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Friday, March 30, 2007

And More Bluebirds

And here he is again

and this is Mrs. Bluebird

You can see why it has been said that the bluebird carries the sky on his back.

Our Eastern Bluebird pair is still investigating boxes for a potential nesting spot. We hope they make up their minds fast, because a few of the Tree Swallows have just arrived back from migration. When more tree Swallows arrive, there will be a lot of competition for the nest boxes in our meadows. The promise of a new nesting season is so exciting, you never know how events will unfold.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oh So Blue

This morning our Eastern Bluebird pair was investigating some of our bird houses. The light was just right to bring out the oh-so-blue color. Kinda takes your breath away.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Think Orioles

Baltimore Oriole at orange

We answer many hundreds of questions from people a year about all aspects of birding. Recently someone from Michigan asked us "When do Orioles arrive in Michigan"? Got us thinking about Orioles and how beautiful they are and how we look forward to their arrival in NH. Orioles who are migratory (some are not) such as Baltimore and Bullock's, arrive at different times in different parts of the country. If you live in Michigan, or NH, they may arrive at the end of April or the first half of May. If you live in the very southern part of the country, in FL, TX, AZ, CA, NM, or LA, they arrive in the last half of March. So, lucky you, they may already be there.

Baltimore Oriole at orange and grape jelly feeder

People ask the best way to attract Orioles. Orioles are fruit and nectar eaters so they can be attracted with orange halves, grape jelly and sugar water Oriole feeders. We plant many Crab Apple trees because Oriole drink their nectar. The trick is to have the food available when they first arrive and are more likely to use it, because wild foods are not available yet. Some Orioles will continue to come to feeders all year and others come mainly in spring. Once Orioles establish breeding territories and raise young, they shift from eating sugar to more protein, especially needed for nestling growth. A study of Bullock's Orioles found that up to 79 percent of their food during breeding is adult and larval insects, especially caterpillars.


Some people successfully offer mealworms to Orioles. We sometimes cut lengths of string for the Orioles to use in weaving their nest. We also plant blackberries for the birds and find once the Orioles are through breeding, they come with their fledglings to the berries. For further reference, our Stokes Oriole Book give complete information about all Oriole species with lots more ideas for attracting them. So its not too early to think Orioles.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wild Goose Chase

Canada Geese

We decided to go looking for some Greater White-fronted Geese that had been reported in the Connecticut River Valley on the NH, VT border, and seen the day before by a friend of ours. These rare birds were a subspecies from Greenland. They sometimes show up in the Northeast, usually found among flocks of Canada Geese.

Our area of NH got snow overnight and looked like a winter wonderland in the morning. Our river and pond were still frozen, not a place to look for waterfowl yet.

The Connecticut River Valley is warmer than where we live in NH, and many of the extensive farm fields along it had less snow than our area. We loaded scopes, cameras, snacks and Phoebe, our Corgi, in the car and drove along the river. We stopped wherever we could, and searched for geese. We found a flock of about 500 Canada Geese along the NH border and checked each and every one of them, searching in vain for the Greater White-fronted Geese.

The Canadas flew around in irregular formations, with much honking. Darn, no luck.

Northern Pintails and Canada Geese at the dam (digiscoped from very far away).

We finally had to give up where we were searching, then went to another place, a dam in the Connecticut River in Vernon, VT, accessed from the VT side of the river, where the river was unfrozen. We saw over 1000 Canada Geese there and, again, looked at every one trying to find the Greater White-fronted Geese. There were many other waterfowl, including Common Mergansers, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, Black Ducks, and 14 elegant Northern Pintail Ducks. What a treat it was to see all the ducks. We never found the Greater White-fronted Geese, though. That's how birding is sometimes, you win some, you loose some. It was a lovely day just the same.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

Song of Spring

Today, a recently arrived Song Sparrow started singing. Aaah, finally, a sound of spring.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

I put a little rug under my desk and now Phoebe, our Corgi puppy, sleeps there while I am working. Don't wake her.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Synchrony

While waiting for our white stuff (snow) to melt, I was photo-editing and came across this image of some other white things. These White Pelicans were taking off in wonderful synchrony. Love the way their orange webbed feet are just the same height off the water and curled back like little stars. Editing photos is all about seeing the art in the image. This one is a keeper.

White Pelicans winter in coastal and water areas of the southern part of the country and breed in many parts of the western half of the U.S. and Canada. They are beginning to migrate. I always think of them as a group oriented species, for they feed cooperatively, breed in colonies and migrate in flocks, using thermals to save energy.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Spring Images

Red tulips in our garden

American Goldfinch in breeding plumage

A view across our perennial borders to "ship rock"

Amalanchier (shadbush) "Autumn Brilliance" at our entry, provides spring flowers, summer berries and fall color

View from our front entry to the gazebo. Pink Crab Apples, "Prairie Fire" provide fruits for the birds.

