Birding on Hillman’s Long Lake

It’s been quite a spring for birding on Long Lake.

This male Baltimore Oriole and his mostly yellow partner have been eating us out of house and orange. We think it’s only one pair. And for the last four days they’ve been eating an orange a day. The female seems to prefer this birch tree feeder. The male comes closer to the house and eats the half-orange we hung on a maple tree.

We’ve tried to tempt with oranges in the past, basically without success. But this pair is bringing us tons of colorful pleasure in exchange for a good dose of vitamin C.

The male tries to feed at the hummingbird feeder every once in awhile, without much success. His song is described on Cornell’s site as “flutelike” with a “full, rich tone,” consisting of “a short series of paired notes, repeated 2–7 times, lasting 1–2 seconds.” Yep. And I will add that it seems to get more insistent and irritated when the orange halves are depleted.

Earlier in the spring, Steve got this great shot of a Purple Finch, feeding on a sunflower seed.

And, of course, that’s a Chickadee off to the left. We see Goldfinches by the boatload. But Purple Finches? Not so many. They seem slightly bigger and more solidly built than the Goldfinches. They are red, not purple, though. This article gives solid information to help distinguish a Purple Finch from a House Finch. We’re pretty confident this is a Purple.

Purple Finches aren’t rare in Michigan. Neither are Spotted Sandpipers. But we don’t often see either bird.

This Spotted Sandpiper was bobbing around foraging in the grass near our dock, and eating, for about 20 minutes. This bird’s nicknames include teeter-peep, teeter-bob, teeter-snipe, and tip-tail. The first time you see their comical bobbing and scooting, the nicknames make every bit of sense.

The male Spotted Sandpiper incubates the eggs and takes care of the young. The female? She’s busy in a different way. In any breeding season she may mate with up to four males and lay four separate clutches of eggs for her male partners to tend.

Breeding adults  have dark spots on their bellies. This breeding plumage molts away as summer progresses.

Pretty bird, in a subdued way.

The Northern Flicker, by contrast, is not subdued. Flickers look like they were sewn together out of parts of several birds. Sort of a Frankenbird.

Red (at the back of the head). A Black whisker. A Black bib. Orange cast to his head. Spots. Stripes. Yellow on his tail and flight feathers. Plus there’s a white rump patch. It almost easier to list what colors a Flicker isn’t.

Flickers spend a lot of time feeding on the ground. And when they fly, like most other woodpeckers, they fly in a deep arc. This Flicker almost buried his long beak up to his eyeballs in search of tasty bugs.

For the first time this year, we’ve seen White-Crowned Sparrows. As with the rest of the birds featured in this post, they aren’t rare. But we’ve not identified them before. Since they are such a distinctive bird, we’ve convinced ourselves that they are new to our neck of the woods rather than that our powers of perception have improved.

That black-and-white striped helmet on his head is hard to miss. This sparrow spends a lot of time feeding on the ground. If “our” White-Crowned Sparrows are any indication, they also spend quite a bit of time mixing it up with one another. Over and over again a pair (or three) rise up a few feet from the ground and, wings fluttering, they go after one another. Whether this is aggression, courtship, or just a bird without a sunny disposition, we don’t know.

Common Mergansers are only on Long Lake for a few weeks each spring and fall as they pass through on their migrations. Here’s a pair, in the shadows near our shore.

The male was looking spectacular. Green head. Red beak, Mostly white (with black) body. The female? She’s got a white and gray speckled body and a red hairdo. They don’t look like a pair that would go together.

Here’s Ms. Hairdo, peering near the shore and heading under our dock.

Moving now from one kind of spectacular to…a very different kind of spectacular.

A major bunch of Turkey Vultures. They (along with about 10 others) congregated behind our neighbor’s pole barn this week. They weren’t on a kill. They were just socializing. Maybe they were planning how they’ll do their face makeup for the upcoming Vulture prom. I admit this gathering creeps me out some. It makes me think I should lose weight, exercise more, and get healthier.

Our industrious state bird, the American Robin–yep, the bird who LEAVES Michigan every year as the weather gets cold–is busy nest-building in a lower branch of one of our tall White Pines.

Female Robins build the nest. The last few days we’ve been watching her working on it, flying back and forth with long grasses in her bill. She builds the nest from the inside out. First, she presses grasses into a cup shape, using the wrist of a wing. Then she gathers worm-castings to line the nest with mud. HGTV house hunters probably wouldn’t approve. Worm-castings gray probably isn’t quite the “in” shade.

