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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Best of Mt. Desert island, Maine

We had a great trip to Mt. Desert Island last weekend. Some of our favorite things were Acadia National Park with it's spectacular scenery. We visit there every year.

Black Guillemots were just about everywhere we looked out at the water. Very cool little sea birds, Black Guillemots are in the family Alcidae, as are Atlantic Puffins. You can frequently see them from shore from New England and north.

Peregrine Falcons nest on the same cliffs in the park each year, building their nest in different spots. This year, their first nest was abandoned and park rangers through they would not have a successful nesting. To their surprise, the peregrines re-nested but it was not discovered until they say one fledgling. So once again, peregrines produced young in Acadia.

We got one very brief distant view of a peregrine.

Across the street, several Red-eyed Vireos were constantly singing back and forth. One came lower down from its tree-top perch and eyed me.

Jordan Pond and the Bubbles mountains are a much photographed view. Don't miss the A-game popovers and lobster stew (which we're addicted to) served at Jordan Pond House restaurant which overlooks this view. We hiked around the pond, an easy hike on a well-mantained, level, crushed stone path, edged with pink granite. We saw so many people, young, old, middle, parents pushing strollers, people with dogs on leash, even many people from foreign countries were walking on the path, enjoying nature. Acadia is one of the crown jewels of the national park system and one of the most visited. What a grand treasure, there for all to enjoy.
We are avid gardeners, as well as birders so we stopped at Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor on Mt. Desert Island. This is a garden in with a strong japanese influence, yet using many native plants. It is open to the public all summer.

I love to walk across the stepping blocks that cross the stream.

A bonus was the bi-annual garden tour, sponsored by The Garden Club of Mt. Desert Island where you can see the private gardens of spectacular mansions. One had an incredible, recently restored, Italianate garden, one of the highlights for us. Maine gardens make excellent use of their native materials of moss, ferns, shrubs, it gave us a renewed interest in incorporating even more of these type elements into our gardens than we already do.

Italianate garden with yellow Ligularia in foreground.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Herring Gull

Herring Gull, adult

Herring Gull

Herring Gull and Bald Eagle

Speaking of Gulls, another gull that was very plentiful when we were birding in Acadia National Park, ME was the Herring Gull. Gull ID is a long story (we'll save it for our new field guide coming out in Oct. which has THE most extensive gull section), and most people we saw in Acadia just called every gull a "sea gull". Top photo is an adult Herring Gull. My favorite photo of our trip is the one with the Herring Gull and the Bald Eagle, we saw flying over one of the lakes in the park. The gull was actually diving at the eagle and continually calling. What guts! This is such a great size comparison. Shows you just how big a Bald Eagle is. The Herring Gull has a wingspan of 58 inches, the eagle's is 80 inches. It's also a great comparison of wing width, length and shape of the two birds. You can learn a lot just by looking at that photo.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Acadia Great Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Just got back from Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, ME. Here's a Great-Black-backed Gull that was lounging on one of the many pink granite blocks at the pull-out viewing areas. This gull did not mind people at all. I had to back way up to take the photos with a telephoto lens. Acadia is full of Great Black-backed Gulls, our largest NA gull and very handsome. Such a treat to see so many of them.
More on our trip coming soon. We had a great time.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Birds; What's happening now?

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plovers are migrating

What's happening in the world of birds now?

1. Shorebirds are starting to migrate and will continue big time in Aug. Many shorebirds have completed their breeding cycle and are leaving their nesting areas in far northern North America and beginning their journey south. Birders on the NH coast are reporting seeing Semipalmated Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs, and Semipalmated Sandpipers. MA birders who go to South Beach, off Chatham, Cape Cod, are reporting large numbers of shorebirds such as the ones just mentions plus, Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits, Whimbrels, Willets, Red Knots, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderlings, Short-billed Dowitchers and more. You can see shorebirds at coastal and inland water locations, so take your binos this weekend and see what you can find. If you are shorebird ID-challenged try our Stokes Beginner's Guide To Shorebirds.