Bird Bath in the long border

Spring Johnny-Jump-Ups in a mini-"Wellie" planter

Across to the gazebo and barn

Yellow Ladies Slippers and blue Forget-Me-Nots in the wildflower garden

Yellow Parrot Tulips in one of the antique ironstone pitchers Lillian collects

Pink Impression Tulips are our favorites, we planted 100 last year for this spring's display. Can't wait!

A gold-leaved cultivar of Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis), is an early spring bloomer

Pair plants with colored foliage and tulips for spring impact.

Happy first day of spring 2007! Here are some of last year's images of our garden at "Bobolink Farm", our NH home. Birds are our passion, and so are our gardens which we have planned for beauty, good design and to attract the birds. We're writing an article now on our garden which will appear in the August issue of Birder's World magazine. We put up these images for spring inspiration and to help us remember what we have to look forward to. It may not be spring-like here now (we still have deep snow), but it can be spring on our blog.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

Poetry In Motion





Yesterday, this beautiful Red Fox was hunting our "Bobolink Farm" fields in the rosy glow of early light. We watched it meander on the frozen surface, then lift its leg to pee, revealing it was a male fox. He ran across the fields then slowed and alertly cock his head to one side, listening. He reared up, levitating above the snow, then pounced, with full body force on front paws, pinning a vole. He grabbed his fat, furry prize and shook the vole, then trotted off into the woods carrying it in his mouth.

How privledged we felt to watch this magnificent animal going about his serious business of survival. We also felt a sense of pride that our careful maintaining of the meadows provided vole habitat and escape from hunger for this canine, at least for another day.

Photographed through the window with my Canon 1D Mark II camera with Canon 300 MM IS lens and 1.4 teleconverter, hand held. Fox was 300 ft. away.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sleet


On top of our 12 plus inches of snow we are now getting sleet. Love the way it beads up on the junco and the Red Squirrel's bushy tail is its own umbrella.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Friday, March 16, 2007

Nor'easter


A big Nor'easter, a large storm with winds that blow in from the northeast, is beginning to hit New England and is supposed to worsen overnight, dumping up to 10 inches of snow on us. Oh no! Just when most of the snow from the winter had melted. The birds are frantically chowing down, knowing what is ahead. The only one who is happy about this storm coming is Phoebe, our Corgi puppy, who loves the snow. We will be spending the weekend digging out, and making sure our birds are well fed.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Video in Question

These are various digital images of Pileated Woodpeckers in flight that I photographed in Florida.






A paper in the BMC Biology journal puplished today concludes that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker captured in the 2004 Arkansas video by David Luneau, which was used as proof of its existence by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, might really be a Pileated Woodpecker.

Scientist Martin Collinson of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland looked at videos of Pileated Woodpeckers in flight and compared them with the Luneau video, analyzing both wing beat speeds and pattern of the wings in flight. The conclusion in the abstract of his paper is:

"The identification of the bird filmed in Arkansas in April 2004 as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker is best regarded as unsafe. The similarities between the Arkansas bird and known Pileated Woodpeckers suggest that it was most likely a Pileated Woodpecker."

"Collinson says he is disappointed by his finding. He still wants to believe that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker exists but says the evidence does not support that conclusion", according to USA Today. Cornell stands by their original opinion, that the bird in the Luneau video is an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

You can see the abstract and the whole paper, including images from the Luneau as well as the Pileated videos, here.

The paper says that some of the "Key findings of the video analysis are:

“1. Pileated Woodpeckers flying near-horizontally away from the observer show much more white in poor-quality video than would be expected from their general plumage pattern. They present an appearance of a black-bodied bird with largely white wings and black wingtips, very similar to the bird in the Luneau video ....The expected appearance of the upperwing of Pileated Woodpecker – mostly black with a small white patch at the base of the primaries – is often not seen, and is only clearly resolvable when birds are flying near-vertically before landing on a tree trunk; something the bird in the Luneau video did not do.

2. The black trailing edge to the underwing of Pileated Woodpecker is often very inconspicuous and may disappear completely. Due to motion and flexion of the wing, the black trailing edge is much more obvious towards the wingtips. This produces an apparent plumage pattern that matches the patterns shown by the Luneau video bird."

It is interesting to look at some of my various digital photos of Pileated Woodpeckers in flight in light of this information. My fourth photo, in which the bird was flying directly away from me, does show a lot of white on the right wing, with a black wing tip and the black trailing edge almost disappears.

It seems to us that continued study of Pileated Woodpeckers, ranging from their flight, behavior, habitat, scaling evidence, etc., is important and will help in distinguishing them from potential Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.

Photos @ Lillian Stokes, 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bluebirds!!


