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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Birding Acadia National Park, 2

One of the prettiest areas in Acadia National Park is Jordan Pond which looks out over "The Bubbles" twin mountains.

Acadia is very dog friendly and you may walk the hiking trails with your dog on a leash. We decided to walk the trail next to Jordan Pond with our Corgi, Phoebe.

After the trail we sat in the Adirondack Chairs looking at the spectacular view.

then we had lunch at Jordan Pond House which has an outdoor seating area overlooking the view. We had our binoculars with us and scanned the sky and mountains for birds.

We saw lots of Cedar Waxwings flying over our heads,

and, big yum, ate creamy lobster stew filled with big chunks of lobster and THE BEST popovers. Jordan Pond House is famous for their popovers and they serve thousands a week.
Eating some of our favorite foods and birding at the same time, now that's our idea of a good time!

Phoebe, who was very well behaved, sat next to our table

and noticed another Corgi named Olive at a nearby table. Olive was a sweet, one year old Corgi with longer fur.

Note from Blogger Phoebe:
"Hi, I had fun with Lillian and Don in the park and gots lots of petting from people who thought I was cute (that's cuz I'm perfect). I liked sitting under the table at lunch, especially since Lillian gave me a taste of her popover. Here I am with my new friend Olive, who was a very nice Corgi. She's a "fluffy" which sometimes happens with Corgis. They are exactly the same as we short-haired Corgis they just have longer fur."
Signing off,

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Birding Acadia National Park

Just got back from Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, Maine. Here's Don standing on top of the highest mountain there, Cadillac Mt. and looking down on the town of Bar Harbor. More photos coming soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Are Hummingbird Numbers Declining, 2008?

Many people have emailed us about their reports of hummingbird population declines in 2007, and this year, notably Ruby-throated Hummingbirds declines. Here are some of their recent comments:

I live in Northern NJ and with the exception of a hummer we spotted in mid-May at the feeder, we haven't seen anything since. I'm hoping once my butterfly bush blossoms, I'll start seeing them again. Also, my Dad lives in Eastern PA and only recently spotted his first hummer of the season. Extremely disappointed this year!

We're in NW New Mexico, and our numbers of Ruby Throats and particularly Rufous are distinctly down. Rubies are 50% off, and Rufous are waaaaay down---we only have one male Rufous this year, whereas we usually get 6-8 Rufous, male and female.

We live in Granville Tennessee and have seen a lot less hummingbirds this year. It seems that only 2 are around the feeder at one time. Last year we had 6. We would sit there laughing at the 1 male that always seemed to guard 2 feeders at once. This year I've only put 1 feeder out since there aren't enough birds to empty them. We've found 2 dead on our deck and aren't sure whether they ran into a window or just died. I was beginning to think that maybe some disease is causing the decline.

Here in Cumming, GA we have not seen any Hummingbirds this year. We've had our feeders up since May.

I live in central PA. We are getting aprox. 50% fewer humming birds at our feeders this year. There seems to be the same number of males to females as usual though.

I live in SW Ohio and from what I have observed, there are at laest 50% fewer humming birds this year in my area; all the people that have feeders here are saying the same thing.

I live in Hendersonville Tennessee and I haven't had any hummers as the last 5 years there normally are 20 to 30 between 3 feeders Does anyone know where they are?

Not everyone is reporting hummer numbers as down, but the vast majority of people we're hearing from are saying they see less hummers than usual. So what's going on? It's hard to know whether the reports we get accurately reflect a widespread population decline in hummingbirds, especially Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Who is even keeping track of hummingbird numbers?

The Breeding Bird Survey, a long-time study that started in 1966, surveys nesting birds in May and June. Volunteers drive a 25 mile routs and stop every half mile for 3 minutes and record every bird seen or heard at that spot. This is most effective at picking up singing males. Birds that do not sit in one spot and sing (such as hummingbirds) may be under-reported in the BBS. You can look up population trends for any species on the Breeding Bird Survery website.
A check of the population trend for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the Eastern BBS region from 2000 to 2007 shows a very, very slight (0.69) population increase.

eBird is another source of bird population data. This recent website was begun in 2002 by Cornell and it allows people to send in their bird reports electronically. You can look up how many reports of each species have been seen in your area on their website. People have been sending in reports of hummingbirds. But this is not a long term scientific study, so it's hard to draw conclusions about overall poplulation trends. The DC Birding Blog tried an analysis based on eBird data and concluded there may possibly be a small decline in Ruby-throat populations.