2. Backyard birds are on their second and third broods. Some birds nest only once but many, such as Cardinals, House Wrens, Bluebirds, Eastern Phoebes, and more can nest two or even three times, especially in southern areas.
I don't know about you, but here in inland southern NH we are in a big drought. Gardens are dry, lawns are parched. There have been some thunderstorms but they are very local and have missed us. We are keeping bird baths full, hummer feeders fresh and feeders full for all the birds, especially the ones who bring their fledglings. Clean out bird houses, so cavity nesters can have a second chance.

We're off on a birding trip, see you next week.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dragonflies for birders

Halloween Pennant dragonfly, so aptly named, and one of my favorites.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer. The most colorful dragonflies with patterns on their wings are often in the Skimmer family of dragonflies.

When the birding slows down in summer and birds are quiet in the middle of the day, birders turn to watching dragonflies, that's what we do. Dragonflies are active on warm days, the hotter and sunnier the better. Dragonflies are stunningly beautiful, have cool names, and are abundant in fields, lakes, streams, shores, many of the places people go in summer.

Here are a few tips to enjoy and identify them.

1. Use your binoculars to spot them, if you have close focusing binos, even better.
2. Some dragonfly males patrol territories along ponds, lakes, and streams. Females mate with them then lay their eggs on emerging vegetation. If you see 2 dragonflies flying in tandem, this is a precursor to mating. In the wheel positon, mating is occurring.
3. Some dragonflies are more perchers, others more fliers, that can be a clue to their ID. Different perchers have different ways of perching, again an ID clue.
4. In general, some of the most obvious, colorful, and patterned-wing dragonflies you see are in the Skimmer family, so look in that section of our book.
5. Different species of dragonflies are on the wing at different times during the summer, so you will constantly see new ones.
6. Male, female and immature dragonflies of the same species can look different, just like birds.

We (along with dragonfly experts Blair Nikula and Jackie Sones) produced a book, Stokes Beginner's Guide To Dragonflies in order to quickly help you get into enjoying these marvelous insects. We worked out an easy key and lots of color photos. Take it and binoculars along with you the next time you go to the lake, river or stream. We take it with us in the canoe whenever we go out in the summer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Field Sparrow, Birding Maine 3

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

The Kennebunk Plains were just an embarrassment of riches when it came to wonderful sparrows. Field Sparrows were also breeding there. We were alerted to their presence by their song, kind of like a bouncing ping-pong ball — a musical trill that starts with from 2 to several clear whistles, then accelerates and descends into a trill. Field Sparrows have a rusty cap, a pink bill, a white eye-ring and rusty stripe behind the eye (less obvious on this worn and faded bird), a clear breast, and two white wing bars. Field Sparrows breed in much of the eastern, and part of the middle of the country in old fields with scattered bushes and trees, a habitat type which is in decline in many areas.

Similar species to Field Sparrow are Chipping Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow who both also have rusty crowns. Neither have pink bills. American Tree Sparrows have a central breast dot and they breed in the far North and come into the U.S. to feeders in winter. Chipping Sparrows commonly breed throughout most of the country, have a black eye line that extends from bill and continues behind eye. Sparrow ID is not easy, you have to look at many things on the birds.

One of the things we loved about walking back around the plains was the wonderful sense of solitude. It reminded us of being on the western prairies, or on the moors in Dartmoor, England. It was just us and the birds.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vesper Sparrow, Birding Maine 2

Vesper Sparrow, you can see a hint of the rufous shoulder patch, not often visible.