Hats for a cold spring

Looks like spring. But this fingering weight hat will keep the wintery weather at bay. That’s been handy this April. Good news, though. Ice-out a few days ago on Long Lake! We’ve already been in our kayaks. The beaver were kind to our Ghost Bay trees and didn’t even munch the birch trees. The small-mouth bass are moving throughout the lake. Our dock went in today. Nick’s been wake-boarding this past weekend. So, we rush the season a bit, even while I cling to winter knits. There’s no time when I don’t knit wool hats. Even in the summer, hats keep popping off my needles.

This beauty is Joan Sheridan’s Hearts and Flowers Fair Isle Cap. Sheridan kits this up in seven shades of Jamieson’s Spindrift and and sells the kit at her shop. As always with her kits, there was plenty of leftover yarn–even though I knit the largest size. The pattern is also downloadable on Ravelry.

Here’s a look at the great crown decrease section.

Such fun to knit! And so much bang for your knitting bucks.

I think I feel a red(dish) hat blog post coming on. This next one is Dawnlight Slouchy Hat by Jo-Anne Klim.

I knit mine in String Theory’s Hand-dyed Merino DK, in the Rose Madder colorway. It’s a delicious shade of reddish-orange. I knit this hat over the winter and got tons of use out of it. The texture and slouch work well for me. I’ve learned, only lately actually, that head-hugger beanies aren’t the right look for me anymore. (That doesn’t stop me from wearing plenty of beanies anyway, though.)

This is one major beanie. It’s Dan the Plug’Ole, by Nathan Taylor. A little research and I learned the apparent origin of the pattern name: “Your hoglet has gawn dan the plug’ole”  is a line from an old Cockney dialect poem. I was drawn to the pattern exactly because of that spiralling ribbing and stockinette. It’s a fairly easy knit. You have to stay awake to make it work. But the effect is worth the effort. And that wide brim really keeps ears warm. Mine is knit in Cascade 220 Superwash Effects. Good hat. Good yarn.

Here’s a look at that spiraling top as it goes down the plug hole.

Honestly, I had a little trouble with the spiral. Snooze, you lose (a stitch or two). But it worked out well. Eventually.

This next hat, a freebie by Jan Wise, also has a great name: F309 Slouchy Hat with Picot Edge. This name tells a knitter all that needs to be known. I knit mine in a great yarn, now discontinued, Harrisviille Designs’ Orchid with Cashmere:

My top ended up a tad unruly. Here it is, unblocked. I kind of like it this way.

This next hat is Brick Sidewalk Beanie, an Ann Weaver design, free on Ravelry. I knit mine in String Theory Hand-Dyed Merino DK, in wisteria. Ok, not a red like the rest of the post’s hats. But sort of a pink. Sort of a lavender pink. Close enough.

It’s an interesting knit. The ribbing is unusual. And I really like the way the three columns of ribbing continue up the hat and taper gently through the crown decrease section.

I knit the largest size and mine turned out a bit long at the back of the neck. That’s easily remedied by shortening the body of the hat about an inch. Or it could be worn with a bit of slouch and a bit of attitude.

You only have to make one hat, so there’s no such thing as second hat syndrome to deal with. You don’t have to obsess much about gauge, because heads come in such a variety of sizes you’ll always find a head to fit. And knitting hats is the perfect portable project for all those waiting rooms we need to frequent. Go forth and knit hats! All. Year. Long.

Cowl and Howl

Nice hat. There’d be room for a pony tail to hang free if you loosen the ties. And if you loosen the ties all the way, there’s room for a neck. Hat plus cowl equals Howl.

Howl, by Kimmy Zalec, is a free Ravlery download designed for exactly the yarn I used: Noro Silk Garden. Silk Garden is 45% mohair, 45% silk, 10% wool and charts out as an Aran weight. Two 50-gram skeins will do the trick and leave you with about 16 grams to spare.

Very cozy and very fun to knit. My Howl was gifted almost as soon as it left my needles. Here’s another look.

It needed blocking to make that unusual picot bind-off behave and to tame its curling. I’m planning to knit another of these soon.

Glass head is wearing Bobble Cowl by Joji Locatelli.

It’s an easy, rhythmic knit, filled with every knitter’s first stitch (garter), but with interesting details. The pattern is 48 rows, to be repeated a dozen times. I had to count rows. And a few times I lost count. But fortunately it’s easy to figure out where you are.

I decided not to block the cowl. I’m satisfied with the yarn-overs not opened up wide. I didn’t want to kill the cushiness of the garter stitch. I prefer a closer fitting cowl rather than one that drapes long.

Bobble cowl is knit flat. I used a crochet provisional cast-on and then grafted the beginning to the end. A three-needle bind off would have worked well too.

