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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

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Got Owls?

Got Owls? Kinda reminds me of the old milk commercial, "Got Milk?", where someone is eating a chocolate chip cookie, or the like, and desperately needs the perfect accompaniment — milk. Well our property list, impressive though it is (for inland NH), could really use some owls. You'd think our property would be loaded with owls. After all, we have large open fields that harbor voles, owls' favorite cuisine.

We have seen Barred Owls here, and, of all things, a Barn Owl, quite a rarity in these parts. One showed up in October on two separate years, and proceeded, each time, to call for about a week.

But what about Great Horned Owl, so ubiquitous elsewhere? How could we be missing that, we listen often at night? Or, how about a little Northern Saw-whet Owl? We know a friend across town has some in his woods. Or what about a Long-eared Owl? An acquaintance claims to have seen them in these parts, years ago.

So, while our list grows with interesting new birds, it still remains rather owl-less. We are hopeful.

Got Owls? If you do, please send them our way.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Some people keep all kinds of bird lists; life lists, country lists, state lists, county lists, year lists, birds you've seen on T.V. lists, birds you've seen while doing the backstroke in a swimming pool list, etc. Us? We keep a property list, that is, a list of birds we have seen from our property.

Granted, sometimes we stretch the limits of what we mean by "from our property". For example, we're out in the canoe and we see a bird that we claim we could have seen if we had been standing on our property, so we count it. By and large, though, it's birds we've seen while our toes are on, or inside, our property line.

We were thrilled a few days ago when a new "property bird" showed up for us. We were walking with the Corgi's and a bird flushed up from the ground in our big field and flew in a wide circle over our head. Our binos picked out the yellow and black facial pattern. Unmistakable! Right where it should be, in an open field, since it's habitat is open ground with low vegetation, where it eats weed seeds and insects.

So #173 on our propety list, is — Horned Lark. Sweet!

All photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Monday, November 13, 2006


I took this image of our new puppy, Phoebe, with my 300 mm telephoto, as she was watching her sister and mother run around. One of the advantages of telephotos is that you can be a distance from the subject, whether it is a bird, or a puppy, and not distract them by your close presence. Phoebe sure is fun to photograph.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers, (female left, male right)

Recently we had a few, migrant Common Mergansers on our pond. These are such elegant ducks, with their long bodies and cruise-control attitude. The dramatic colors of the male stand out at a distance. His head is iridescent and usually looks dark, or may appear dark green when the sun reflects on it right. I love the female's jaunty, rufous crest. These are diving ducks who plunge down just when you're trying to find them, then bob up elsewhere, like a cork. They eat fish, crustaceans and mollusks. The Common Merganser is more apt to be found on fresh water during migration and winter, whereas, its similar appearing relative, the Red-breasted Merganser, is more likely to be found on salt water at those times.

Just when we have said good-bye to all the fall migrating warblers and shorebirds, we can greet the next wave of new faces — the ducks. It's one of the many things that keep birding interesting for us. See if you can find some migrant ducks on water areas near you.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Red Bat

We were walking with the dogs in our big field near dusk and glimpsed something red flying near the forest edge. Picking up our DLS twilight optimized binos (yes, they really do help us see better at dusk), we saw not a bird, but this incredible bat!! It was so beautiful as it swooped, flew and turned, and so red. Wow!
This was a Red Bat, who typically migrates to southern regions to winter. Made us wonder if we were seeing a migrant, or just one that was overwintering (a few may up north) and had emerged for an evening snack. The photo above I took last year on Oct. 31st. Sorry it's slightly blurry, but it's hard to photograph a bat in flight hand holding a camera. Could this be the same bat from last year? I feel so lucky to live in a place where I can see a Red Bat.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

American Tree Sparrows

American Tree Sparrow with crest raised

American Tree Sparrow

We had a birder friend over a few days ago and we took a long walk across the fields at our home "Bobolink Farm". Just as we returned, we spotted some beautiful, little American Tree Sparrows in our birch trees, the first we had seen this season.

Sometimes mistaken for a Chipping Sparrow, these delicate birds have a rusty cap like a chipping does in its summer plumage, (in winter, the chipping has black streaking through the rusty cap). Tree Sparrows have a rufous eyeline, not blackish like a Chipping Sparrow, and their telltale, central breast spot stands out at a distance.