The Christmas Bird Count is a long running population survery of birds in December and January and you can look up which birds are found where on the website. Many hummingbirds leave the Untied States in the winter months. A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do overwinter in southern and Gulf Coast states, see the date for 2007-8 here.
Looking at the presence of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Florida from 2000-2007 does show an increase.

Aside from these surveys, there seems little else in the way of widespread collection of hummingbird population data in spring and summer.

Why might some people be seeing less hummingbirds in their areas?
Here is speculation:

- There is lack of food at critical times such as when they first arrive from migration. If colder or more severe weather (due to global warming) delays the flowering of their nectar sources or a delay in insect emergence (Ruby-throats due eat insects) when they need it, they may not survive.
- Or there could be more abundant food and flowers in the wild, so hummers do not come to feeders where they can be seen and counted by people.
- Or there could be higher mortality for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in their wintering areas (Central and South America, and who is counting them there?) so less return each year.
- Or, there are other unknown factors (disease? severe weather extremes) impacting them that we do not know about.
- Or, their reproductive success rate, due to lack of food when the young are in the nest or other factors, is declining.

How can you help in the short term? Keep your hummingbird feeders clean and free of mold and bacteria, which can harm hummingbirds. That means cleaning your hummer feeders every 2 days in hot weather!! Plant hummingbird flowers that bloom at different times so there is ample wild nectar resources from early spring to fall. Help conserve land so hummingbirds continue to have places to nest.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Second Broods: Eastern Phoebe

Nestling Eastern Phoebes

Being fed by their parent

Here are nestling Eastern Phoebes in our barn, here in NH. The nest is on one of the lights in the rafters, just the kind of sheltered ledge that Phoebe's like as a nesting spot. This is the second brood of this pair who we think is the same pair that have nested in this same spot for the last 3 years. The nestlings are so cute and waiting to be fed by the parent.

Two days later they fledged into the big world. They will be fed for up to 3 more weeks by their parents. Then they will be on their own, having find their own food, survive the dangers of their first migration, then return to the north and find mates and breeding territories of their own. Quite a big challenge they have ahead of them.

Many birds have second and even third broods depending on where they live. Birds in southern regions, due to a longer period of warmer weather, are more likely to have 3rd broods. Robins, bluebirds, cardinals, Chipping Sparrows and more all have nestlings or fledglings around us now.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Little Foxes & Corgi Magic

Red Fox

Phoebe, our own little fox

The "fairy saddle" on Phoebe's back

More photos of the fox I photographed at Phoebe's (our Pembroke Welsh Corgi) breeder's field. Love the way her tongue is licking out, looks more narrow than you would think. People who breed Pembroke Welsh Corgis have a thing for foxes. Maybe because it's that Corgis and foxes look alike. Or maybe it has to do with the legend of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, which has been passed down through the ages and which most Corgi owners know.

The legend has it that long ago "two young children out tending the family's cattle on the king's land found a pair of puppies which they thought were little foxes. When the children took the puppies home, they were told by the menfolk that the little dogs were a gift from the fairies. The "wee folk" of Welsh legend used the small dogs either to pull their carriages or as fairy steeds. As the fox-like puppies grew, they learned to help their human companions watch over the cattle, a task which was to be the duty of their Corgi descendants for many centuries to come. Should anyone doubt the truth of the legend, the present-day Welsh Corgi still bears the mark over his shoulders of the little saddle used by his fairy riders".

You can see that our Corgi, Phoebe has a prominent fairy saddle mark on her back. The fairies must ride her a lot (maybe at night, while we're asleep). If you are a Pembroke Welsh Corgi owner, look for the magical fairy saddle mark on your Corgi.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rose-breasted Grosbeak summer

Recently we had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak here at out feeder in NH. This is one of the joys of feeding birds in summer, you never know who'll show up. If you do just make sure and keep your feeder clean and rake up any old seed on the ground. Keep fresh water available also.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ahhh, Summer

Ruby-throated Hummingbird in Bee Balm

Ahhh, summer. Go swim, barbecue, canoe, beach, relax, watch the hummers. Enjoy summer. Go have some fun this weekend. Bring your binos.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Boreal Forest Gets Big Help

Cape May Warbler - 83% of the global population of Cape May Warbler breeds in Canada's Boreal Forest

