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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nuts About Birds

Today I was looking at a mail order catalog of bedding, and I showed Don a photo of a bedspread and matching pillows that have "19th century drawings of birds." The catalog billed them as sparrows, but they were really orioles and warblers. Don said he liked it and we considered if we wanted to purchase it.
Said Don, "We're nuts for birds, aren't we?... I'm glad we're both nuts that way."
I said, "me too."

Yes, we're nuts for birds 24/7. They're our work and our passion.

The other morning we were sitting looking out at the feeders, drinking coffee and writing our daily bird list in our journal. I wanted to get up for a coffee refill. There were a lot of grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds at the feeders. Don said "don't move now, you might scare the blackbirds and there might be a Rusty Blackbird in with them." Coffee refills are scheduled around the possibility of a Rusty Blackbird.

When we drive in the car, we look at every bird. I say, "I'll look, you drive." I have even tried to use the binos, going 55 mph, to ID a bird. (it's hard to do.)

Binoculars hang on our bedposts and every morning we start birding through the window as soon as we we wake up. Yesterday we saw a Bald Eagle sitting in the tree on the pond.

Right now there are more mealworms than human food in our refrigerator.

Our lives together for over 30 years have revolved around birds: writing about them, teaching about them, talking about them, attracting them, photographing them, planning trips to see them, reporting them, participating in conservation efforts for them, managing our 48 acre property to make a better habitat for them, blogging about them, twittering about them, dreaming about them, etc. etc. Birds brought us together. Earlier in our lives, we were both interested in birds, Lillian had studied raptors, Don had written about bird behavior. We met when Lillian took a course on bird behavior offered by Mass. Audubon Society taught by Don. Since then we've written 32 book on birds and nature (about to be 33 when our national field guide, Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, comes out this fall), had our own PBS TV series on birds, have a licensed line of bird feeding products, etc., etc. We're still nuts about birds.

But we're not alone in being nuts about birds. Many of you are also. Care to share any stories?
You can leave a comment by clicking on the comment link at the end of this post or email us click here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Birding the Connecticut River, NH & VT

The highlight of the trip was the Brant (small goose on the right), spotted by Julie, found in with the Canada Geese. Brant winter in coastal areas and breed in the Arctic, they are not usually found inland in NH.

Most of the birds we saw were far away, so all were photographed at quite a distance. Here's a male Mallard.

Hi there, it's us. It was a very cold and windy day, so down parkas were a must.

The Connecticut River at one of our stops. It's quite a beautiful river and a very important migration highway and breeding area for birds.

Hooded Mergansers in flight, showing their upper wings. Male is below, female above.

And here is their under wings. The male is such a strikingly patterned duck.

When I said the birds were far away, this gives you an idea how far. The photos of the mergansers above were taken at this size in the original, uncropped photo. Can you make them out in the middle of the photo? This is the before shot of the mergansers showing their upper wings. The beauty of my new Canon 1D Mark IV camera is that it's 16 megapixels, so I am able to photograph birds that are very far away, but still crop them to usable size (72 dpi) for blog photos. Of course you have to get them in flight, as a tiny dot, in the center of the lens, with the autofocus operating, and shoot.

We saw a good variety. How many kinds can you find here?

Lots of birders equal more fun and many eyes to spot things. Scopes were essential and people with scopes generously shared them with people who did not have them.

We looked at other species of birds too. We pulled over at one point because someone had spotted a hawk in a tree. It exploded out of the tree and was a Cooper's Hawk.

I helped this birder, find in the scope, the Barrow's Goldeneye, female. I really like to work with people to help them spot the birds. There's always an "oh, wow" moment for them when they see the cool bird everyone else is on.

Common Mergansers were plentiful. The male is below, female above. It shows her white chin and I love the red feet. We get lots of migrating Common Mergansers on the pond we live on.

At Herrick's Cove IBA, a stop on the Vermont side of the river, birders went out on a spit of land and saw few ducks but up in the sky there were 2 Bald Eagles!

