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Monday, December 25, 2006

See you in 2007

We will be travelling for the next week. Have a wonderful holiday and a great New Year!
We will see you in early January 2007!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Holidays

We wish all of you a very

Happy Holiday!

Lillian, Don and Phoebe

(The photo is of our puppy Phoebe, on left, and her sister, Lyric, on right)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Black-tailed Gull

I was sorting my digital image files and came across this image of a 3rd winter Black-tailed Gull I photographed on Lake Champlain, VT, last November 22, 2005. Since I hadn't yet started doing a blog (I started in Feb. 06), I didn't have a chance to write about it and share this photo.

This was an exciting, rare bird that brought many birders to VT. Black-tailed Gull is an Asian species that usually hangs out in Japan and China, but has wandered to North America more than 20 times, the majority of which have been to Alaska.

There is a funny story about how it was found. A woman named Julie Hart was trying to get a strong cell phone signal and decided to go down to Charlotte beach on Lake Champlain. While there, she looked over the usual Ring-billed Gull flock and noticed a darker gull with red on the bill tip. She called a friend, who then called a friend (an expert birder) and ... the rest is history. This was a first state record for VT. Birders from many states flocked and the gull made the news.

I loved photographing this elegant bird. The striking black band on the tail is distinctive and the red tip next to the black on the bill gives just the right splash of color to add a little drama, (for a gull, that is).

The interesting thing about the sightings of this gull is that they have occurred in various places, including California, Texas, Michigan, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, etc. It is thought that this bird can show up just about anywhere, so.... are you looking??

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Our Christmas Bird Count

Dawn at our home, Bobolink Farm

We eat breakfast with one hand, search for birds with binos in the other hand

At first golden light we see an immature Bald Eagle
(image digiscoped from 1/4 mile away)

Then an adult Bald Eagle takes it perch

Our friends, Meade and Sandy, looking at the eagles

We find Cedar Waxwings eating Crab Apples

Lillian searching for waxwings

We began our participation in the 107th Christmas Bird Count before dawn, standing on our deck eating breakfast with one hand, scanning with binoculars in the other hand. We were incredibly lucky that some of the first birds we saw were the highlight of our day — 2 Bald Eagles, an adult and an immature. The sun came up and illuminated the pine tree with the immature eagle sitting in it, turning the whole scene gold. We had our scope set up on it and were able to show it to our good friends, Meade and Sandy who had arrived. Then the adult eagle came and took the perch of the immature, a sign of dominance. The eagles were undoubtedly there because there has been a deer carcass on the ice on our pond and Bald Eagles are scavengers.

After walking with Meade and Sandy around our large property, we got in the car and drove our traditional route, stopping at various and diverse habitats to search for birds. It was a sunny and warm day, temperatures climbing into the 40's. The wind picked up, gusting in the middle of the day and that diminished bird activity.

We heard Cedar Waxwings at one spot but could not see them. We went on to another spot at a camp where there were loads of Crab Apple trees, hopeful to find waxwings there. Sure enough, we spotted four Cedar Waxwings and took time out to oooh (and me to snap a few photos). Sandy and I agreed, their feathers look as smooth as velvet.

After searching many more places we returned to our home and watched more until darkness fell. It was so nice to spend the day with the birds, searching for each and every one and delighting in all the species, not just focused on rarities, as is often the case in birding.

We then went to our second favorite part (besides seeing all the birds) of the Christmas Bird Count, the countdown party that took place at a friend's house. Here, the hard working seachers in our geographic CBC count circle gathered and shared their data. It was nice to see all our birder friends and share stories from the day. After warming up with pizza, soup, wine and beer we sat around a table and called out our numbers town by town for each species. The head compiler took down our numbers and would turn these 2006 records into the Audubon Society. We had seen the most eagles, but others had seen eagles too. The only new bird recorded for this count area was a Merlin, which had never been seen before at this time.

Our own groups species list for the day (remember we are inland in southern NH and the farther south one goes in the country, the greater the number of species seen):

Bald Eagle
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
White-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Black-capped Chickadee
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Tufted Titmice
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Wild Turkey
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch
Eastern Bluebird
Mourning Dove
Tree Sparrow
Brown Creeper
Cedar Waxwing
American Robin
House Sparrow

This count was one of the warmest ever, with open water on most lakes and ponds. Many birds were not at the feeders but were out eating the wild seeds and fruits which were plentiful this year. Some species, such as Dark-eyed Junco, which in some winters goes farther south, had higher numbers than usual. The same was true for American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds.