Great news from Canada, the Ontario Government announced their commitment to protect about half of Ontario's Boreal Forest (at least 86,900 square miles) which is home to a huge number of warblers and other migratory birds and faces pressure from oil, mining and logging interests. 1500 scientists worldwide joined forces and sent a letter to the Canadian Government urging this action.
In addition to being home to those gorgeous warblers we all love to see on migration, the Borest Forest is a carbon storehouse which helps moderate the effect of global warming. Way to go Canada!!!!
Read more about it here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Red Fox

I photographed this Red Fox in May as she hunted the fields at Phoebe's breeders house. I was behind a tree with most of my body hidden and I tried to be as still as possible while I clicked the shutter. She was intent on hunting grasshoppers and insects in the long grass. Even though I was using my Canon 300 mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter, she got close enough in this photo to be just about frame-filling. I felt very privledged to be able to watch her and share her world for a little while.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stokes Bird Garden

Entryway through the Amalanchier "Autumn Brilliance" trees which attract Cedar Waxwings, robins and thrushes.

Entryway border with catmint, yarrow, roses, foxglove and Prairie Fire crabapple trees.

Across to the hummingbird gazebo.

Long border next to hummingbird gazebo has a solar bird bath. Red Bee Balm attracts hummers.

We spend a lot ot time in our garden and have planned it to be bird-friendly, with well-designed hardscape and aesthetically pleasing plant combinations. It is chock-full of plants that attract birds and butterflies. Lillian does the plant combinations that bring color from early spring to late fall. We enlisted the design skills of our friend Gordon Hayward to help define the spaces, paths and "rooms" of our garden that are so well integrated with the house. We get immense joy from our garden and are happy we do not have to travel far in these days of high gas prices to find an "away place or vacation spot." We have created that for ourselves right here. We're are especially pleased by all the bird species we have attraced our property list stands at 182 species.
Here are some tips from our Stokes Bird Gardening Book to help you make your garden bird-friendly.

1. Plant evergreens for cover.

2. Choose shrubs, small and large trees that provide fruits and berries for the birds: Amalanchier (shadbush), crabapples, dogwoods, viburnums, hollies are good choices.

3. Use flowers such as Coneflower, Asters, Liatris, Salvia, Helenium, Coreopsis, Catmint, Heliopsis, Verbena, to attract butterflies, then leave their seed heads on for the birds to enjoy in fall.

4. Attract hummingbirds with red tubular flowers such as Bee Balm, Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera brownii or Lonicera heckrotii), Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans), Cardinal Flower, Foxglove, Wild Columbine (Aquelegia canadensis), red Impatiens and red Salvias.

5. Don't use pesticides!!! They can be harmful to the birds! Instead use organic methods of insect control and plant cultivation.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Garden Time

Our garden is in full bloom now. Here's the hummingbird gazebo that Don built, with pots of Salvia "Lady in Red" flowers. We hang hummingbird feeders off the gazebo and sit and watch the hummers. Enjoy your garden this weekend.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bat Concerns

Red Bat ©Lillian Stokes

New England bats are in big trouble. A mysterious disease called "white nose syndrome" because many of the bats have been found with a white fungus on their noses and mouths, has decimated possibly hunderds of thousands of Northeast bats in their hibernating caves this winter. Scientists are baffled and do not know the cause. Bats that hibernate in large numbers such as Little Brown Bats and Big Brown Bats have especially been affected. The disease has been found this year in bats in their summertimes roosts in New York, Vermont, Connecticut,
New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Officials think bats in Pennsylvania may be affected next.

At our home, here in NH, we usually have bats in our three bat houses on our barn in summer, but have noticed no bats there this year. One bat can eat a pound of night-time insects a week, so remember that bats are very beneficial.

The Red Bat above, which I photographed on our property several years ago, is a migratory species which usually leaves the north in Oct. and returns in April. It does not hibernate in large groups in winter caves, like the other bat species being affected by the mysterious disease.

If you find any dead bats, do not handle them, and report it to your state Fish and Wildlife Agency. Officials caution people not to enter any known bat caves so as not to spread the disease.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hummer Time

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, male

Salvia, "Lady in Red"

Think hummingbirds. Summer is hummer time. Think about growing red tubular flowers such as the Salvia "Lady in Red" that we grow as an annual here in NH.

It's not that hummers won't go to flower of other colors, they certainly do. It's just that these red tubular flowers are specially adapted to be more exclusively just right for hummers. They are oriented horizontally and have a long floral tube with the nectar deep inside at the base of the tube. Thus a hovering hummer, with it's long bill and long tongue, (not a bee with short mouthparts) can extract the delicious flower nectar. In turn, the hummingbird gets dusted on the forehead with the pollen from that flower, transports the pollen to the next flower, and is the pollenation accomplice in the continued survival of that species of plant. Win, win.