This is a new yarn to me. I’m a fan: Dark Side of the Moon by Alexandra’s Crafts in the Twilight colorway. It’s 80% Merino and 20% Tussah Silk. Bobble Cowl is a garter-stitch yarn-eater. So this cowl took nearly every yard of the 434 yard skein.

April 16th? Snow Central (Ave)

This Dark-Eyed Junco looks as if he’s dipped in snow. That’s actually the color of his belly feathers. He’s sitting atop a snow mound on our deck table.

We’d just started to see some grass, once the 10-12 inches of snow that fell a week earlier melted away. Then, this. It’s hard to tell, because the drifts are so high, but we estimate we’ve got about 15 inches of new snow. And the drifts, the drifts are thigh-high on my 5 foot three inch self.

Here’s a look at the deck table without the Junco.

And I’m jumping the gun a bit on this post because predictions are for another 3-5 inches today. It’s been snowing all morning.

This has to go down as one-to-remember. “Up north” Michigan is thinking more about wrestling with snow than tax forms today. Snowmobiles are reporting they’re getting stuck. Some of this snow is the gooey, water-laden kind that sticks to shovels, snowblowers, and snowmobiles.

That’s Steve with a big two-stage snowblower, trying to tame the first wave. We ended up hauling out the little guy for me to work on the cement pad during the third effort to get this under control.

You might be wondering how our snow-fencing effort fared. Good news!  This year it didn’t fall over. It stood there all winter, deep into this difficult early spring. But it hasn’t really done anything to significantly keep the snow off the parking pad. It does add a nice splash of orange though, don’t you think?

We aren’t even thinking about ice-out yet. Last year the last bits of ice were sent packing on April 25th into the 26th. So we have about ten days to go. I don’t think we’ll make it. At this rate we’ll still have snow on Memorial Day!

That’s the lake on the morning of April 16th. It’s been windy enough that the sunflower seeds that are whipping the finch flock into a feeding frenzy at our feeders have scattered around. Those finches who can’t command a perch at the feeders are picking at the snow crust searching for food. Every once in awhile the flock spooks and vanishes for half a minute or so, giving the chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, woodpeckers, and tufted titmice time to feed.

We’re worried about the trees on the property. We’ve been losing branches from some of the tall pines. So far, nothing has landed on the house. And nothing so major has fallen that we think the trees won’t pull through. But spring cleanup is going to be a major event. That’s assuming spring is eventually going to put in an appearance.

Here’s me, in my snow-covered Central Ave hat by Aimee Alexander. “Cheese.” We’d gone out for a second time to knock snow off the low-lying pine branches. Such a great hat. Knit in Swans Island Merino Worsted in the bittersweet colorway, it even matches the snow fence. I strive to be color-coordinated at all times.

More slipped stitch dishcloths…a lot more

This cloth is one of Amy Marie Vold’s new dishcloth/washcloth patterns: Bubble Bath. I knit this one in Lily Sugar ‘n Cream, using lime and hot orange. It was so much fun to knit that I had to start another almost immediately.

This next cloth is knit in Knit Picks Dishie in aquarium and clementine.

I just couldn’t stop knitting these guys. I wanted to knit a set in reverse to see how they’d work out. So next I tried Sugar ‘n Cream in hot orange and teal. Knitting Vold’s cloths in mirror-image sets is a boatload (or a bathtub) of fun. The way the eyes pop and the way the open mouth is burping out bubbles are perfect touches.

Vold released another fish pattern very soon after releasing Bubble Bath. This next one is Shore Lunch cloth. I knit my first in Sugar ‘n Cream teal and ecru.

And then came the mirror-image set, knit in Sugar ‘n Cream hot green and ecru.There’s something about the pair of pairs of luncheon fish that appeals.

Yes, it’s an odd pastime, this knitting of dishcloths. But I don’t intend to give up my somewhat guilty pleasure.

My set of Some Bunny to Do the Dishes was gifted soon after I completed them. Evelyn has been using them as baby doll blankets. Her set was knit in Garnstudio DROPS Paris, white and bright blue. A perfect bunny combo, at least that’s what baby doll thinks.

I’ve also recently completed a DROPS Paris set of Frog Prince of the Pad.

This pair of PurrPETual Domestic Supervisors is in DROPS Paris (dark beige and white). I just got started knitting these guys and the next thing I knew I’d knitted more than a dozen.

Here’s another set of Squirrel Away the Dishes Cloths. This pair is in Sugar ‘n Cream brown, sage green, and yellow.

And, finally, just to tax the patience of those who can’t abide knitters who waste their time knitting these useful itty bitty cloths, here’s a pair of Who Owl Help Cook & Clean. They’re knit in Sugar ‘n Cream white and overcast.

Try these. Bet you can’t knit just one.