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Thursday, June 22, 2017

When Birding is Slow, ID Dragonflies, Here's How!

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!

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Saving Bobolinks!

Bobolink male

Here at Bobolink Farm, our 23 acre NH property, we have breeding Bobolinks. It's especially thrilling to see the Bobolinks here, because Bobolinks face declining populations in New England due to of loss of habitat. A federal State of The Birds Report lists Bobolinks among birds that have declined by 38-77% since 1968. A new The Bobolink Project is an attempt in New England to preserve grasslands and save Bobolinks.

We're helping their populations because we provide them with good habitat. Most importantly, we do not let the farmer who hays our fields, cut the fields before the Bobolinks fledge the young out of their nests around mid-July. Usually our farmer cuts the fields at the end of August since, in addition to nesting Bobolinks, we have sometimes had a nesting a American Bittern in the field.

We take our walk around the edge of the field or look from our deck and and it's so beautiful to see the Bobolinks, making their lyrical "plinking" call notes, and settling in the grasses to feed. We get such a deep sense of satisfaction, knowing we are helping a species in trouble and maintaining this grassland habitat. Years ago, when New England was a booming farm economy, grasslands were prevalent. Now, much of New England has grown back to forest and it's rare to find big fields, especially ones that are not cut until the end of the summer.
The male Bobolinks in fall will molt from their black-and-white breeding plumage and resemble the streaked, staw-colored females and young. The flocks will stay here until they depart in early fall, for their long migration to wintering areas in South America. We'll miss them.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Warbler Bonanza, NH Coast!

Northern Parula

American Redstart, 1st summer male

American Redstart, 1st summer male

American Redstart

Canada Warbler

On a tip this morning we headed to Odiorne State Park, on the NH coast, where the temp climbed to 95 degrees but the multitude of warblers could be found in the cooler shade of the tall trees. At least 15 singing American Redstarts, both adult males and immature males, looking like "Yellowstarts," were everywhere. 3 Canada Warblers lurked in the understory. A Northern Parula, gave us a warbler neck view and feasted on apple blossoms. We also saw Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Yellow and Common Yellowthroat Warblers and a Northern Waterthrush. Then ended with a lobster roll at Ray's. A good day!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Warblers Are Coming to You!! Are You Ready?

Palm Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Warbler mania is about to hit much of the middle and northern part of the country. Already beautiful warblers, such as this Palm, Black-throated Green, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, are being spotted in New England and other areas. Look for migrating warblers in forests, river corridors, nature preserves, parks and even your backyard! To identify warblers see our new The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions. Happy Warbler Watching!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter Bunny!

Marsh Rabbit, Sanibel, FL. There are a lot of them there this year! Marsh Rabbits are small cottontail rabbits that live in marshes in coastal regions of the Southern and Eastern U.S.

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Migration April 2017, Look Who is Coming to You!

 Prairie Warbler

Scarlet Tanager

 Summer Tanager

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Eastern Kingbird

Northern Parula, male

 Northern Waterthrush

Blue-headed Vireo

On their way to you now are all these beautiful migrant birds. We just saw many of them come into Sanibel, FL. By end of April and early May they will have arrived on their breeding grounds. To find out who breeds near you and how to ID them, see our new The New Stokes Field Guides to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions, which contain all new photos and information.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Migrants on Sanibel, Summer Tanager and more

A different look at today's migrants on Sanibel, FL. The best action was on Pond Apple Trail. The male Summer Tanager looked down on us. The Northern Waterthrush was in the "Commerce Pond" the first water area as you walk from the Chamber of Commerce parking lot, showing a view another waterthrush may see as it faced it. What's with those eyebrows anyway? The female Northern Parula sat looking upward, her yellow throat glowing. An Ovenbird was so skulking in the underbrush to the right of the pond in deep shadow, I gave it a "diffuse glow" from photoshop to capture the feeling. And a female Northern Cardinal was determined to build her nest in the woods.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Migration Has Begun!

Blue-headed Vireo migrant was seen on Sanibel Island, FL at the lighthouse today.

So was this Palm Warbler migrant

Yesterday this Gray Kingbird migrant landed and found a welcome meal.

Today this Wood Thrush hid in the dark underbrush by the picnic area by the shore.

This Northern Waterthrush was found on the Pond Apple Trail, Sanibel today.