Lots of people are still sending us reports of the status of their hummingbirds, or lack of hummingbirds, click here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Rare Birds

Black-tailed Gull

Rare birds are what hard core birders dream about and often will pay big bucks to go and see. The AP had a story today on "Bird Watchers as far away a Britain Flock to Alaska to See Rare Birds." St. Paul Island (part of the Pribilof Islands) in Alaska has many bird watchers coming to see its impressive list of unusual birds including, Bristle-thighed Curlew, McKay's Bunting, Smith's Longspur, Red-legged Kittiwake, Emperor Goose, Aleutian Tern, and various auklets, murrelets, puffins, other seabirds and more. " The island is famous for its Asian vagrants — birds blown off-course and ending up on St. Paul because it is the only place around to rest." You can take birding tours to this wonderful place. On June 6th a Black-tailed Gull showed up there for the first time, flying with a group of Kittiwakes.

I photographed the above Black-tailed Gull in Vermont, when it showed up for the first time there in 2006. This is an Asian species usually found in Japan and China, but it can wander far and wide, turning up in some unusual places.

One of the fun things about rare birds, is that they can be anywhere, even in your own back yard. If one turned up there would you know it? All the more reason to hone your identification skills and get to know your common birds well so you would be alert to any rarity. Chance favors the prepared mind.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Don't Worry

We get lots of questions about nesting birds, especially nesting bluebirds. People cherish their bluebirds and worry about the things they see their bluebirds do. For example, here's part of a recent question to us about bluebirds — "There have been 3 eggs in the box now for going on 2 weeks. I’m guess the eggs are not viable but momma is still in the box laying on them???? What to do?? Do I remove the eggs? Remove the whole nest? Just leave things alone? I think they’ve been there too long now to hatch – yes/no/maybe so?? Please advise."

Here's some basic information about bluebirds to calm worries.

- Eastern Bluebird females build the nest out of fine grasses or pine needles and it can take as little as 2 days, but 4-5 days is the average.

- Once the nest is built, egg-laying can begin in a day or two' but may not begin until a week later or so. So don't panic if you see a built nest and no eggs right away, it does not mean the bluebirds have abandoned it.

- Females lay one egg per day in the morning and spend very little time at the box during egg-laying. The eggs can remain there at air temperature with no harm to them. So just because you see a nest and several eggs and no female, does not mean the nest and eggs are abandoned. She can lay 1-6 eggs in a clutch. If one or some of the eggs are infertile, but not the others, she may leave the infertile egg unhatched in the nest, or the parents may try and remove it. Bluebird eggs are blue but in 9% of the cases they have been found to be white.

- Only after the last egg is laid does the female do full-time incubation. She takes breaks every once in a while to go feed, preen, take a bath, take a break, etc. In warmer weather, she may leave the nest for longer periods of time. Incubation can last 12-18 days.

- After the eggs hatch both parents feed the young and remove the fecal sacs (little white diaper like sacs) from the nest. The parents feed each young about two times an hour, regardless of how big the brood.

- The length of time the young are in the nest for the Eastern Bluebird varies from 16-21 days. It is OK to look into the box once or twice a week to check on the progress of the bluebirds. Your scent on the box will not cause the birds to leave (most bird species have very little sense of smell). Do not look in the box once the young are 12 days or older as this may cause them to premature leave the box before they are ready.

For more complete information see Stokes Bluebird Book.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Humming Along

Ok, so yesterday's question was a set-up for the well know joke, "Why do hummingbirds hum? — because they don't know the words." Really though, what makes that humming sound? You can hear it if you're close to a hummingbird and it's especially noticeable if you're sitting near your hummingbird feeder and hummingbirds are visiting.

The humming sound comes from the fast wingbeat of a hummingbird's wings as they hover, so fast their wings seem a blur to the human eye. Hummingbirds can hover because bones in their wings are permanently fixed and rigid, except at the shoulder joint where the wings can move freely in all directions. Other birds have wings with several moveable joints. When hovering, a hummingbird's wing moves forward, and then the leading edge rotates nearly 180 degrees and moves back again. During this movement the tips of the wings trace a figure eight in the air.
Hummingbirds can beat their wings 78 times per second during regular flight and up to 200 times per minute during display dives. Rapid speeds enable them to vist more flowers and some can visit 2o flowers per minute to get the nectar that fuels their high metabolism.

Next time you're outside, sit near your hummingbird feeders and listen to the tune.