Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Wild Turkey

These Wild Turkeys are headed in the right direction.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

About Wild Turkeys:

* Wild Turkeys populations were once in decline but turkeys were reintroduced and have recovered and now Wild Turkeys occur in every state (but not Alaska) and in parts of Canada.

* Wild Turkeys live in forests and eat berries, buds, seeds, insects and nuts, especially acorns. They can scratch the ground to find food. They may come to bird seed under feeders.

* Wild Turkeys roam together in flocks in search of food. You may see them along roadsides and in fields and crossing roads.

* In spring, male turkeys perform courtship displays in fields. They fan their tails, puff up and strut and give their familiar gobbling calls. The female raises the young chicks, who can follow the female after hatching and soon can find food on their own.  Females and young form into groups and roam together.

Enjoy Wild Turkeys when you see them!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Another Big Year for Snowy Owls? Stay Tuned!

Snowy Owl sightings so far in November 2017, ebird map. Will this be another big year for Snowy Owls to come down into the U.S. possibly in big or record numbers? In some years Snowy Owls leave their far northern areas and come into this country in search of food, possibly because food is scarce in their usual area but also in years when there is a population boom. Some are saying there was a high population of owls on their nesting grounds this year, so possibly many may leave. Stay tuned and report your sightings to ebird. And keep your distance when photographing them so as not to disturb the owls!! My blog post below was done in December 2013 when a historic irruption was underway.





Snowy Owls can come down into the U.S. in possibly historic numbers in some years (note, all photos on this post taken with long telephotos lenses from a distance, mainly from a car, so as not to disturb the owl.)
We saw 9 Sat. on the NH and MA coasts. This one was sitting in a parking lot.
I love the soft feathers around the bill, all the better to keep it warm.
This owl preened
and sat in the wind.
 Grassy flat areas, dunes, marshes, and anything like its tundra home are the habitats these Snowy Owls seek out.

Here it is in front of a New Hampshire Parks vehicle.
There are actually two of then on this breakwater way out there.
Here's a closer view taken with the powerful telephoto lens (up to 4800mm) of the Canon SX 50.
There is a mega irruption of Snowy Owls coming down from their tundra areas taking place now, with reports flooding birding listserves across the northern parts of the U.S., southern Canada, and there has even been a Snowy Owl reported in Bermuda. Birders in St. John's, Newfoundland are seeing 150 Snowy Owls in a day. There more owls on the way and this could be a historic event. You can see a map of Snowy Owl sightings on ebird.

Saturday we saw 9 on the NH and MA Coasts, with birders reporting many more owls from those areas. Owls are showing up more in coastal areas but also some from inland. They are attracted to flat or rolling, grassy or marshy tundra-like habitats. We saw our owls in coastal dunes and marshes, but they can be in other places. There are Snowy Owls showing up at airports, and one was seen hunting the grounds of the Budweiser plant in Merrimack, NH. They can perch on buildings, rocks, houses and lamp posts overlooking favorable habitat. Keep your eyes open, they could be anywhere!

If you do see a Snowy Owl do several things:
* Report your sightings to ebird, the national database that tracks birds, so this event can be well documented.
* Do not get close to the owl to view or photograph it so as not to scare it away or harass it. These are birds that have left the far north because there is not enough food there. They are hungry and may be starving and need to conserve energy to hunt for food.
*Enjoy watching and appreciating these, usually rare, Snowy Owls for this is a special event. Some of these birds, unfortunately, may not make it if they do not find enough food.

Snowy Owls breed in the far north and in winter some come down into Canada and the northern half of the U.S. Sometimes when there is a food shortage in their usual areas, they may irrupt in large numbers and move south as they are doing now. They are diurnal hunters and eat lemmings and other small mammals and rodents, sometimes ducks and seabirds.
Male Snowy Owls are generally white overall with a suggestion of grayish barring. Females are heavily barred overall and young birds are the darkest of their sex with first year females being the darkest.

To learn more about Snowy Owls, and how to identify other birds (including all those you photograph!!) see our new field guides:


The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America contains over 3,400 bird photos (many of them from me and other top bird photographers) and is the most complete photographic guide to those birds ever done.