On our walk this morning we heard a bluebird singing and spotted a male and female bluebird going in and out of our birdhouses scattered over our meadows at Bobolink Farm. We just stood quietly and watched, utterly thrilled, for bluebirds share a special place in our hearts. We have been attracting them for over 20 years and were instrumental in getting them returned, many years ago, to the town we lived in in Mass., when we put up the first bluebird trail there. Now they are here at our new home in southern NH.

Here is a quote by Henry David Thoreau, from his journal March 2, 1859, that we put in our publication, Stokes Bluebird Book.

"Princes and magistrates are often styled serene, but what is their turbid serenity to that ethereal serenity which the bluebird embodies? His Most Serene Birdship! His soft warble melts in the ear, as the snow is melting in the valleys around. The bluebird comes and with his warble drills the ice and sets free the rivers and ponds and frozen ground. As the sand flows down the slopes a little way, assuming the forms of foliage where the frost comes out of the ground, so this little rill of melody flows a short way down the concave of the sky."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Finch-Full


American Goldfinches have been coming in droves to our feeders, especially during the cold weather we have been having. Here they are at our Stokes Select Finch Screen Feeder which allows multiple finches to cling and pull the Nyjer (thistle) seed through the mesh. Finches like to feed in flocks from fall through early spring, and don't start nesting until summer. At this time of year, they start giving warbling songs, a sign their long courship period is beginning. We love to hear it becaue it's a welcome sign that spring is coming. We also like to look closely through our binoculars at the goldfinches at our feeders because you can see beginning changes in their plumage. A few more yellow feathers start coming in, and there are flecks of black on the males' heads where their black caps will grow in.
We have a complete line of Stokes Select Feeders, widely available through retail channels and a portion of the proceeds go to bird conservation.

Photo @ Lillian Stokes 2007

Friday, March 09, 2007

Minus 8 Degrees

Yes, you read it correctly, it is minus 8 degrees this morning. Our vase of tulips on the windowsill keeps us hopeful that spring will come. The juncos feed on the seed scattered on the ground and deck and the other feeders are full of finches, chickadees, jays, Mourning Doves and more.
We bundle up with down parkas, neck warmers and lots of layers. Miss Phoebe squints in the sun and is ready to go, her winter parka already on her. I always am amazed how she seems warm and protected from the cold by her coat and acts like a Siberian Husky, romping and running around in these sub zero temps.

We head out toward the frozed pond and distant mountain.

Our landscape seems artic and our boots squeak and crunch in the extra cold, styrofoam-like snow.

Out by the stone wall we find a set of meandering tracks. We wrote a book called "Stokes Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior" in 1986, (available from amazon.com), that covers all the tracks, signs, scats and behavior of all the common North American mammals. We know that both foot prints and track patterns are clues to mammals. A long meandering trail of medium sized tracks or diagonally placed pairs of tracks are made by members of the weasel family. The Skunk, a member of the weasel family, produces a meandering trail when it walks, and this is distinctive, for no other animal makes a pattern quite like it. When the Skunk moves at faster speeds it may produce more diagonal tracks, but it never goes at these faster speeds for a very long time, since it would much rather waddle about at its slower speed.

So we have discovered a Striped Skunk track pattern.

Skunk tracks have 5 toes with claw marks in front of each pad. The toe pads are elongated, not round. The hind tracks are about 1 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide. The heel pad is larger on the hind foot and is divided into two parts, the upper track print in the photo above, shows this nicely. The size, number of toes, and position of the claws make this print distinctive. This is a nice example of a Skunk print. What is a Skunk doing out on a very cold night? Well, Skunks begin their mating season in February or March. Males start traveling long distance, up to 5 miles in one night, in search of females in their dens to mate with. So cold or no, Skunk love was the motivator for his wanderings.

Amazingly, after we got home and I was writing this, I heard Phoebe give a low growl and followed her glance to our deck. There, coming up the steps, was a large Mink. I sat stunned as it crossed our deck, right below the tulips, and hopped over the side, and disappeared into the woods before I could grab the camera. Thank you Phoebe, for the heads up. We rarely get to see a live Mink. The Mink did leave a few tracks.

In this page from our book, the Mink track is the upper middle, the Skunk track is the left middle.

Mink tracks have 5 pointed toes in front of a semicircular heel pad. They are about 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 1/4 inches long. The toes appear pointed because of the closeness of the claw to the pad. You can see the pointed toes in the above track. Mink commonly move by bounding, where their forefeet move foward together and their hind feet land exactly in the tracks made by their forefeet. In this case, one of the hind feet on the left didn't do that, possibly because these tracks occurred where the Mink jumped off our deck. This Mink may have been looking for food, or, like the Skunk, for a female because the Mink breeding season ccurs between late February and late April.

Wow, two weasel family members visited us in one day. What fun. This weekend, if you still have snow where you are, go out and see who has visited you.