Thursday, January 21, 2016

Our Big Year Seeing A Snowy Owl

As some of you know my husband and I have had a really good week.  Mid January in Wisconsin can be pretty quiet and low key.  It is a time to stay inside to keep warm and snack too much.  I always gain weight in the winter.  It is easy to hibernate, but it isn't the best thing to do.  That is why we like to take drives around the country side in search of winter scenes and wildlife.  The eagles and winter birds are active this time of year.  They are easy to see because the leaves are off the trees, and the birds are more visible because they have to work a little harder to get food.  We heard eagles were hanging out at a nearby lake that hadn't frozen yet.  On one of our drives, we discovered where some eagles were spending time.  Two separate days we saw this fellow watching patiently for food.  As Spring approaches we see more eagles on our property but there haven't been many so far.

We also saw a couple young eagles waiting in the trees looking for their next meal.  The young eagles don't have the white head or tail feathers yet.  That happens when the eagle is about three years old.

Then the icing on the cake happened.  We saw a bird that we never thought we would see.  I told my daughter and she said "this is the big year".  I said "yes, I guess so".  She told me she was referring to a movie she watched with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson.  It was about a year long competition to see who can spot the most birds.  The movie was called The Big Year.  That is what she was referring to.  I hadn't seen it or even heard of it, so I looked on the library website.  The movie was available for check out and so we did.

It is a cute little story.  I am a terrible movie viewer.  I can't concentrate enough to keep track of complicated story lines and a lot of characters.  This movie is simple with a good message about what is important in life.  The elusive bird in the story is the Snowy Owl.  They saw hundreds of different birds but the most sought after bird was the owl.  This week my husband and I saw two.  I thought it was the same owl on two separate days, but it turns out there are two separate owls in the area.  I was told I was very fortunate to see two separate owls in a lifetime.  I told my husband that even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.  It wasn't anything we did, we were just at the right place at the right time.

The first sighting of the snowy owl was off in a tree.  I got this picture.

As we approached, he flew off across the field.  You can see through the trees how large he is.

If you look carefully you can see him sitting at the very top of the tree in the middle of the picture.

Another local person was luckier and captured this awesome shot.*

* I have asked permission to use this photo.  I have not heard so I am thinking it is ok with her.  If I need to delete it, I will.  Hopefully before winter is over, I will be able to get a similar picture myself.

The next day we were out shopping and decided to swing by the area on the way home.  I just wanted to get another glimpse of this amazing owl.  If I had my choice, I would go everyday.  We managed to see the owl again.  I thought he looked darker but then thought the other one we saw was probably hunkered down so we couldn't see the markings.  I posted the picture on a local birding site and learned that we had seen two separate birds.

We saw this heavily barred snowy owl near dusk.  Apparently this owl had not been spotted in this area.

I feel very fortunate to live where we do.  We may not have a lot of shopping opportunities or fancy restaurants, but we can see nature at its finest.  With the lakes not freezing as quickly this year, many varieties of ducks, geese and even swans can be seen at any time.  We have indeed had The Big Year within a few miles of our home.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Family Escaped The "Escape Room"

Imagine living in a small town of 1,192 people in South Central Wisconsin in the winter.  The temperature this morning was minus 8.  It was the coldest day we have had so far this winter.

It is a Sunday, and there is not much to do.  I don't look at living in Wisconsin's cold clmate as much different from living in the Southern climates in the summer.  In both places it is difficult to do any outside activities.  It is dangerous to be outside in extreme heat, just as it is dangerous to be outside in minus zero temperatures.  In both situations a person needs to do something fun and safe.  Today we did just that.  A while ago my daughter participated in an activity for her job.  It was called the Escape Room of Wisconsin.  It was meant to build trust and team building among co-workers.  She loved it so much, she signed up for six people to do a family oriented escape room on January 17, 2016.  Little did we know today would be so cold and that it would be a perfect day for such an activity.  The six who participated were my husband, my daughters and three of our oldest grandchildren.  I came along for the ride.  The thought of being locked in a room caused me a little panic so I stayed out in the waiting room.  I was able to watch the whole process on a TV screen and hear how they were solving the puzzles.  I couldn't understand why they found a flashlight and needed to use it because it looked so bright on the TV screen. Afterward they told me it wasn't bright in the room and was very dark and hard to see.

What I viewed on the TV screen.  They weren't aware I was watching.

The general idea of the Escape room is that you choose a room you would like to escape from.  The room my family picked was called Escape Snape.  It was geared for families and based on the Harry Potter character.  It was kind of ironic because the actor Alan Rickman, who played Snape, died this past week.  I'm not sure if you need to know about the Harry Potter stories to escape this room, but I think it helped. 

Next you are put into the room and the door is locked.  You have to search for clues by solving puzzles and using logic to find the final way out of the room.  You have 45 minutes to complete and escape.  The better you work together and communicate, the faster you can escape.  The owner sits and watches on the TV monitor to make sure you are on the right track, and to make sure everyone is safe.

Some groups make it out, others get out with help and some need to be let out at the end of the 45 minutes.  It is fun no matter the outcome.  There are other rooms which are a little harder and require even more logic and puzzle solving skills. 


New rooms are added regularly so you can come back at another time.  When you are finally out of the room, they take fun photos to post on Facebook.  It was a great day for everyone, including me.