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Friday, August 31, 2007

Young Male Hummingbird

We saw this young, male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at our feeder recently. You can see a few red feathers growing on his throat. Eventually he will have the full red throat, called the gorget, of the adult male Ruby-throated hummer. This is prime time action for hummer feeders now, because hummingbirds are migrating and all the adults, as well as the young of this year are coming to feeders. Have a great holiday weekend. Watch the hummingbirds at your feeders with your binoculars and see if you can find one like him.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

400 More Common Nighthawks

Common Nighthawk, migrating

Common Nighthawk at dusk. Note long, thin, pointed wings, white bar near center of outer wing.

Continuing with our nighthawk watch, last night we saw 400 more Common Nighthawks. If you add that to what we saw the night before, you get 765 total nighthawks we've seen in two days. Wow! Again, we had the largest number of nighthawks seen last night, from the towns reporting to the NH/MA nighthawk survey.

Trying not to miss a beat, we had hamburgers on the deck. Looking through our binoculars with one hand, while trying to eat a burger with the other hand, is not an easy trick, but we managed. We didn't want to miss one, single nighthawk.

We watched until 7:45 pm, when the light was very dim. Good thing we had our Stokes DLS binoculars that are twilight optimized, allowing us to see birds even at dusk.

Keep watching for Common Nighthawks during the next few days. Tips for seeing migrating Common Nighthawks:

1. Look during the later afternoon to early evening hours, from about 4 pm to 7:30 pm.
2. Look north, as they generally move from north to south.
3. Get comfortable, use a chair if you can, you will be looking for quite a while. Tuck your elbows in, it is less tiring and steadier to hold binos that way.
4. Nighthawks often move along river corridors
5. Note if there is an ant hatch. Nighthawks are attracted to, and eat, dispersing ants who rise up in clouds.
6. Study the photos above, to learn nighthawk shape. Often you will only see distant birds with long pointed wings, flapping rather slowly. When feeding, nighthawks fly erratically. When migrating, they move more directly and may even rise up on a thermal sometimes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Nighthawks, Yes!

Common Nighthawk, migrating

Don, Lois and Leon counting nighthawks, Phoebe is resting

Our wishes came true and last night was a great Common Nighthawk migration event. We saw 365 nighthawks. We had some good friends, Lois and Leon from MI, visiting and helping with the count.

In an overview, we saw three very different types of movement: high thermalling in a kettle, fast direct southward flights, fast direct northward flights:

3:52 PM 35 Nighthawks thermalling like Broad-winged Hawks, with wings flat and straight out to the sides, tails closed. They circled up and down (no signs of feeding) and finally rose so high they were out of binocular sight and way into the clouds. This is very unusual and we have not seen Nighthawks act like this before.

4:00-4:41 PM 177 Nighthawks in groups of 61, 7, 4, 5, 20, 18, 2, 27 flying fast directly south and fairly low, no signs of feeding.

4:43-6:55 PM 153 Nighthawks in groups of 90, 4, 5, 14, 2, 11, 14, 3, 1, 7, 1, 1 flying fast directly north at mid height, no signs of feeding.

We cooked outside and ate on the deck, so someone could always be watching. What a thrill it was, and addictive, we just wanted to see more and more. What's cool and exciting about this is that Common Nighthawks are in trouble, with populations dropping. So it's rewarding to see numbers of them. We, from our property, Bobolink Farm, in southern NH, had the highest count for this day of any of the towns in southern NH and upper MA that were reporting. Our property fronts on a dammed up part of a river that forms a pond (really a small lake), and nighthawks often follow river valleys during migration, so we're in an excellent location to see them.

It's interesting that we did not see any ant hatches last night. At this time of year ants will hatch and disperse to new areas and often clouds of ants rise high into the air and the nighhawks feed on them. It's another beautiful, clear day today and a chance to see more nighthawks tonight.

Check your area tonight, especially if you're near a river. If you live in southern NH, or the upper two thirds of MA, you can report your numbers to this Nighthawk Migration Survey website here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Common Nighthawks Migrating

At sunrise this morning at our property, Bobolink Farn in southern NH, we're hopeful that this will be the night when we see lots of Common Nighthawks migrating. The weather has been very hot and humind with southerly winds. Last night it cleared and a front with cooler temperatures and northeast winds came through.
This is more ideal Common Nighthawk migration conditions.