The dark streak coming down off the bill is called the malar streak

Note the distinctive white outer tail feathers, one of the clues to this species

A beautiful bird we saw at while birding at Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area was the Vesper Sparrow. Vespers were common here, because they nest in grassland habitat. I was able to get some nice photographs of them from many angles. One of the key clues to their identification is the white outer tail feathers and white eye-ring (less obvious on these worn birds) on this largish sparrow with streaked breast and back. Vespers are named for their twilight singing (although they're not the only bird that does this.)
Sparrows are beautiful and challenging to identify. You need to get into subtlety, since most sparrows are shades of brown, and appreciate how wonderful they blend with their environments. We enjoy that.
I took the photos with my Canon 1D Mark IV camera, my 500 mm lens and a 2x teleconverter, thus I had the equivalent of a 1000 mm lens, which helps to get closer shots of these birds.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Upland Sandpipers; Birding Maine 1

Upland Sandpiper

Kennebunk Plains WMA is over 1000 acres of amazing habitat

You must stay on the dirt road as you walk through the habitat

We're birding in southern Maine. Maine has some awesome birding areas. I just took these photos of Upland Sandpipers at Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area in Biddeford, a not to be missed birding spot. This 1,041 acre area contains 600 acres of open sandplain grassland, rare in the state. Thus birds that prefer this habitat are scarce in the state, Upland Sandpipers being one of them. Uppies are shorebirds, but not of the shore, they nest in grasslands and winter in South America.
We were lucky and had a few fly right over our heads. They're big, beautiful birds and it was a thrill to see them.
More coming next week.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Monarch Butterfly

Great Spangled Frittillary on Purple Coneflower


Pearl Crescent butterfly. Scores are feeding on white clover on our path so we keep the path mowed high to preserve the clover flowers for them.

Stokes Beginner's Guide To Butterflies, has an easy ID key to help you quickly identify the butterflies you see.

Summer is special in so many ways, not the least of which is the abundance of beautiful butterflies in our gardens. Birds are more active early and late in the day now, so in the middle of the day we look for butterflies. Here are a few that are out now. The Great Spangled Butterfly is one of my favorites. So big, orange, and just fun saying the name. Butterflies love Purple Coneflower and we have lots of that in bloom. Monarch butterflies feed on flowers and lay their eggs on milkweed.

The hot weather favors butterflies as they need to warm their bodies to fly. Adult butterflies come to flowers for nectar, lay their eggs on special host plants, which can be unique to each species of butterfly. The eggs hatch, larva feed on the plant then turn into a pupa or crysalis from which the adult butterfly will emerge. A complete cycle or generation is called a brood, and butterfly species can go through from just one to as many as four broods per year, depending on the species and the number of warm months.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbirds nest on the pond by our home.

They are large, dark flycatchers, note the white tip to their tail.

Mrs. Kingbird was incubating eggs in her nest built in a Buttonbush, right over the water.

While canoeing on our pond this weekend we came across nesting Eastern Kingbirds. They had built their nest in a Buttonbush shrub at the very edge of the water. Canoeists and fishermen passed by all day and the birds did not seem to mind. Kingbirds are cool birds and we love that several pairs nest on the pond in front of our home.

Eastern Kingbirds are large flycatchers, darting out from perches to catch insects. They breed in open areas, often near water, across the East and much of the West. Kingbirds have a territory of about an acre and will chase out larger birds, with the kingbirds diving at their back and chasing them much farther than the territorial boundary. We see this all the time. You don't want to mess with a kingbird, if you're another bird. The scientific name of Eastern Kingbird is Tyrannus tyrannus, so the joke goes that kingbirds are too tyrannical (two tyrannical).
Look for them when you go swimming, or boating this summer.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Stokes Feeder Friday: Fledglings at the Feeder

Yesterday's post featured a video of a baby Hairy Woodpecker getting fed bird seed by a parent and today we have a video of a baby Downy Woodpecker with the same thing happening. How wonderfully opportunistic the mother is, the feeder makes her job easier.

