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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays 2009

To all our blog readers,

We wish you a

Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year,
filled with beautiful birds.

Thanks for reading our blog this year. We will have lots of good blogging, more of Lillian's photos and a wonderful new Stokes field guide to all the birds coming in 2010 so stay tuned!

P.S. Our Corgis, Abby (left) and Phoebe wish all their fans a cookie filled 2010 and may the Corgi force be with you.

We are taking a break until Jan. 4th, so see you then!

*Photo of us by Peggy Howard

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Count 2009

We had a good Christmas Bird Count and amazingly, there was no snow storm here. It was however, very cold in the early morning, temp. at 9 degrees. That brought lots of birds into feeders and that was were we counted the majority of the birds we saw. Highlights were the Fox Sparrow at our feeders. We have been pampering this bird all week, with lots of millet, a protected shelter, brush pile and heated towels (the part about the towels is a joke, that's what you get in a 4 star hotel). We had the only Fox Sparrow seen on the southwestern NH Christmas Count.

Hairy Woodpeckers were well represented. This one likes our hulled sunflower.

We bundled up and

headed out with our Christmas Count buddies, Meade and Sandy, plus our 2 Corgis and their Pomeranian, Dolly.

It was the kind of snow that has a 1 inch crust over the powder, so it was hard to walk as your feet broke through the crust, plus made loud crunching sounds. But it was beautiful. That's the view in front of our house.

One nice thing about counting the birds at our feeders — it can be done from inside the warm house.

Here's the shelter and brush pile we made. At first light, 6 Mourning Doves were huddled under it, eating the millet there.

We had 33 Dark-eyed Juncos at our feeders, the most seen in our area. The best part of the count is that every bird counts. So, it makes you pay attention to everything. The other best part is fun with friends. We saw 17 species, and 237 individual birds for the part of the count circle our team covered. There were other teams covering the other parts of the count circle. Our species list:

Mourning Dove 14
Hairy Woodpecker 11
Downy Woodpecker 16
Crow 4
Blue Jay 20
Black-capped Chickadee 33
Tufted Titmouse 17
White-breasted Nuthatch 6
Red-breasted Nuthatch 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet 7
Northern Cardinal 5
Fox Sparrow 1
American Tree Sparrow 6
White-throated Sparrow 3
Dark-eyed Junco 34
American Goldfinch 51
Wild Turkey 3

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stokes Feeder Friday: Cold Toes

White-throated Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Brrr, it's very cold here, 3 degrees this am. The birds that are coming to the seed sprinkled on our deck are sitting on their toes to keep their legs warm. While my toes are the first thing to get cold in this weather when I go outside, birds have special adaptations to keep their legs and feet warm.

Underneath the scaly skin of their legs, the arteries carrying warm blood, are very close to the veins and help warm the blood in the veins before it returns to the body. However, on super cold days, birds will cover their legs by puffing up their feathers and sitting down on their legs, or you may see them pulling one leg up into their body when standing upright. The puffed up feathers trap air, so it's like placing a down coat over their legs.

I have to rely on my down parka, down mittens, long underwear, L.L. Bean winter boots and thick wool socks to stay warm. I'll need all of that tomorrow, which is our area of NH's Christmas Bird Count and the forecast is for continued cold.

Feeder hints to warm the birds— Keep feeders full, sprinkle seed in sheltered locations near your house to accomodate the ground feeding species like those above, and put up suet feeders. The high fat of suet provides needed calories to stoke the birds furnaces in this super cold.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

No Free Cookies

Abby (on left), and Phoebe

Time for a Corgi break. At a recent family gathering, my sister (who likes birds) said her favorite part of this blog is the Corgi photos. So here are some.

We train our Corgis, or so we think. We read all the dog training books, have taken both Corgis through advanced obedience class. The theory is that we should be "benevolent alphas" (fair, fun and firm) because we are the pack leaders and dogs are pack animals, in which they feel most secure when they know their place in the pack hierarchy. The hierarchy is, us first, then Phoebe, and last, Abby.

Working for treats is a good thing, so the theory goes because it helps establish our leadership. So here are the Corgis, yesterday, when called in from the cold, then asked to do a down-stay. They do this quite well, on a hand signal. When on a down-stay, they pretty much are riveted on me, waiting for the release cue, and then they get a cookie —"OK, Good Dogs!" Sometimes I hand them a cookie (always Phoebe first), other times I toss it. Phoebe is great at catch. Sometimes the cookie bounces off Abby's forehead — she is working on her catching skills.

If we could read their brains, they might be saying to one another, .... "oh this is a piece of cake, we're getting a cookie just for lying down.... look cute and she can't resist letting us up soon... Abby, dooon't catch the cookie, then she'll have to toss us more cookies, thinking we need to work on our catching skills."

Anyone who owns a Corgi, knows they think they're training us and maybe they're right.

Meanwhile, it's freezing here. It was 7 degrees this morning, with minus 8 wind chill. The birds at the feeders are sitting on their feet to keep them warm.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove

Mourning Dove

You never know what might show up. In birding, that's a good thing to frequently remind yourself of.