Hope all of you who still have your CBC's to come (different areas of the country count at different times) have a fun and successful time.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Bird Count time

The 107th Audubon Christmas Bird Count is here. Over the next few weeks, people all across the country will search every bush and tree to count the birds in their count circle area. Our southern NH count is tomorrow, so we hope all the birds will show up. We will be counting on our own property, then join with friends to search other areas of our town. One of the things we like the very best about that day, is that every bird counts, whether it's the Northen Cardinal in your backyard, or some never-seen-before-rarity. If you would like to participate in your town, go to this link.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hey, Hay

Nestling American Bittern

Bobolink, male

Northern Harrier, immature

Northern Harrier, adult male

Our farmer recently picked up the hay bales he made when cuting our hayfield in September. He is a busy man and was just getting around to it. We pondered what had taken place in the hayfields this year.

American Bitterns nested there and have for several years. We were privleged to see their babies, who pointed skyward to make themselves "invisible", the same tactic used by the adults.

We call our property Bobolink Farm because of the many Bobolinks who nest in the hayfield in spring and summer, then feed there before beginning their long migration to South America.

When the hay is cut in fall, the field attracts many raptors. Northern Harriers, parade through the fall, coursing over the hayfield looking for voles. We see American Kestrels perched on the hay bales hunting for crickets in the grass. Other raptors as well, such as Red-tailed Hawks, stop and look for a meal.

As the hay bales were carted away, we were a little sad to see them go; they had been so picturesque. We also realized that there went the habitat, temporarily, that had been important to so many birds, now neatly rolled up and on its way to what would be some very happy cows.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Puppy at Work

When we work at our office, our puppy, Phoebe, works too!
(click on the arrow to play video)

Video of Phoebe © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

Call of the Wild

Yesterday we saw Common Ravens and American Crows congregating in an area out on our pond. We rounded a corner in our field to get a better look and saw they were on a deer carcass on the ice. We speculated on what killed the deer. Was it a hunter, a fall on the ice, a coyote, or something else? The ice was not solidly frozen and walking on it could be treacherous for human, coyote, and even deer. We felt sorry for the deer but realized the bounty it had become for the wild creatures that live here.

Last night, while inside our home, we heard coyote noises and went outside on our deck to listen. There were coyote howls, yelps and excited barking coming from the direction of the carcass. We guessed there were at least 3 coyotes, maybe more. In winter, coyotes can live in packs of 3-7 members; the pack consists of a mated pair and their offspring of various ages. The leader of the pack can be a male or female. We have studied coyotes and written about them in our Stokes Guide To Animal Tracking and Behavior. The coyote chorus lasted for several minutes, then silence. We wondered what they would do with the carcass. Would they move it, consume it all, cache it? Warmer temperatures predicted for the coming days could melt the ice; opportunity for scavangers is now.

This morning as we walked out to the field with our scope, ravens and crows were calling and flying about. Then an immature Bald Eagle flew right across our cove. Wow! Word travels fast among those that dine on carrion.

We set up the scope and saw the carcass was still there, but looking diminished. Our local crows were milling about and cawing at a raven flying over. They may be trying to defend it a bit from the ravens.

It is exciting to live in a rural area where there are big, wild animals and see how drama and survival plays out in their lives. Wild predator/prey scenarios occur in supposedly "tame" suburban areas in many parts of the country, but they are often hidden by night or woods and are away from people's consciousness.

Here, for us, it is very real and on our minds. We wonder what will happen tonight.

The photo was digiscoped by holding my Canon Powershot A620 up to our Stokes Sandpiper 65 mm Scope. It was gray and overcast and they were far away, not good digiscoping conditions, but enough to capture something of the scene.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

First Snow

American Tree Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Puppy Phoebe, our Corgi

Our long border and garden Gazebo

Rock walls rediscovered in snow

Snow falling on our woodland "Borghese" garden urn

Yesterday, we had our first real snow. It brought the birds to the feeders, especially the Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows who ate the seed we sprinkled on our deck. The Juncos would crouch down to warm their legs, looking like little black puff balls.

