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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More Robins

Here are some more photos of Robins drinking out of the puddles. The paler birds are female robins. Couldn't even post photos yesterday here in GA, because of a tornado watch (fortunately we were not affected.) The large flocks of Robins are still here. After the storms passed yesterday, the Robins were on the ground under all the cedar trees, which had dropped some of their berries due to the wind and rain. A Robin banquet. Another perk is that many of the Robins are singing, which reminds us of spring.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Robins Migration Ready

Down here in southern GA we are seeing big flocks of robins. They eat lots of berries, then go to any puddle they can find for a drink. Mixed in with the robins flocks are Cedar Waxwings, you can see one in the middle of the photo above. Robins wander widely in flocks in winter. Often they stay in northern parts of the country as long as they can find berries, their winter food. In southern areas of the country there are many big flocks of robins in winter, taking advantage of the many kinds of berries they can find, such as fruits of Sabal Palm (the native southern palm) and hollies, etc. Right now the migrant robins are chowing down, readying for their migration to their northern breeding territories. For those of you still in winter weather, here's a hint of things to come.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

Last night we went out to watch the lunar eclipse from southern Georgia. I took this photo when the eclipse was about 3/4 way. Interesting how the shaded part of the moon had an orange hue. It was pretty spectacular. Photographed with my Canon Mark II and Canon 500 mm IS lens.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Anhinga, male

While I was photographing the green-winged Teal at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, this male Anhinga quietly supervised. Such a strange looking bird with the black-and-white plumage and daggar-like bill, used to actually spear fish. The fluffy plumes near the head are not just a bad hair day, they are his breeding plumes. Other names for the Anhinga are "piano bird" ( for the black-and-white wing feathers) and "snake bird" (they can swim with body submerged and just the head and neck above water.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Green-winged Teal, female

Green-winged Teal female

And here's a photo of the female Green-winged Teal. Much more subtle colors than the male of yesterdays's blog post. Then again, she's the one who has to sit on the nest and incubate the eggs, so it's good if her colors help camoflage her.

Blue-winged Teal female

Female ducks are often a tricky ID challenge for birders, not for male ducks. It's not easly to tell a female Green-winged Teal from a female Blue-winged Teal, especially when you can't see the colors on their open wings. The Blue-winged Teal female has a white patch at the base of her bill, the female Green-winged Teal has white that is barely noticeable at the base of the bill. Also check out the beige mark right under, and at the side of, the tail on the female Green-winged Teal, a little noticed, but great clue to tell them apart.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Green-winged Teal

Male Green-wined Teal in flight showing the beautiful green on his wing. Other ducks, such as Blue-winged Teal and Cinnamon Teal, etc., also have green on their wings, so you need to use other clues as well to ID this duck. Photographed at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA.

And he has green on his head also, especially noticeably when the sun shines on it. Here you can't see the green on his folded wing.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Here are some recent photos of an Eurasian Collared-Dove I took in GA. This large dove resembles a Mourning Dove but you can see the black "collar" on the neck. It's tail is very rounded, not pointed, like a Mourning Dove's. Attractive, but it's a bit of a piggy at feeders. Originally from Asia, this species was introduced into the Bahama's in the 70's, then spread to Florida. It's rapidly spreading throughout this country and has been seen in many states.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love Birds

"Quack, Quack, Quack, Quack, Quack Quack"

"Quack, Quack, Quack, Quack, Quack Quack!"

Translation: (top duck) "Happy Valentine's Day to you, sweetheart"
(bottom duck)"Happy Valentine's Day to you too!"

and Happy Valentine's Day to all of you,
from Lillian, Don and Phoebe

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Birding Jekyll Island, GA

Wood Stork reflecting the golden light of sunset

Least Sandpiper on the beach

We recently went birding on Jekyll Island, with some friends, Ken and Chris, from our town in NH. Jekyll is a beautiful, unspoiled barrier island where you can see lots of shorebirds and other species. Under GA state law only 35% of Jekyll Island can be developed. There are "redevelopment plans" afoot to build a new convention center, 3 new hotels and more. Our friends were new to birding, so it was fun to introduce them to all the aspects of this wonderful hobby.

The south end of Jekyll invariably has lots of shorebirds, gulls and more.

We loaned them binoculars and taught them tips birders take for granted, such as:
- Keep the eyecups on the binos up if you do not wear glasses. Twist the eyecups down if you do wear glasses.
- Pull the barrels of the binos together or push them apart, depending on how far apart your eyes are.
- Keep your elbows tucked in, it helps steady the binoculars.
- Spot the bird with your eyes first, then raise the binoculars to your eyes to find birds faster.
Soon Ken and Chris began to look like seasoned birders and they got curious about the birds, asking questions about why there were so many species of birds, how could they share the beach peacefully, etc.

Digiscoped image of the density of roosting birds we were viewing.

At sunset we visited the pond at the defunct ampitheater where hundreds of birds come in to roost at night.

Cormorants, herons, vultures and more all vied for perching room. The sights and the sounds were a magical treat.

Publish PostAll this was topped off by a delicious dinner of "sweet Georgia wild shrimp" (the best we've tasted) and a sunset view.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More on Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Photo of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker taken during our visit in 2006. It's near the bridge over Bayou De View, the place where Tim Gallagher and Bobbi Harrison reported seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Feb. 2004.

There's a recent article from the Boston Globe on the continuing search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, here.