I just took my Canon 300mm IS lens, with 1.4 teleconverter, as I wanted portability. All of the bird photos were taken, from a distance, with this, a very sharp lens.

At Herrick's cove, we found a Black-capped Chickadee excavating a nest in a birch. Chickadees will nest in bird houses and can excavate their own nest cavity in soft, partially rotted wood.
I tried to get it coming out of the nest and tried to time the photo, getting it as it left.

What a riot, it's launched in mid-air, with a beakful of birch. The chickadees flew off with the excavated material and deposited it away from the nest. I hope they have a successful breeding.

The last stop was near Springfield where we looked way, way across at that mountain at a rocky ledge, and saw a nesting Peregrine Falcon sitting at the nest, a white dot in the scope.

This birding trip, on Sun., was billed as a waterfowl safari, surveying the ducks in migration on the Middle Connecticut River, IBA (Important Bird Area) in NH (from Charlestown to Walpole) and VT (from Westminster to Springfield.) The trip was co-sponsored by the Monadnock Chapter of NH Audubon and Harris Center for Conservation Education. There were over 35 birders. We had a great time. Here's the final bird list, tallied by Julie Tilden and Phil Brown.

Canada Goose - several hundred (low), mostly at Great Meadow & Malnati Farm
BRANT - 1 Atlantic race observed in Great Meadow of Charlestown
Wood Duck - 15
Mallard - 100
American Black Duck - 40
Green-winged Teal - 30+
Common Goldeneye* - 2 females from Joy Wah Restaurant (VT)
Hooded Merganser - 10
Common Merganser - 40+
Great Blue Heron - 1 roadside
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle* - 3 (2i, 1a) observed from Herrick's Cove
Northern Harrier - 1 at Herrick's Cove + 1 at Great Meadow ~3 pm
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1 Walpole
Cooper's Hawk - 2
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel - 1 at Great Meadow
Peregrine Falcon* - pair at Springfield, VT ledges
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher* - 1 at Herrick's Cove
Downy Woodpecker - 1
Hairy Woodpecker - 2
Eastern Phoebe - 1 found by Ken Klapper at Great Meadow
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven - 3
Black-capped Chickadee - 1 excavating nest hole at Herrick's Cove
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird - 5+ in a few places
American Robin
European Starling
Song Sparrow - 20+ on the ground at once at Herrick's Cove alone
White-throated Sparrow - Great Meadow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
American goldfinch
House sparrow

Friday, March 26, 2010

Feeder Friday; Feeding Bluebirds

Do you feed bluebirds, and if so, what do your bluebirds eat??

Are there things you have tried feeding them, that they did not eat?

Do you feed bluebirds in summer or all year, and where do you live?

We're taking a poll.

Ours like live mealworms, but other people report bluebirds eating dried mealworms, hulled sunflower seed, crumbled meal of peanut butter, cornmeal, berries, etc. (many people have their own recipe.)

You can answer by leaving a comment in the comment section at the end of this blog post, or by clicking here.
Thanks for answering!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Phoebe, Welcome back!

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe nest in the rafters of our barn. The sheet metal acts as a baffle to prevent the Red Squirrel from reaching the nest.

We just saw the first Eastern Phoebe arrive on our property. Perhaps this is the same phoebe, that has nested in the same spot, in our bard for at least the last 4 years, (it's always amazing when that happens), we hope so. The barn doors are open for it. The nesting spot is surrounded by a several pieces of sheet metal, put up several years ago, which prevents the naughty Red Squirrel from eating the eggs out of the nest, as it once did.

That's what I like about spring, the anticipation of all the new stories, about each and every species that nests on our property, that will unfold as the season progresses.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chickadee-dee-dee-dee, back at you.

I was sitting in my Leonard Lee Rue photo blind at the edge of our pond/lake (actually a dammed up section of river), waiting a long time for the Common Mergansers to swim within camera range, my feet getting cold in the chilly, raw weather. The mergansers and other ducks were far off, and did not come into the cove at all.