The mother Downy Woodpecker is at our Stokes Select Finch Tube Feeder which is filled with Nyjer Plus seed mix (a mixture of fine sunflower chips and Nyjer 'thistle') and is getting the seed out of the holes and feeding it to her clinging fledgling Downy Woodpecker. Mostly finches feed out of finch tube feeders because the feeders have small holes, but the woodpecker is able to access the seed here. This fledgling is a Downy Woodpecker, female, because she has no red on her head. Fledgling male Downy Woodpecker have some red feathers on their forehead, females have none or, rarely, just a few red feathers there. We just love fledglings at our feeders, it's just the best summer entertainment.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Ah-ha moment for baby Hairy Woodpecker

A Eureka moment. A baby Hairy Woodpecker learns to use the bird feeder. The mother is feeding it hulled sunflower from our bird feeder, how convenient for her. The mother leaves and the fledgling starts using the feeder itself! How cool to see this. The transition from a fledgling which is still dependent on the parents for food (sorta like college age), to a newly independent young bird is a difficult one. Young birds must learn to get their own food and avoid predators and other dangers. Mortality is high in these young birds. By learning to use the feeder, this fledgling has a head start on its life as an independent young bird.

Note that the fledgling has considerable red feathers on his forehead. This is the juvenal plumage and the juvenal male has extensive red on the central crown, the female no red or a little on the hind crown. When they get their adult plumage, the male will have a red patch on the nape, the female will not.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Adirondack Advantage

Eastern Phoebe, left, American Robin, right

A good perch = good hunting = successfully raising young.

The birds love our adirondack chairs as much as we do. Here's Mrs. Robin and Mrs. Eastern Phoebe, both of whom nest in our yard using the adirondacks as hunting perches. The robin is feeding fledglings (who fledged during our garden tour, remember). She already has a mouthful of goodies and is pausing, perhaps to see if she can score more to take to waiting mouths. The Eastern Phoebe is on her second brood and has nestlings. She's looking very worn, having built 2 nests and incubated two clutches. Phoebes are flycatchers and so hunt insects from perches by flying out and grabbing the insects.

These are both hardworking birds, doing the serious and essential business of reproduction. We take pleasure in watching them use our chairs, knowing the chairs are more useful to them now than to us, and we don't care if we have to wipe off a little bird poop.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bird House Air Conditioning

Add an extra roof to keep your bird house cooler.

In severely hot weather, if the inside of an Eastern Bluebird bird house gets too hot (above 107 degrees) it could harm the eggs.

It is sooo hot here today, with temps up to 96 and a heat advisory with heat index of 100-104 degrees. We always think of how to help the birds stay cool. One way is to air-condition our bird houses. We do this by putting an additional roof on the house. We nail on a piece of plywood, using long nails and only nailing them part way into the original roof. This leaves an airspace between the two roofs of about an inch. The second roof shades the first roof plus the airspace between the roofs acts as an insulator, keeping the bird house cooler.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Happy 4th of July Weekend, Red, White & Blue

Northern Cardinal

Great Egret

Indigo Bunting

Flowers from our garden

Happy Fourth of July weekend. Hope you see some red, white and blue birds!

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Mourning Dove taking-off

Mourning Dove, juvenal, sitting on the arm of our Adirondack chair

I took the above photo of a Mourning Dove taking off. It shows the interesting tail feather patterns. Often people find Mourning Dove tail feathers on the ground and do not know who they belong to. Since the tail feathers are boldly patterned, but usually not visible, people do not suspect they come from the plainly colored Mourning Doves in their yard. We often find the tail feathers near our bird feeders, sometimes the result of predation on the Mourning Dove by a falcon or accipiter, sometimes a sign the Mourning Dove got away.

Mourning Doves are widespread across the country and migratory in the northern parts of their range. They build a flimsy nest and usually have 2 young which they feed "pigeon milk," a nutritious, whitish liquid the parents regurgitate. The young put their bills inside the parent's and the parent pumps the food up. Toward the end of the nestling phase, an increasing percentage of the food is regurgitated seeds and insects. Feedings are spaced far apart since it takes the parents time to collect all the seeds. The young leave the nest at about 12-13 days old, but may roost in the nest at night for the first 2 or 3 days of the fledgling phase. Within a week or more they are on their own and feed in flocks of other juvenals and adults. Juvenal Mourning Doves have wing and breast feathers lined with buff.

We find Mourning Doves to be interesting birds, you just have to look beyond that plain exterior.