The snow covered the garden and revealed wonderful shapes — the hardscape, or "bones" of our bird garden — that lie hidden among the eye-catching blooms of summer.

It was our puppy, Phoebe's, first snow and it was fun to see her reaction. At first, she tried to catch the snowflakes in her mouth, just as she did with flying insects she saw in fall. Don wrote a Haiku poem about it below. Then, she became a hoover snow scooper and tried to eat the snow. Finally, she just shimmied and romped around, excited by her new discovery. One of the many joys of having a new puppy is to see her reactions to her "firsts".

First Snow Haiku

Moths are chased and fill the night
In Phoebe's first snow.

Photos © Lillian Stokes

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Northern Shrike

We again, had a Northern Shrike, imm. hunting on our property. This time I actually had my camera (Canon 1D Mark II, 300 mm IS lens, 1.4 teleconverter) with me and captured a few photographs of the shrike in action. What I like best about my camera set-up, is that it allows me more portability than my big Canon 500 mm IS lens plus tripod. I can move along quickly with the bird and get some photos. I did not get that close to the bird and the photos are cropped and blown up. They're not suitable for printing in a calendar, but fine for the blog and to reveal a glimpse into the intimate life of this very cool bird.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Phoebe & Friends

Since we are established bird and nature authors, we thought we would teach our Corgi puppy, "Phoebe" to be an animal-lover, also, and are introducing her to other creatures. So far, she has met these species:

- Big Yellow Ducky
- Little Squeaky Pink Piglet
- Fuzzy Brown Beaver
- Dapper Bunny with Bow Tie
- Unknown Waterfowl with Brown Dots

Her favorite so far is Fuzzy Brown Beaver which she carries around the house and likes to sleep with in her crate bed at night.

Blogger photo upload

This morning we, and many others who use blogger, are not able to upload photos to our blogs. When you try and upload photos, blogger gives this error message:

We're sorry, but we were unable to complete your request.

It appears you can upload text, but the photo upload probem is something the folks at blogger will need to fix. When they do, we will have a photo for you. Today we were going to post a cute photo of Phoebe, so check back later.

Some people ask us, what is a blog and what is Blogger. Blogger is a website ( that lets one create their own "blog", that looks like a "journal" or "log", using the Blogger tools. The blogs are often hosted on the Blogger server, that's why the website addresses for blogs appear like, with the at the end. Or blogs may be hosted on one's own website, if you have one. Blogger is for free.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Just because

I'm putting this photo of a Blackburnian Warbler on our blog today just because I was searching my digital image files, liked it so much and wanted to share it with you. The Blackburnian is one of my favorite warblers, with it's tiger black-and-orange brilliant markings. Makes me miss spring and the warbler migration. Then again, it's something to look forward to.

Photo © Lillian Stokes

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Barred Owl

We had a Barred Owl hooting outside out house for the last several nights. Not only did it hoot the usual, "Who-cooks-for-you", but it also let out another, less commonly heard, Barred Owl sound, a loud scream "Aahhoooo". Makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you hear it.

One time we were in MA at our old home doing a midnight owl census. We got out of the car, paused to listen and right over our heads a Barred Owl flew silently in and gave this loud scream. Our hearts just about stopped, we forgot to breathe and our brains scrambled though our mental file cabinets of loud scary sounds one hears in the Northeastern woods at night. Finally, exhaling, we realized it was a Barred Owl, whew!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Birding Binocular Tips

Adjust the binoculars for your individual needs

When not wearing eyeglasses, turn the binocular eyecups up, when wearing eyeglasses, turn the eyecups down

Tuck your elbows in to help steady the binoculars

Enjoy the beautiful birds


1. Up, Down

If you are wearing eyeglasses turn the eyecups DOWN. If you are not wearing eyeglasses, turn the eyecups to the UP position. Many binoculars, especially higher end models, have eyecups that can be adjusted in several positions. Only when you have the eyecups in the right position for you, will you clearly see the whole field of view.

If you are sharing binoculars among several people, make sure each person, in turn, adjusts the eyecups in the right position for their eyes when they look through the binoculars.

