Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snow Birds

Pine Grosbeaks are perhaps my favorite winter birds.  We don't see them during the summer, but they usually appear at our feeders sometime in January. 

Like many songbirds, the male is much more colorful than the female.  He needs to be attractive to  to win a mate.  She, on the other hand, needs to blend in to her surroundings when she is sitting on her nest.

Grosbeaks belong to the finch family and feed primarily on seeds and buds, which they crack with their large powerful bills.  Finches typically travel in flocks.  I suspect they may signal to the others when a food source is found.  I don't know that for a fact, but keeping a flock together likely ensures greater safety against predators for each individual.  Also, a flock is likely to find better food sources when there is cooperation.  There is a temptation to view animals through our own moral lenses and view a cooperative flock as an example of altruism, but we must also admit the possibility (perhaps likelihood) that the root cause of cooperation is "selfishness."  The mantra of modern biology - "survival of the fittest" can in fact invent no other motivation.  Within that system love is merely a pleasurable feeling that has evolved to confer enhanced fitness to pass on one's genes.  That system is a cold, silent place.

They are a colorful delight to see in the middle of winter.  Also their calls are  soft and musical.   

Lake Effect Snow

The Copper Country is a narrow peninsula jutting into Lake Superior.  When  cold dry air from Canada passes over the big lake it absorbs moisture like a sponge.  When that air rises over the Keweenaw Peninsula it cools and releases that moisture in the form of snow.  Sometimes the flakes are large as in this picture, sometimes fine - almost like a fog.

David and Deanna off for a slog through the deep powder.

The clouds which drop lake effect snow proceed in bands, so that one minute you can have near whiteout conditions, and then sunshine a few minutes later.

Of course, if you're wearing a good sheepskin coat, the weather really doesn't matter.

After the storm.  Actually, this picture was taken a few days earlier, after a true storm caused by a low pressure system.  Our lake effect snows are often very localized.  The sun may be shining twenty miles south while here it is snowing heavily.  

Life in the trenches isn't that bad as long as you have enough sweet hay.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Feeding the Flock

Sheep prefer to eat their hay from the the ground, so I try to spread it around so that they don't fight over it. 

Gunnar likes it when I scratch behind his ears and sometimes wags his tail like a dog.  However, soon after this picture was taken, the rascal tried to but me as I was walking away.  I happened to turn around just as he was rushing me and he immediately veered off.  As long as he knows I'm looking at him, he's a very good boy.

We still have plenty of hay in the hayshed and I make sure the sheep have plenty when the weather gets cold.  There's an old Finnish proverb "Heikki heinia jakaa"  (which literally means "Heikki splits the hay" ) meaning that around Heikki's name day, the 19th of January on the Finnish calendar, your hay and winter stores will be about half gone.  It is really the midpoint of winter.  In our case I doubt that I've even used a third of the hay yet, and it's a good feeling to know that we have plenty on hand.

Sonja and Sigrid enjoying their hay while the shepherd looks on.  I've made it part of my everyday routine to go out and feed the sheep when I come home from work.  It's a relaxing thing to do and I take great pleasure in it. Sheep are really nice animals to be around, even if one would like to butt you.

After all, boys will be boys.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ice Fishing

A well- sharpened ice auger makes drilling holes in thick ice nearly effortless.
Yeah, right.  Let's just say that it's less work than swinging an ax.  Our pond has many smallmouth bass and I wanted to see if they could be caught in the winter.  The snowfall causes the ice to sink and water to flow onto it from the edges and from various cracks I suppose, so the top layer of the ice is covered with slush.

I drilled six or seven holes with the ice auger at various places in the pond.  The water is less than four feet deep in most places and you think it would be easy to find the fish.

But after jigging with worms and waxworms for the better part of two hours without a single bite, I had to admit defeat.  The next day I asked several more knowledgeable ice fisherman and they said that smallmouth bass are very inactive during the winter.  I guess that's how they survive in such shallow, oxygen depleted water.  Next summer I think I will plant some bluegills in the pond.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Christ Mass 2011

Christmas Eve. Amanda, Jonathan, Samuel, Mikael & Jenifer practicing a number which they sang in church that night.

Marja picking spinach from our greenhouse. December spinach is sweet. Sugar is a leaf's natural antifreeze.

Following Finnish custom we have a big dinner on Christmas eve. We begin the dinner by reading the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke.

Grandpa, Gwen, Daniel and David. Gwen and Daniel plan to marry in June. Welcome to the clan, Gwen!

Lots of delicious food, need I say more?

Samanda checking out the presents under the tree.

Mik modeling the latest in Virginia fashion - a sauna suit. It dropped everyone's blood pressure I'm sure, as we could hardly stop laughing when he put it on.

The girls modelling their new post-sauna headwraps and towels.

What would Christmas be without joulpullaa? This along with stacks of cookies, cheese, puddings, chocolate, etc. provided us with plenty of fuel for outdooor activities.

Pond hockey was great. The low snowfall enabled us to skate on the pond during the entire week after Christmas.

Yours truly bought himself a new pair of skates and was on the winning side more often than not. On a short rink, the treachery of age can offset the athleticism of youth.

Deanna ready to go for a ski. We all skied on several occasions, but I neglected to take a camera to the trails.

Samamanda preparing to go skijoring with Savu and Heini. Amanda likes animals and really was taken with Heini, our girl dog.

Breakfast. We generally stayed up late and got up late, just like you should do when you're on vacation.

The girls playing scrabble with a retinue of onlookers and advisors.