Strange Gull with bright orange-red legs and bill seen yesterday on our Sanibel-Captiva Christmas Bird Count, FL.
It did not look like the usual gulls but turned out to be a Laughing Gull in winter plumage with abnormally colored legs. The legs are supposed to be blackish in winter. This is unusual but not unheard of as we have seen this abnormal coloration in legs and bill before a few times in Laughing Gulls. As a matter of fact, we have a photo of a bird like this in our The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. In summer this bird gets a black head and dark red bill and legs are dark with reddish undertone.
The most unusual gull for here we saw was this first winter Great Black-backed Gull, which is not frequently seen or, when seen, is in low numbers, on this Christmas Bird Count.
Here it is with a first winter Lesser Black-Backed Gull (left), another unusual gull for here, but not as uncommon as the Great Black-backed Gull. Great size comparison between the gulls here. The 3 Laughing Gulls and one Ring-billed Gull (between the two big gulls) seem small. The Great Black-backed Gull lives up to its name.
They were fighting over a bag of garbage.
Here's the first winter Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Amazingly we saw 52 Ospreys. This female was
sitting on her nest platform. Ospreys are beginning to breed here at this time of year.
Don and Steve Oresman, who we were with, scan the beach. We covered the north end of Captiva Island at South Seas Plantation.
In a pond, we saw a dark blob on the far side. Hard to make our until I took the photo with my Canon SX 50, long telephoto super zoom point-and-shoot camera. Then we could see it was a Green Heron hiding in the vegetation.
And a big treat was this Magnificent Frigatebird.
We participated yesterday in the Sanibel-Captiva, FL Christmas Bird Count, covering the north end of Captiva. We found this weird gull with bright orange red legs and bill and it did not initially look like any of the usual gulls found here such as Ring-billed Gull and Laughing Gull. A brief thought was could it be a rare gull, such as a Black-headed Gull. On closer inspection it was the exact same size and shape as the other Laughing Gulls but with abnormally colored legs. In winter Laughing Gulls have dark legs and bill and in breeding plumage these turn a dark red and the head is black. Amazingly the more unusual bird we found, for here, was the Great Black-backed Gull, only seen infrequently or in low numbers on this count. Where we live in NH, this is a common gull.
We had lots of fun and another highlight was the large number, 52 of Ospreys seen. Hope you had fun on your CBC.
Love the way Anhingas spear a fish, then maneuver it until they can get it down their mouth. Quite a skill! Cannot believe the way their throat stretches. They are sometimes called the"snake bird" for how they swim almost submerged with just their neck sticking above water. Often they come out and rest after a meal. Female Anhingas have brown heads and necks, males have black heads and necks.
One of the fun things about photography is to be able to examine the details of the action shots you take. Photographed on Sanibel, FL with the Canon SX 50 camera.
American Goldfinches and Pine Siskin on lower right
Dark-eyed Junco in snow
To help your birds get through winter in areas of the country where there is severe winter weather, start with an excellent bird feeder set up. Make sure you include multiple Stokes Select® tubular, hopper, screen, and suet feeders filled with a variety of quality bird seeds and suet. Focus on providing black oil sunflower (which has a high oil, thus calorie count), seed mixes that contain a good amount of black oil sunflower and, for finches, Nyjer (thistle) seed. Also include suet which is a calorie-rich food that provides much needed energy for birds in cold weather.
Place feeders near cover so the birds can escape wind and cold. Near pines or other evergreens is ideal, especially if they face south. Place feeders on poles with squirrel baffles and locate them 12 or more feet from any place from which a squirrel can jump.
Clean off snow from feeders whenever it accumulates from a storm. This includes shoveling snow from under the feeders so ground feeding species like Mourning Doves, White-throated Sparrows and juncos can access seeds that birds drop from the above feeders. Consider using the snow blower to clear under the feeders if it is feasible. Some people make a big brush pile with a hollow middle inside and sprinkle seed on the ground in the middle of it so ground feeding species can get the seed. The more feeders you have, the more kinds of birds you will attract.
Winter target birds. In addition to regular winter birds like chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, nuthatches, cardinals, jays, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, juncos, and White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, you may attract rarer species like Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Evening Grosbeaks.
Once you finish shoveling the snow go inside, pour a cup of hot chocolate, get out your binoculars and, though the window, watch a lot of happy birds flock to your feeders.
And if you're looking for Chirstmas gifts for the bird lover, get our just published new Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America. With 250 species and over 580 stunning photos, it contains all the birds you will see at your feeders and the essential ones beyond.
