Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Harris's Sparrow

Elly and I added another bird to our backyard bird list yesterday -- a Harris's Sparrow. We're now up to 45 birds identified from our backyard. Harris's sparrows are not uncommon in our region, but we have not seen one in our yard before. In fact, this is the first Harris's Sparrow either one of us has identified.

I wasn't able to get a picture of the bird, but will be keeping a close eye on our yard for photo opportunities. I did find a picture on the web that is similar to the bird we saw. Our visitor had a strikingly jet-black cap and throat. In full breeding plumage, which appears by the end of April, adult males sport gray cheeks and a decidedly pink bill.

These are our largest sparrows, slightly bigger than white-crowned sparrows, with whom they are frequently seen. We had a goodly number of white-crowned sparrows last April, though we haven't seen any yet this spring. Here is a picture I took last spring of a white-crowned sparrow.

We also spotted two female redwinged blackbirds this morning -- the first we have seen this spring. Adult male redwinged blackbirds arrive four to six weeks before the females. While the adult males are unmistakable with their deep black plumage and red and yellow epaulets, the females look more like overgrown sparrows.

The bird on the upper left is a house sparrow (not a true sparrow, at all, but an invasive English species). The bird in the upper middle and the one on the far right are female redwinged blackbirds, which gives a good size comparison with a typical sparrow-like bird. The bird in the lower center is a young male redwing. His shoulder markings are just coming in and he still has some brown on his back. Juvenile males look like over-sized female redwings. It is hard to see in this image, because of the angle, but the young male is significantly larger than the females.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Impulse Book Purchase

It's windy in Kansas City this morning, though the stiff breeze doesn't seem to bother these red winged-blackbirds. Robins aren't the true harbinger of spring, as some people suppose. They actually remain with us the year round. But, not so with red winged-blackbirds. Their arrival really does signal that spring is near.

One of my New Year resolutions is to avoid impulse book purchases, and I have done fairly well in that regard. But, I could not resist Charles Tunnicliffe's A Sketchbook of Birds when I saw it in a window display at Spivey's a few days ago.

I also ordered Suzanne Dunaway's No Need to Knead from Chequamegon Books in Wisconsin yesterday. This was not an impulse purchase. I found Dunaway's book at the public library and have been going nuts baking bread recipes from it. They're nothing short of wonderful. Only a few copies are available on Abebooks.com -- a sure sign of limited supply. But Elly, munching a slice of Rosemary Filoncino, dipped in rosemary olive oil (both recipes from No Need to Knead), agreed the book is well worth $65. We have had the pleasure to correspond with Ms. Dunaway, who is as charming as her book suggests, and have learned that a reprint from 10 Speed Press may be a possibility. Here is a picture of the filoncino loaves, baked in a baguette pan added to our cooking arsenal after I read about them in Ms. Dunaway's book.

I also had the good fortune to come across the March/April edition of Greenability magazine (Living well, by living green in Kansas City) yesterday. It is actually published by a neighbor of ours. This is an outstanding local resource for eco-friendly lifestyles. Elly and I are now subscribers.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snow Day

The weather forecast called for maybe an inch of snow. Instead, we got a good six inches on Saturday, which was a great way to end out the month of February. Nothing is more fun and relaxing than to spend a snowy day in the kitchen, reading, cooking, watching birds, and, now, thanks to the new addition to our family, watching Basie play in the snow.

Basie loves snow, which isn't a big surprise. He loves to play in the backyard, loves cold weather, and loves to explore. He is 11 weeks old now and growing fast.

My two new journals -- the green one is for birdwatching and the tan one is my kitchen journal. Among other things, this is great for remembering what cookbook a particularly good recipe came from.

Elly was busy making a Cauliflower Cheese Pie from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. We substitute a regular pie crust for the grated potato crust called for in the original recipe. This is awesome with white cheddar cheese, BTW.

I've been on something of a baking binge since trying a Ciabatta recipe in the March/April 2009 Cooks Illustrated which turned out marvelously. Then I came across Suzanne Dunaway's No Need to Knead cookbook at the library. This is one cookbook that seriously needs a second edition. It was published in 1999 and is not readily available on the used book market. It is one of the best cookbooks I have found, even including original watercolor illustrations by Dunaway. I made Apricot Focaccia following her recipe exactly and the result was divine. Easy too. It is suprising what great bread you can make without kneading. Seriously. If you are interested in baking at all and can find a copy of Dunaway's book at your local library, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Some more birds. I can't seem to stop snapping pictures of birds in our backyard. Believe me this is a tiny sample of my total image haul. :-)

Lots of activity at the niger feeder. Goldfinches give larger birds like Grackles a very wide birth, but they aren't afraid to mix it up with birds their own size like house finches and juncos.

The quintessential snow birds in our backyard are cardials and dark-eyed juncos. These are a couple of nice junco pictures. They stay with us from October through April, traveling north into Canada to breed and next in the spring and summer.

Bluejays simply can't resist peanuts in the shell, even if they have to do a little snow removal to uncover them.

Starlings are widely reviled by birders because they are an invasive species and force out many lovely native birds. Well, at least in urban areas. I have to confess that I enjoy watching the. They are handsome, fiesty, and often hilarious.

Here are a couple more pictures of Basie, for his many blog-stalking fans...

Playing in the snow can wear a puppy out!