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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Stokes

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We are taking off the rest of the holiday season and will see you
all in January 2012!

Lillian and Don

Saturday, December 17, 2011

CBC, and then a Ruffed Grouse flew up

We just finished doing the southern NH Christmas Bird Count (where teams count all the birds in a given circle) bird census. We had a great day. These grab and go photos are some of the highlights. Cedar Waxwings were everywhere! We saw several big flocks, including a flock of 77 at our house. 

Robins were one of the most abundant birds of the day. We saw lots of big flocks. At one stop they were paired up with a flock of Cedar Waxwings. They were eating crab apples and winterberry holly. Then, out of the blue, a Northern Goshawk flew over, our best bird of the day.

Meade and David, part of our birding team, were counting robins and waxwings.

Don heard a chup note in a hedgerow by a horse farm. We patiently waited and up popped a Song Sparrow, another surprise bird, they are usually gone by now.

We have been participating in Christmas Bird Counts for over 30 years, and loving it.

Juncos were also in numbers. We had 20 in our yard.

The only Tree Sparrows were at our feeders. We had 5.

At the end of the day, we had a Red-tailed Hawk land in the tree in the middle of our field. I quickly grabbed the camera and got off a shot as it flew, didn't have time to change the ISO for speed. Then I went behind our barn and reached over to pull a weed off our garden and flushed a Ruffed Grouse, a great bonus bird! We saw 29 species of birds on our team's section of the count circle. Other teams on this count had other species, so total species number was higher. Conspicuously absent were any of the winter irruptive finch species. Only a few teams saw a few Pine Siskins.

Our view from our deck just before dusk, the birds had just about gone to bed. Time to go to the count down party.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Santa Wood Stork, ho-ho-ho

Santa Wood Stork

Wood Stork ad., in flight

The above photo of a juvenile Wood Stork, resting with its neck feathers fluffed out, reminded me of Santa Claus. Wood Storks are an endangered species in the U.S. and breed colonially, mainly in FL, GA, SC, but can wander to other Gulf Coast states. They will nest when water levels are just low enough to concentrate fish shallow pools in sufficient numbers to successfully feed chicks.
This is a bird that looks so beautiful in flight, not so close up, but does a good imitation of Santa.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Bird Counts are coming up

What birds will show up to be counted for the annual Christmas Bird Counts about to happen? This Hairy Woodpecker and American Goldfinch are sharing the Stokes Select bird feeder.

Busy, busy time for everyone right now, but don't forget the Christmas Bird Counts are about to happen. That's where birders from an area (the country is divided into count circles, each with its own count date, usually in Dec.)  go out and count all the birds in that area during a 24 hr. period. Our count here in southwest NH takes place next Saturday. Birds numbers at feeders have been down, since it has been unusually warm here in New England. Birds still have plenty of wild food and no big need for the extra calories demanded by very cold temps. Some lakes and water areas are still unfrozen so there may be lingering waterfowl. We shall see what turns up, that's part of the fun of counting every bird you see on that day. For more information on how you can join a Christmas Bird Count in your area go here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse, this photo of mine appears on page 59 of our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America
I just saw a Ruffed Grouse sitting in our Prairie Fire crabapple tree, eating the apples, on this rainy afternoon. Cool!!

That's a bird you don't often see, but that doesn't mean they're not around. These grouse have a range across much of Canada, northern areas of the U.S., and down into the Appalachians. We hear them drumming in spring, a very low-pitched sound. Only occasionally do we see them fly across an open space, or, as a special treat like today, find them foraging.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Gray Catbird, where are you now?

Gray Catbird where are you now? You breed on our property here in NH, flit conspicuously about our yard, and eat the oranges we put out for you. Will I see you in Sanibel, FL this winter? These are the questions I wonder about the birds which I see here in spring and summer in NH, but they are gone in winter.

Gray Catbirds are common breeders across much of the eastern two-thirds of the country. They winter in coastal areas of the states from about the mid-Atlantic through TX and also winter in the Caribbean and Central America. Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers and, like them, have the ability to mimic the sounds of other species, incorporating these sounds into their own song. Catbirds love thickets and eat insects and fruit and berries.

When we go to Sanibel, FL in winter, there are many catbirds wintering. Mainly they lay low in vegetation during the day. But just at dusk, you can hear them calling before they go to sleep for the night. Suddenly you are aware there are a lot more catbirds in the area than you knew. I look forward to that.

