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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho

These Corgis are going to pull Santa's sleigh. That's our Phoebe on the right, and her mom, Chanel, on the left.

Merry Christmas and a
Joyous, Bird-Filled New Year
Lillian and Don

(We are taking the holidays off and will see you Jan. 1st.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice. Today is the shortest day of the year. From now on there will be increasing light and we will see more of the sun. Since Neolithic times the winter solstice has been a special moment in the annual cycle of the year and many cultures have celebrated the winter solstice. Since the event signifies the reversal of the sun's waning presence it is often tied to the concept of rebirth.

A little while ago we were standing in our sunny but snowy driveway and heard the trrrrrrrrrrr rapid drumming noise of a Hairy Woodpecker. Rapid drumming (as opposed to the slow tap-tap of feeding) is a type of communication in woodpeckers used in territory formation and courtship. Increasing light levels stimulate the hormone productions in birds that lead to reproductive behavior. So this Hairy Woodpecker may have been experiencing a solstice moment and feeling a renewal of hormones. It sure gave us a feeling of renewal to experience a sound we associate with spring and bird's breeding behavior.

Wherever you are today and whether you celebrate solstice or not, take a moment to reflect on the sun and its important role as the energy source of the life on earth.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Snow, Snow, Snow

Tufted Titmouse

Hairy Woodpecker, male

.....and more snow. That's what's happening here now and that's what's predicted all day. It's gettin' kinda' scary, with nowhere to plow or shovel the new snow, there is so much snow already. A friend of ours says blame it on this being a La Nina year. A look at the National Weather Service climate prediction center website says La Nina is expected to continue in to spring 2008...
"Over half of the models indicate a moderate-to-strong La Niña through February, followed by a gradual weakening thereafter. Current atmospheric and oceanic conditions and recent trends are consistent with the model forecasts.
Expected La Niña impacts during December-February include a continuation of above-average precipitation over Indonesia and below-average precipitation over the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. For the contiguous United States, potential impacts include above-average precipitation in the Northern Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, and parts of the Great Lakes region. Below-average precipitation is expected across the South, particularly in the southwestern and southeastern states."'s going to be a tough winter, not just on humans, but birds also. Reports continue to come in from many areas in the country about the record number of irruptive species, such as Common Redpolls, that have vacated Canada due to lack of food. Today we had 80 Common Redpolls stop by the feeders. Our numbers of this species are growing.

A reminder — if you want to help the birds, keep feeders full and, if possible, put up extra feeders since large flocks need perching room. Use black oil sunflower or hulled sunflower, since these are calorie rich foods. Add some thistle or sunflower chips for any finch species. Suet, whether in cakes or from supermarket, is a goldmine of calories for woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and more.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cover Girl Phoebe

Hi Blogger Phoebe here, taking over Lillian and Don's blog,

News flash, I'm a cover girl. Just got my copy of the Mayflower Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club magazine, called The Corgi Cryer, and my photo is on the cover. Now, I'm not going to let this go to my head (well, maybe a little), but it is something to brag about and I'll have to order extra copies for all my boyfriends, like Scooter.

The photo was taken by my Mom, Lillian when I was 4 months old and was playing in the snow. The Mayflower Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club serves much of New England and has a cool magazine. There are lots of articles about our breed, news and fun stuff for everyone, whether you are an established Corgi breeder or just someone with your first pet Corgi. If you would like more information about Mayflower club click here and to subscribe to their magazine, the Corgi Cryer, click here.

But back to me. Below is a recent photo of me in the snow. I'm all growed up but still love to play in the snow.

And below is another photo of me, being cute, taken this morning. Lillian was looking for me and didn't realize I had curled up on the velvet skirt under the Christmas Tree. I'm no dummy, it was right next to the heating vent. I wonder what Santa will bring me. I hear he brings lots of nice things to Corgis who have been good. Well I bet I'm getting something really swell 'cuz I'm not just good, I'm perfect.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Our Christmas Bird Count 2007

One of the highlights of our Christmas Bird Count was the large number of Pine Grosbeaks we saw. I took all the photos for this blog entry on the actual day of our Christmas Count, Sat. 12/15. We participated in one of the southern NH Christmas Bird Count circle areas. Our team censused a section of that area; feeder watchers in our section reported their numbers to us.

The number of Common Redpolls reported in our team's section was 140, higher than any other species' number. We predicted this would be a big year for "irruptive species" and were right.

