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Friday, January 29, 2010

Sooo Cold, Feeder Friday


Ooh it's soo cold here. The temp. was 10 degrees this morning and the high winds, even gusting to 50 mph, made the wind chill minus 18. It is supposed to be even colder tomorrow. This is challenging for the birds. Our White-throated Sparrows are sitting on their feet, as a way of keeping their feet warm.

These are the times when keeping your feeders stocked with high energy food can be life-saving for some species. Birds do not accumulate fat (too bad it's not so for us humans!) very much, only in times just before migration. Many birds can only go a day or two without eating in extreme weather.

We put out hulled black oil sunflower which has a high fat and protein content. We also have 3 suet feeders available. This morning we had a smart Blue Jay eating the suet. We don't see that often. Suet is very high fat, so provides the most calories, ounce for ounce than protein or carbohydrate. The Blue Jay knew what it was doing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Short-eared Owl




I've been thinking about owls because I heard someone talking about them recently. The Short-eared Owl is one of my favorite owls. This medium-sized owl lives in open habitats, such as tundra, grasslands, fields, marshes, prairies and savannas, where it hunts small mammals. It breeds mostly in the far North and parts of the West and can be seen in winter in many parts of the country.

I saw this one on Christmas several years ago in the marshes of Salisbury Beach, MA. It mostly hunts at night, sometimes during the day. I was lucky, it was out, and gave me photo ops. This owl flies erratically, like a moth, and courses low over the ground, so photographing it in flight was a challenge (as usual!) I was thrilled to get some photos.

One of the wonderful things I love about capturing a bird in a photo, is that you get to keep and cherish that moment. You can look at it again and again, re-experiencing the adventure, and share it, as I have done today, with others.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January Thaw


Yesterday the temps were in the 40's with rain. So in a few patches of our lawn the snow melted so far you can see green grass. Makes me long for spring and the signs of spring such as robins, Eastern Phobes and Red-winged Blackbirds returning, plus crocus blooming.
So for a little colorful break, stare at the crocus and think spring.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull, adult



When we went to see the Ivory Gull in Provincetown, MA, we had a double treat. We also found an Iceland Gull. While not quite as rare as an Ivory Gull here, it's a beautiful bird. We were scanning a large flock of gulls and this pale gull stood out. When you're a birder in New England in winter, you're always on the lookout for very white gulls, they may be Iceland, or the larger Glaucous Gull.

Iceland Gulls breed in the Canadian high Arctic on cliffs, and sometimes go farther south along the Atlantic Coast in winter. In North America, the subspecies mainly is kumlieni, and sometimes called "Kumlien's Gull."

The Iceland Gull adult has a pale gray back and wings. The slightly darker gray marks are variable on 1-5 of the outermost primaries, usually the outermost primary tends to have extensive white at the tip. You can see the slightly darker gray on the wing tips in the above flight photos. In winter plumage, the adult usually has brownish streaking on the head, but this bird does not.

Birder's carefully look at Iceland Gulls to distinguish them from the somewhat similar looking Thayer's Gull, which also breeds in the high Arctic west of the Iceland Gull, and winters mainly on the West Coast and sometimes inland. It rarely can occur on the East Coast in winter. Thayer's Gull adult has a darker back and black or dark gray on the wing tips, which have large white spots on the tips. Some authorities think Iceland and Thayer's Gull are really the same species.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Suet and Beyond; Stokes Feeder Friday


Suet is the winter manna that can fuel a bird's furnace needs in the coldest weather. That's because suet consists mainly of beef fat and fat has more calories per weight than carbohydrates or protein. Don't we all know that, because of the foods on the no-no list if you are on a diet, such as butter and cream.

So part of our winter bird-feeding menu is suet. On the above photo we have a Downy Woodpecker on our Stokes Select Deluxe Suet Buffet, which holds 4 suet cakes. We like it because you can offer more suet, with less trips to fill the feeder. Plus, even larger woodpeckers can use this. Yes, this is promotion but we use our own products and people often ask what products and food we use. Our Stokes Select line of bird feeding products give back to the birds by donating a portion of proceeds to bird conservation and habitat. No matter what kind of feeders you use, offer suet in cold weather to keep your feeder birds happy.

