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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Stokes Top Ten Bird Songs

John of A DC Birding Blog, who started the meme of the 10 Most Beautiful Birds, has now asked bloggers to come up with their list of the 10 Most Beautiful Bird Songs. Here's our list:

1. Prairie Chicken
We had the most wonderful experience this spring in a blind photographing Greater Prairie-Chickens on their lek, surrounded by their other-worldly, vibrating, flute-like, sounds. These sounds are interspersed with "whock" sounds when a female shows up. Here's an action shot of a male who was about to mate with a female and was interrupted by another male.

2. Bobolink
We have to include this, as we call our New Hampshire property "Bobolink Farm", named for the many nesting Bobolinks in our hayfield. We are treated all spring and summer to their bubbling, rolling, chords.

3. American Goldfinch
There's nothing like a sunshine flock of Goldfinches twittering in the garden in spring

4. Northern Cardinal
Sweet, clear, whistles, and oh, so, red. Who could resist?

5. Northern Mockingbird
Yes, we know they drive some people to ear plugs when they sing all night, but they're the disc jockeys of the avian world, singing the songs of other birds.

6. Veery
The thrushes would get our vote as top group, with Veery at it's top. It's beautiful, descending, spiraling, notes makes us feel like we're in a cathedral of nature and the Veery is the organist.

7. Hermit Thrush
Also a strong contender in the thrush group is the Hermit Thrush. Many live in the woods around Bobolink Farm so we hear them frequently, especially at dusk.

3. Common Loon in fog
Like avian wolves, its haunting wails rise and speak of ancientness.

9. White-thoated Sparrow
Some say their song sounds like "Poor, Sam, Peabody, Peabody, Peabody". If you're Canadian they're saying "Oh, Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada".

10. Yellow Warbler
We must include a warbler, one of Lillian's favorite groups of birds. Yellow is as good a pick as any, singing "Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet. Sweet bird!

All photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mt. Desert Island, part 3, Asticou

Very close to Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor, is Asticou Azalea Garden, done in the Japanese-style. Here, and in Thuya, we constantly heard Black-throated Green Warblers singing, a beautiful musical backdrop to the gardens.

Japanes gardens have the essential elements of water, garden plants, stones, waterfalls, trees and bridges and they are all part of this garden. We looked across the calm pond to the stone bridge. We felt such a sense of serenity gazing at the reflections in the surface. Paths lead through the gardens.

Lillian's favorite part of the path is these columnar stepping stones of different heights that are so fun to cross.

The sand garden is surrounded by azaleas that came from Beatrix Farrand's garden. The white surface is raked every day. The artfully placed rocks suggest islands in a sea, reminiscent of Mt. Desert Island and the nearby smaller islands rising out of Frenchman Bay.

The garden is less flower power and more about green textures and shapes. Each tree is carefully pruned in the Japanese manner into elegant forms. We have been visiting Mt. Desert Island for years. No wonder we love it. Very few other places combine two of our favorite things so closely, great gardens and great birds.

All photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mt. Desert Island, part 2, Thuya Garden

After visiting Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, we next visited Thuya Garden, one of our favorite American gardens. Thuya was designed by Charles Savage and much of the plant material came from Beatrix Farrand's (a famous landscape designer's) Bar Harbor garden when she disassembled it before her death. Thuya has beautiful design and architectural details.

We always stop and admire the opening gates that Savage carved with such care and detail. Being nature lovers, we look at each panel and our favorites are the carved birds.

The Yellow-belllied Sapsucker is accurate right down to the little holes in the tree that sapsuckers make to drink the sap.

One of our favorite panels is this little owl.

Thuya, named for the area's abundant white cedars (Thuya Occidentalis), has a long view of two perennial borders, a scenic garden urn and two viewing houses. The borders are not in full bloom as it is only early summer.

The Iris Germanica captivated us with its vibrant color and unusual swatches of white.

Peony, "Raspberry Sundae" glowed pink with diamond rain drops.

At the top end of the garden there is an asian-inspired viewing house that is peaceful and inviting. We felt as if we could have stayed there all day.

Here is the long view from the viewing house. The garden is surrounded by evergreens, which give a structured backdrop.

Here is a view from behind the urn, across a little reflecting pond. We love the balanced scale of the pond, shrubs, garden urn, and stones that gives a feeling of harmony and peace. Visiting gardens like this is inspiration for our own gardens, as we attempt to create some of the feelings we have in Thuya in our own space.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Mt. Desert Island, part 1, Acadia

After the ABA convention, we went to one of our favorite places in Maine, Mt. Desert Island, renowned for its scenic beauty, especially when its sunny! Trouble was, it was foggy and rainy. We didn't mind, as there's a kind of mystical beauty when the landscape is viewed through the fog.