(left to right) Don, David, Phoebe, and Meade. Temp. was 6 degrees as we started out on our property, searching for birds, but staying on the tamped down paths.

A beautiful, male Northern Cardinal came to our feeders, one of the few Cardinals seen in our team's area.

Our group continued out towards the frozen lake and spotted some Crows. Phoebe, our Corgi, walked right in our tracks.

This male White-breasted Nuthatch clung to our Stokes giant combo feeder. Love the way he was looking right at me.

This Tree Sparrow looked like a cotton ball, all poofed out and sitting on its feet to keep warm. We found 6 Tree Sparrows on our property, more than anyone in our area reported. Guess they like us.

Our search consisted of driving to different neighborhoods, walking down the roads, and looking and listening for any sign of birds. Here I spotted some Black-capped Chickadees on their way to the feeders at a nearby house.

A beautiful sunny day, but bone-chilling cold. It warmed to a balmy 16 degrees in the afternoon. It always amazes me how the birds survive in this weather.

We stopped at Meade's house and encoutered his Wild Turkey flock,

who were a little skitterish. There's always something funny about the way Turkeys' large bodies hurry to catch up with alarmist thoughts in their brains.

Don and David, looking toward this bonanza of crabapples, spotted a large flock of

Cedar Waxwings in flight, who were there for the crabapples, their winter food. However, they technically were on the territory of another birding group, who we ran into. (Hi Scott and Dave, if you're reading this.) They had already seen the waxwings and will include them with their numbers. Everyone checked to see if they could spot any Bohemian Waxwings (more rare) in with the Cedars, but no luck.

Onward to the feeders at an environmental center where we were greeted by a large group of Evening Grosbeaks, another "irruptive species." Something flew across the road in front of us and landed in the woods.

Surprise, it was a Barred Owl! Actually, a number of Barred Owls are being seen in southern NH; the early deep snow is making it hard for them to get to the voles, their food source, down under the snow.

Species reported in our team's section:

Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch
Blue Jay
American Crow
Cedar Waxwing
Pine Grosbeak
Common Redpoll
Evening Grosbeak
Mourning Dove
Dark-eyed Junco
Tree Sparrow
Wild Turkey
Barred Owl

Additional info: numbers that were tallied by all the teams for the whole of the Christmas Bird Count circle we participated in, indicated record numbers of Pine Grosbeaks (262) and Common Redpolls (285) seen.

To sum up our day.
- The birds were beautiful,
- It was wicked cold,
- As predicted, there will probably be record numbers of "irruptive species" tallyed.
- Just about all the birds we found were at bird feeders or
- On crabapple trees, where all the Pine Grosbeaks and Cedar Waxwings were.
- There were very low numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos, American Goldfinches (only 8 from our section, none in the other sections of our count area), Robins, and many other species who, wisely, had left this area of too much winter too soon. Hope they are all some place warm and sunny and hope the rest of you are enjoying your Christmas Bird Counts. Let us know what your counts were like. For more tips and information about Christmas Bird Counts click here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Winter Wonderland

Don and Phoebe starting our walk.

Common Redpolls were at the feeders just at dawn. (digiscoped through the window).

Phoebe, our smart Corgi bunny hops in our footsteps

'tis a tad deep for a Corgi

Lillian and Phoebe

We found tiny vole tracks in the snow.

The snow cascaded off the pines like waterfalls.

Much snow fell here yesterday, part of the storm that pounded New England. We got 7-8" of light powdery snow, south of Boston it was heavier snow.
This morning is beautiful and we can appreciate the winter wonderland the snow has created. Photos from our morning walk.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

108th Christmas Bird Count, Dec.14th to Jan. 5th.

From Ravens in Alaska,

to Roseate Spoonbills in south Florida,

and those in between,

all the birds are counted.

Bald Eagle we saw last year on our CBC.

Yep, that's right, this is the 108th Christmas Bird Count. That means for the last 108 years birders across the country have been going out around Christmas, to census America's birds. There are designated CBC (Christmas Bird Count) 15 mile diameter circles all across the country. Volunteers spend the day counting the birds they find in those circles. From Ravens in Alaska, to Roseate Spoonbills in Florida and everything in between, all birds are counted. To participate by joining a search party or staying (warm) at home and counting birds at your feeders, click here.

The census data, while obviously affected by how many people participate from year to year, and whether new count circles are added, etc., is still very valuable. It gives a sense of the status and distribution of early winter bird populations across the whole country.