2. Eye Relief

The distance behind the eyepiece where you can see the whole field of view is called the binocular’s eye relief. If your eye is farther back from that spot (which can happen when you wear eyeglasses), you will not see the whole field of view. By turning the eyecups down you can compensate for wearing eyeglasses and move your eye closer to that magic spot. Binocular eye relief is indicated in millimeters. Look for binoculars that have an eye relief of at least 15 or 16 mm.

3. Wear your glasses

If you wear glasses, keep them on when using binoculars, even if you wear progressive lenses or bifocals. With good binoculars, you should be able to see through them perfectly fine. Besides, if you’re not wearing your glasses how will you find the birds so you can then view them through your binos? If you are having trouble with this, consider upgrading your binos.

4. Move the Barrels

Move the binocular barrels closer together, or farther apart depending on the distance between your eyes.

5. What do the numbers mean?

On binoculars you will see numbers such as 8 x 42, 10 x 42, 7 x 35, 12x 50, 8 x 25, etc. The first number indicates the power of the binocular. So 8 power binoculars magnify the object you are looking at 8 times.

The second number, such as 42, 35, 50, refers to the measurement, in millimeters, of the diameter of the lens (called the objective lens) at the far end of your binocular. May seem a little complicated, but what it means is the higher this number, the more light the binocular will let in, in general. A binocular with a 42 mm objective lens, will let in more light than one with a 25 mm objective lens.

6. Field of View

In the binocular’s specifications the width of the field of view is stated as something like 383 ft. at 1000 yds. A wide field of view makes it easier to spot and follow birds, especially for beginners. Sometimes it is expressed as an angle such as 7.3 degrees. Many 8 power binoculars have fields of view in the mid 300s to over 400 range.

7. Get the right binocular for your needs

Here we are discussing binoculars for birding. In our opinion, in most cases, the best binoculars for all purpose birding are full size binoculars that are 8 x 42. These provide a good amount of magnification and bright images.

Binoculars that are more powerful magnify hand shake so they are more difficult to hold still. This is especially true if you have been birding all day and your arms are fatigued. They generally also have a more narrow field of view and shallow depth of field. It makes it a little more difficult to find the bird and have a steady image. Having said that, there are many people, ourselves included, who are experienced enough at spotting birds and handling binoculars to deal with these issues and happily use 10 power binoculars. People may want 10 power binoculars if they are in situations where they are always viewing birds at a distance. We often use 10 power binoculars when at places such as lakes, marshes and the ocean, where we know the birds will be farther away. Then the 10 power is a big plus.

What about compact binoculars? They may offer good magnification such as 8 power, but usually have a lower number for the objective lens, such as 25 or 26, and, in general, do not let in as much light as full size models. Modern advances and internal coatings have improved the light gathering of compact models. The lightweight and small size of compacts make them extremely attractive for some people. Ironically, because of their lightness, hand tremor can be magnified.

Compacts can be great for many situations such as, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, canoeing, airline travel, carrying in purse or pocket, or you just want a pair on your kitchen table to watch feeder birds. They can be good for kids because of their small size. In general though, for all day, all around birding, full size are preferred.

Another way to deal with binocular weight is to use a shoulder harness which takes the weight off your neck and redistributes it.

6. What’s this about a diopter adjustment?

If you have normal vision, or properly corrected vision with eyeglasses, you probably don’t need to adjust the diopter. If vision in one of your eyes is different than the other, you may need to adjust the diopter. The dipoter is a ring on the right barrel of the binocular below the eyepiece. Here’s how to do it.

- Close your right eye. While looking through only your left eye, pick a distant object and focus the binoculars on it.

- Close your left eye and (don’t turn the focus knob) while looking at the same object, turn the diopter ring on the binocular until the object is in sharp focus.

- Now you’re done. Leave the diopter ring in that position and resume birding, looking through both eyes and using the center knob to focus.