We also watch for ant hatches, where ants disperse. That usually happens this time of year and, in the past, we've seen migrating Common Nighthawks, who eat aerial insects, feeding on the ants. So far, no big numbers have been seen in southern New England. Nighthawks usually can be seen migrating in the later afternoon and early evening and they often follow river corridors. So if you're anywhere near a river tonight, look for the nighthawks. We'll be watching.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Black Tern Magic

Black Tern, adult winter plumage, photographed 8/23/07



Black Tern, adult summer plumage, photographed here, 6/25/05

Common Nighthawks were migrating also

Black Tern, at dusk

Black Tern at dusk, photographed at 1000 ISO

Last night from about 7:00 to 7:45 pm, while birding and watching for Common Nighthawks for our local nighthawk survey, we suddenly saw a small, distant, whitish bird flying over the water in our cove in front of our property, "Bobolink Farm", in NH. There's that moment in birding where your brain scrambles to catch up with your eyes. Our eyes were telling us that this was no shorebird, a likely candidate for that habitat and time of year. No, this bird had a fluttery flight and was swooping over the water. Adrenaline rising, and hope emerging for what we suspected it might be....
"Grab the scope and get on it while I keep it in my binoculars,"I blurted to Don.
Near faster than the speed of light, he had it in the scope. Milliseconds count when you're a birder hoping to see a rare bird.
"Black Tern!!!" he shouted, confirming our suspicions.

The amazing thing is that, once before, in June 5, 2005 a Black Tern in adult summer plumage visited us and foraged over the cove. Could this be the same bird?? There was something confident about the way our new bird fed in the cove that made us think it had been here before.

It's unusual to see a Black Tern inland in New Hampshire. When seen in New Hampshire, they're usually spotted from the coast. They breed north of us in Canada, Maine, the upper Midwest and parts of the West.

For about 45 minutes we watched it feed and swoop over the water. Seeing it was unbothered by a fisherman out in a boat, we got in our canoe and quietly drifted. It fed all around us, sometimes coming somewhat near. What a thrill!

Photographing it was another matter. Photographing terns in flight under the best of conditions, such as bright daylight and close proximity, is challenging because they're fast, erratic fliers. Getting shots of this distant bird in cloudy twilight, in a rocking canoe with husband and Phoebe (our Corgi who loves canoe rides) was, well... As I've said before, I love a photographic challenge, and if you never try for the shots, you'll never get them. I appreciatively kiss my sharp 300 mm IS Canon lens and Canon 1D Mark II camera with its superfast autofocus abilities. Even at the high ISO settings ranging from 800 to 1000 (to compensate for low light) and 1/200 of a second f stop that I was shooting at, the photos are blog publishable. I like the soft, grainy quality of the images; they feel almost like watercolor paintings.

In addition to the tern, we were treated to 16 Common Nighthawks who fed in the air above us, some while we were out in the canoe. It's that time year for Common Nighthawk migration, so keep your eyes on the sky during the next week and, if you see nighthawks, report them to your local birding hotline or birding organization.

Eventually the light faded and the dusk deepened. The luminous moon reflected on the water's surface. We could barely see the tern flying around the cove. It gave a few sharp "keef, keef" calls and went out of sight. Goodybye tern, safe migration journey.

Sometimes birding is sheer magic.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mourning Dove

Out my window just a few moments ago, this Mourning Dove stops for a drink. Scenic, because the pink and white coneflowers are still in bloom here in NH. Mourning Doves are still courting. I just saw a male standing on the feeder doing courtship cooing ("oooh-ah-oooh-oooh-oooh", sounds like an owl, but it's not) to a nearby female. It's getting a tad late for breeding, but he didn't think so.

I have more photos from Mt. Desert Island coming soon.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tidepool


Common Eiders Swimmming
click on video to watch eiders and hear the ocean

While we were birding at Acadia National Park, Maine, and watching the Common Eiders swimming, we also took time to explore a tidepool.


The edge of the tidepool was rimmed with slippery brown rockweed. Little sacs in the rockweed help it float when the tide comes in and covers it.

Peering into the water, we saw these pretty snails, which feed on the algae in the tidepool.