We have participating in the CBC, wherever we have lived, for just about as long as we have been birding. One of the things we like best is that on that special day, every bird counts, no matter what species it is. All birds are censused, so each is sought after. Just staying out all day and seeing what birds are around and what they are doing is special, something most people rarely do. We so enjoy the camraderie of the people we join with in our search party, as we go about our group effort to find every bird we can.

Every year is different. This year should be exciting because there are so many irruptive species that have come down into the U.S. How many Common Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Northen Shrikes and other irruptives will be found? Will this be one of the biggest years on record for these irruptives?

Our own southern NH Christmas Bird Count is on Sat. the 15th., (different count circles are censused on different dates.) It is supposed to be very cold but clear in the am, snow in the pm. We are keeping our feeders well stocked to hopefully lure in those 75 Common Redpolls we saw recently. We'll keep you updated on how it goes. To see photos from our last years count, click here.

Christmas Bird Count tips:
1. Keep your feeders full, watch in early am and mid-afternoon, times when birds feed heavily at feeders.
2. Count the maximum number of a species you have in view at one time, in one place, to avoid duplicate counting.
3. Chickadees in a flock fly across an open space one at a time. So wait for a chickadee flock you are watching to cross an open space, it will give you a more accurate count.
4. Watch carefully for other birds who hang out with chickadees in a "mixed flock". You may see a Brown Creeper, or kinglets.
5. Dress warmly if you are outside!!! It's no fun to count if you're cold.
6. Bring, or stop for snacks, (granola bars, coffee, hot cocoa) to keep you energized.
7. Have fun!
8. Tell us about your own CBC if you participate in one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Pine Grosbeaks, Irruptive Species

Pine Grosbeak, russet plumage

same bird

same bird

This Pine Grosbeak is a different individual and has less russet.

And the beat goes on.... As we have been discussing for the last few weeks, New England is getting flooded with "irruptive species," those northern bird species who come down into the U.S. when their winter food supply is scarce. These irruptive species, Pine Grosbeaks, I photographed yesterday at a local school that has a thick planting of crabapple trees. Love the way they just chow down on the crabapples, not even pausing to wipe their bills, Yum! the hardest thing is getting a photo of them without apple all over their bill! Note that these are more russet colored than my earlier photos. Pine Grosbeak females and immatures can be either mustard-olive or russet on their plumage. Adult males are rosy red. Other people in our town have Pine Grosbeaks, a friend just said he had 50 at his house.

And while I am writing this, I just looked out the window and saw 18 Common Redpolls, another irruptive species, at our feeders! The careful birder looks closely at the Common Redpolls to see if they can find the more rare, paler, Hoary Redpoll.

The Christmas Bird Counts are coming up (ours is this Sat.), it will be really interesting this year to see what the increase is in the number of irrputive species and where they are occurring in the country.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cardinal fire

In the early morning light, this Northern Cardinal that visits our feeders on a daily basis, looks like a red flame. People occassionally ask us, "do you ever get tired of looking at the common birds," thinking we are only interested in the rare. The answer, not at all. This cardinal still takes our breath away.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Barred Owl, "Who Cooks For You?"

We recently heard a Barred Owl calling from our woods. A friend also reported seeing one fly acroos his driveway. This big, brown-eyed owl is one of our more common and vocal owls. It's hooting sounds like Hooo---hooo---hoo-hoo, or "who-cooks-for-you" although it can make a variety of other sounds, including screams. Barred Owls can be heard at any time of year. They begin courtship in Feb. or March.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stokes DLS Binoculars, 8x42 and 10x42

Stokes DLS Binocular

The Stokes DLS Binoculars, manufactured by Vortex and named after us (DLS stands for Don and Lillian Stokes) "are a truly excellent bargain: among the very best cost to performance ratios we’ve seen...the image is very bright and very sharp, with excellent contrast and definition," says the review.

