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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Redpolls are coming to a feeder near you!

Common Redpoll, male

Common Redpoll, female, who is about to

dive off the perch to go to our feeder.

Common Redpolls are seen in flocks and move or "irrupt" down into the U.S. when their winter food supply is scarce.

Attract them with feeders that allow for multiple birds to feed at once. They like hulled sunflower, which we are feeding here, and Nyjer (thistle) seed and finch mixes.

Common Redpolls are being sighted in NH and elsewhere and predictions are for more of them to show up and move south. We had 10 at our feeders recently here in southwest NH. What a treat to see these little "irruptive" red-capped finches from far northern areas (breed in Canada and AK) who move from their usual winter range when their food supply of seeds and cones is sparse.

There is another, less commonly seen, species of redpoll, called Hoary Redpoll, which also can move down into the northern parts of the U.S. in winter. Hoary vs. Common Redpoll is a very tricky ID. Here's the page on Hoary Redpoll with 8 photos, in our all new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which gives you all the most complete and up-to-date clues you need on Hoary Redpolls. There are 10 photos and 2 pages on the ID of Common Redpoll in our new guide. What, you didn't get The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America for Christmas? You can always use those gift cards for it. Congratulations, and enjoy, to those of you who did get our new guide from Santa, you're all set to nail those redpoll IDs.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays From Lillian and Don Stokes

Enjoy your holidays!

We wish all of our blog readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year full of wonderful birds in 2011!

Thank you so much for reading our blog and we will keep bringing you more great photos and information in 2011. Be sure and sign up for our free email newsletter to keep up-to-date.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stokes talk birding on NPR Radio's The Animal House

Lillian and Don

We recently had a wonderful time being interviewed on the NPR radio show, The Animal House, WAMU, a great show about wildlife conservation, animals and pets. We talked about our how to use our brand new book, "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America," bird behavior, why birds sing, attracting birds and tips on the best ways to get involved in birding, You can listen to our interview and learn more about these and other topics we covered, go to the website HERE, and click on the "Listen" button on the top left.

Hairy vs. Downy Woodpecker size comparison

Downy Woodpecker, m. (left), Hairy Woodpecker, f. (right) on Stokes Select Deluxe Suet Buffet feeder.

Wow, look at the size difference. In this photo you can see the bars on the outer tail feathers of the Downy Woodpecker. This usually occurs on most subspecies of Downy Woodpecker except the "leucurus subspp (s.e. AK-. NE south to AZ-NM) may lack barring on tail." (from The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which contains information on all subspecies of birds, no other field guide does). The Hairy Woodpecker usually has white unbarred outer tail feathers (except in a few subspecies).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stokes CBC 2010

One of the highlights of our Christmas Bird Count was a Pileated Woodpecker flying over our heads. Part of the excitement is, you never know what you'll see when you spend a whole day looking for birds.

Having coffee just before dawn and waiting for the first birds to arrive at our feeders. It was 18 degrees outside.

American Tree Sparrow, Spizella arborea

As the sun came up, one of the first to arrive was this American Tree Sparrow, sitting low on it's feet; better to keep warm. Check out the yellow lower mandible! We had 8 at our feeders. This is a beautiful far northern breeding species that migrates down into the U.S. in winter. It's the largest of our sparrows in the Spizella genus.

A Dark-eyed Junco joined it, feasting on the white millet seed we put on our deck. There are a lot of subspecies of juncos and they are divided into 5 groups*, thus juncos can look quite different depending on where in the country you're located. Our juncos here in NH are in the Slate-colored Group ("Slate-colored Junco," Hyemalis Group) which includes 3 subspecies.

Pine Siskins were one of the birds we hoped we would see. This is another species that breeds in more northern and western areas and "irrupts" or migrates farther south in years of less food availability in it's usual area. These found no lack of food availability at the Stokes well-stocked feeders. Hulled Sunflower was on the menu.

Finches love to feed in flocks and you can get more at your feeders if you provide more seating room. Here are Pine Siskins (upper right) an American Goldfinch (center) and an American Tree Sparrow (left).

Another cool "irruptive" species we had was a Common Redpoll. Our neighbor had 7 in her yard that flew right over our heads before we could get a good look at them. We cinched the ID by the call notes they gave.

We luckily saw Red-breasted Nuthatches, a species who has cornered the cute market. Our team saw 9, the most in our Christmas Count Area.

