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Monday, April 30, 2007

Misty Moose x 3

Mother and yearling moose

Mother with one of the yearlings

The two yearlings running

The three moose

Yesterday was gray and rainy and I was walking out to our car in our driveway. I heard a tremendous crashing in the woods. At first I though a car had veered off the road. Then I saw, moving behind our driveway, what I thought was a large Clydesdale Horse. Then it hit me that this was a very large moose running through our woods. I dashed into the house, calling for Phoebe (who I did not want to go near the moose) and Don. Phoebe was on the porch giving low "wuf-wufs", but not moving. The moose had gone around the house in the woods and emerged out on our large hayfield and ..... surprise, there were 3 moose, a mother and 2 yearlings!!!!

By the time I got my camera with 300 mm lens, they were far (more than 1000 feet) away, but I tried for photos anyway. Later, we were having a family birthday celebration and the 3 moose came out onto the pond and were eating vegetation in the mist. It was thrilling that we and our kids all got to look through the scope and watch them munching away, oblivious to us. Photo digiscoped from 1/4 mile away.

At this time of year, pregnant female moose are still with their yearlings. In another month or so, when she is ready to give birth, she will drive off her yearlings and they will be on their own. Adult female moose generally have single calves, but have twins in areas with abundant food. Maybe she will stay around. Hope so.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Birding events

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Birding events and festivals are going on all the time. You can go to them and see cool birds. For example, the American Birding Association Convention (ABA) is going on right now in Lafayette, Louisiana. We went to it last year when it was held in Maine, but we are too busy writing our new Stokes National Field Guide to North American Birds to go this year. Our friend, Chuck Hagner, editor of Birder's World Magazine (which we frequently write for) emailed us and said he went on one of their birding trips and saw a Red-cockaded Woodpecker, an unusual, and endangered woodpecker. Thought I would show you a photo I took of one in FL.
The ABA has a list of all the birding festivals, check it out and see if you can go to one this year. You can also check with your local and state birding organizations and clubs to see if they have any events near you. Or come and see us May 12th at the Crane Creek/Magee Marsh, Ottawa, NWR, OH warbler and birding event. Getting out to these things is a great way to see new birds.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warblers are migrating now all across the country. We had our first one today in our yard, singing its little trill song. What a happy feeling, heralding the beginning of the warbler migration. Warblers are probably my favorite group of birds, even though hawks are what got me into birding. Of all the bird groups, warblers are the most colorful and you can find just about every hue of the rainbow on them. Can't wait to see more.

We think if you want to learn warblers, start with Yellow-rumps, they are just about the most conspicuous, abundant warbler you'll see on migration. They winter in primarily the southern half of the country, then migrate to their breeding areas farther north.

The namesake bright yellow rump stands out and is a great clue, even in their fall plumage, which can be considerably duller. Look also for the little patch of yellow on their sides, visible in their spring plumage, not always there on fall birds. One great thing about warblers in spring is that they're at their most colorful, especially the males, and are easier to ID. You can't learn Yellow-rumps too well, so learn them from all angles. The better you know them, the more likely you are then to pick up something different, a new species of warbler for you to ID. You can very likely find Yellow-rumped Warblers in your yard if you have deciduous woods or brushy edges. So on sunny days go out and look and start your warbler learning.

Stokes Field Guide to Warblers

For more help learning warblers we have our Stokes Field Guide To Warblers (173 pp. full color photos) in which we cover all North American Warblers. We invented a special color tab system for the guide which makes it possible for you to look up any warbler by its colors. We wrote this guide because we wanted to make it quicker and easier for you to ID and enjoy this beautiful groups of birds. We sure enjoy them.

Photos © Lillian Stokes

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Visit Stokes at Ottawa NWR, OH, May 12th

Blackburnian Warbler

Don and Lillian at entrance to Magee Marsh boardwalk

Magnolia Warbler

Boardwalk at Magee Marsh

Bay-breasted Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler

We will be at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on the south shore of Lake Erie in Oak Harbor, OH, on Saturday May 12th from 1:30 to 3:30 for their beautiful new visitor's center grand opening. We will be signing books, such as our Stokes Field Guide to Birds and Stokes Field Guie To Warblers, and selling our Stokes complete line of binoculars. There will be special discounts and free ice cream as part of the celebration. It is also International Migratory Bird Day.
Ottawa NWR is next door to Crane Creek/Magee Marsh, top warbler watching hotspot and we will be on the boardwalk all that weekend watching all those warblers dripping from the trees. The boardwalk is right next to Lake Erie and runs through a small patch of trees. Inland is nothing but farm fields so the little patch of woodlands is the only good warbler habitat around. The warblers come there to rest and are hesitant to cross the big Lake Erie, so they stack up there in numbers. They wait for a favorable tail wind and clear skies to cross. You can see and photograph over 20-30 or more species of warblers under favorable conditions. Above are photographs of us there last year and some of the many photos of warblers I took.
So come see us!!