This morning we took a walk with the Corgis into this beautiful winter scene on our property. We listened to the singing of 2 male Chickadees, we now think are staking out a territorial boundary for spring breeding. We listened to the "Wer-wer-wer-wer" singing of a male White-breasted Nuthatch, already warming up, his hormones triggered by increasing day length. It made me realize how important and rewarding it is to go beyond the bird feeder and get involved with the lives and behavior of the birds you see. It certainly enriches our lives and we look forward to it each day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Squirrel Appreciation Day



Yes, that's what it is, squirrel appreciation day, according to the National Wildlife Federation. There's interesting info on their site, including,
"While red squirrels are known for vigorously defending their territories, some females turn over all or part of their holdings, including a critical food cache, to their offspring as a way of bolstering the pups’ chances of survival during the difficult first year of life."

We have mostly Red Squirrels here, a source of constant entertainment and a challenge to keep off the bird feeders. Mounting the feeders on a pole with a baffle works best. Red Squirrels cache food underground in a big stash, unlike the Gray Squirrels who bury nuts separately.

Above are some of my favorite photos of Red Squirrel. The top photo shows a feeder where we allow the squirrels to feed. That's one happy squirrel. Center photo seems like a tail with ears, you just know that's a squirrel who's scheming. The bottom photo shows their ability to balance on anything. That squirrel is just ready to jump.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Red-breasted Merganser, female



While hiking down the beach to find the Ivory Gull, and despairing that it might have flown away, I came across a group of Red-breasted Mergansers feeding near shore. This female came close to shore and I paused, briefly, to photograph and enjoy her, thinking even if I don't get a photo of the Ivory Gull, at least I will have some nice photos of her. The Stone's song, "You can't always get what you want....but if you try sometime, you may find... you get what you need," was playing in my head.

I loved the way she was feeding, by putting her head down into the waves and "snorkling," looking for small fish to eat. Every once-in-awhile she would scoot faster while snorkling, racing after prey. I love the way the blown up head shot shows the water dripping off her bill and landing in one perfect splash.

Red-breasted Mergansers are a kind of diving duck who migrate from their far northern breeding grounds in Canada and AK, and winter usually in salt water habitats.

We decided to stop hiking down the beach and return to where the Ivory Gull was last seen. On our way back, it appeared out of nowhere and landed in front of us. Yeah, I got what I wanted. See photos in last post.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ivory Gull, Yes




Just got back from Race Point Beach, at the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown, MA, where there was a rare Ivory Gull. When we got there this afternoon, a number of birders had already seen it, but as we arrived they said "it just flew down the beach out of sight" (towards Chatham). That's not what you want to hear. The beach stretches for miles. After walking in sand quite aways, we decided to go back and wait where it had most been seen, up the beach from the entry near a large dead fish.
As we hiked back, wonderfully, the gull landed in front of us, but them took off when two people with a dog walked close by. I was able to get these photos. The gull landed up the beach close to two birders who got a good view. Reports are that it was quite tame and mostly seemed oblivious to people. The gull then flew up the beach towards the tip with several more stops, then flew far and disappeared out of view. We last saw it at 3 pm. It most likely will still be there tomorrow, for those who want to make the trip to see this beautiful gull, a rare visitor from the far north.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Robins Migrating, Stokes Feeder Friday

American Robin eating crab apple fruit in our yard.

Robin flock wintering in FL drinking out of a puddle.

Robin in FL eating the fruits of Sabal Palm tree.

What's the deal with robins migrating and being seen in the north in winter? American Robins are being seen now in NH. We had 7 in our yard this morning. Yesterday we had some eating our Prairie Fire crab apple trees. Robins are a species that form into flocks and wander widely in winter. Most go to southern areas, such as FL, where they feed off many kinds of fruits and berries, including small fruits of palm trees.

Some flocks may stay in northern areas and wander, looking for fruits and berries. So they may show up unexpectedly in many northern places area in winter and have people wondering, "what are robins doing in (fill in the northern state name) now, I though they were supposed to go south?"

