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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Shearwaters, cool seabirds! See them on a whale watch trip.

Several years ago we went on a whale watch trip and we saw many hundreds plus of seabirds, we weren't counting as much as looking and I was also photographing. The seabirds were out feeding with the whales, near Jeffrey's Ledge, a 33 mile long shallow glacial deposit underwater formation that stretches from off Rockport, Mass. to south of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Because of nutrient rich upwelling from the deeper waters next to the ledge, it's very productive of food (small fish, mollusks, crustaceans) for the whales and other marine creatures. Here's a Great Shearwater in flight. By far, the most numerous seabirds we saw were Great Shearwaters. They have grayish brown upperparts, a dark cap and a variable white collar. This one has less of a collar. You can see the narrow U-shaped white patch on the rump.

We also saw a fair number of Cory's Shearwaters, shown here. The yellow bill is quite prominent, a help with their ID.

It ain't easy to photograph seabirds. First of all, you're on a moving boat. We were lucky in that the seas were calm, with no big swells. Some tips, brace yourself against the wall of the boat, keep you knees slightly flexed and plant your feet somewhat widely to steady yourself. Forget a tripod. The boat is crowded, rocking and you have to manuever around people. Use a telephoto lens with image stabilization. I had a Canon 300 mm IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter (giving me 420 mm) and a Canon Mark II camera. I now use a Canon 7D Mark II and a Canon 1 DX. If you can hand hold the heavy 500 mm lens or the 300 mm f 2.8 lens then good for you, they are too heavy for me.

Here's a Great Shearwater taking off, love the pinkish feet.

Another species we saw was this Sooty Shearwater, an easy ID because of its almost all over sooty color, except for the whitish on the underwing primary coverts.

Here's what it really looks like, with lots of little shapes bobbing on the water. These are Great Shearwaters, but you need to look carefully at each group of birds and all birds flying by to ID them. For great ID help for seabirds, use our best-selling, most complete photographic guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Take a whale watch trip and enjoy the seabirds!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dragonflies for Birders, Enjoy!



Birders can look for dragonflies through their binoculars! This is a Halloween Pennant dragonfly, so aptly named, and one of my favorites. We have hundreds in our fields right now.


Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer. The most colorful dragonflies with patterns on their wings are often in the Skimmer family of dragonflies.

When birds are quiet in summer, birders turn to watching dragonflies, that's what we do. Dragonflies are active on warm days, the hotter and sunnier the better. Dragonflies are stunningly beautiful, have cool names, and are abundant in fields, lakes, streams, shores, many of the places people go in summer.

Here are a few tips to enjoy and identify them.

1. Use your binoculars to spot them, if you have close focusing binos, even better.
2. Some dragonfly males patrol territories along ponds, lakes, and streams. Females mate with them then lay their eggs on emerging vegetation. If you see 2 dragonflies flying in tandem, this is a precursor to mating. In the wheel positon, mating is occurring.
3. Some dragonflies are more perchers, others more fliers, that can be a clue to their ID. Different perchers have different ways of perching, again an ID clue.
4. In general, some of the most obvious, colorful, and patterned-wing dragonflies you see are in the Skimmer family, so look in that section of our book.
5. Different species of dragonflies are on the wing at different times during the summer, so you will constantly see new ones.
6. Male, female and immature dragonflies of the same species can look different, just like birds.


We (along with dragonfly experts Blair Nikula and Jackie Sones) produced a book, Stokes Beginner's Guide To Dragonflies in order to quickly help you get into enjoying these marvelous insects. We worked out an easy key and lots of color photos. Take it and binoculars along with you the next time you go to the lake, river or stream. We take it with us in the canoe whenever we go out in the summer. Enjoy!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Enjoying Doves at Your Feeders! How-to.


Eurasian Collared-Dove

Eurasian Collared-Doves are expanding their range, look for them at your feeders

Mourning Doves are common feeder birds across the country


Doves like to drink and bathe

Mourning Dove snoozing on nest. They lay 2 eggs.