It is also available as eastern or western regional editions,


If you want to learn more about how to take photos with the Canon SX 50 Camera, go to my blog post here, where you can find out about my extensive tips.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Snowbirds Have Arrived!! Welcome Them At Your Feeder

Dark-eyed Junco

Yesterday we noticed large flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos coming through on their migration. We had some birder friends from AZ visiting and everywhere we looked clouds of juncos were fluttering up. Another friend of ours asked, "since the snowbirds are here does that mean its going to snow??"
Oh no, not yet, not the "s" word. It will snow this winter. Just because the "snowbirds," (another name for juncos), are here, doesn't mean it's going to snow now.
Dark-eyed Juncos are named snowbirds because of their plumage colors of gray and white. They have "gray skies above and snow below." In other areas of the country juncos may look slightly different.
Some juncos may stay and winter with us here, in NH. Others will continue their migration and may show up at your feeders, so start looking. Juncos like to feed on the ground or from low platform feeders and come to millet and mixed seed.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Short-eared Owls are Migrating Now!



Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owls are migrating now and one was recently seen on the NH coast. Interesting that in the past just about this time (Oct. 27th 2013) we were at our nearby hawk watch site, Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory in southwest NH, and saw a Short-eared Owl migrating, a first record for that site. It was migrating during the day and popped up above the mountain in the midst of some ravens. Much excitement at seeing the first one there and it was a thrill. Recently on NH birds list serve, a Short-eared Owl was reported from migrating on the NH coast, a more common place to see this uncommon owl.

Little is known about Short-eared Owl migration according to the authoritative source on bird behavior, The Birds of North America online.

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.

All the photos above, except the small bottom photo which is of the owl over Pack Monadnock, are of a Short-eared Owl I saw on Christmas several years ago in the marshes of Salisbury Beach, MA. This owl 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 keep your eye and ears open for Short-eared Owls and you may add to the information on its migration.

NO Birds At the Feeder?? Here's Why!

Dark-eyed Junco

Many people have been reporting a lack of birds at their feeders and right now we are not going through the bird seed as we were in later summer when the baby goldfinches were gobbling all.

The main reason for birds not being as abundant right now at feeders here in New England is because this has been wet year and mild fall and there seems to be a superabundance of wild food available, including pine cones, other cones, seeds, fruits, berries. The birds just don't need the feeders, plus since it has been warm their calorie requirements are lower. As you know, birds in the wild do not ever get all their food entirely from feeders. They go around their winter ranges each foraging in their own species way. Chickadees stay in a small fixed flock in a winter range of about 20 acres and glean insects and larvae from bark, as well as eat nuts and seeds. They visit feeders in their winter territory. In extremely severe weather however, when wild food has been depleted and or is covered with ice, then chickadees will visit feeders more and sometimes it can be life-saving.
For those of you, including us, that are addicted to seeing birds at our feeders, there are some birds coming to feeders now and here's how to entice them.
Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the most common feeder birds in the country. These northen breeders come down into the U.S. in winter. By us, some stay the winter, some migrate farther south. Juncos are a type of sparrow and love eating at or near the ground.

We built this brush pile and placed it about 15 feet from our bird feeder. It is about 4 feet high and 12 feet wide, made of saplings and even seed heads from our perennials. We sprinkle millet on the ground in front of it and in it. The Juncos and White-throated Sparrows just love it and visit often. These species naturally feed on the ground in the wild, and this set-up simulates their wild feeding situation plus gives then the cover of the brush pile to hide from predators. Millet is a tiny white seed enjoyed by sparrow species. It is not the favorite food of chickadees (black oil sunflower is). Even though we sprinkle it on the ground we monitor it and clean up any old seed. Mostly all our seed is in feeders and seed cleanliness is very important to the birds. We also put millet in platform feeders, and sometimes the juncos and other ground feeding species feed there. The brush pile also offers protection from predators to all the other birds who visit the feeders.

Blue Jay

Blue Jays also are coming to feeders now big time. You'll also see them flying across highways as you drive around. Jays have a habit of carrying off seeds and acorns in fall to cache (hide) them for later use. Jays have a mixed reputation; they can eat birds eggs, but they are also great alarmists, warning of hawks, and other birds may benefit from that. We enjoy their beautiful colors against the late fall landscape.
Meanwhile, have patience and keep feeders clean and filled, you want the winter feeder regulars to know you're there when they need you. Once the weather turns cold your feeder regulars will be back.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

How to Help Bluebirds Survive Winter!

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. Remove insulation in spring before breeding. 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, dogwoods 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.
For more complete information see our best-selling Stokes Bluebird Book.

For the very latest identification information and range maps on all three species of North American Bluebirds; Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird and Western Bluebird, see our best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the most complete photo guide to birds of NA, and the new regional editions, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Regions