There were also sharp barnacles at the edge. They look like little closed volcanos when they're exposed to the air. When they're coverd by the sea, they open and wave feathery like feet to bring food into their mouths.

All the creatures that live in the tidepool stay there, and have to contend with the rise and fall of the tides, and the alternation of wet and dry. The moblie eiders, on the other hand, just swim where they want and dive down deeply to eat mussels, sea urchins and other crustaceans.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

Eiders, Acadia National Park

We continued on the drive through Acadia National Park and found some Common Eiders in the water below the rocky cliffs. This is a male Common Eider who is molting his primary feathers, so his wings look short.

We stopped and got out on the rocks with Phoebe to search for the eiders. The park is very dog friendly and we saw lots of other hikers and park visitors with dogs. We kept Phoebe on leash and away from the edge. She does dog agility so walking around on rocks doesn't phase her, she enjoys it.

Phoebe's eye view of the water below, where the eiders were.

I decided to try and get down to the eiders, so we put Phoebe in the car,

and veeery carefully climbed down the cliff,

closer to eider level. I steadied my camera on my leg and took lots of photos.

It was so wonderful to be there, down in the eider's world. It always amazes me how this rocky, cold, water world is home to eiders. Their dense feathers totally protect then from the icy water.

I like this shot, where the water just envelops this eider's back like a sheet and rolls off. His feather's are so waterproof.

Here's another view, where you can see slight spotting on his breast, which can be indicative of an adult male Common Eider in eclipse plumage.

The crashing waves and cold waters would be very dangerous for us to swim in,

but the eiders just laze away on the seaweed covered rocks.

In this area we saw mostly male eiders in non-breeding plumage and a few females. Spending some time appreciating them, listening to the crashing waves and smelling the salt air, made us feel so refreshed and relaxed. It was our favorite part of the trip.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

More Maine

If you have dinner on the patio shown in the last post, as we did, make sure and bring your binoculars. You can look out over the harbor and see Black Guillemots, shown here, those adorable little black-and-white sea birds. Birding and a lobsta' dinner. That's our kind of fun.

Here's more of the harbor, and the hang out of the guillemots. You're looking at Frenchman's Bay and the Porcupine Islands.

The next day we went to Acadia National Park, not to be missed. Don is looking out from one of the many scenic pullouts in the park and you can see Frenchman's Bay and some of the Porcupine Islands in the distance.

Don was looking at some of the many Double-crested Cormorants in the bay.
Coming Moday, Eiders and more of Acadia National Park.

Maine

We went to Maine for a much needed break, and had a wonderful time. We started in Bar Harbor, a beautiful town on Mt. Desert Island, which overlooks the scenic harbor pictured above. The tall ship at dock is a four masted schooner, Mary Todd. We will have more photos for you shortly.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Migration

Some migration is beginning already. Look for shorebirds, hummingbirds, a few warblers, nighthawks, and even some raptors to be migrating.
We'll be busy for a few days, see you Friday.

Changing Clothes

Here's a photo you won't find in any field guide. This is a White-breasted Nuthatch who is molting its feathers, and it's not pretty. It looks a little moth-eaten. End of summer is the time of year when most birds molt just about all their feathers and replace them with new ones. Some birds also molt at other times of year (such as spring, when some who have a non-breeding plumage, molt into breeding plumage).
Just think about it, birds have one set of clothes to withstand heat, cold, migration, breeding, and wear and tear. Feathers are amazing in that they can last through all of this. But now it's time to change those clothes and grow new ones. You can help birds by keeping your feeders clean and full of fresh seed, and clean water in your bird bath, since it takes energy to grow new feathers.
Come fall, you'll see some nice, fresh, beautiful looking birds. I'm looking forward to this nuthatch looking pristine, maybe I'll take its photo again.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Western Reef-Heron, Again

Western Reef-Heron




A Western Reef-Heron showed up again this summer, first seen briefly in South Amboy, NJ on June 30th, then appeared in the vicinity of Brooklyn, NY from July 8th to later in July, then disappeared.
This is very interesting, and brings to mind the Western Reef-Heron that spent so much time in NH and ME last summer.

Previously the N.A records for this mega-rare bird were:
1983 - Nantucket Island from April to Sept.
2005 - Stephenville Crossing, Newfoundland for most of the summer until the beginning of Sept.
2006 - Glace Bay, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, June 26 to early Aug., then showed up again (the same bird?) August 18th in Kittery Maine, spent time there and in New Castle, NH and left on Sept. 20th.