Snowy Egret eye up close, wow! This is an uncropped photo. That's what a Canon SX 50 super zoom camera with the long telephoto lens will allow you to photograph without disturbing the bird.
This snowy was preening and sitting on a fishing pier rail, so graceful.
You can see the feathers on its bill from preening.
And, at the other end, what golden slippers!! Those feet are so cool. Interesting how the toes on the right foot have black marks. There are so many details you can notice when you take photos like these. It gives you a whole new perspective on a bird.
Portraits of a Snowy Egret through my lens. These are the things about this bird that caught my eye to photograph. Look beyond the obvious when taking your photos.
While other Snowy Egrets were busy catching lunch at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge,
this one kept looking up at the sky
So we looked up and this Bald Eagle, 1st yr. flew over our heads.
While Bald Eagles mainly eat fish, they can also sometimes catch birds. So the Snowy Egret was showing some concern. When birds look up, look up too, they may lead you to a sighting of some cool other other bird, like this eagle. By tuning in to the behavior of birds you will enrich your birding experience.
We have Eastern Bluebirds visit us occasionally in late fall and even check out some of their nesting boxes from the past breeding season. They even grab a snack of the dried mealworms. They usually move on when the weather gets really bad.
Bluebirds may sometimes remain in some northern areas in winter, much to people's surprise. Here's some tips for bluebird enthusiasts, on how to help bluebirds survive in winter.
1. Bluebirds can roost together in bird houses to keep warm. Insulate your bird houses by closing off all cracks, drainage holes, etc., with some sort of insulating material so less drafts and cold get into the bird house. Just leave the entrance hole open. Face bird houses away from prevailing winter winds.
2. Bluebirds mainly eat fruit and berries in winter. Plant your property with an abundance of crabapples and native, berry-producing shrubs such as viburnums and hollies (like winterberry holly). Place these berry plantings in sunny, protected areas, blocked from winter winds. The bluebirds will have a warm place to eat and use less precious energy.
3. Some bluebirds will come to food such as, hulled sunflower, suet, dried mealworms, and some of the many "bluebird meal mixtures" or nuggets. Generally most bluebirds do not learn to do this. You can certainly try putting out these foods, but your best bet is to have lots of berries planted in your yard.
4. Bluebirds like water (may help with processing the berries) and will visit bird baths and heated bird baths. In general, when it is very severely cold, some people think it is a risk for birds to bathe. Holding off on the water, or placing sticks over the bird bath to only allow birds to drink, not bathe, may be a good idea in this situation. Many birds will eat snow in winter to get water.
Most bluebirds move out of the northernmost areas of their range in winter. Even ones that may linger eventually move on, once their berry sources are depleted or ice-covered. For bluebirds, and many birds, there is a trade-off of staying more north in order to be first to claim prime breeding territories, yet risking survival due to bad weather. Some of these tips may help them survive and you feel you're helping them. Bluebirds are truly beloved.
This could be a good year to see some of the irruptive winter finches at your feeders, according to the annual Winter Finch Forecast report of Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists. Finch species such as Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls and others leave their northern areas in the Boreal Forest in winter when there are low seed and cone crops. So who to look for at your feeders?
According to the report Pine Siskins will move east and west this fall searching for areas with excellent spruce cone crops. While there is a good spruce cone crop around James Bay and east across north central Quebec East of Ontario cone crops are generally poor in the Atlantic Provinces, New York state New Hampshire and other northern New England states. Pine Siskins like bird feeders filled with sunflower or thistle (Nyjer) seed.
Expect a moderate to good flight of Common Redpolls to leave their northern range, because birch seed crops are variably poor to average in the boreal forest. Redpolls eat sunflower and thistle (Nyjer) at bird feeders and can descend in numbers so put out multiple feeders. Many Purple Finches stayed north last year because of good seed crops there but this year expect many to migrate south of Ontario because of poor coniferous and deciduous seed crops in central and northeastern Ontario.
Pine Grosbeak, female
Who will not make much of an appearance? Pine Grosbeaks will not appear in any numbers since mountain-ash berry crops are excellent in north-central Quebec and northwestern Ontario and extending across the boreal forest to Alaska. Expect not to see many Red and White-winged Crossbills. They will stay north because spruce cone crops are heavy from James Bay across north Quebec into the Gaspe Peninsula. All three species and rare at bird feeders. Here's a basic guide to some of the winter finches and how to attract them to your bird feeders.