There's a White-winged Dove in Massachusetts, found Dec. 14th, near the entry to Old Sturbridge Village and still seen yesterday. Photos of the bird can be found here.

White-winged Doves are mainly a southern species and can be found year round across the country in the southern tier of states but seem to be increasing their range. There are records of them turning up elsewhere in the country, mainly on the East Coast all the way up to the Maritime Provinces.

This dove is similar in size to a Mourning Dove, and has big white wing patches, which appear as a white line along the edge of the closed wing, as in my photo above. I photographed this bird in FL. Note also the longer bill and blue area around the red eye (the juvenile has a dark eye). Mourning Doves have shorter bills, a dark eye surrounded by a smaller amount of blue, black spots on the wing, and a longer tail.

So, next time (as in the Christmas Bird Counts occurring now) you're looking at a Mourning Dove, check it carefully. Who knows, it could be a White-winged Dove.
Chance favors the prepared mind, (or birder).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fox Sparrow

(Click on image to see larger size)

Fox Sparrow at our feeders. Kinda looks like the "mad bluebird" photo. Note the front streaks come together forming a big central breast dot.

We can't say there are no birds at the feeders anymore, there are tons! Included is this wonderful Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca), one of my favorite sparrows. Love the foxy color. That puts it way ahead of other sparrow species in the sartorial department, most of whom are brown.

There are many subspecies of Fox Sparrow, divided into four groups, and they vary in color. Most have reddish on their tail rump and wings. The ones we see here are of the Northern Red Group, referred to as the "Red Fox Sparrow" and have some of the most red on their bodies. They breed in the far north, from Alaska to Newfoundland and winter in the Southeast. Western subspecies groups are often darker in color. The Fox Sparrow is also a big sparrow, at 7" in length, making it stand out next to the juncos, who are 6 1/4" in length.

This Fox Sparrow has been at our feeders since the big snowstorm. Hope it stays here for a while. It would be great to count it for the Christmas Bird Count, which takes place in our area this Sat.,

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stokes Feeder Friday, Hawks at feeders!

Sharp-shinned Hawk, juvenile.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk just flew by the feeder, diving at the birds. Don wrote this Haiku poem about it.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk stoops
Into the feeders, making
The cold day colder.

It was a chilling event for the birds, who, in addition to getting food this morning in 20 degree weather with strong winds, always have to be on the lookout for hawks, which could spell instant death for them. We watched with anxiety as the birds dove for cover in the brush pile we created near the feeder. They also sought cover in the rhododendrons we planted nearby.

On the other hand we are always excited to see a hawk. Sharpshins are quick, fierce, and agile flyers, able to zip through the trees undetected. As watchers of nature we try not to make too much of a morale judgement about the hawk. As we say, Sharp-shins are not mean, they're just hungry. They have to eat too. In addition to Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks one of the other main predators of feeder birds. Cooper's looks like a slightly larger version of the Sharp-shinned. These both are in the Accipiter group of hawks.

Here are some tips to giving your feeder birds protection from the hawks.

1. A good brush pile is worth it's weight in gold. Construct one near the feeders (about 8 or more feet away). Construct it out of cut sapling trees in a tepee fashion and add other brush and branches. Leave enough space and nooks and crannies for birds to dive into, but not too much open space so it's not protective.

2. Put other cover near feeders, or move feeders near cover. Evergreen shrubs and trees can make excellent cover. We use rhododendron clumps, arborvitae, hemlocks, and more. A good use of your old Christmas tree is to place it near the feeders. If the feeders face south and the evergreens are behind the feeders, even better. The birds can go into the evergreens and warm up and be protected from cold winds.

3. You can also use dense woody shrubs and vines for cover. In addition to the brush pile and evergreens near the feeders, we have lot of berry producing shrubs like Winterberry Holly, Highbush Cranberry Viburnum, Swamp Dogwood, Chokeberry and a few vines climbing up them. This feeds the birds, provides cover and even potential nesting spots.

4. Take comfort in the fact that the hawks do not stay around forever. Usually, after a while, the birds have so wised up to the hawks presence, it looses its advantage of surprise and it will move on.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snow Storm here

We're in the middle of a big snow storm now.

Went out with the Corgis, who like the snow and walked them around to tire them out. An exercised Corgi is a happy Corgi.

Don, brushing off the feeders and filling them. That's essential to help the birds, who are really flocking to them.

"Abby, (in the lead), Phoebe, come!" Time to come in and warm up.

We're in the middle of a big snow storm. About 8 inches of snow has fallen and it's still coming down heavily. Brings back memories of the big ice storm that hit here the night of Dec. 11th and it was 9 days before PSNH restored power on Dec. 20th. Now we have a generator. Hope we don't need it.

Scenes from this morning are above. We will brush off the feeders many times today and keep them filled, so the birds can get food. The birds are really coming into the feeders now, even though there has been low feeder activity for months due to the warm weather and abundant wild food.