As many of you know, we have our own licensed full line of "Stokes Birding Series" binoculars and scopes. This is a continuation of our efforts to present birders with quality and affordable products to enjoy their hobby. People’s experience of birding and appreciation of beautiful birds is considerably enhanced when viewed through good optics. We would be happy to answer any of your questions about our optic line or binoculars in general. Just email us.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Western Reef-Heron

Western Reef-Heron, photographed in NH this summer

There is much speculation as to where the famous Western Reef-Heron, that delighted birders in Maine and New Hampshire this summer, has gone. James Smith recently was on a Birdfinders bird watching tour to The Gambia, in West Africa and saw and photographed lots of Western Reef-Herons who closely resembled the Maine/New Hampshire bird. Wish he could have interviewed those birds and asked if one of them was our Maine/New Hampshire bird and how it enjoyed its stay in the U.S.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hi Phoebe

"Phoebe', our Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy is almost 4 months old. She is growing so fast and learning so many new things. She now has gotten her official, registered name "Llandian Wings of Love". We love her more each day.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Be Persistent

Common Merganser, male

Look closely and you can see the saw-like edge to the bill

Hooded Mergansers, male left, female right

Hooded Merganser, male, with crest raised

Canada Goose

Today we took a little birding trip to see if we could find any migrating waterfowl on the ponds in southwest NH. At first, we weren't finding much and felt like giving up. Don said "let's check one more pond". We pulled off the main road onto a side road, scanned the pond and saw nothing. We then decided to drive a little farther up the road to see around a bend and bingo, we hit the mother lode. There were over 80 Common Mergansers and 15 Hooded Mergansers. In birding, it pays to be persistent. I took the flight photos above as a few sailed over us.

These are beautiful ducks and it was exciting to see them. When I enlarged one of my photos, (easy to do with digital images) we could see a cool feature of the Common Merganser's bill, the little serrated edge that looks like teeth. This amazing adaptation helps the bird hold onto slippery fish, it's main food.

Our final totals were

87 Common Mergansers
33 Hooded Mergansers
31 Canada Geese
17 Mallards
7 Black Ducks
2 Common Goldeneyes (a pair)

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Head shot, (cropped from larger image)

Today we went to see the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that was discovered on Sat. on the NH coast. This elegant bird breeds in Central America and South America but there are more than 100 records of it occurring as a vagrant in North America, primarily along the Gulf and East Coast with some of the heaviest concentrations between Delaware and southern Maine.

There are four subspecies, two that occur in North America; the physical differences between them are subtle and involve the shape of the tips of the outer primaries.* The most widespread vagrant subspecies and the one being seen in NH is Tyranus savana savana; the other subspecies (believed to occur in Texas) is T.s. monachus.

This bird has been hanging out at Odiorne State Park in Rye, NH frequenting the vegetation at the edge of the grassy areas past the parking lot. Cooperative and easy to see, it eats insects or some of the many berries there, such as bittersweet.

The tail is sooo long, makes us wonder what its functions is. Perhaps it helps it manuever during its amazing acrobatic flight, as some of my photos show. We had such a good time just watching this beautiful bird and socializing with the many birders who came to see it.

This is a vagarant that can show up just about anywhere in the U. S., so be on the lookout.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

* For further information see:
Lockwood, M. W. 1999. Possible anywhere Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Birding 31: 126-139.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Shrike Out

Loggerhead Shrike, adult

Northern Shrike, imm.

Northern Mockingbird, darkened for shape comparison

Is this going to be the Year Of The Shrike? We just saw an immature Northern Shrike on our Bobolink Farm property, and there have been reports of Northern Shrikes pouring in throughout November from many of the northeast states. Northern Shrikes breed in Alaska and the far northern parts of the continent. They come down in winter, sometimes in larger numbers, to much of the U.S.

I did not have a telephoto lens with me (duh!) when we saw our shrike, but I did have a 28-135 mm lens, so I took the photo anyway, even if it is far away and dark. The interesting thing about my photo is that it's a great example of what the shape of a shrike looks like at a distance. Notice the long tail, large head, very little neck showing, short, broad bill and alert posture. A shrike might be confused with a Northern Mockingbird. So I took one of my photos of a mockingbird and darkened just the bird in Photoshop, to give you a comparison of a silhouette of a mockingbird compared to a shrike. Note the thin, pointy bill of the Mockingbird and smaller, more prominent head.

These are good, shape, search images for you to have when you go out and find your own Northern Shrike this weekend. (Hey, even if it's at a football or soccer game, bring those binos!) One of the best things you can do to improve your birding skills is to focus on the shape of a bird.

The top photo is of an adult Loggerhead Shrike which I took in Florida. Loggerheads look quite similar to Northern Shrikes with subtle differences, such as the mask which goes above the eye on loggerhead. Loggerheads have a more southerly range and live year round in much of the lower half of the country.

All photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006