Warbler Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hermit Thrush

This morning we had a newly arrived Hermit Thrush singing in our woods. They have the most beautiful song, very ethereal. On way to tell their song from that of the similar Wood Thrush song is that the Hermit Thrush sits on the first note. Listen to its song here.
What a treat.
If you would like to learn more about bird songs, see our Stokes Field Guide To Bird Songs, CDs.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Here It Is!

Aah, spring at last. Here it is. We have full sun and 65 degrees. Last night the first few peepers began singing. Tree Swallows arrived today and the last ducks on the pond are beginning to leave and resume their migration.

Ring-necked duck

We planted pansies,

and put out the Hummingbird feeder. We hang a red ribbon, or piece of bright surveyor's tape, (available in hardware stores), on the pole to get the attention of migrating hummers, who are attracted to the color red. We use the

Hummingbird formula
1 part white table sugar
4 parts water

and boil, or microwave for a minute or so, until the sugar disolves. Stir to help disolve.
Can't wait 'til the hummers return and more migrants show up. No sign yet of our bluebirds or Eastern Phoebes, hope we didn't loose our Phoebe pair.
We'll spend the weekend uncovering the garden beds from their leaf mulch, repairing birdhouses, putting out more Hummingbird feeders, and just plain enjoying the wamth and sun. See you Monday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where is Spring?

Common Merganser, male

Common Merganser, females

It is still drizzling after the big storm. The ducks are happy, and we have 40 plus Common Mergansers on the cove in front of our house and other duck species.

As far as the rest of nature goes, where is spring? Where are the Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Bluebirds, peepers, salamanders, Wood Frogs, daffodils, tulips? None are here....yet.

The weather forecast is for clearing Friday and warm, finally. Will believe it when we see it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


A short while ago, this immature Bald Eagle landed on the ice and watched an otter eating a fish. We have seen adult eagles take fish from otters, guess this one still didn't have the nerve/skill yet. (digiscoped from far away). Neither was fazed by the flooding, just food on their minds.

Meanwhile, we finally got electricity back this am. Spent a long night by the fire reading by candlelight. Made us think of how folks lived "in the old days" and of the many people in the world today who live without electricity. It was so quite, no furnace, refrigerator, TV etc. noise. It was very peaceful, the savoring made possible by the fact we knew this was a temporary state.

It's still raining but the storm is subsiding. Oldtimers here say in 40 years they have never seen it so flooded. We may be approaching the 100 yr. flood mark. Rivers all over southern NH have overflowed, blocking many roads, flooding homes.

This morning we went out and took photos in our our fields, which were soaked, but our home was dry.
The pond our property fronts on, is really a dammed up part of a river. The river was at flood stage, overflowing the banks of our property, which are usually 5 ft. above the water level.

We could see our neighbors boat, lawn furniture and wood duck house floating around in our cove. Many other pieces of debris and logs and stumps were floating. Some had washed up onto our fields. We'll have clean-up to do when it stops raining.

The water is usually well below this spit of land and there is a small cliff at the left. Not now.

The flooded hayfields where the Bobolinks nest. Glad they're not here now. Hope they take their time getting here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

More Storm




The powerful nor'easter storm is still over New England. Here in southern NH, we are without power and getting socked with torrential rain and very high winds. Some of our windows and doors are leaking because of the horizontal rain. But hey, I gotta post a blog, right? Our fields are as flooded as we have ever seen them. Good thing our home is on a 20 ft. high hill above the fields and the pond/river below.

Can't even get out to the feeders, but luckily, filled them last night. The goldfinches can barely hold on to the feeders, saw one get blown off. And I can't believe it, but there actually is a Song Sparrow in a birch tree in the lee of the house, singing! Determined bird!

I have wireless internet and my laptop still has some power, but I won't be on the internet much today, don't want to run the battery down any more than I have to. Thank goodness we have a wood stove. It's pretty much a necessity if you live in New England. So we will stay by the wood stove, drink tea, and continue to work on our new field guide. Hope we get electricity restored soon. You don't realize how much you depend on it, until you don't have it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

And More Finches

We're in the big nor'easter that's hitting the east coast. First snow, now sleet, later it's supposed to be rain. Again we have over 100 American Goldfinches cramming the feeders, it's hard to keep them filled. They jocky for position at the above feeders,

(How many finches are in the photo?)

and go on the ground for the seed spilled by the diners above. We're using hulled sunflower and the goldfinches above drop and spill some of the seeds, lucky for the diners below. The string fencing is actually electric fencing to keep out bears. It does not hurt the birds in any way. More on that in a later blog. The chickadees and other species can hardly get a spare seat. We scatter seed on the deck for the many juncos, doves and other sparrows. Good thing they have the Stokes restaurant.