This Barn Swallow migrant was silhouetted against  the cloudy sky yesterday at the Sanibel lighthouse.

Many migrants have been coming into Sanibel Island, FL today. Warblers, vireos, thrushes, buntings and tanagers have been seen. But not in large numbers. No major fallout. Many more migrants to come through here, then they will make their way to their northern breeding grounds by end of April and into May. To learn more about what migrants you will see, get our Stokes Field Guides.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Red Knots Coming Through!

I photographed this Red Knot yesterday at the J.N. Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel, FL as it rested on a sandbar in the middle of some other shorebirds. The bird to its left is a Short-billed Dowitcher, also acquiring breeding plumage. Red Knots are not red in their winter plumage, but this one is on its way to acquiring its summer red plumage. This amazing shorebird is going to migrate soon to its arctic tundra breeding grounds, a spectacular journey. For now it will rest and stock up on fuel so it arrives in good condition. Safe journey!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Black-crowned Night-Herons coming your way!


Migration is starting and soon migrants will be flooding into the U.S. and Canada on their way to their breeding grounds. I photographed this Black-crowned Night-Heron yesterday on Sanibel, FL. This is a bird that occurs year round in many coastal areas of the U.S. but breeds in much of the country. So look for them soon arriving on their breeding grounds this spring. They are active mainly at night and can be found in marshes, lakes and streams. For more information see the new The Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Eastern or Western Region.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds Are Arriving! Here's How to Welcome Them!

First arrival Ruby-throated Hummingbird this morning at the Sanibel lighthouse, Sanibel, FL. So great to see that it made it across the Gulf of Mexico. It found some nice red flowers to feed on to refuel. It needs to stay in the South for a while, there is bad weather up north.

Rubythroats have been arriving in the South since Feb. but they do not reach northern areas until mid to end of April. Will you be ready? Here's how to attract them.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red. That's because the flowers they favor in nature are mainly red tubular flowers. These flowers have their own adaptations to be attractive to hummingbirds, such as they have just the right nectar concentrations and long tubes so bees cannot access the nectar. Thus they give the hummers nectar and in turn the hummingbirds carry pollen on their foreheads from one flower to another, thus pollinating the flowers.

We roll out the red welcome mat by,

- Putting up lots of hummingbird feeders with red 
- Putting up hanging baskets of early red flowers such as hanging fuschia, etc. as most annuals and perennials are not blooming yet. Later we plant those flowers
- Tying red bows to the posts the hummingbird feeders hang from
- Keep feeders filled with fresh hummingbird nectar, change nectar every 2 days in hot weather.

Get the early hummingbirds and you may have some remain and breed. You will also attract lots of migrants that are passing through on their way to their previous breeding grounds. Even though these do not breed near you, they will remember you as a good stopping place on their next migrations.
If you live in the West, you may have had hummingbirds all year and/or lots of hummingbirds that have returned already, lucky you.

Monday, March 13, 2017

How to Help Birds in the Coming Nor'easter Snow Storm!


Winter is returning with a major nor'easter snow storm about to hit the mid-atlantic and northeast states. Keep your feeders full, shovel the snow off them and here's some advice on how to help birds with some winter bird feeding basics

Brrrrrrr!  When winter temperatures plummet, furnaces are turned on, down parkas and mittens are taken out of storage, and hot cocoa is made on the stove. This how we humans cope with winter storms, but what do the birds do? Their feathers are their down parkas and their metabolism keeps them warm but they need increased fuel to stoke their furnaces and shelter from wind and cold. Understanding their needs is the first step in helping them through storms.

Where to place feeders

One of the best places to set up feeders in winter is on the south side of a thick stand of evergreens whose branches go from ground level to tree top. This green wall should have as much sunlight hitting it as possible. Not only is it a big solar collector that the birds will love for its warmth, but they can use the dense foliage as protection from predators, shelter from storms, a nightime roost and a place to await their turn at the feeder, or munch a seed recently taken. 

If you do not have this ideal set-up, then be inventive and  create some of its elements. Put your feeders in protected locations that get lots of sun, create a brush pile nearby for cover, plant evergreens, or stand up your discarded Christmas tree near the feeder.

Pine Siskins, Purple Finch,m.