By the way, are any of you seeing Gray Catbirds now?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Photographing Birds in Flight, Tips

Pileated Woodpecker

Roseate Spoonbill

Bald Eagle, larger birds are easier to photograph in flight.

Groups of birds, such as these Black Skimmers, are fun to photograph in flight. When photographing them, increase your depth of field.

American Robin. Zero in on one bird in a flock.

Snow Bunting

Upland Sandpiper flying over Kennebunk Plains WMA, Maine

Tree Sparrow. Focus on your bird feeder and anticipate when a bird will leave.

Red-shouldered Hawk, juv.

Great Shearwater, a pelagic species you need to go out on a boat to see. It's challenging taking flight photos from a moving, rocking boat, so it helps to brace yourself against the boat.

Tree Swallow in flight over our fields. Swallows, with their erratic flight, are a challenge to photograph.

Cedar Waxwing. Pick up a bird when it is quite distant and track it with your camera's auto focus and start shooting as it gets a little closer. If you wait until it's upon you, you will never get the photo.

Roseate Spoonbill, coming in for a landing.

My favorite type of bird photography is photographing birds in flight. Above are a few of my photos and here are some tips.

How do photographers get such photos? Here's what you need:

- High speed digital SLR cameras like the Canon 7D, or 1D Mark IV (which I have). The faster, and the more continuous frames per second your camera will shoot, the better. Get a camera the shoots at least 5 frames per second, preferably more. Know your camera dials and settings very well. For most flight photos you need to have at least 1/500th of a second shutter speed, preferably 1/1000th or more. Set the ISO high enough to attain this shutter speed.
Set the camera on continuous shooting mode. Most people use auto focus for birds in flight. Set the camera focus mode to AI Servo AF. This allows you to focus and lock on the bird as it moves, by depressing the shutter half-way. Put the camera dial on AV (aperture priority) to give enough depth of field to have the whole birds in focus. Most people use an aperture of f/8 in good light, but may go to an aperature of f/5.6 in duller light. To take the photo, depress the shutter all the way.

- A good telephoto lens that is at least 300mm long, or preferably 400mm or more (some add a 1.4 teleconverter to a 300 mm lens.) Some photographers use longer lenses, such as the Canon 500mm or 600mm IS lenses for flight photos. If you have those, you need a good tripod with a smooth moving head, such as those made by Whimberly, Bogen or Kirk Enterprises. A few strong photographers can actually hand hold the 500mm lens. If you are using a tripod you lack some mobility, so it helps to shoot at a good location, such as that at Ding Darling NWR or other national wildlife refuges, where a lot of birds fly in, in a predictible flight route. Set the lens AF/MF switch to AF (auto focus.) Some recommend setting the minimum focusing distance of the lens to its furthest setting.

- Good situations for photographing birds in flight, such as open areas of water or open sky where you see birds coming from a distance and can get on them early with your auto focus, plus you will have a clear blue background. Keep the sun at your back. Try to shoot with the birds moving along a predictable flight path that is perpendicular to the front of your lens.

- Good eye-hand coordination and fast reflexes. Find the bird by spotting the bird when it is at a distance, and I mean very distant. Do not wait until the bird is close, because by then it will be moving too fast for your to get on it. After you spot it, raise your camera to your eye and lock the auto focus on the bird. Most photographers set the camera's auto focus selection point (AF point) on the center point because it is the most sensitive of the points and allows you to keep focused on the bird. Also your camera will be less likely to lock onto the background as you try and stay on the moving bird.

- A willingness to practice lots and take lots and lots of photos, only some of which will turn out. (At least with digital you are not paying for film.)

- A strong motivation and desire to take flight photos.

- The expertise and programs to process your digital photo to make it look its best. Most photographers use programs like Adobe Photoshop.

My advice is even if you don't have all or some of the above, try anyway. You might find it addictive like I do.

Most importantly, have fun!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Garden, Also

Stokes entry garden, pot from in center

Border combination includes Yarrow 'Coronation Gold', honeysuckle vine, 'Gold Flame' (Lonicera heckrottii), Clematis 'Ville de Lyon' and dogwood shrub, 'Ivory Halo.'

Ruby-throated Hummingbird visiting Salvia 'Lady in Red.'

Kitchen veggie garden I designed.