Friday, April 13, 2007


"Standing Room Only", is what it was like at our feeders yesterday. Never saw so many American Goldfinches vieing for a perch. They filled the feeders and many more were waiting in the shrubs behind. We estimated we had over 100 goldfinch customers at our bird feeder restaurant. Plus over 60 juncos and we still have Fox Sparrows here.

At first I thought this one had only one leg, but then realized it was standing on one leg to keep the other leg warm. This is a thermoregulatory mechanism used by birds.

It hopped over and you can see it has 2 perfectly good legs. The seed eaters do OK in the storms because they can come to the feeders. It's the insect eaters and berry eaters (all berries are gone) we worry about. There's no sign of our Eastern Phoebe pair, hope they went back to VA. We watched our American Robin pair dig through the snow at the base of every plant in the garden, turning over the leaf litter. Fortunately we mulched the garden with leaves before winter and we actually saw the robin get some little caterpillar-like things under the leaf litter. Good reason to put leaves on your garden, it's a place for insects and worms to hide and provide robin food in such bad weather. Plus it protects the plants from cold and frost heave.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Here We Go Again

It just started to snow and there's another winter storm warning in effect for NH with a prediction of snow and sleet. Hope we don't get too much accumulation.

We had just started to see a lot of bare ground with the snow melted from the last storm. And the crocuses were in full, happy bloom.

Phoebe (who is feeling better) and crocuses

We'll just have to wait for spring....and wait....and wait...and wait.

P.S. For those of you out there also experiencing this bad weather, don't stop feeding the birds! This is a hard time for birds because there are so few wild seeds and food available, it's all been eaten over the winter. The birds need you now more than ever. Keep your bird feeding stations stocked and going.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lillian's Camera Equipment

Lillian with the Canon 1D Mark IV camera with the Canon 500 mm IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter, Gitzo 1325 Carbon Fiber Tripod and Whimberley Head

In this photo Lillian is using the Canon 1D Mark II with the Canon 300 mm IS lens with 1.4 teleconverter and 550 EX Flash with Flash extender. Note, I now use the Canon 1D Mark IV

Readers of our blog keep asking, "What kind of photo equipment does Lillian have?"
Here's the answer -

- I have now upgraded to use the Canon 1D Mark IV camera body , which I love and feel is the best Canon body for the type of photography I do.

- Canon 500 mm f.4 IS (image stabilized) lens
- Canon 300 mm f.4 IS lens ( I think this is a sharper lens than the Canon 100-400 f.4 lens)
- Canon 2x and 1.4 teleconverters
- Gitzo 1325 Carbon Fiber Tripod (for the 500 mm lens, love the light weight of this tripod) and Whimberly Head
- Canon 550 EX Flash and Flash extender (most of the time I don't use flash)
- Quantum Turbo Battery Pack

Most of the time, I am photographing birds, so that is why I have the long telephoto lenses. It's hard to get close enough to birds to photograph them, so telephotos are essential. Frequently I am using the 500 mm lens plus a 1.4 or 2 x teleconverter. If I were bigger (I'm 5' 4 1/2" with a light frame), I would own the Canon 600 mm IS lens, but the 500 mm lens is heavy enough as it is for me to lug around, the light weight of the carbon fiber tripod helps.

My preferred set-up for all flight photography and in situations where I can get quite close to birds or need to be very portable, is hand-holding the Canon 1D Mark IV with the 300 mm IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter on autofocus. I love this combo.
I own the Canon 1-400 mm IS zoom lens and the Canon 400 mm f 5.6 (non image stabilized) lens but I think the 300 mm lens give me superior, sharper flight photos.

This is high end, expensive, professional camera equipment and most of the professional bird photographers I know have this, or similar equipment. Some of the models of equipment I have are now updated. If you're looking for something not as pricey, I would recommend the Canon 50 D, Canon 7 D, or Rebel XT3i camera bodies and the Canon 300 mm IS lens or 70- 300 mm IS zoom lens, or even the Canon 1-400 IS zoom lens, if you want good, not super sharp images. I am partial to Canon, I think it's very user friendly, reliable equipment. Most pros I know use Canon, some use Nikon. There are other cameras out there that could be good, I'm not familiar with them. Canon equipment just keeps getting better and the newer, less expensive cameras keep improving and are almost as good as the high end stuff. Good news, if you are just getting your camera gear.