The optics4birding review goes on to say this about the Stokes DLS Binoculars, "These binoculars do deliver one of the best “flat field” performances we’ve seen, with very little edge distortion and virtually no detectable color aberrations at the field edges....These binoculars are unlikely to get heavy after a full day in the field! They feel very good in the hands, and make a great first impression. The fact that they’re pleasing to the eye is just a bonus. So they feel nice. That’s important, but so is performance. Here, the Stokes DLS models stack up pretty well too. The 8x model boasts a 383-ft field of view at 1000 yards, excellent performance in this category....Both models focus to a minimum distance of about 4-4.5 feet, depending upon your eyes, truly excellent performance in this character, which will render them much appreciated by butterflyers as well as birders....Two important adjustable qualities for all good binoculars are the eyecups and the diopter adjustment. In both cases, the Stokes DLS handle it well. The eyecups adjust with a counter-clockwise twist mechanism, and they go through four positions, fully in or out, with two intermediate positions marked by detents....The focus knob is wide, well-positioned to fall naturally under the fingers, and has the same knurled surface as the diopter adjustment ring, providing excellent “traction” while turning it. The focus action, even new out of the box, was smooth and easy and requires about 1.25 turns to go from minimum close focus to infinity.... The warranty policy on the Stokes DLS binoculars is exceptional too. Should they ever require service, no matter what the cause, except for deliberate damage, theft or loss, (the manufacturer) will repair or replace the binocular absolutely free. The warranty has no time limit and is completely transferable.....One most remarkable property of the Stokes DLS binoculars is the price. These binoculars have a list price of just $999.95 for the 10x model and $979.95 for the 8x version, but both can be found for as much as $100 less. This puts this binocular in the upper end of the mid-price bracket of modern binoculars, while the optical performance is solidly in the high-price bracket."

So if you are considering buying high end binoculars for holiday giving, (many of which can cost in the $1500 to $2600 range) we hope you will consider the Stokes DLS binocular available as 8 x 42 and 10 x 42 models.

We also have Stokes Binocular models at other price points to meet everyones needs.

Stokes Broadwing Binocular

Our Stokes Broadwing Binocular, 8x42 and 10x42, is available in the mid-$300 price range and features;
  • Superior BaK-4 phase corrected roof prisms provide edge to edge sharpness.
  • Fully multi-coated lenses on all lens surfaces are state-of-the-art and deliver maximum brightness.
  • Multi-position eyecups respond to the need for a more comfortable view – even when you wear eyeglasses or sunglasse

Stokes Talon Binocular

Our Stokes Talon Binocular, 8x42 and 10x42, is available in the about $200 price range and features;
  • Phase corrected prisms improve contrast and sharpness.
  • Fully multi-coated optics improve light transmission for brighter images.
  • Exit pupil of 5.25mm welcomes more light to your eye for better viewing in poor light conditions.
Stokes Meadowlark Binocular

Our Stokes Meadowlark Binocular for about $99 is compact, 8 x 25, and great for hiking, walking, camping, kayaking, canoeing, or anywhere you need a light, small bino. It features;
  • Precision-cut high-density BaK-4 glass prisms improve image sharpness and quality.
  • Fully multi-coated optics increase the amount of light entering the binoculars for bright images with great resolution and color fidelity.
  • Soft rubber eyecups retract so you can enjoy the full field of view in comfort with eyeglasses.
All our binoculars are waterproof and fog proof and have the same great warranty.
They are available at online binocular retailers and some birding stores.

One of the reasons we have licensed our name to a binocular line is because we know how difficult and confusing it can be to choose binoculars for birding. We wanted to make it easier for you, so we partnered with Vortex to develop the Stokes Birding Series line of binoculars which we know will be excellent for birding and a great value for the price. Our goal has always been to help you enjoy, appreciate and understand birds and nature. The enjoyment begins with good optics that give you a clear, bright, beautiful image. If you have any questions about buying a binocular, email us.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Snow Scenes

Here are some scenes from the recent snowstorm. We walked out into our big field. We're lucky, we have 45 acres to tromp around on.

Don and Phoebe are standing in front of three magnificent trees at the water's edge. We call them the three sisters. Someone had the wisdom, years ago, to let these stand and grow to magnificence.

One of our bird houses could make a snug place for a bird to sleep in, in winter and Nuthatches, Chickadees, Titmice, Woodpeckers and Bluebirds do this. Another good reason to put up bird houses. You could even now, in winter.

The snow transforms the ordinary into the wonderful.

Back by the house, the Borghese garden urn from Lunaform, wears its winter lid for protection and looks like a snow cone. Of course, Phoebe, the Corgi, just has to get herself into most pictures I try to take.

The view looking from the Borghese back to the hummingbird gazebo and long border behind the barn. The bones of the garden are revealed in winter and become a beautiful part of the winter garden. We think about this when planning the garden. A garden with good "bones" i.e. hardscape, will look good any time of year.