Bundled up to the max in the early morning. We've been doing the Christmas Bird Count together for 30 years.

Since every bird counts, one of the things I like best is to embrace the beauty of the common birds, not just seek the rare. These Blue Jays were gorgeous against the snow, eating mixed seed from the ground in front of the brush pile we built by our feeders — just a magnet for the birds.

People ask us how do you know you're not counting the same birds.
Here's a tip on how know Hairy Woodpeckers as individuals.

Notice the pattern of the patch on back of their heads, which varies, and draw or photograph it. This male has a red patch divided by a thin black line. Another male we have has no black line dividing the red. This method of telling birds apart also works for females and Downy Woodpeckers as well. We know we have 2 different pairs of Hairy Woodpeckers on our property and we can identify them as individuals.

The day warmed up into the 20's and was sunny with no wind, it was beautiful. This is a frozen river. You'd think there would be birds in this mixed habitat but nada. We were reduced to talking about the species we had seen in this area in former years! This year we found a lack of birds, in general, compared to other years.

Meade and Sandy are our CBC birding buddies and have been on our team for the last several years.

Here's the countdown party, hosted at our house. All the teams from our Christmas Bird Count (which is the Peterborough count, in SW New Hampshire) gathered to socialize and turn in their numbers and we got to hear how everyone did. Lots of wine, beer, special greek pizza (yes they make awesome pizza especially the feta and spinach one), snackies, salads, brownies, and great chocolate chip cookies. You gotta feed well the tired, cold, hungry, hard-working birders; they all deserved it!!

Most unusual bird of our count (seen by another team) was an Eastern Meadowlark. That was the first time it has ever been recorded on this count.
There were lower numbers of many birds such as robins, sparrows, grosbeaks. Speculation in this area was that the severe drought we had in spring and summer depleted the usual levels of seeds and some fruits and thus the birds were not as plentiful here as in past years.

What were the highlights of your Christmas Bird Count?

* Subspecies information from "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America", our newly published, national field guide which contains all the subspecies (no other guide does).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to Help Bluebirds in Winter

Some of you have written to us recently expressing surprise and concern that you are seeing bluebirds in northern areas in winter. Here's some tips to help them survive.

1. Bluebirds can roost together in bird houses to keep warm. Insulate your bird houses by closing off all cracks, drainage holes, etc., with some sort of insulating material so less drafts and cold get into the bird house. Just leave the entrance hole open. Face bird houses away from prevailing winter winds.

2. Bluebirds mainly eat fruit and berries in winter. Plant your property with an abundance of crabapples and native, berry-producing shrubs such as viburnums and hollies (like winterberry holly). Place these berry plantings in sunny, protected areas, blocked from winter winds. The bluebirds will have a warm place to eat and use less precious energy.

3. Some bluebirds will come to food such as, hulled sunflower, suet, dried mealworms, and some of the many "bluebird meal mixtures" or nuggets. Generally most bluebirds do not learn to do this. You can certainly try putting out these foods, but your best bet is to have lots of berries planted in your yard.

4. Bluebirds like water (may help with processing the berries) and will visit bird baths and heated bird baths. In general, when it is very severely cold, some people think it is a risk for birds to bathe. Holding off on the water, or placing sticks over the bird bath to only allow birds to drink, not bathe, may be a good idea in this situation. Many birds will eat snow in winter to get water.

Most bluebirds move out of the northernmost areas of their range in winter. Even ones that may linger eventually move on, once their berry sources are depleted or ice-covered. For bluebirds, and many birds, there is a trade-off of staying more north in order to be first to claim prime breeding territories, yet risking survival due to bad weather. Some of these tips may help them survive and you feel you're helping them. Bluebirds are truly beloved.

For more complete information see Stokes Bluebird Book.

For the very latest identification information and range maps on all three species of North American Bluebirds; Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird and Western Bluebird, see our new best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bohemian Waxwing Beauty

Sometimes, the stars are aligned for a photographer. I went to northern NH on Sat. to try and photograph Bohemian Waxwings. Where hundreds had been reported, I found only one, but what a cooperative bird!

Click, click, click. It posed, feeding on the crabapples, resting to digest them, looking about, even eating snow at one point, all the while oblivious to me and the other passers-by in the parking lot where it was.

