January 20, 2012 — Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Don’t get me wrong–Canton is a great place to see eagles.  Bald eagles.  Close up.  People do come from all around to see our eagles in winter time.  But eagles are not our most unique bird.  That title falls to a nondescript little foreigner:  the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  This little dickie bird occurs all over Europe and Asia, hence, the name.  But in the New World it is very narrowly distributed.  From a dozen birds introduced 142 years ago, the Eurasian tree sparrow now ranges from St. Louis, MO, to Keokuk, Iowa, right along the Mississippi River.  It is a highly desirable species for those working on a life list–that compendium of all the bird’s you’ve seen in your life. However, it’s neither abundant nor common here.  I’ve only seen about 4 or 5 of them in 12 years.  Fortunately, I saw one in my neighbor’s back yard recently, and was able to snap a half-decent photo.  They are not often observed in town, as they are apparently outcompeted by the closely related and much more abundant House Sparrow.  They resemble the House Sparrow male closely, except that they have a distinct, black cheek patch and a chestnut cap instead of gray.  There is no sexual dimorphism–males and females look alike.

From January 2012

I have seen this bird in my back yard, Fenway Landing, and Wakonda State Park.  It should be possible to see it in any lightly wooded area near the river, but it may take some hunting to find it.  It is an irregular visitor to feeders.

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January 15, 2012 – Skijoring

After a long warm fall and early winter, true winter has finally hit us.  We had a 40-degree drop in temperature, and a cold day of blowing snow.  I went cross-country skiing first thing Sunday morning.  The conditions weren’t ideal because the wind had created drifts in some places and bald spots in another.  Opportunities to ski are rare here, as snow seldom stays around long.  Indeed, by the end of the day our yard was reduced to muddy patches.   I took a fairly short route around the college; I wasn’t even tired by the end.  I really missed my goatee, which used to keep my chin warm in winter, but firefighters have to be clean shaven. 

When I was done I took Big Guy out for an experiment.  I had read about skijoring–having a dog pull you while you ski.  It looked like fun.  But with a dog completely untrained for it, and being an out-of-shape skiier of modest ability, I should have had no expectation but disaster.  I put the harness on him and snapped a long lead to the rear ring of it.  I ran the loop of the lead through the belt of the fanny pack that I use while skiing.  The plastic snap buckle would give me a quick escape if needed.  Big Guy has a natural ability to follow hand signals.  This talent came in handy when I was directed him with a ski pole.  We made it through the neighbor’s yard into the open area behind the college houses.  Mrs. McKenzie passed by on her morning run just in time to see me fall on my rear.  I got back up and was going along straight when Big Guy spotted a squirrel.  Actually, there ended up being three squirrels.  This is when I got the ride of my life.  He put on a burst of speed and power that propelled me forward at more than a brisk pace.  I was laughing like crazy while steering with the skis to keep him from pulling me sideways.  The ride only lasted 20 or 30 meters.  He stopped at a tree and I fell on my butt again.  Sadly, my 25-year-old ski boots chose this moment to give out.  The sole separated from the upper on the right one.  They served me well.  But the experiment was over, and a success.  I took the skis off and Big Guy back to the house. 

My skis and boots are pretty old, and I was afraid I’d have to buy new equipment.  There are many types of bindings, and mine are quite outdated.  Fortunately, I found a used pair of boots on eBay.  Hope they get here before the next snow.  I posted a pic of my old boots in the gallery below.

The snow also gave me a chance to try out the adaptations of the sled I’ve made for hauling firewood.  They are much like the system I have set up for the wagon, except there’s a rope passing through the PVC pipes.  Speaking of the wagon, I took some photos of the apparatus to show my brother Mike.  I might as well share them here.  Big Guy is progressing in his lessons. Considering how long it took him to learn to sit on command, I’m confident he’ll become a serious puller in time.  He has plenty of strength, and will do just about anything for treats.

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