Winter Chow; Supersize me

Because birds have higher metabolic needs in the winter, they consume more calories than in  warmer weather; thus, they need foods that are calorie-rich. Interestingly, one gram of fat provides 11 calories, and one gram of protein or carbohydrate contains only 4 calories.

Here is an interesting list of bird seeds and their protein, fat and carbohydrate content by percentage of weight. 


black oil sunflower   16/40/38
peanuts   30/48/2.5
thistle   18/32/13.5
millet   11.5/4/6.5
milo   11/3/2.5
Cracked Corn   9/4/2   

So for winter feeding in cold weather, the type of food you provide for is important.

Black-capped Chickadee

Suet cakes contain a high amount of fat so they are a calorie-rich food; so are black oil sunflower, peanuts and thistle. These foods are a good choice for feeder birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, finches and cardinals. Offer these seeds in tube and hopper feeders hung above the ground. 

There are other feeder birds, such as Mourning Doves, White-throated Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Juncos that normally feed on the ground and whose seed preferences can tend toward carbohydrates. These species will eat seeds such as millet or cracked corn, or mixes containing them. You can offer these birds winter food on platform feeders near the ground, or even sprinkled directly on the ground provided you keep the ground raked clean of any old seed that is not quickly eaten.

Evening Grosbeak, males

In addition to offering food variety to fit the palate of your winter customers, the basic tenet of winter bird feeding is the all-you-can-eat buffet. Basically, keep feeders full so the food is there when they need it. Even though many of your feeder birds will alternate feeding at and then away from your feeders, they especially need supplemental food in severe weather when the wild foods are covered with ice and snow. In these tough times, a good feeder set-up can help their survival. Pay particular attention to filling feeders in mid-afternoon and early morning. This is when birds need to stock up on food and calories to heat their bodies through the cold night and replenish their furnace fuel in the early AM.

Consistency is the key

Once you have the birds coming to you in winter, it is important to be consistent in your feeding program, for they tend to rely in severe weather on the additional supplementation of foods you are offering. So if you go on vacation, see if a friend or neighbor, or hired youngster, will fill your feeders; that is what we do. You may also want to put out larger capacity feeders in winter so they do not have to be filled so often and so there is less chance of them going empty.

Let it Snow

One of the challenges in keeping your winter restaurant open for the birds occurs when there are storms that pile up snow and cover feeders. It is important to keep your feeders free of snow, especially in the portals of tube feeders, ledges of hopper feeders and the tops of platform feeders.  We always go out and knock or wipe the snow off feeders several times during a storm. Another good trick is to hang one of those squirrel baffles shaped like a clear plastic umbrella, above the feeder to shield it from the snow. One of the best snow protectors we have seen was done by someone who had made a giant plastic umbrella out of two big plastic window-well covers mounted back to back. This was held up well off the ground by wooden posts and multiple feeders were mounted under it.

Dark-eyed Junco

Keeping the ground free of snow for ground feeders like White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Juncos, Mourning Doves, and even Wild Turkeys, like we have coming to our feeders, takes dedicated shoveling or a snow blower. During one of last winter’s worst storms, we took turns shoveling out a space on the ground under our feeders just about every hour. On our deck we shoveled out spaces under our built in benches and sprinkled seed there for the Blue Jays and Juncos.

Northern Cardinal, f.

In Milder Climates

We are aware that not everyone shivers through winter with snow and cold but even in southern areas a snowstorm can hit. Mild climate areas, like California and the southern states, escape the worst weather. In addition to the resident birds, such as Cardinals there, many migrant birds from the North, like Goldfinches, Doves, Catbirds, even an occasional hummingbird, visit feeders there. We have fed birds in Florida in winter for a number of years and it is great fun. While there is not snow, some of the basic practices of bird feeding apply — a diverse menu for both tree-dwelling and ground-dwelling species, providing clean water and good cover, and keeping feeding areas clean. We have even put out oranges in Florida and had catbirds regularly come to them. Maybe they are the same catbirds that breed in our yard in New Hampshire in the summer. We like to think so.


One of the biggest rewards of winter feeding, in addition to knowing you are helping the birds survive, is being entertained by all those wonderful, active creatures while you are house-bound. Colorful Cardinals, perky Chickadees, big-eyed Titmice, maybe even a more rare visitor like a Pine Siskin, will line up for your restaurant where there will be standing room only.

During storms, meet your birds’ needs for the right food and shelter, they will thank you!