If you want plumage drama, then this is the bird for you. What an exquisite contrast between the gray-brown, velvety, body feathers and the dramatic black, white and orange facial, wing and under tail markings, all finished with the yellow tail tip like an exclamation point! These graphic markings remind me of certain styles of japanese painting or designs on Native American pottery.

A huge advantage of digital photography is that you can enlarge and look closely at your photos and discover fascinating things about a bird, such as that the black mask is underlined with white.

You can notice what a small bill yet large gape this bird has. The black comes fairly far out the upper and under surface of the bill.

Waxwings (both Bohemian and Cedar) have appendages on the wing, like little, red candles.

Here's a close-up showing some of the waxy projections on this bird. The number of them varies with sex and age so that "1st-yr .females may have 0-5 waxy projections on wing and reduced yellow on tail; 1st-yr. male and older birds have 4 or more waxy projections.." From (The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, our new book.)

This bird was agile in grasping onto the crabapples, then let go.

My camera caught this spread wing which shows at least 6 waxy projections which are the tips of the secondary feathers. How cool is that!

It's all about crabapples and eating them. Waxwings are big fruit eaters and usually wander in flocks, all the more eyes to find the berries. It's interesting this bird was alone. Many of the crabappple trees at this location were pretty stripped of berries, perhaps the flock had moved on.

The size of the crabapples mattered. Even though this bird could open it's mouth fairly wide,

some of the apples seemed too big to swallow and we saw it toss some of them. Lesson for the bird gardener — plant crabapple trees in your yard that have small diameter apples. (We have Zumi and Sargent crabapples in our yard, which seem right for the birds.)

It's just amazing how wide that bill can open, reminds me of a snake swallowing prey. We also saw this bird eat snow, getting fluid to help process the fruits.

Bohemians are far northern birds, nesting in the boreal forests of mainly western North America (as well as the northern parts of Europe and Asia). When their prime food of berries is in short supply in winter they" irrupt" or wander widely (hence the name bohemian, i.e. gypsy-like) down into the northern areas of the U.S.

I was in heaven photographing this beautiful Bohemian Waxwing. Photography is not a zen moment as some people may think. It's fast, furious, demanding of all my skills and a rush when I think I am getting good photos. You never know if your subject bird will fly away so you have to keep clicking, moving your angle and big camera, as the bird moves in the tree, adjusting f-stop, ISO, exposure compensation, etc. You're grateful if you come away with half decent photos or thrilled, as in this case, when you get fascinating images of an extraordinary bird. I love it!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Review; The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America "level of detail matches or exceeds the best illustrated guides"

Black-tailed Gull, from The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. "The thoroughness of the gull account is a major advantage over other photographic guides" says the new review.

Got another nice review, this one from A DC Birding Blog...
"This new guide includes 854 bird species from across the continental United States and Canada. The birds include recent splits and other taxonomic changes. For example, Winter Wren and Pacific Wren are treated as separate species, andOreothlypis warblers are split from the Vermivora genus...This makes it the most up-to-date field guide currently available...

Photographs depict each bird species in various plumages and postures, including some flight photos. The number of photos varies a great deal from species to species. A few only have one, like the Plain Chachalaca; others have two or three, like many of the pelagic birds; still others have multiple photos; the Red-tailed Hawk has 23 photos spread over four pages. Gulls are shown in the summer and winter forms of each year of their development cycle, whether that is 2 years, 3 years, or 4 years. In fact, the thoroughness of the gull accounts is a major advantage over other photographic guides, which often only show the first year and adult forms. I am not sure of the median number of images per species, but the important point is that the guide includes enough photos to illustrate any significant plumage that a birder is likely to encounter...

Species pages provide accompanying text on par with the photographic thoroughness. Each photo is labelled with the plumage type (e.g., "Adult winter") and a code for the location and month when the photo was taken (e.g., "OH/08" for August in Ohio). Notes discuss key identification points, as well as habitat and voice. One helpful feature is that the species accounts also list subspecies and describe how to distinguish them. In some cases, the photos are also labelled with the subspecies or plumage morph, though listed subspecies are not always illustrated. All but the rarest species have a range map, set on the same page as their species accounts. ABA codes are given for each species to show its relative rarity or abundance.

