Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Roseate Spoonbill, National Wildlife Refuge Week!

This week is National Wildlife Refuge Week. I photographed this Roseate Spoonbill at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife, Sanibel, FL. Be sure and visit a national wildlife refuge near you, they are a national treasure and bird haven in an increasingly difficult world for birds.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Yellow-rumps coming through! aka Butterbutts

Yellow-rumped Warblers coming through now in NH. They're the most abundant of the migrating fall warblers we see here. Love how their yellow rumps stand out against the colorful fall foliage which is peaking here now.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Here They Come! How to ID Fall Sparrows!


White-throated Sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, come in two morphs. One morph has brown head stripes, as here;

the other morph has black-and-white head stripes, as here. There is much individual variation. They all have white throats and are very common at many feeders in winter.

White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, in their first winter have rufous brown head stripes

and no white throat. We just saw one of these in our NH yard.


The dramatic adult White-crowned Sparrow has beautiful black head stripes and a white central crown stripe.

Sparrows are starting to migrate, will you be able to ID them? White-throated Sparrows will be coming to bird feeders across much of the country. Somewhat less common here in NH, White-crowned Sparrows also will be migrating and coming to feeders. Both these species winter across much of the country and you may have them at your bird feeders all winter. We sometimes have first-winter White-crowned Sparrows at our feeder amongst the many, many White-throated Sparrows.

These sparrows love to feed on the ground on millet or seed mixes containing millet. We make a special sparrow feeder by building a big brush pile and sprinkling the seed in front and under the pile. It's a sparrow magnet and provides perching spots and cover from predators. The big bonus for us is that we get to see lots of fall sparrows.

If you live in the far western part of the country, you will get lovely Golden-crowned Sparrows visiting your bird feeders. They have a golden forecrown, surrounded on the front and sides by black or brown.

All these sparrow species are in the genus Zonotrichia. We discussed the characteristics of the sparrows in the Melospiza genus as stated in our The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the best-selling and most complete photographic guide available. In our guide, p. 656, we discuss the Zonotrichia genus and say these are "large deep-bellied, broad-necked sparrows with a fairly small conical bill, rounded crown and fairly long, slightly notched tail." In addition to White-throated, Golden and White-crowned Sparrows, the Zonotrichia genus includes Harris's Sparrows.

Tip: Look at these sparrows through your binoculars at your bird feeder and learn the characteristics of the shape of each genus. You will get better at ID-ing them and it will set you up to learn the sparrows in other genera.


Sparrow ID, Melospiza Sparrows



Lincoln's Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii. Saw one recently here in our NH yard.


Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodyLots are at our bird feeders and bird bath now.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana. Hang out in swampy areas not usually at feeders.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Sparrow ID can be challenging, to say the least. We often see Swamp Sparrows, hanging out appropriately, in swampy areas at the edge of the water. Birds are often habitat dependent and thus the Swamp Sparrow's name.

This is a subtly beautiful sparrow with a strongly marked face, russet wash along flanks and reddish-brown on crown, wings and tail.

Swamp Sparrows are in the genus Melospiza, along with Song and Lincoln's Sparrows. In our new The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, in addition to individual thorough species accounts with multiple photos per species, we have colored boxes where we give helpful Identification Tips and an overview for many of the bird families. Look for these in our field guide.

For Sparrows, in the new Stokes guide p. 656, we say,

"Sparrows are small birds with short conical bills and varied-length tails. They are birds of primarily grasslands, fields, and open edges, where they feed mostly on seeds and some insects. Most are brownish with streaked backs, and they can look quite similar. Fortunately there are several large genera that have subtle but distinctive shapes. Becoming familiar with these shapes can help you place an individual sparrow into one of these groups, or genera; then you can look for plumage clues to complete your identification.

Species ID: There are 12 genera of sparrows in North America. Only 5 have 3 or more species, and these are the ones that are most useful to know to use in this generic approach.

* Melospiza: Medium-sized to large sparows with rather average proportions: they are slightly deep-bellied and have a medium-sized bill, rounded crown, and fairly long rounded tail. These sparrows are easily seen in brushy areas and marshes; when flushed or curious they tend to fly up to higher perches for long periods and give short alarm calls. Some (Song Sparrow) come regularly to bird feeders. Includes Song, Lincoln's, and Swamp.


Chipping Sparrow, Spizella  passerina, adult summer. Chipping Sparrows come to feeders.