Cardinals, goldfinches, jay, chickadees, woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, Tree Sparrows, juncos, White-throated Sparrows are all at the feeders. We made a low shelter out of plywood and put seed under it to help the juncos, White-throated Sparrows and Mourning Doves feed. These species are ground-feeders, so it is particularly hard on them in snow storms, when the ground is covered.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Bird Rarities

There's been a Common Shelduck spotted in MA by Jim Malone, and announced on massbird. This is a Eurasian species that can be in captivity. When one is seen in the wild the question arises, is it a wild bird arrived on its own, or did it escape from captivity. To see good photos of it, click here.
From massbird, Jeremiah Trimble says,
"Jim's report is very intriguing and I want to make sure that Massachusetts birders consider this report with great interest. It is always difficult to assess the natural occurrence of out-of-range waterfowl. However, this species has been on the radars of many birding folks as a potential true vagrant to northeastern North America. In addition, this species has increased dramatically over the last decade in Iceland, a good jumping off point to North America.
Most significantly, only 2 weeks ago, an immature male Common Shelduck was observed and photographed at Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's Newfoundland. At a good location for an arriving vagrant and at a good time of year, this bird was considered by many folks there to be a natural vagrant.... anyone who sees this (MA) bird please be sure to submit details and photographs to the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee"

And Marshall Iliff said, "The Newfoundland record just weeks ago (of a hatch-year bird) strengthens the case significantly...Yes, this species is kept in captivity, but with four records of Oct-Dec shelducks along the immediate coast and in appropriate habitat, it is perhaps time to reconsider the ABA/AOU policy that these are not acceptable vagrants."

This report will continue to be sorted out by the birding committees.

Meanwhile, birders wanting to hear about rarities in their area might be thinking, how do I find out? The answer is you sign up for the birding listserve covering your area and you will get emails as to what is being seen by birders in the field. For the archives of state by state birding email lists, go here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Bluebird, time to migrate

This morning we had a lone Eastern Bluebird fly over our field, as an adult Bald Eagle looked out from its perch across our lake. We had the first snow here on Sat. and the temps are colder. Made us think the bluebird really needs to migrate south now.
Eastern Bluebirds can remain in more northerly areas during winter months, where they survive by eating berries, such as sumac, and roost in bird houses or tree holes at night. But most head to more southern U.S. areas to warmer, gentler weather. We have seen bluebirds wintering in GA and FL. By March bluebirds usually return to our yard. We'll have the bluebird houses cleaned out and waiting.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Stokes Feeder Friday, Woodpeckers!

Downy Woodpecker, male at suet.

Hairy Woodpecker, female at hulled sunflower.

Woodpeckers are great feeder birds because they're easy to attract and several species, the Downy and Hairy Woodpecker, live just about all over the country. These two look-alike Woodpeckers are best told apart by size, the Hairy is 9 1/4 inches tall and the Downy is 6 3/4 inches tall. Males of both species have a red patch at the back of the head.

The trick to attracting them is to offer the right food, in the type of feeder that allows them to cling and feed naturally. We find the favorite foods of Downy and Hairy are suet, hulled sunflower, black oil sunflower and other nutmeats like peanuts. In our yard, the two foods they most prefer are suet and hulled sunflower. Suet is a type of beef fat that is rendered (cooked and cooled) and formed into square cakes, often with some seeds or fruit added.

The above Hairy Woodpecker female is on our Stokes Select Sunflower Screen Feeder, a large enough feeder, with good clinging surface, allowing this large woodpecker to hang on and feed on the hulled sunflower. Woodpeckers in the wild like to cling on and hitch around tree trunks and limbs, probing for insect larvae in the bark, so feeders that allow them to hold on in their usual manner are appealing to them. That's not to say they don't come to tube feeders with short perches as well. The smaller Downy Woodpecker masters that a little better in our yard than the larger Hairy Woodpecker.

There are some cool things we like about these woodpeckers. They excavate their own nest holes, the Hairy in live wood the Downy in dead wood. They "drum" (a rapid pounding on a resonate tree or surface), instead of singing, to attract a mate and define a territory. Usually they make "teek" calls as a way of keeping in contact. They live as a pair all year round, on the same territory. Our Hairy Woodpeckers bring their babies to the feeder when they first fledge. The fledgling hangs on the feeder and the adult grabs the food and feeds it to the waiting mouth. Eventually, the young learn on their own and come to the feeders when they are independent.

So, just by offering their favorite foods in the right containers, you can have woodpecker entertainment all year. What woodpeckers do you attract and what are their favorite foods?

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Raven Haiku (a type of poem)

Low gutteral call
Of the Raven flying high
To distant mountains.

Photo of Raven by Lillian Stokes, Haiku by Don Stokes

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Thinking about what new birds will show up at the feeders this winter. Perhaps some Evening Grosbeaks, like this male? Gotta love the dramatic coloring, like a space cadet worthy of Star Trek. Listen for their sleigh-bell like calls. Being an "irruptive species", some years they come down into the U.S. more, some years not so much. It depends on the cone crop success in their usual wintering areas.
Speaking of feeders, Christmas Bird counts are coming up. They're fun to participate in. We always do.