Common Ground-Doves are small doves

White-winged Dove

1. Mourning Doves are the most common doves found at feeders nationwide. Eurasian Collared-Doves are mainly found in the southern and middle part of the country. White-winged Doves and petite Common Ground-Doves are found mostly in the southern parts of the country.

2. Doves are seed and grain eating birds, so they eat many wild seeds and will come to bird feeders for a variety of seeds including millet, milo, corn and sunflower. 

3. Doves are large birds (except for Common Ground-Doves) and feed mainly on the ground. So when choosing bird feeders, select feeders that have a platform or wide ledge so doves can land and comfortably eat. Doves will also feed on seeds that fall to the ground from bird feeders. The Stokes Select 3 in 1 Platform Feeder and red Platform Feeder are excellent feeders for doves.

4. Doves feed differently than some other small feeder birds such as chickadees, who come to your feeder and take one seed at a time. Doves have a crop in which they store seeds for digestion afterward. So you may see doves coming in and consuming a lot of seeds, then going off elsewhere to sit on a branch to rest and digest.

5. Mourning Doves are in in pairs in summer. In spring the male gives his long "ooahoo oo oo oo" call to court a female. Some people mistake this cooing for a sound an owl would make. The mournful nature of the sound gives this species its name. Mourning Doves build flimsy nests, lay two eggs and both parents feed their young "pigeon milk," nutritious whitish liquid the parents regurgitate. The young fledge at 12-13 days of age.

6. In winter Mourning Doves are in flocks of about 20 or more birds. The flocks drift about a given area as food resources change. There is a peck dominance hierarchy in the flocks, with some birds more dominant over others. At your feeder you may see one bird raise its wings and even hit at another bird with its wing in aggressive encounters.

7. Most doves have rather plain brownish or grayish plumage. White-winged Doves have a distinct white streak at the edge of the folded wing. Eurasian Collared-Doves look similar to Mourning Doves but have a black half collar with a lower white edge, behind their neck. They are expanding their range and  might show up anywhere, so be on the lookout for them at your feeder. Common Ground-Doves are only 6 1/2 inches long and plain brown, with the male being a little more pinkish on the breast.

8. Provide doves with a bird bath to drink from and bathe in. When doves drink,they can keep their head down and draw in water in their bill. Other birds drink by dipping in their bill then tilting their head up and back to swallow.

9. Keep feeders stocked, water fresh, and enjoy the doves. Maybe you will even see a new species!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Happy Fourth of July!


Northern Cardinal


Great Egret


Indigo Bunting


Flowers from our garden



Happy Fourth of July weekend. Hope you see some red, white and blue birds!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cedar Waxwing Fun!

Cedar Waxwings in crabapple trees

Cedar Waxwings in Amelanchier (shadbush) trees. The male will hop over to a female, often with a berry, as part of courtship and if she accepts it they will become a pair.

Cedar Waxwings are fruit eaters and this time of year look for them in Amelanchier (shadbush) trees, whose fruit ripens early. We have the trees framing our front walk and are delighted the waxwings are there when we go to our house. In fall waxwings like crabapples trees, so plant both crabapples and shadbush for multi-season Cedar Waxwing fun!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Butterfly Identification made easy! Learn your butterflies!

Monarch Butterfly. They lay their eggs on milkweed and their caterpillars feed on this plant.


Great Spangled Frittillary on Purple Coneflower


Close-up of Great Spangled Fritillary

American Lady Butterfly, told by the two eye spots on underside of the hindwing

Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies are unmistakable

Spicebush Swallowtails can be told from other big, dark swallowtails by their single row of prominent white dots inside the margin of their forewings. The larvae of Spicebush Swallowtails feed on spicebush and sassafrass.


Pearl Crescent butterfly. Scores are feeding on white clover on our path so we keep the path mowed high to preserve the clover flowers for them.