I was just about to leave when I heard a scratch, scratch, scratch on the roof of the blind. Hmmm. Wondering what that could be, I looked up at the roof, through the crack where the blind closes, and looking down at me was a Black-capped Chickadee. We both jumped at the same time.

The chickadee proceeded to land in the bush next to me, giving, in it's loudest voice, a string of "chickadee-dee-dee-dee" call notes. It clearly did not approve of me being there.

I decided to quickly change my camera from the long Canon 500 mm lens to the 300 mm IS shorter lens, which I hand held and quietly and slooowly stepped out of the blind. The chickadee did not move and continued to give me a piece of it's mind. Click, click, I took a few photos then went slowly back into the blind. The chickadee hung around for a while, was joined by a second chickadee, then off they went.

Nature is always offering you something, but not necessarily what you had in mind. When opportunity knocks, change lenses and get the photo.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I anticipated when this male Eastern Bluebird would leave his perch,

and hit the button just as he left. Thanks to my Canon 1D Mark IV, with it's fast 10 frames per second speed, for the flight photo.

He paused on this perch,

and took a moment to preen and scratch. Can you believe the way he has his foot coming up behind his wing to scratch the back of his head? Maybe he does yoga.

We have a pair of Eastern Bluebirds checking out our bird houses. The male sings and defends the territory. The other day, there was a distant male singing, so "our" male sang even more and vigilantly went from perch to perch, not minding me, and I was able to get the above photos. A second female showed up and landed near our pair. The two females fought and fell to the ground, while the male looked on and watched. The second female then flew away. Rivalry for mates and nesting spots is at an intense level now. Our pair has not chosen a box yet. They better decide soon, as Tree Swallows will arrive in large numbers and compete with the bluebirds for nest boxes.

We have been attracting bluebirds to our various properties for over 25 years and have written extensively about and educated people on bluebirds.

Here are some tips and resources to get started.

Bluebirds can be found throughout most of the country and are easy to attract with the right nest box placed in the right habitat. There are three species of bluebirds in North America. The Eastern Bluebird lives throughout the East. The Western and Mountain Bluebirds live throughout most of the West.

Step 1. Choose a nest box that is made of wood, has no perch, and has a 1 1/2-inch-diameter hole for Eastern and Western Bluebirds. For Mountain Bluebirds choose a nest box with a 1 9/16-inch-diameter hole (Western Bluebirds will also use this box in areas where the two species overlap). The box should preferably have drainage holes in the bottom and ventilation holes at the top of the sides. The diameter of the floor should be approximately 4 by 4 inches for Eastern Bluebirds and 5 by 5 inches for Mountain and Western Bluebirds.

Step 2. Place the box in open, mowed habitat at least 100 feet from brushy wooded areas. Good areas are large lawns, open fields, farmland, pastureland, and parks. If you do not have this type of habitat then you might work with a friend who does have the right habitat and establish a bluebird trail there. Mount the nest box about 4 to 5 feet high on a metal pole, facing any direction. You can also use a garden U-post. Use a baffle, or place a 4-foot length of 4-inch-diameter PVC pipe on the pole or post which will keep predators from climbing to the box. Make sure and put a cap on the top of the PVC pipe to prevent bluebirds from entering it. A "trail" consists of several boxes placed 100 yards apart. Put boxes up by early spring, before nesting starts.

For more information see,
The North American bluebird Society website here.
Stokes Bluebird Book, available here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bald Eagle

We have been seeing several Bald Eagles over our lake since the ice broke up. Today, a Bald Eagle, immature, flew low over the water, sending the many ducks there into the air. Even though Bald Eagles mainly eat fish, we have seen them take ducks and coots. This time, the ducks were lucky.