Acadia National Park, the green area on the map, covers much of the island. We took the loop road (outlined in red on the map) through Acadia and stopped at the scenic overlooks and other pull-out areas to listen and look for birds. Given the bad weather, I set a goal to photograph at least one bird.

This Herring Gull sat on a "scenic overlook" ("overlook" is right, it was so foggy you couldn't look at the scenery). It undoubtedly hung out there trying to score munchies from the tourists. It seemed unusually interested when I reached in my pocket (for a kleenex), but sidled away when it saw the camera. Gulls have an uncanny sense of when you are trying to photograph them and can become uneasy.

Lupines were everywhere, their vibrant blue enhanced in the soft light.

The next overlook we stopped at had beautiful crashing waves that sprayed the surf into the air. We inhaled the salty, pungent, smell of the sea air. Two dots beyond the rocks are Common Eiders who never seem to get swept into the rocks.

I had hoped to photograph Peregrine Falcons. Peregrines have nested in the park on Champlain Mt. since 1991 and had just fledged young from their nest which usually can be seen from the Precipice Trailhead parking lot. My heart sank when I saw everything was fogged in, diminishing my chances. We stood by the roadside and enjoyed the songs of the Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers and Common Yellowthroats, which carried beautifully in the acoustics of the cool, still air. All of a sudden, I heard a loud noise that sounded like a scratchy car alarm going off — Peregrines coming in low, under the cloud ceiling! I looked and saw a fledgling fly near an adult then veer off. Then the adult came closer. Photographing a dark flying bird against a white sky is a bad idea, so I grabbed my camera and shot. I just can't help myself.

The interesting thing about this photo is that it shows a silhouette of a Peregrine Falcon in fog. The falcon shape, of pointed wings, really stands out. For us, it's a great ID clue, for birds its the warning shape of a predator.

After all that activity, we headed to one of our favorite places in the park, Jordan Pond Restaurant.

We warmed up with hot tea, savory bowls of lobster stew and their famous popovers, yum!

The view from the lawn of the restaurant is of Jordan Pond and "The Bubbles", two distinct mountains rounded by the glaciers that covered this area 10,000 years ago. More on Mt. Desert tomorrow.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Friday, June 23, 2006

ABA Convention

A lot of people attending the convention got to see Atlantic Puffins, who always seem to look a little improbable, flying with those short wings.

We're having a good time at the convention and enjoyed the author's booksigning today. It's always so nice to meet the people who have our books and we're happy to put our signatures in their copies. It's one of the more fun parts of being an author. There were so many bird authors at the signing including, Pete Dunne, Bill Thompson III, John Kricher, Rick Taylor, Wayne Petersen, Donald Kroodsma, Steven Kress, Doug Pratt, Paul Lehman and others.

Michael O'Brien, along with Richard Crossley and our friend, Kevin Karlson, have come out with a innovative new Shorebird Guide that features a large number of excellent photos.

Author Robert Ridgeley, famous ornithologist who has discovered seven new species of birds and written many books, including a field guide to the Birds of Ecuador, received a much deserved award.

Here's Don at our booth showing some birders our Stokes Birding Series of Binoculars, designed by us because we really wanted people to be able to have quality optics at good prices and thus, to increase people's enjoyment of birds.

Our friend, Betty Petersen, does a wonderful job running the excellent Birder's Exchange program. Birders Exchange takes new and used birding equipment and educational material and matches it with educators, conservationists, and scientists in Latin American and the Caribbean, plus much more.

We visited artists booths, such as Kim Diment, who painted the elegant Bald Eagle picture and many other works that she had for sale.

The Sue Shane Gallery had lovely bird pictures and we couldn't resist buying her refrigerator magnets for our collection. We really like magnets with birds on them and use them to decorate our refrigerator with our bird and other photos.

After the convention we will visit Mt. Desert Island and, hopefully, get some photos to show you.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Maine Birds: Greater Shearwater

If you go out on a boat from the coast of Maine, you will see "pelagic species" of birds, such as this Greater Shearwater.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Maine Birds: Common Eider

At the ABA convention people are seeing interesting birds on the rocky coastline. This is a female Common Eider. Eiders can dive in the sea as far as 60 ft. underwater to get welks, crustaceans and mussels.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Billable Hours

A new, male House Wren has moved into our yard and is taking advantage of the fact that the Great Blue Heron weathervane on our barn makes a perfect singing perch, especially its bill. Since he does not yet have a mate, he spends a lot of “billable hours” singing to attract one.

We have several bird houses placed around the barn, which is a good thing, since male House Wrens, as part of their courtship, stuff several as many nesting holes as they can find with twigs. When a female shows up she selects one of these “dummy nests”, adds a lining and lays the eggs.

To make matters more interesting, there is already a pair of wrens nesting on one side of the barn. The male from that pair frequently sings to defend his territory from this newcomer. So basically they egg one another on. Bottom line is that we have stereo wrens. Hope Mr. Newcomer gets a mate soon.