Of course, getting the gear is just the first step. The three steps in bird photography, as I see it are:

1. Photo Gear
2. Photo Opportunities
3. Photo Technique

The hardest step is the technique. In future blogs, I 'll talk more about all this. If you are just getting started the best advice I can give is learn to use all the features of your camera and practice, practice, practice. This is digital, so just erase your errors.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

2 Hoodies

This morning we saw 2 Hooded Mergansers flying right at our house. They banked and made a turn and headed towards our Screech Owl/Duck nest box, and we lost sight of them. We did not see if Mrs. Hoodie went into the box. They have doing behavior like this for the last week, flying in and circling around some of our 3 Duck nest boxes. What they are doing is looking for a nest box. When the female selects one, they will still fly in as a pair, then she goes into the box and lays an egg, and he returns to the pond and waits.

He stays glued to her side during this time because he wants to protect his investment. Ducks (and other bird species as well) are notorious for "extra-pair copulations" where they will additionally mate with another bird. So the male does not want another male coming in and mating with the female Hooded Merganser during this time of egg-laying. Then some of the offspring would not be his. So he sticks close to her side and guards her. Of couse, he might not hesitate to mate with another female Hooded Merganser if he got the chance! And she might mate with another male if she got the chance, and even go and lay one of her eggs in another female's nest!

Scientists think this type of behavior, mating with more than one bird, is actually adaptive, because it might mean, literally, a duck would not have "all its eggs in one basket". If a duck mated with additional other ducks, then some of its offspring would be likely to survive if something destroyed its own nest.

What is happening in nature is always more interesting than what we think is happening.

Monday, April 09, 2007

More Sparrows

Another Fox Sparrow at our feeder

Fox Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco

Yesterday we mentioned we had 4 Fox Sparrows at the feeders. Let's face it, sparrows are not the easiest birds to identify. All their subtle brown coloring often earns them the name, "LBJ's" (no, that is not a reference to the 36th President of the United States, it means "little brown jobs"). The Fox Sparrows that visit our feeders are a little easier to ID because they are of the very red subspecies, so their foxy color gives them away. They're quite a bit larger than the other sparrows at our feeders, so they stand out. Look at the size difference between the Fox Sparrow and the Junco!

Song Sparrow

More subtle are the Song Sparrows. We're keeping about 6 of them happy with the seed mixture we're supplying. They're very streaked brown with a brown streaked crown that has a grayish central crown streak. The central breast dot (looks like a congregation of dots) stands out.

Tree Sparrow

But don't think you can just tell a Song Sparrow by its breast dot alone, it ain't that easy. Other sparrows also have dots. At our feeders now, are some lovely little Tree Sparrows. Here's one waiting a turn at the feeders. These little cuties have a rusty red crown, a gray face with a rusty eye line and plain gray breast with a central dot. So try and look more closely at your feeders and see who's there. Let us know if you have any Fox Sparrows.

And my job today, besides blogging about "LBJs", is to keep and eye on Phoebe, our Corgi, who was just spayed and who is lounging next to me, her head lolling off the counch. She's supposed to be kept quite and to leave her stitches alone, which, of course, she's not doing. That's why she has that funny bandage thing around her. It's really a piece of tee shirt around her middle. It keeps her from nibbling the stitches and she seems to like it. When we went to pick her up from the vet's they said she'd been as good as gold and hadn't bothered her stitches at all. We thought we'd have no problem. The minute we got home, she wanted to reach down there and nibble. If only we could explain to her that she'll heal soon and the stitches will be out. I think she may know that and appreciates my support and hanging out with her. She's such a sweetie.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Fox Sparrows

Fox Sparrow at our feeder in NH

Note rufous color on body and tail

This individual has a prominent breast dot

There has been a big influx of Fox Sparrows into NH recently. We were feeling left out, but finally, 4 Fox Sparrows showed up at our feeders. The birds at our feeders had that wonderful foxy color. Not all subsecies of Fox Sparrow are this rufous, some are considerably darker. One of the eastern subspecies of Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca iliaca) is the most rufous. In the last month the NH Birds list serve has reported over 130 Fox Sparrows from over 30 different towns in NH. Since the weather has been so unusually cold and snowy, maybe we're more aware of them because they're showing up at feeders, or maybe there's just a large "fall-out" occurring.
Whatever the reason, we're always thrilled to get a close look at these large, beautiful sparrows. Look carefully at the sparrows at your feeders and see if you have any Fox Sparrows.

Photos @ Lillian Stokes, 2007