Migrating and newly arrived birds on our list at home today:

1 Pied-billed Grebe
1 Northern Harrier, male
7 Ring-necked Ducks
1 Bufflehead
20 Common Mergansers
7 Green-winged Teal
8 Black Ducks
8 Mallards
2 Hooded Mergansers
3 Song Sparrows
3 Northern Flickers
1 Killdeer
1 Purple Finch

Lord God Bird, Ivory-billed Woodpecker film and more

Ivory-billed Woodpecker sign in the famous Gene's Restaurant, Brinkley, AR; note the white at the trailing edge of the wings on the bird, when seen from above.

The Pileated Woodpecker, shown here, may be confused with an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

The Pileated has black at the trailing edge of the wings.

When viewed from behind, the black on the trailing edge of the underside of the wings of a Pileated in flight, as here, may seem less conspicuous.

Yesterday we went to see the Lord God Bird documentary film (USA, 2008, 91 min.) made by NH producer George Butler at a film festival here in NH. This is a documentary on the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Butler and his crew spent two years in the swamps of the southeastern U.S. interviewing ornithologists, birders, hunters and others and "wasn't out to convince anyone of the ivory-bills existence," so the film interviews people with opposing viewpoints. As of now, (to our knowledge) there has not been any definitive photo obtained that has been widely accepted by scientists as proof of the continued existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker today.

The film presents many of the now familiar people in the Ivory-bill search. It covers such things as the Cornell search and the discovery (first reported by Bobby Harrison and Tim Gallagher in 2004) in the Big Woods of Arkansas and the more recent search and reported discovery in May, 2005 by ornithologist Dr. Geoff Hill and his Auburn Univ. team in the Choctahatchee River in the panhandle of FL. The films shows Bobby Harrison, Tim Gallagher, and Dr. John Fitzpatrick from Cornell, Dr. Jerome Jackson (who doubted the bird presented by Cornell in the April 2004 Luneau video was an Ivory-bill and said it was a Pileated Woodpecker). Many others, such as Gene Sparling, Martin Lammertink and Jamie Hill, appear. Nancy Tanner, widow of legendary Ivory-bill expert, James Tanner who studied Ivory-bills in the 1930's with Arthur Allen and beyond, is witty and delightful.

The film also discusses the 1968 reported discovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker by John Dennis in the Big Thicket of Texas and how he was doubted and spurned by the ornithologists of his time. Dennis continued to search and made a recording of the sound of the Ivory-bill which was not accepted as legit by Cornell. There is a poignant moment in the film when Dennis' son, John Dennis, Jr., recounts that Cornell in recent years, called him and told him that Dennis' recording of the Ivory-bill had been re-examined by them and proclaimed to be the real deal.

An amazing moment in the film was the showing of 1935 archival film footage, surprisingly good, of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at a nest hole, made by Arthur Allen and the Cornell Expedition (including James Tanner) to the Singer Tract of land in LA. To see the real birds, how they moved, how they interacted, how one flew out of the nest, was absolutely riveting for us.

So what is the status of the search for the Ivory-bill since this documentary, (which contains old news) was made? Much has both happened and not happened. As we said, no one seems to have gotten "the" definitive photo as proof of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's existence.

Dr. Geoff Hill says funding has dried up for his group, and since the winter of 2008 he has had few sound or sighting detections. He will continue to try and get evidence through the use of remote cameras and he will personally continue to look. See his latest update here.

Cornell has pretty much suspended it's large search efforts but wants to continue to be a hub for reports and information on the Ivory-bill. The efforts of the Cornell mobile search team for the 2008-2009 field session ended with no reports of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's presence.

As we said, no one seems to have gotten "the" definitive photo as proof of its existence. Yet many, many are still looking and trying. Reports of the possible existence of Ivory-bills, as recent as early March, have come from a team of private individuals comprised of Mark Michaels, Frank Wiley, Bill Benish, Ross Everett, Mark Gahler and Paul McCaslin, who have been searching on private land in east-central Louisiana since Aug. 2009 to the present. They have posted their preliminary report (made public at this time in order to provide encouragement to other searchers), of their Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings, recorded sounds and even some camera trap photos at this website.