These appearances thrilled many birders, including us, and I was able to take lots of photos of the NH/ME bird,

click here,

here,

and here.

The speculation is, whether the recent sightings in the last three years, including this year, are of the same bird.

It is interesting to look at the photos above I took of the 2006 NH/ME bird, and compare them to some recent photos of the Brooklyn bird.

click here,

and here.

I noticed that both birds have a dark facial mark in just about the same place, in the white area of the face below the left eye. Some photos show this better than others, depending on the exposure of the photo. Interesting. One wonders if that type of a mark would consistently stay on a bird through its annual molt cycle, in which birds replace their feathers. These birds are not color banded, so we can only speculate on whether the appearances are of the same individual.

Still, it's intriguing, and exciting, that a Western Reef-Heron has made another appearance in North America, not too far from where appearances have occurred before. We wonder where, and when, it will show up again. Keep looking.........

Photos, © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Butterfly Beauty

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

Great Spangled Fritillary on Purple Coneflower

Monarch Butterfly on Purple Coneflower

Speaking of things with wings, when your birding slows down during the mid-day hours because birds are more active in the early morning, think of watching butterfies. They're colorful, ubiquitous, and easy to see, especially if you have close-focusing binoculars like we do in our Stokes Birding Series of Binoculars.
Our bird and butterfly garden is now full of butterflies, who just cover the Purple Coneflowers. When we take a lunck break from working on our new field guide to all the birds, we go out and get a butterfly fix. That's what's so nice about having our own garden nearby. When working hard, we can get little, quality experiences of nature, which we crave. It's what keeps us going.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Bee Grateful

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Bee Balm

Bumblebee at Bee Balm

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds aren't the only things with wings that are attracted to bee balm, Bumblebees are too! While we sit birding on our deck in the early a.m., we see hummers as well as the bees, coming to this red flower that looks like a fireworks display. Since I love to photograph critters in flight, I had to try and photograph the bees in flight. Pretty much of a difficult task, since bees are fast and smaller than even hummingbirds, but that never stops me. Thankful for my Canon Mark II camera and Canon 300 mm IS lens, I tried to get the autofocus central sensor focusing on the bee. Since the bee was so small, there was not much for the autofocus sensor to grab onto. Great challenge for eye-hand coordination.

The wonderful thing about photographing birds and other wildlife critters with a digital camera, is that you can later blow up the image and look at details that you wouldn't ordinarily see on these fast moving creatures. In the first bee photo, you can see the long black mouthpart of the bee extended down from its face. You can also see the little yellow "saddlebags" of pollen it has collected. In the second bee photo, you can see that it has pushed deep into the tube of the flower to reach the nectar with its mouth.

Bumblebees are our only "social" native bee. They overwinter as fertilized adult females, or queens. These emerge in early spring and start a nest by choosing an existing underground cavity, such as an old chipmunk burrow, collecting pollen into clumps, and laying eggs on the pollen. The pollen and eggs are covered with wax, and the queen sits on them, keeping them warm while they develop. The eggs hatch in four to five days. The larvae feed on the pollen, and in about a week pupate in tough cocoons that they make. During pupation, which lasts about ten days, the queen takes off the wax that is covering them. The emerging adults are sterile females, and they take care of the subsequent broods during the summer. In later summer, the queen lays eggs that develop into fertile females and males. These leave the hive, mate, and the fertilized females overwinter. All other members of the colony die. The next spring the process starts over.

Bumblebees, Bombus americanus, are native bees, unlike honeybees that are not native to North America and were brought here by European settlers. Honeybees are in trouble.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle article on 7/6/07,

"U.S. populations of pollinating honeybees are mysteriously collapsing, and that could cause irreparable damage to crops worth billions of dollars a year across the nation. That in turn could mean higher food prices, and because all kinds of wildlife depend on pollinated plants for food, the decline of pollinators could spell trouble for other animals.

The cause of the decline -- estimated to be as much as 25 percent of the honeybee population -- is a matter of scientific debate. But it is mirrored by rapid population loss among such native pollinators as butterflies, bats, birds and bumblebees."

So we're especially grateful when we see Bumblebees on our bee balm.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007