Ivorybills had been thought extinct since the 1940's. A Cornell University team reported finding an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Cache and White Rivers, near Brinkley, AR in 2004. Geoff Hill and an Auburn Univ. team reported seeing Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Choctawhatchee River in the panhandle of FL in 2005. No one has yet gotten a clear, definitive photo of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. There has been despite intensive searching during the past several years including helicopter searches of the Cache and White Rivers happening now. The controversey as to whether the Ivory-billed Woodpecker exists, continues.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Birding St. Simon's

We went birding this weekend on St. Simon's Island, GA, with a group from the Albany Audubon Society of GA. Can you spot 6 '2" Don? Three of the menbers were sporting our Stokes DLS binoculars! St. Simons has wide unspoiled beaches with lots of sand bars for birds to rest undisturbed.

It was low tide, so the group could walk out for a long way onto the tidal flats. As we walked through the beachgoers on the upper beach several people said "you be sure and get some good photos." They did not realize we were birders carrying spotting scopes, not cameras. Not many birdwatchers visit St. Simon's. Makes you realize, a vast amount of this country's population know nothing about birding, birds, or the value of conserving birds. We who are birders have our work cut out for us.

One of the highlights was looking through our spotting scopes at 5 Piping Plovers. Here's two of them digiscoped from afar.

Piping Plovers are very cute little shorebirds whose Atlantic Coast population is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Another treat were the American Oystercatchers, dramatic black-white-red combo birds, who truly do eat oysters. One of the sounds they make is like a police whistle being blown. We listened to a group of Semipalmated Plovers fly overhead. It's good to get into the sounds of shorebirds, it can be a great ID help.

Everyone participated in searching for and spotting birds. Don glanced up just in time to see a Bonaparte's Gull, unusual here. The dramatic wing pattern helps ID this buoyant small gull. We had a great time. The fun of birding is both seeing the beautiful birds and the camraderie of fellow birders.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Leusictic Birds

Leucistic female House Sparrow

I recently photographed this interesting, "leucistic" female House Sparrow in GA, with abnormal amounts of white in her head plumage. My first thought when I saw her was, woah, what have we here? An unusual species of bird? Did someone spill paint or something on her head? Was she roosting at night on a branch below the rear end of another House Sparrow and got you-know-what on her head (we've seen that happen with Turkey Vultures)? I quickly realized, none-of-the-above and that her plumage was actually white.

There's not total agreement on what constitiutes leucism vs. varying degrees of albinism in birds. Some say a bird with any amount of abnormal white plumage, but with dark eyes, would be leucistic. Some say an albino bird has no pigment in its feathers, bills or legs, thus would be all white with pink eyes. Whatever the definitions, one thing is certain. Leucistic birds and albino birds attract a large amount of attention.

- A hummingbird website, the Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, got national media attention when they banded an albino hummingbird.

- Then there was the photo of a mostly white Pileated Woodpecker discovered in the White River National Wildlife Refuge in Feb. 2006 as well as documentation of a second Pileated Woodecker with an abnormal amount of white on its wings, that led to speculation the bird in the famous Luneau video was not an Ivory-billed Woodpecker but a Pileated Woodpecker with an abnormal amount of white.

- A search of Google images "leucistic birds" leads to many photos of birds with abnormal white in their plumage

We ourselves have seen leucistic Common Grackles, American Crows, America Robins and American Goldfinches.

If you have seen, or have photos of leucistic or albino birds, email us.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2008

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Here's a typical view of a little bird that's often overlooked. Took this photo in the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area in southern GA, near where the Yellow-breasted Chat was. I was first alerted by it's cute, very high-pitched, nasal "meept" sound. I looked up and saw it moving, faster than a warbler on caffeine, in the maple tree.
Note the long tail and the white outer-tail feathers, (here folded up under the tail), which help distinguish it from its relatives the California and Black-tail Gnatcatchers who have mostly black undertails.
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers winter in the far southern parts of the country, but breed over much of it. Look for them in spring in your area.

Monday, February 04, 2008

"Blue" Monday

This is a blue Monday if you're from New England because the New England Patriots were beaten 17-14 in the Super bowl last night by the New York Giants. So we have pictured some "blue birds." (Do you know who they are?) If the Patriots had won, they would have had a record breaking 18-0 season.
Just to cheer you up, if you're a Patriots fan, as we are, here are some "sunny" photos.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Yellow-breasted Chat

I took this photo, recently, of a Yellow-breasted Chat in the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area in sounthern GA. This bird was typically skulking in some dense underbrush and we detected some movement as we drove along the dirt road in the car. I took the photo out the car window and the bird was backlit, making for difficult photography. Still, it's an interesting look at a hard-to-see bird.

The Yellow-breasted Chat is a type of warbler that looks very un-warbler like, but it's still classified in the wood-warbler family. Chats are the biggest (7") warbler, have a large bill with a strongly curved culmen, a long tail and have a song that's a weird combination of irregularly spaced whistles, caws, cackles, scolds, rattles, mews and other strange sounds. This bird was making no noise and call notes are seldom heard from Chats. Yellow-breasted Chats breed in about three-quarters of the eastern part of the country and parts of the West. They winter in Mexico and Central America.

So what was this bird doing in coastal GA in winter? We don't know, but it certainly was in the perfect Chat habitat of dense tangles. Yellow-breasted Chats have been recorded in winter in GA and along the Atlantic Coast up to Newfoundland. They occassionally occur inland, and, rarely, on the West Coast in winter.

We fell lucky to have glimpsed a look at this secretive, interesting bird and even to have gotten some photos to share with you.