Robins eat lots of berries in winter when the ground is frozen and they cannot get insects or worms. You can attract robins and help them in winter by planting crab apples in your yard. We plant several kinds, including Prairie Fire, whose fruits seem to last into winter, because they are not eaten in fall as much as our other crab apple species. Maybe they ripen to softness later. So they're a good tree to supply robins food in mid-winter. In winters when even the Prairie Fire crab apples have been eaten and hungry robins are here in a March snow storm, we have put out raisins and the dried red cranberries called "craisins" and robins have appreciatively gobbled them. Robins also like water to drink at any time of year.

Robins are frequently included in surveys of bird feeding even through they do not really eat bird seeds. Maybe it is because they are seen so frequently in yards that do have bird feeders.

Hope this clears up some of the mystery of Robin migration.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Eastern Screech-Owl in NH

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl at roost hole.

While birding the NH coast recently, we came across this Eastern Screech-Owl, that has been seen by birders, snoozing in its roost hole. This owl has to get the award for most esthetic choice of a roost tree! I love the way the owl is so beautifully camouflaged against the wood, which has been chiseled by saw cuts and insect tunnels.

Screech Owls come in two color morphs, red-morph and gray morph, with also some intermediate brownish plumages. The red morph is common in the Southeast, rarer farther north and west. We don't get many Eastern Screech-Owls in NH, we're at the northern edge of their range. So this was quite a treat.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Baby Hummingbirds Movie by Stokes



We saw the PBS Nature show on Hummingbirds last night and liked it. It inspired us to show you our own footage of baby Violet-crowned Hummingbirds in Portal, AZ getting fed in their nest, that we took when we made our Stokes Birds At Home TV series on PBS. We made this video just for fun.

The Violet-crowned Hummingbird is a very unusual hummingbird found in this country mainly in a small area consisting of the adjacent corners of southeast AZ and southwest NM. They are casual to central CA and TX. The adult male and female look similar and have a violet-blue crown, white throat and red bill with a black tip. In this country, their nests have been found in Sycamore trees.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Stokes Feeder Friday, Help the Birds in Cold

Tree Sparrow at our feeders. A beautiful little northern sparrow with a rusty crown and central breast dot.


It's cold and snowy across much of the nation, brrrr. It's snowing here in NH. We really make an effort to help out the birds during this hard time and provide the red carpet treatment here. The more snow and ice cover things, the more their wild food is difficult to get. Granted there has been a lot of wild food available this fall, with lots of people saying there are less birds at their feeders. But when the temps really drop it can pose problems for birds. They need more food to keep their bodies warm. They need sheltered places to sleep. Birds do not store much fat on their bodies (if they did, they wouldn't be able to fly) and many species cannot go more than a day or two without eating in severe weather.

The above photo shows some of the things we have done. We made a shelter out of some boards and a frame for wire drawers. This makes a sheltered place on the ground where we put mixed seed millet and some seed cakes. This is really helpful to many of the species who feed on the ground such as Mourning Doves, juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Fox Sparrows and sometimes Tree Sparrows. These species eat seeds off the ground and when snow covers the seeds it may be harder for them to find food than the chickadees who can poke into pine cones in the tree tops.

Also shown is one of our feeder set-ups with multiple feeders hanging off a pole with a squirrel baffle. We put our Christmas tree on a stake near the feeder and the birds love it. They use it as a landing place to wait their turn at the feeder and use it as a place to hide from danger. Several kinds of feeders hold various seeds such as hulled sunflower, mixed seed with black oil sunflower and several suet cakes. Suet is a superb winter food as the high fat content is packed with calories birds need to fuel their furnaces.

We also keep the feeders full. I hate to see the seed drop below the level of the upper feeder portals because that means some of the seats in our avian restaurant are not available. Thus there's more competition for available seating and some birds may not get the food they need.