Some other websites with information:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Ivory-bills Live ???! the blog for updated news and commentary on the Ivory-bill
David Luneaus's website with Ivory-bill news and info. from Arkansas
Bobby Harrison's Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation website
James Tanner's 1942 definitive monograph on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
The Nature Conservancy Ivory-bill website

Friday, March 19, 2010

Feeder Friday: Coming and Going

American Tree Sparrow, note the clear breast with central breast dot an ID clue.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle in flight, holding tail in "V"

Chickadee feeding from Stokes Select Squirrel-Proof Feeder which deters grackles (and squirrels).

Lots of activity here at the bird feeders, with migrants arriving and other birds, such as Tree Sparrows, about to leave. Tree Sparrows, unlike their name, like shrubby field areas, not heavily treed habitat. They visit our feeders all winter and soon will return to their breeding grounds north of the tree line in arctic areas. Right now they are singing, a warm-up for them and a delight for us!

Common Grackles have arrived big time, along with Red-winged Blackbirds. Not everyone wants grackles at their bird feeders. Here is some information and tips to controlling grackles at feeders.

- Common Grackles migrate out of the northern parts of their range in winter, and travel in large, noisy flocks, often with other blackbirds such as Red-winged Blackbirds. During the breeding season, the male flies with his tail held in a "V" shape. Common Grackles nest in colonies or singly.

- Common Grackles are found in many habitats, such as agricultural fields, city parks, feedlots, suburban areas, forest edges and marshes.

- Grackles walk around the ground, looking for food and will eat a very wide variety of items, including crops, especially corn, grain, insects, bird’s eggs, mice, frogs, acorns, and fruit. They like all kinds of bird seeds, especially cracked corn, and will descend on feeders sometimes in numbers, eat large quantities of seed, and may discourage the small birds from feeding.

- Grackles can easily eat from many kinds of bird feeders, such as tube feeders, platform feeders and hoppers, as well as eating seed off the ground, so do not use these if you want to discourage grackles or add the types of feeders grackles cannot feed from.

- One of the very best ways to keep grackles off bird seed and reserve the seed for smaller birds such as chickadees, titmice, finches, nuthatches, etc., is to use tube feeders surrounded by a cage. The distance from the side of the cage to the tube must be far enough to deter grackles. The Stokes Select Squirrel-Proof Feeder (available from retailers and online, note a percentage of profits goes to bird conservation) is an excellent way to discourage grackles (as well as squirrels!) from seed. Grackles are too large to fit through the holes in the cage, but smaller birds can easily enter and feed from the tube. We used several of our Stokes Select Squirrel-Proof feeders to prevent grackles from seed, when we lived in FL and had flocks of wintering grackles visiting our yard. We use these feeders here in NH when grackles are here, to make sure the smaller birds have seed.

- If you use suet, put it in the kind of suet holder where the suet can only be accessed from below, requiring a bird to hover or cling upside down, something grackles do not like to do.

Note: If you have not put up birdhouses, or cleaned out your old ones, now is the time! Bluebirds and others are actively looking for boxes.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Migration has started

Red-shouldered Hawk, juv. (photo from FL)

Broad-winged Hawk in NH

Migration has started with many birds now on the move, and so many more to come. Spring hawk migration is starting, depending on which species, and where in the country you are. Obviously birders in the southern states see spring migrating hawks before those of us up north, like here in NH. Peak spring Broad-winged Hawk migration is from mid-April through early May. For Sharp-shinned Hawks, its mid-April to mid-May. For Red-tailed Hawks it's mid-March to mid-May. We recently saw several Red-taild Hawks circling overhead.

We had a Killdeer in our fields yesterday. Canada Geese are flying overhead. Bluebirds are checking our boxes. I look forward with so much excitement and anticipation, to the parade of spring migrants!