Mourning Cloaks are widespread across much of North America. They are one of the few butterflies who overwinter as adults, finding protected places in log piles, nooks, or under loose bark, and when they emerge in the spring they look worn, as this butterfly does. They are one of the longest lived butterflies and some may live as long as 10 months. Mourning Cloaks feed on sap and fruit.

Our butterfly bushes will bloom soon and they're magnets for the butterflies. Check with your local nature society to see which butterfly plants are not invasive in your area. Here's a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on butterfly bush.


We've written two books to help you attract and identify butterflies. Stokes Beginner's Guide To Butterflies, has an easy ID key to help you quickly identify the butterflies you see by size and shape.


Stokes Butterfly Book gives you plans for a butterfly garden, lists and photos of butterfly plants, and chapters, with color photos, on the identification, behavior and caterpillars of common butterflies. Both are available at amazon.com and stores.


When the birding is slow, and it's the middle of the day, a wonderful thing for birders to do is look for butterflies. Butterflies are colorful flying creatures, just like birds. The identification skills birders already have can be transferred to identifying butterflies.
Look at butterflies through your binoculars, no need to catch them in a net.

The hot weather favors butterflies as they need to warm their bodies to fly. They need to get their body temperature up to 85 to 100 degrees Farenheit in order to fly well. Adult butterflies come to flowers for nectar, lay their eggs on special host plants, which can be unique to each species of butterfly. The eggs hatch, larva feed on the plant then turn into a pupa or crysalis from which the adult butterfly will emerge. A complete cycle or generation is called a brood, and butterfly species can go through from just one to as many as four broods per year, depending on the species and the number of warm months. Different butterflies are on the wing at different times during the summer, so you will continue to see new species.

There are about 17,000 species of butterflies in the world. In North America there are about 700 species but only a small fraction are common and likely to be seen by the average person.

When you see a butterfly watch it closely for several minutes. Observe how it flies, its size, shape, and the colors and patterns on its wings, both above and below.

Start by knowing the major families of butterflies that are distinctive. Below are some:

Swallowtails - are our largest butterflies and most have long tails coming off their hind wings.

Whites and Sulfurs - these are all medium-sized butterflies that are predominantly white or yellow.

Gossamer Wings - this group is easy to identify since it includes all of our smallest butterflies, such as the blues, coppers and hairstreaks, and metalmarks. The blues tend to be iridescent blue, coppers are often copper, hairstreaks often have hairlike tails on their hind wings, and metalmarks often have metallic spots on their wings.

Brush-footed Butterflies - this is a large and varied group of medium-sized, generally dark-colored butterflies with such strong and rapid flight they are hard to follow. Their is no one field characteristic, besides their flight, that makes them easy to identify as a group.

Satyrs - these are medium-sized butterflies that are almost all brown, often with darker eye-spots on their wings. They have a weak and bobbing flight and are often seen at woods edges or among grasses.

Skippers - are small butterflies whose flight is extremely rapid and erratic. They are mostly rich brown or orange-brown.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Attracting Orioles, How-To

Baltimore Oriole, male

Baltimore Oriole, male

Baltimore Oriole, Female

Baltimore Oriole, male, so enjoying the oranges at the feeder next to our deck. During the recent spell of cold and rain, both he and his mate frequently came to the oranges, and also to suet. Such a perk for them in difficult weather, helping them get easy calories while they continue their challenge of breeding and raising young. Even though they are eating the fruit now, they also eat insects and will primarily feed their young in the nest caterpillars and insects as oriole babies need good protein for growth and feather development. You can also attract orioles with mealworms and oriole nectar and grape jelly feeders. Some orioles will come to feeders all season but others stop using feeders once they have young in the nest and instead focus on eating insects. The best time to attract oriole is to have feeders ready as soon as they come back from migration.
It is such a thrill to see these orioles up close.

For more on attracting and feeding all the species of North American Orioles see Stokes Oriole Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying and Enjoying Orioles