Shoveling or brushing the snow off the upper feeders is important, especially first thing in the morning and in the later part of the afternoon. In the morning birds really need to refuel after the long cold night. In mid-to later in the afternoon, they must stock up and gobble the calories to get them through dropping temps. Arctic cold will prevail over much of the central and eastern parts of the country through the weekend, so stay warm and think of the birds.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Black Skimmer

I was just looking through some of my photo files and came across this head shot of a Black Skimmer. Check out that massive lower mandible, longer than the top. They drag that through the surface of the water, skimming the surface, then snap it shut on any fish they encounter. They're really cool birds and I will see then later this winter in FL. I will not see them at my feeders in NH. Right now I have to be content with chickadees, juncos, Mourning Doves, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, a cardinal pair, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, White-throated Sparrows and 15 Tree Sparrows (sweet).

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Chickadees singing, "fee-bee" gift.

On our walk with the Corgis yesterday morning, the sun was shining, it was in the 20's and as we approached the pond, we could hear 2 chickadees singing back and forth — a clear whistled, "fee-bee", "fee-bee", "fee-bee." That's what the song of Black-capped Chickadees sounds like. We stood and listened.

We also pondered why they were singing now. Drawing on our background of years of studying bird behavior, we knew the increasing day length stimulates bird's hormones to kick in and breeding behavior to start, where males sing and form a breeding territory and attract a mate. But this was a tad early. We also know than on warm, sunny, winter days, birds will sing a little, perhaps a small rehearsal for what's to come.

Chickadees are in a fixed flock hierarchy, on a territory, all winter, with the alpha pair mainly the ones who will breed in the territory in the spring. So who was singing we wondered? Two male chickadees (only male chickadees sing) in the same flock, or two from different flocks at a territorial boundary. The singing back and forth was intense for maybe 10 minutes then ceased. Then we could hear other chickadee calls as the birds moved off.

What a lovely moment where we stopped, tuned in, became absorbed in the lives of the chickadees, dreamed of spring, and were transported out of winter. What a gift. It's there for you too, the next times you hear chickadees.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Don and Lillian Stokes Facebook Page

We've finally taken the plunge and gone full tilt into the "social media". I've written this blog for 4 years, been on Twitter since Sept. 09, and now we've created our Don and Lillian Stokes facebook page. I'm still learning how to use facebook, but am finding it lots of fun and the page a great new way to deliver birding content, photos and engage with other people. Check out the folder on Birds in Flight under our Photo section.

You can find our page by clicking here, then becoming a "fan".

There is some ongoing speculation in the birding world as to how many birders actually use facebook. Are you a birder and on facebook? If so, how do you use facebook?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of you. We hope you have a wonderful year filled with beautiful experiences with birds. We had a nice vacation and we look forward to bringing you some great new things in 2010, including our new Stokes Field Guide To Birds Of North America. Here are a few photos and updates from the vacation to share with you.

Lillian in the Apple computer store with "Mac guys" Dave (left) and Josh (right) picking up my new computer, the Macbook Pro, 17" (which I love). The store experience rocked, very different from an ordinary store. Tons of helpful employees dressed in red, no lines or cash registers (employees have small wireless devices which take your crecit card)) and lots of computers, itouches, pods and phones on big, sleek tables to play with. My new "Mifi" internet connection got a "cool" from one of the guys at the "genius bar" (tech help area). I'm trying to stay as hi-tech as I can to bring you the latest in photography, video and social media. Speaking of video, here's a video of our Fox Sparrow (not many are in NH now) chowing down at our feeder.



Above is a still photo of the same bird.

We got lots of snow over the last several days and the Corgis loved it! Abby is in the lead, chased by Phoebe. Pembroke Welsh Corgis are herding dogs so ours play endless games of run, cut, herd, ambush and chase. People who don't know the breed say, "can they run on those short legs?".

They never hurt one another, even though heavier-boned Phoebe outweighs Abby by 9 lbs.

Happiness on Abby's face.

Then inside to warm up and watch the birds feeding on the deck. No barking allowed!

We have 48 acres all managed for birds and wildlife. The formal gardens around the house have their own beauty in the snow. Leave up birdhouses, birds use them as warm sleeping places at night.

The arborvitae provide structure, winter interest and sometimes the White-throated Sparrows hang out there.

We hang hummingbird feeders from the gazebo in summer. Hope they're enjoying their winter spots in Central and South America right now.

Photo of Don and Lillian © Peggy Howard