Friday, January 7, 2011

Snowy Canyon with Trees, Rocks, & Birds
(and an escape)

This winter (and late fall) we've had very cold temps, then a lot of snow, then even more snow, and then more cold temps, with one warmish week in early December. We finally stopped shoveling one mostly gray day last week and went snowshoeing in the canyon above our little house. Getting there wasn't as interesting as being there, looking upward at the untracked snow, and then tracking into it.
Here's an old, rusty tub or pot of some sort we found buried in the snow, with snowshoe for scale.
The canyon had little icicle-covered ledges and beds of limestone or dolomite sticking out here and there, and although they weren't terribly photogenic this juniper with boulder was. How and when did the boulder get into the tree? Hard to tell with the snow cover.
Ah, peaceful snow scene with sagebrush, hidden rock, and needle-covered soil under juniper and nearby piñon.
At long last, we reached a point with a view of the mountains and valley beyond...
...including the distant, sunlit alluvial fans of the Duck Creek Range.
About then, we looked at our back trail and started down.
Close to our ending (and beginning) spot, we came to a gate we go through, and MOH ahead of me spotted these birds pecking at seeds on the ground. I grabbed the camera out of my vest pocket and started trying to get some pix, mostly for identification purposes.
I leaned around MOH, as inconspicuous as possible, shooting between the horizontal railings of the wooden gate. The birds were alert and watching, and I thought they were antsy because of our presence. Suddenly, they all flew away from us, to the left - except for one bird that flew to the right. We had scared them off!
Before I could turn the camera off, a hawk was swooping in low toward the one lone bird, and toward us, finally coming to an air stop with it's wings right over our heads. I shot pics as fast as possible, barely aiming, and got this one picture of it flying away, unsuccessful at trying to have lunch.
The little bird had hidden from the hawk by landing on the back of MOH's snowshoe, right in front of me! The little birds are Horned Larks. Some had distinctive yellow under the chin, and you can (barely) see the "horns" in the pictures. Couldn't get an ID on the hawk, which had scared the birds away - we weren't the culprits!


Gaelyn said...

Nice walk in the virgin snow. That is very funny that the little bird hid on the snowshoe.

Chris M said...

Speaking of snow [if you haven't already seen]

Silver Fox said...

Thanks for the link, Chris - it seemed like I'd been doing a lot of shoveling!

Silver Fox said...

Gaelyn, I was lucky I even saw the little bird, let alone got its picture! And MOH was amazed.

Dan McShane said...

I enjoy that not all animals view us as enemies.

Anonymous said...

I guess the lark decided you and YOH were the lesser of two evils!

I'm well acquainted with horned larks. They're always the first birds to return to the prairie in spring, often showing up here in February or March, which seems really imprudent to me, because there's usually still lots of snow around, and weeks if not months of cold weather still to come; they take "early bird gets the worm" a bit too seriously--except there are no self-respecting worms around that time of year; I don't know how they (the larks) make a living so early in the year. Seeds, I guess. I always feel sorry for them when I see them flitting around the sides of country roads in March, during a snow storm, but I guess they know what they're doing.

In regard to the boulder in the tree: perhaps it slid down the slope on top of a heavy snow pack and came to rest against the tree, then got hung up when the snow melted the following spring (?)

Great photos!


Silver Fox said...

Dan & Howard, cool, eh?

Howard, if we've seen these horned larks before, then we haven't been able to ID them. They look really familiar. In these parts, it looks like they stay year round. We have juncos staying year round for seeds on the ground and something they get after in the trees (buds? seeds? frozen insects?).

If we can remember, we'll check out the boulder after the snow melts. If there's no trail, your hypothesis might be a good one!

Anonymous said...

According to my Peterson's Western Birds, horned larks are pretty much ubiquitous in W NA (except for parts of the boreal forest) but latitude-sensitive. North of about 50 deg., they breed but don't winter; between 50 deg. and northern Mexico they're resident year-round. Since I live at 51 deg., I suppose some of those I see in February or March could be hardier year-round residents at the northern edge of their range; the reason they get noticed that time of year might be partly because there are no other small birds on the prairie at that time (other than snow buntings, which move in large flocks).

Regarding "my" hypothesis about the boulder up the tree: part of the reason I thought of it goes back to my mineral exploration job as a summer student in the BC southern interior. When we were doing our claim staking and soil sampling in the woods, we would often see axe blazes or flagging attached to trees 10 or 12 feet off the ground, which puzzled us until we realized that they had been done some previous winter, when there was 6 or 8 feet of snow-pack.