Purple Finch, males are red, female has a white eyebrow, American Goldfinch, winter, top.
Purple Finch — This is a large-headed, broad-necked, short-tailed finch that is a fairly common winter visitor to the eastern half of the US and along the West Coast. The male is strongly reddish on the head and body while the female is streaked white and brown and has a thick white eyebrow. One of the Purple Finch’s common calls is a distinctive sharp flat “pik.”
Common Redpoll — The Common Redpoll nests very far north and winters mostly in s. CAN; but in certain years may show up at feeders in northern states. It is a small, deep-bellied bird with a small head and very short stubby conical bill. It has a red patch on its forehead and a black patch on its chin; the male’s breast is suffused with red while the female’s is streaked brown over white. You may have just a few at your feeder or as many as 50–100! A common call is an ascending scratchy “jeeyeet.”
Pine Siskin — The Pine Siskin is a slim finch with a small head and fine-pointed bill. At first you might overlook this rather drab streaked brown bird until it opens its wings and reveals a bright yellow streak. It has a distinctive ascending buzzy call that sounds like steam from a boiling tea kettle — “zzzeeet.” Siskins can be in flocks from a few birds to a hundred or more and they can fill the room at your feeders and even eat on the ground beneath, cleaning up fallen seed bits.
American Goldfinches, winter plumage, Pine Siskin, far right.
American Goldfinch — These generally yellow finches live year-round in the northern half of US and migrate down into the southern states in winter. They are unmistakable in summer with their bright yellow body, dark wings, white wingbars, and orange bill. In winter, they are more drab with grayish to brownish body, dark bill, and variable amounts of pale yellow on the chin. Because of their dull winter plumage, some people mistakenly think that they do not have any Goldfinches at their winter feeder. A typical call in flight sounds like “potato chip, potato chip.”
Evening Grosbeak, male
Evening Grosbeak — Aptly named, this large finch has a huge deep-based conical bill, well-suited to cracking open the large seeds it likes, such as black oil sunflower and even striped sunflower which has a tougher shell. This bill is pale greenish in spring and summer and paler in winter. Both sexes have white patches on their black wings, seen in flight. The male’s body is a deep yellow and he has a dark head with bright yellow eyebrow; the female has a gray head and back separated by a dull yellowish collar. The calls of Evening Grosbeaks have been likened to the sound of old fashioned sleigh bells.
Here's how to attract finches to your bird feeders in winter.
1. The favorite seeds of finches are black oil sunflower or hulled sunflower (which is sunflower minus the shell), thistle (Nyjer) seed, and finch mixes which contain small seeds like thistle (Nyjer) and millet.
2. Offer black oil sunflower in sunflower feeders such as Stokes Select sunflower tube feeders, Stokes Select Large, Medium and Small Hopper feeders, Stokes Select 3 in 1 Platform and Red Platform feeders and Stokes Select Sunflower Screen, Mini Seed Screen and Giant Combo feeders. Evening Grosbeaks will eat striped sunflower which is a larger seed with a tougher shell.
3. Offer thistle (also called Nyjer which is an imported seed and not from our wildflower) and finch mixes (which contain tiny seeds), in finch tube feeders. Finch tubes have very small holes, which contain and disperse the finch seeds without having the seeds spill out. Do not offer finch seeds in regular sunflower feeders which have large holes, because the finch seeds will spill out! Put finch seeds in feeders such as, Stokes Select Jumbo Finch Feeder, Stokes Select Thistle Tube feeder, Finch Tube feeders, and Finch Screen feeder.
4. Finches are flock oriented birds so they will be more attracted to your yard if you provide space for lots of birds to feed. Put up multiple feeders mounted on Stokes Select Bird Feeder Poles.
5. Finches like to drink water. Provide clean water in bird baths, You can add bird bath heaters in winter although some feel it is better not to offer water in heated bird baths in the most severe winter weather.
The Yellow-headed Blackbird is in the very middle of the Starling and Brown-headed Cowbird flock, can you find it!
Western Grebe, (excuse the small photo but it was very, very far away off the NH coast)
We just saw these cool western birds on the NH coast! They're not rare if you are quite west of here, where their breeding range mostly is, but they're rare if you are on the NH coast! Sometimes birds, especially during migration times, fly out of their normal migration routes and wind up in unusual places. These birds were stopped by the coastline. These species have been seen in NH before. Lark Sparrow and Yellow-headed Blackbird (which is barely annual) are considered rare here. Western Grebe is the most rare, with only a handful of sightings before.