In winter Chipping Sparrows change and look like this. Chipping Sparrows are in the Spizella genus.

* Spizella: Small to medium-sized sparrows with high rounded crown, short conical bill and fairy long notched tail. These are fairly conspicuous sparrows that often feed in flocks on the ground. When disturbed they tend to fly up to higher vegetation and look around. They include Chipping, American Tree, Clay-colored, Brewer's, Field, and Black-chinned Sparrows.

In addition to the above, look for this different sparrow at your feeders,
Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca. These are large beautiful sparrows that can be seen in fall and winter at feeders.

Our big book, The Stokes Field Guide to The Birds Of North American is now available for your convenience in two regional guides that are lighter and more portable. The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions recently came out and can be bought at amazon.com and your local bookseller. Get them for they contain multiple photos of each species of sparrow and are a must to help you with identifying and enjoying your sparrows.




Thursday, October 03, 2019

Rare Hummingbirds in Fall, Be On the Lookout!

Rufous Hummingbird, seen at a feeder in NH.

Note the notch in the outer edge of the tail feather closest to the central tail feathers (called r2). This clue can help distinguish juvenile and female Rufous Hummingbirds from female and juvenile Allen's Hummingbirds. In this case there is a noticeable notch. Note also the two central tail feathers have extensive rufous with greenish tips.

Here is another view of the tail. The bird was also coming to a planter of impatiens flowers on the deck.

The throat is heavily marked with dark streaks and several lower central orange-reddish feathers.


Some of the head feathers have buffy edges.

In bright light the mirror-like central throat feathers look almost copper colored.

Here is (left to right) Don, birder Kathy who came with her birder/photographer husband, Steve, who took this photo, gracious hosts Stu and Mary who had this wonderful hummingbird coming to their deck feeder, and me.
The following account is from Oct. 2, 2015 but a rare hummingbird like this could show up anytime this fall so be on the lookout.

In New England we mainly have Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which have mostly migrated through by now. A few years ago we had the pleasure of seeing this Rufous Hummingbird that had been coming to a feeder in central NH; a rare event, as this is a western species of hummingbird whose breeding range goes as far up as Alaska. Rufous Hummingbirds have shown up in NH before (including in 2009 and 2007) and the trend is for them increasingly showing up in the eastern half of the country in fall. Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds have extensive rufous orange on their throats and backs. Females and immatures have streaked throats with variable amounts of orange and are more difficult to distinguish from similar looking Allen's Hummingbirds.

From our book, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America,
Rufous Hummingbird, "F. iridescent green above, below, orangish-brown flanks, white forecollar and central belly; throat finely streaked with bronze or green dots, often with irregular central orange-red blotch; tail with extensive orangish brown at base... Nearly identical in the field to f. Allen's and cannot be distinguished except by hard-to-see shapes of individual tail feathers. In f. Rufous, next-to-central tail feathers slightly notched on inner web, and outer tail feathers nearly as broad as adjacent ones. In similar f. Allen's, next-to-central tail feathers generally untouched, and outermost tail feather narrower than in Rufous, but difference slight. Juv. (Jun-Nov.) Like ad. f. but juv. f. may have whitish throat with few markings; juv. m. may have more heavily marked throat with larger iridescent reddish spots. Complete molt into ad. plumage occurs Sep.-Mar."

Thanks to the wonders of high speed digital cameras, I was able to capture details of the tail and plumage of this bird. The noticeable notch in the r2 tail feather is similar to the description and diagram in Pyle's "Identification Guide to North American Birds" (a manual used by bird banders) for a juvenile male Rufous Hummingbird; the juvenile female averages less of a notch. The juvenile male has the two central tail feathers "narrower and with substantial rufous at the base" the juvenile female has the two central tail feathers "broader and primarily green, without rufous or with some rufous at the base." The adult female has two central tail feathers with "greater amounts of rufous but less than in males." According to aging the Rufous Hummingbird in Pyle, the juvenile has a "crown with distinct, cinnamon edging." So basically the preponderance of clues point to this being a juvenile male Rufous Hummingbird.

Photos of mine and others are were sent to hummingbird banders for further confirmation and it was confirmed as a Rufous Hummingbird.

We had a great time seeing and photographing this marvelous little bird and Mary and Stu were so generous to let birders visit! Thank you!

Be on the lookout this time of year for rare hummingbirds to show up in your area and if you find one, get a photo and also notify your local Audubon or nature organization so they can verify it. Then report it to ebird.org.