What migrants are you seeing?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday - Feeder Friday

Someone sent a comment asking about Stokes Feeder Friday (where I cover bird feeding topics), which I didn't do on friday. That's how busy I have been. So I am doing it now, on Monday.
Here's a photo from FL of a Painted Bunting on a feeder. Those lucky folks in southern FL can get these beauties at their feeders in winter. When we had a home on Sanibel, we used to get them at our feeder. Buntings like mixed seed, especially white millet. They often hang out in groups. So if you attract one, they'll bring their friends. I just can't get enough of this bird, it is one of my very favorites. The Monet bird, I think, because it has all the colors of a painter's pallet rainbow.
For those of us up north, we'll just have to be content to attract Indigo Buntings during migration and the breeding season.. They're also beautiful. Use tube or tray feeders with a mix that contains millet.

Meanwhile, we have been in a big nor'easter storm here in New England since Sat. There are huge winds, torrential rains still going on, and flooding everywhere. Our roof leaked right near where my computer was, but computer is OK. Right now I don't mind being cooped up indoors, and plowing through all the work piled up.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Feeding at Ding

Snowy Egret

White Ibis

Our Corgis, Phoebe on left, Abby on right.

Here are some more shots I took at Ding Darling NWR. The Snowy Egret looks like its walking on water and has angel wings. This was part of a feeding frenzy in a ditch, where so many snowies were dragging their feet and dipping their heads and coming up with tiny fish, as you can see this one has in its bill. I have so many photos from this event. You just never know, when you drive through Ding, what exciting photo ops you will come across. We came across this type of feeding frenzy twice during our stay.

The second photo is of two White Ibis, one with a food item, the other wanting to grab it. White Ibis feed by probing their long down-curved pink bills into the muck and getting aquatic animals. Most of what we saw at Ding was feeding behavior of birds. When one White Ibis has food, it may be fair game for another ibis to try and grab it, or a gull to lurk nearby and snatch something from it.

The third photo is of our Pembroke Welsh Corgis, riding quietly in their crates, which were complete with cushy mats, water dishes, chewies, cookies and toys. Sometimes we would lift the tailgate and let them watch us birding. Passersby would comment on what nice Corgis we had, saying "they probably never bark, do they?" And we would reply "nope."
(If you are a Corgi owner reading this, you know what a lie that is, although wonderfully, they are quiet in their crates, but not when they are out of them.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Back in NH

Hi all, We're back in NH, had a great time in FL. I still have lots of Sanibel photos to post, which I will do. Here in NH, a pair of bluebirds are checking out our bird houses! The first crocus is blooming, along with snowdrops, right next to the foundation on the south side of the house. So signs of spring are appearing. If you haven't yet, clean out your bird houses to ready them for the new nesting birds.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sanibel Raptors

Red-shouldered Hawk, juvenile

Osprey female on nest

Dune Sunflower

There are lots of raptors on Sanibel. Nesting Ospreys are abundant with well over 100 nests this year. The female Osprey remains at the nest during most of breeding, with the male bringing in food - the fish he captures. I love the sound of her constant calling.
Another common raptor is the Red-shouldered Hawk, which you can see circling overhead and giving it's wild sounding calls. In the above photo you can clearly see the wing crescents as the sun shines through the wings, one of this bird's ID clues.
Dune Sunflowers scamper over the beach areas and remind me of summer up north. I photographed this one near the lighthouse, where the Osprey nest was.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Today, Sanibel

Broad-winged Hawk, adult.

Lesser Black-backed Gull, adult.

Lesser Black-backed Gull, adult


River Otter

So many birds, so little time, so many photo ops. We try and see 100 species each winter on Sanibel and today the birds cooperated. We were up to 97 species as we started out the day. First, we saw an adult Broad-winged Hawk sitting on a wire on San-Cap Rd. This is very unusual, for Sanibel. On rare occasions we have seen them here in winter. Yeah, number 98! Then we went to the beach at Gulfside City Park and walked out and right in front of us was a Lesser Black-backed Gull, adult. This is a rare gull and another unusual find for Sanibel. Awesome, number 99! There were also many shorebirds on the beach, including this Willet picking at a sponge.
We then went to the Bailey Tract and found a Coot and that was number 100!
And then a River Otter went right in front of us. What a great day