that’s the size of a hoe but with tines.

This afternoon I was sitting at my desk, and suddenly all the feeder birds flew away, and the next moment a Northern Shrike landed on the window right in front of me.  It clung onto the edge of the window and glared at me, and then flew away.  That’s the first time we’ve seen a shrike here.

Later I walked up to the top of the dugway to look at old oak trees.  The big White Oak right at the top has very twisty branches and shaggy bark at the top of the branches, so I think it’s very old.  Lee Frelich (the old growth tree expert) says that means it’s 150 to 200 years old.  There are some old (also 150 to 200 years) Burr oaks along the edge of the field on the way to Corner View Prairie. They have some smooth, lighter colored bark near the bottom of the trunk – that’s apparently the way to guess their age.

There have been lots of bald eagles today, and they seemed to be hanging out on top of the ridge by Big View Prairie.  I heard several screeching as I walked up.  When I got to the top, I found the trees where they had been sitting – the ground underneath had lots of white splats, and there were white downy feathers caught on the brambles.  I walked a little way down a deer path and found a dead buck, mostly eaten.  I’m sure that’s what has attracted them.  It must have been shot in the short deer season a few weeks ago by one of our neighbors, and it got away from them.


Today Jackie came with us to look at the deer carcass.  She was braver than I was – she moved it, and tried to figure out how it died – no luck.  The head was almost intact, although most of the rest was eaten.  We decided to wait until the animals had eaten a bit more before we try to take the antlers.  They’re beautiful antlers – 10 points, and very rounded and graceful.

We tried to burn this morning, but it was too wet – the fire just fizzled out.


This is hunting week, so we’re being very cautious about where we walk.  Yesterday, the opener, was a little livelier – many shots heard – a gray cloudy day, but no snow.  Today was cloudy and raining most of the day.  Late in the afternoon it started to turn to snow, but it never accumulated.  We were hoping for a blizzard – that’s what they had predicted – but it looks like we’ll have to wait for another time.  (The cities got all the snow – it’s been snowing there all day.  Richard had his first snow-driving experience.) Today, with the rain, the hunters must have either gotten discouraged, or had too much fun partying last night.  We heard only a few shots.  We took one walk – all around the fingers of 3 Finger Valley – a nice safe spot.

There are so many birds at the feeders these days – nothing unusual, but lots of chickadees, nuthatches, purple and house finches, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, and juncos.  I counted 12 chickadees at the same time today, either on the feeder or waiting on the tree.


We finally had some snow – it got cold overnight, and this morning the ground was covered with about an inch of snow.  It’s been snowing all day – snow showers, with the sun coming in and out.  We cleaned out the beaver dam again – this is the 3rd week in a row.  Surely the beaver will get tired of this soon.  I took a walk up to Big View Prairie – saw a fox squirrel, looking very golden – and several eagles and hawks.  Saw 4 flocks of Sandhill Cranes migrating overhead – they have wonderful calls.  The last flock came right over me when I was on top of the bluff, so I could see their legs trailing behind, even without binoculars.

The partial albino Junco is still around; so are the Purple Finches.  I’d love to see a Pileated Woodpecker at the suet, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I don’t know if they would come so close to a house.  The chickadees are so unafraid – I think I will try getting them to eat from my hand when it gets warmer – it shouldn’t be hard – when I go out to fill the feeders they come right next to me to pick up seeds.