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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Altamaha Wildlife Management Area, part 2

Slightly farther north up Rt. 17, there is another dirt road on the left that runs about parallel to the one we were just on and goes down to a viewing gazebo that overlooks a marsh.

My favorite image from that road is this Northern Mockingbird about to take-off.

On the left, near the entrance, was an interpretive sign talking about the neotropical songbird migrants and the routes they take to their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Places like Altamaha, with its abundant bird habitat, are important migration stopping places, and nesting places, for these songbirds.

If you look up, you can just about always see Turkey Vultures soaring overhead. This shot shows the silvery gray on the flight feathers. Turkey Vultures look like a black flying "V" when seen from a distance.

At the end of the road, there was this promising sign.

Beyond it there was a large grassy area with an lush edge of Wax Myrtle bushes and other vegetation. Wax Myrtle (similar to Bayberry) has waxy berries that are eaten by many birds.

Two Purple Martin houses stood ready, waiting for their returning occupants. Loved the feathery clouds, like wings, overhead.

With some patience, I got a glimpse of this White-eyed Vireo.

Here's the face. It just skulked in the Wax Myrtle shrub.

A fiesty Northern Mockingbird looked out from it's perch,

then flew to the ground.

It was hunting for insects.

Then it took off and went back to the perch. (This shot required a very anticipatory trigger finger on my part.)

Leading up the the viewing house was another interpretive sign, showing some of the waterfowl that use the marsh.

Nice house! Could've stood there all day.

Green-winged Teal are one of the species of ducks that use the area. After this, we went across the street to the big impoundments.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Altamaha part one

Boat-tailed Grackles were everywhere.

We went birding at the 27,078-acre Altamaha Wildlife Management Area/Altamaha River Waterfowl Area (ARWA). This is considered to be the second largest waterfowl area east of the Mississippi (the largest being the Chesapeake), and is visited by more than 30,000 ducks from mid-October through mid-April. The primary objective of the AWMA is to provide high quality habitat for wintering waterfowl, but it also provides habitat for a great diversity of wetland associated wildlife including common snipe, common moorhens, purple gallinules, white ibises, hernos, egrets, migratory shorebirds, and many others. Threatened and engangered species found on the AWMA include wood storks, alligators, and bald eagles.

"The ARWA consists of several "islands" that are created by the Altamaha River's meandering channels: Lewis, Cambers, Wrights, Butler, Champney, Broughton, Rhetts, Rockdedundy, and Dolbow islands. Lewis Island is a naturalist's wonderland, containing virgin cypress stands over 1,000 years old. Most of the other islands are dominated by a variety of marsh grasses that have flourished since antebellum times, when hundreds of slaves cleared the land of timber, dug canals, and built water-control dikes that were used to establish successful rice plantations. Some of these canal-crossed islands, such as Butler and Champney, are former sites of plantations that today are important nesting and refuge sites managed for migratory waterfowl.."

We drove north on 17 from Brunswick and stopped first on the west side of the road at the Champney Island Impoundment.

Here's a map that was posted, showing the extent of the area.

As we entered a long dirt road through mixed woodlands stretched out before us. There was a very peaceful, quiet feeling to the area. One of the best ways to bird this, is to listen from the car for any sounds of birds, look for any movement of birds, then get out and walk around that area.

A sound of chattering caught our attention and we spied a little Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a tiny hyperactive bird, smaller than a warbler. Usually you can't see the ruby crown that much.

I grabbed my camera and tracked the bird through the shubbery and caught

this photo, showing the crown raised, as bright red as a burning ember.

There seemd to be an interaction between two kinglets, most likely aggressive in nature, hence the crown raise, a red flag of warning. The red stood out againt the gray and brown background. All the photos in this blog post were taken by me "on the fly" so to speak, so they're action shots, showing how you might really see the birds through your binoculars, as we did through ours.

Don is very good at spotting birds in dense foliage.

Make sure you look up as well as down. We looked up into an American Sweetgum tree and saw the forked tail feathers of an American Goldfinch.

The spiky balls that held the seeds look like miniature wrecking balls.

Several goldfinches were eating the seeds of the Sweetgum. These were migrant goldfinches, as we were in an area where goldfinches winter, and not usually breed. So if any of you up north are looking for your goldfinches, they might be these.

The beautiful blue sky was the perfect backdrop for the dancing red

"keys" of the Red Maple trees. You can see the round seeds at the base of the wings of the keys, that act like propellers when the seeds fall off the tree, helping the seeds disperse. It was like being fast forwarded in time for us, seeing maple keys. That doesn't happen until mid-spring in NH where we're from.

We walked down the road, going at a leisurely pace, our favorite pace for birding. We're don't do frenetic paced, looking-for-rarities birding, (unless we're on a birdathon). We prefer slow, letting it all sink in, taking your time to really study birds and enjoy their behavior type birding.

Farther down this road was a different type of habitat, one of fields and hedge and marsh beyond. I included this shot to make the point that diversity of habitat is what attracts the greatest variety of birds, and this road has it — mixed woods, field, shrubby hedgerow and marsh.
In one of the trees in the hedgerow we came across a larger bird, this immature Red-tailed Hawk. Redtails hunt mainly voles and mice in fields, so this bird was in the right habitat.

It flew to the next tree and landed perfectly fanning that barred tail, the sign of an immature Red-tailed Hawk. The adult does not have multiple bars on the tail.