Just seeing them, with their soft, russet colors against the late fall landscape, gave me warm feeling, like greeting a friend you only see at a certain time each year. I also love their musical tinkling call, a teedle-eet note, which reminds me of tiny sleighbells and the approaching winter. These beautiful birds breed in the far northern reaches of the continent, but winter across much of the U.S. Enjoy then while they are here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rare Birds

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird flying, note white edge to tail, one of its field marks

Nothing quickens the pulse of a birder faster than the prospect of seeing a rare bird. But what is a rare bird? Sometimes a bird is rare because it's a habitat specialist, has suffered great habitat loss and its population has declined. Other times, as we used to joke, a rare bird can be the wrong bird, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In other words, it's a bird that is unexpected in that area, not in its usual range, or there not at its usual time.

We once had a Western Kingbird show up on our property in NH in August. If you look in your field guide, you will see that the breeding range of a Western Kingbird is across the western part of the country where they are found in dry, open habitats. Infrequently they can been seen during fall migration on the east coast. For us in inland NH, this was a rare bird.

Right now there are many rare birds that can be seen in different areas of the country. In MA, a Gray Flycatcher (which breeds in the far western states) has been spotted. Another western species, a Say's Phoebe was just seen in Delaware. You can find what rare birds are being seen in your area by going to the birding list serves. There are sightings, directions to how to get to the rare bird, and often great photos. Even if you can't get there, you can still look at the photos and dream.

So why aren't we out looking at the Gray Flycatcher? Becase today we are busy minding three Corgis (our own puppy, Phoebe, and her mother and sister who are temporarily visiting), as well as writing a brand new national field guide for you (more on that later).

Monday, November 06, 2006

My Smart Puppy

Once upon a time, there was a very smart puppy.........

Phoebe, our new Corgi puppy is being read a great training book called, My Smart Puppy by premier dog training experts, Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson. It's amazing, all we do is read the book to Phoebe and she immediately learns all the training.

Just joking! Training a new puppy is really all about training yourself to know what your puppy needs and how to communicate effectively what you want, as Brian and Sarah aptly point out. It is a rewarding and challenging activity and very necessary if you are to develop a well-trained canine companion who is a joy to live with. Phoebe is smart, and willing and it is up to us to bring out the best in her.

We really like this book and have learned a lot from it. It is chock full of great training methods that are fun, as well as solid coaching of you, the trainer. Some of our favorite wisdom from My Smart Puppy book:

"You Raise What You Praise"
"You Get What You Pet"

These are lessons in how important it is to reward the good behavior you want to encourage in your dog. This book even comes with a DVD to demonstrate the authors' techniques. Thanks Brian and Sarah!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Robin Migration

American Robins are now migrating through our property, Bobolink Farm, in large numbers. We love to watch them flying in the early morning when they're illuminated by the sun. They often stop on our property because we have so many berry producing shrubs here.

Robins can sometimes stay in more northern areas as long as there are berries available. People are often suprised to see them during the colder months. When berries diminish and extremely severe weather moves in they will go farther south. We go to Sanibel Island, FL in winter and have seen thousands of robins wintering there, often eating the fruits of the native palm trees.

We kinda hate to see them go because it means winter is coming to NH. But we know we will experience the thrill of seeing the first robin return in the spring.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Juncos are migrating through our property. Where we are in NH, some stay for the winter, but not as many as stayed at our home in MA, when we lived there. Many go much further south to winter. One of the things we find interesting about juncos, in addition to the fact they are called "snow birds" because of their 'dark skies above, snow below' coloring, is the fact they return to the same wintering areas each year. There, the flock stays in an area of about ten to twelve acres. They have very interesting flock behavior that you can look for at your bird feeder.

Not all juncos look like our one pictured above, called the "slate-colored form", which breeds in the eastern U.S. and Canada. In other areas of the country there are different forms. The "oregon junco" breeds in the western part of the country. The "gray-headed junco" breeds in the central Rocky Mountains. The "white-winged junco" breeds close to the Black Hills of South Dakota. The "pink-sided junco" breeds in the northern Rockies and the "red-backed junco" breeds in the Southwest. They are all, however, considered one species — the Dark-eyed Junco. Look for these engaging little birds at your feeders this winter.