The new
Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America provides a compelling alternative to other field guides currently available. Its level of detail matches or exceeds the best illustrated guides and improves substantially on other photographic guides. Since I first got the guide, I have turned to it regularly to help with tricky identifications. Sometimes it is useful to see some photographs of a bird in real field conditions in addition to an idealized version. In that respect the new Stokes guide would complement an illustrated guide quite well, in addition to being a strong field guide in its own right. I think that birders will be happy to own this detailed and beautifully illustrated guide.
For full review go here.

Stokes Talk and Book Signing Thurs. 7pm Mass. Audubon Society Lincoln, MA

We will be doing a talk and book signing, Dec. 9th, Thurs. 7pm at Mass. Audubon Society, Lincoln, MA. Come learn how to fast-forward your bird identification skills and get an autographed copy, for yourself or for gifts, of our new, best-selling The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. See you there! For more information go here.

Best Friends of the furry kind

Our Corgis, Abby (left) Phoebe (right)

Looking out at our incredible view of the landscape we manage to attract the maximum birds, we've seen 192 species on our property so far.

Some of you asked how our Corgis, Phoebe (right, who is 4) and Abby (left, who is 2) are doing. Here they are side-by-side doing one of their favorite activities, looking out over the landscape through the big window, that just happens to be Corgi height. They are cousins (their mothers are sisters.) They do the same things together and we always marvel how they align themselves in the exact same way.

When we got a second dog we were fortunate to be able to see the puppies in the litter and let them play with Phoebe. Abby immediately started playing with Phoebe and we knew she would be a good match. Also, Abby was not the dominant one in her litter, more of a middle, and that's good. Phoebe is top dog and Abby happily accepts her position as lower in the pecking order. Dogs are pack animals and feel secure when they know their place in the hierarchy.

Corgis (Pembroke Welsh Corgis) are herding dogs. They can run fast, are very intelligent, and want and need a job. If you don't give them a job they will invent one. Looking out the door, they have decided, is one of their jobs and they will let us know if they think something outside needs our attention. One of the great things about having two is they play with one another.
They are best friends and they are our best friends of the furry kind.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Barred Owl, "Who-Cooks-For-You"

Barred Owl

This Barred Owl was recently sitting in back of a neighbor's, warming itself in the morning sun. We have seen it in our west woods, during breeding time, perhaps it's the same owl. Sometimes people confuse this big owl with a Barn Owl or Snowy Owl, who are paler and have white faces. Barred Owls are widespread across much of the eastern half and northwest quarter of the country and much of Canada. It's one of the most vocal of the owls, know for it's "who-c00ks-for-you" hooting sound, but it can make other noises as well.
I remember one Christmas Bird Count years ago when Don and I went out late at night to listen for owls. We were standing next to our car on a quiet road when, out of the blue, we heard this enormous scream over our heads, making the hair on the back of our necks stand up. We ducked down, bewildered. The next sound we heard was "who-cooks-for-you," the familiar hooting of a Barred Owl, who we realized had made the scream. Whew!
Listen to Bared Owl sounds on your Stokes Field Guide To Bird Songs CDs.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Peek Inside The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the number 1 best-selling new bird guide, gives MORE photos and text for hard-to-identify species because that is what birders want and need. So the Cape May Warbler has 8 photos and 2 pages of text and shows the different sexes and ages in different seasons.

There are 23 photos and 4 pages for the Red-tailed Hawk because it has many subspecies and morphs that occur in different parts of the country.

There are 9 photos for Magnolia Warbler, one even shows what the undertail looks like!

In the front there is a flap that is a quick alphabetical index that helps you quickly find a bird. There is also a different color code bar, below each page, for each groups of birds.

The photos are at the top of the page and uncluttered, for optimum viewing.

The section on gulls has the most thorough clues of any national field guide and shows all the ages of each species of gull, both standing and in flight.

Under the back flap you will find photos with all the parts of a bird labeled. You will learn what "secondary coverts" and "auricular" mean, if you don't already know.

There are 8 photos for Short-billed Dowitcher in the extensive and thorough shorebird section, covering different ages and subspecies.

The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America is more complete than other guides and covers over 100 more rare American Birding Association checklist species than Sibley, Peterson, and all the other photo guides. The Stokes guide has been getting rave reviews and called "a strong candidate for the title of best field guide ever." It's now available nationwide for holiday gift-giving online and in your local stores. At our book signings all ages and levels of bird watchers have been buying it.