Also in this habitat were five kinds of sparrows, including this Song Sparrow, also Savannah Chipping, immature White-Crowned and White-throated Sparrows. More on Altamaha coming tomorrow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Altamaha Wildlife Management Area, GA

Just got back from a trip to Altamaha Wildlife Management Area in southern Georgia, where there are LOTS of birds. More photos and trip account coming on Monday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rail Luck

Marsh on St. Simon's Island, the island next to Jekyll Island, GA

Clapper Rail

Took a walk by the marsh with the dogs in late afternoon. The dogs paused and there, in the ditch, was a Clapper Rail. Nice! Clappers are secretive marsh birds, who often are active at dusk. We always are thrilled when we see one. They live along the East and Gulf coasts, parts of CA and a few other areas.
As I had just said in one of my last posts, think of all the rails that must be in those Georgia marshes, and, lucky us, we found one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Watch the inaguration today as Barack Obama gets sworn in as the 44th president of the United States and a new presidency takes off.

Monday, January 19, 2009


We've been traveling to southern Georgia for a visit to go birding and also to attend the big BEN (Bird Education Network) national gathering next month. Here's the welcome sign (photographed through the windshield) as we crossed the Georgia state line.

First thing I noticed, aside from no snow, (yipee), was the red maple tree in bloom (which doesn't happen until May in NH) and the palm trees. These bushy pom-poms on sticks are Cabbage Palms, also known as Sabal Palms. They're native palms, unlike the stereoptype Coconut Palms, which are not native.

Not all trees are in bloom or have leaves, as you can see from this shot of one of the rivers we crossed.

What's amazing about the island areas in southern Georgia, is the vast coastal marshes that separate the islands from the mainland are preseved and untouched. Think of all that bird habitat. How many rails do you think could fit in these marshes?

Here's a distant view of the bridge that connects to Jekyll Island. Jekyll is much preserved and a great birding spot. It's where the conference will be held.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Winter Feeding

Cardinal and Blue Jays at hopper feeder filled with a sunflower mix and suet cakes.

Brrr, there are subzero temps out there. We make sure the feeders are filled. Access to feeders can sometimes mean the difference between life and death to birds, if the weather is very severe. Birds do not store lots of fat on their bodies (unlike humans!), so they need to restock their fuel supplies every day. They often cannot go more than 24 hours without eating in severe weather.

Here are a few tips and things we do to help the birds in winter:

- Keep feeders filled especially in the early morning and mid-afternoon when birds may feed most heavily. When we say filled, I mean filled to the top, so that all the portals at a tube feeder are available with seed to the bird customers.

- Feed lots of sunflower seed, and/or a good mix that contains a high percentage of sunflower, since sunflower is a calorie-rich food with a high protein and fat content.

- Feed suet cakes, they contain mostly fat, a very high calorie food. Birds need to consume more calories in severe weather in order to keep warm.

- Put feeders in a sheltered, sunny spot out of the wind.

- Sprinkle some mixed seed on the ground, if none is there, to provide for species who like to feed on the ground, such as juncos, White-throated Sparrows, etc.

- Keep snow off feeders after a storm.

- Put out litte down sleeping bags to keep them cozy at night (just kidding!)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who's Your Daddy

And now, for some Corgi fun. Abby, our new Corgi puppy is growing fast and is 19 weeks old. We wonder what she'll look like when she's fully grown.

There's a family resemblance to her daddy, Keiffer (Aust./Am. Ch. Aberlee Phantom Sequence).

Abby playing with our Corgi, Phoebe, of "Blogger Phoebe" fame. It's great fun to watch them play and play in the snow. They run and chase and wrestle and constantly invent new games. They're becoming best pals.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Sharpie" Attack

Whoa, I just looked at this photo I downloaded and realized I captured a Sharp-shinned Hawk going after the America Goldfinches and Pine Siskins that were at our feeders. I thought I was taking a photo of the finches perched on the feeders, but just as I clicked the photo, they all flew up. What I didn't realize is that they all flew up because, at that moment, a Sharp-shinned Hawk was attacking the birds. I do think it missed.
There's no way I could have planned this photo, because the hawk was so fast and came out of nowhere. What a strange sort of serendipity. I circled the hawk in the photo, so you could more easily see it. You can tell it's a "Sharpie" because of it's smaller size and the very square tail. Look at the way the finches are just exploding, fleeing for their lives.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What's Up

Great Egret in Florida

Flock of Snow Buntings

Blue Jays

What's up in the world of birds, depends on where you live on the globe. Here, in NH, it's snowing right now, on top of the ice we got yesterday (and thankfully, no power outage). We just looked out the window at a large (100 plus birds) flock of American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins at our feeders. They all flew up suddenly and, right in their midst, flew a Sharp-shinned Hawk with a bird in its talons! Eeek! I had to listen to my own words from the blog yesterday. Even though in my heart I was horrified, in my head I knew the Sharpie had to eat too.

The Blue Jays are also in a flock of 10 pus birds and they chow down at our feeders. Birders who go birding on the coast of New Hampshire right now, can see Snow Buntings and other wonders.
Snow Buntings are beautiful, small birds that breed in Alaska and the Arctic and winter in lower Canada and across much of the U.S. They stay in large flocks in winter.

In southern areas of the U.S., you can see many wintering birds; robins, ducks, shorebirds, raptors, herons, etc. In far southern areas, like south Florida, some resident herons, Ospreys and Bald Eagles have even begun nesting.

We had someone write to us with a question about swallows nesting now. We were puzzled until we found out they were writing from South Africa.

It all depends on where you are.