In addition to being hooked on birds, and having an over 30 yr. career producing bird field guides, birding TV, and more, we also garden, avidly. Our gardens are carefully created for beauty, good design (I choose all the plant combinations), colorful plant material through the seasons, and to be bird-friendly with plants that attract our avian friends.
We have gardened in several states (MA, FL and now, NH) and have had our gardens on various garden tours, including The Garden Conservancy tour. A few days ago, Francis H. Cabot, visionary gardener and inspirational founder of The Garden Conservancy, passed away, leaving a legacy of a great organization that does much to preserve America's exceptional gardens and promote gardening in America. You can visit amazing private gardens all over America, in spring, through joining their Open Days program.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Birding for Kids

We always try to let kids look through our scope at birds.

We just got a nice letter from Jerry Medina, a teacher in Tucson, AZ who is encouraging his first grade class to become interested in birding and blogged about one of his budding birder students. That's so cool.

We love to encourage kids to get involved in birding activities. Kids who are interested and informed about birds become the conservation leaders of tomorrow. Here are a few tips and resources about birding for kids (click on the red links for more information.) Even small children can be introduced to birding. Make sure and lower spotting scopes to the proper height for kids so they can see the birds.

Our Stokes Beginner's Guide To Birds covers the 100 most common birds in the east or west and is organized by color of the bird so even children who cannot yet read, can look up a bird they see. The newly published,
Young Birders Guide by Bill Thompson, III, is also a wonderful resource. Older kids who are already into birding should have one of the many full size birding field guides. Kids should have appropriate sized binoculars, with smaller more compact binoculars given to smaller kids, and

full-sized binoculars for older kids.

The Young Birders part of the American Birding Association website is an excellent resource for kids age 10-18. They have a Young Birder of the Year Contest with prizes in categories for keeping a field notebook, bird illustration, bird writing and bird photography. They also have kid's birding camps and kid's scholarships to those camps and other birding activities. A Bird's-Eye View bimonthly newsletter is edited and written by young birders.

Most importantly, you can help spark an interest by taking a kid birding, whether it's your own kid, a grandchild, neice, nephew or just a friend.

Here's a link to the Young Birder's part of the American Birding Association website.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tree Sparrows, subtle beauty

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow, note the central breast dot

One of the highlights at our bird feeders now are the newly arrived
American Tree Sparrows. Like the juncos, they spend the winter with us and depart in spring. We enjoy their delicate good looks and their tinkling calls, as they roam the winter landscape. They breed across upper Canada and in Alaska and are seen in winter throughout much of the country. Their central breast dot stands out on their clear breast and notice their white wing bars and yellow lower mandible, good ID clues.
American Tree Sparrows eat weed seeds and come to our feeders for millet, cracked corn and other small seeds under the feeders. We often go out in our yard with our binoculars and look at the feeders and around our property at any sparrows we see, looking closely at these subtly colored birds. The reward is discovering and identifying the many species of sparrows in fall and winter. Try it, you may be surprised at how many species of sparrows can see at your own feeders.
Are you seeing Tree Sparrows and if so, where are you?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from Lillian and Don!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!!
Give thanks and be grateful for all the birds!

Lillian and Don Stokes

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wild Turkey in flight, photo for today

Wild Turkey in flight

Wild Turkey flock

Here are some turkey photos of a flock, with one flying out. They have the right idea, head for the hills and hide out until after Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Turkey photo of the day plus funny bonus photo!

Today's Wild Turkey photo by Lillian, is on page 68 of our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Yup, Gryff - I think those are Turkeys outside!"

and when our field guide came out, we were sent this funny photo of 2 Vermont Corgis, Gryf and Rugby, who are ID-ing turkeys with their Stokes Field Guide.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Baby Wild Turkey photo

Baby Wild Turkey (called a poult)

Since this is the week everyone is obsessed with turkeys, I thought I would post a different photo each day of a Wild Turkey. We are lucky to have Wild Turkeys visit our property throughout the year, here in NH, and we get to enjoy seeing them at all different stages of their life cycle, from males displaying in spring, to hens with young (called poults) in summer, to winter flocks consisting of hens and young turkeys of both sexes. Males form their own winter flock.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter Feeder birds, bet you didn't know these things about them!

White-winged Crossbills, a winter "irruptive" species

What birds can you expect at your bird feeders in winter? Quite a few, if you keep your feeders well supplied with quality bird seeds and suet. A great number of birds that breed in the U.S., such as vireos, orioles, flycatchers, hummingbirds, warblers, thrushes, and swallows, etc. migrate south for the winter. However, many birds live in the same area all year round, and other birds will come to your feeders just in winter. Here are some feeder birds that you might expect.

Black-capped Chickadee

1. Black-capped Chickadees breed as pairs on their own territory. Come fall, they join up into flocks of about 6-10 birds or more, consisting of mated pairs and non-breeders, but not the offspring of the adult pairs. The flock remains on a winter territory of about 20 acres which they will defend from other chickadee flocks. If your feeding station is in their territory, they will visit every day. The flock has a pecking order and you can see the most dominant chickadees supplant the less dominant individuals at your feeder. Other species of birds, such as woodpeckers, titmice and kinglets, may temporarily join chickadee flocks as they move about the woods.

Tufted Titmouse

2. Tufted Titmice stay in family groups in the winter. The flocks move in a fixed range of about 15-20 acres. Titmice are conspicuous and vocal at feeders. Come spring, the flocks break up into breeding pairs and lone birds.

White-breasted Nuthatch

3. White-breasted Nuthatches are common feeder birds in much of the country. They stay as a pair throughout the year in a fairly fixed range of about 25-45 acres, but during breeding they claim a smaller portion of this range for a breeding territory. In winter, the ranges of nuthatches may overlap, so you may see more than one pair at your feeders. Nuthatches can climb, headfirst, down trees.

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpeckers are bigger than Downy Woodpeckers and have a comparatively longer bill

4. Downy Woodpeckers and their larger, look-alike relative, Hairy Woodpeckers, are found at feeders all across the country. They live as pairs through the year on a range of from 5-25 acres for the Downy, and from 6-8 acres for the Hairy. The ranges of neighboring woodpeckers may overlap, so you may see several pairs at your feeders, especially if you offer them suet. Woodpeckers don't sing, but communicate through drumming on resonant surfaces, like a tree trunk.

Northern Cardinal

5. Northern Cardinals live on a territory of about 3-10 acres. Some live there throughout the year. Other cardinals form into flocks in winter and go where there is plentiful food. In spring, they return to their breeding territories. Both male and female cardinals sing. Listen for them in spring.

American Goldfinches in winter plumage

6. American Goldfinches are beautiful feeder favorites. They're bright yellow in spring and molt into a more subtle brownish-gray plumage in winter. During breeding, they live on a territory of 1/4 to1 acre or more, which they defend from other goldfinches. Once breeding is over, they form into flocks and may show up in late summer at your feeders in large numbers with their fledged young. In fall and winter, goldfinches vary in their degree of seasonal movement. Some remain in an area and others may wander widely in flocks, prompting people to wonder where the goldfinches have gone. Keep feeders stocked with sunflower and thistle to increase your chances of them visiting you in winter.

Dark-eyed Junco look somewhat different in different areas of the country because there are subspecies.

7. Dark-eyed Juncos, a kind of sparrow, are nicknamed "snow birds" because they're a species who arrive at feeders, often when the snow flies, and also because their plumage of dark gray above and white belly, looks like "gray skies above and snow below." They breed in more northern and in mountainous areas of the U.S., and in Canada, but move more south and throughout the U.S. in winter. Juncos tend to winter at the same spot each year and stay in fixed flocks with a stable dominance hierarchy. The flock forages in a defined area of about 10-12 acres, but not all of the flock members always move about together, so you may see varying numbers of juncos.

Mourning Doves ice-skating

8. Mourning Doves live throughout most of the country all year. In winter, they join into flocks which can be up to 50 birds or more and feed and roost together. These flocks wander about an area as food resources change. Flocks in the northern states seem to have a higher percentage of males. The flocks may stay stable in membership through the winter. In spring, Mourning Doves will pair up and breed, defending only a small area around their nest, and will leave their nesting area to feed in a flock. Since Mourning Doves like to feed on the ground or from tray feeders, keep feeders and the ground below them shoveled of snow.

Pine Siskin

9. "Irruptive species" of winter feeder birds include, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, Crossbills and Evening Grosbeaks. These birds mainly breed in far northern areas and wander down into the U.S. in winter to feeders, when the food supply on their breeding areas is scarce. Thus, they appear some years in numbers and less so in other years.