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Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone!!
Hope you have a rosy new year filled with beautiful birds!
Lillian and Don

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Peregrine Falcon at Sanibel Lighthouse

Christmas Peregrine Falcon, adult of the anatum subspecies, at Sanibel Lighthouse this morning. There were lots of birders, photographers, tourists, an occasional appearance of a Razorbill, lots of Red-breasted Mergansers, and this Peregrine, who was chasing terns and looking for its Christmas present. (Photos taken with my Canon SX 40 HS from quite a distance from 100 to 195% digital zoom).
Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Razorbill Invasion of Florida Photos 12/23/12

Razorbill at Sanibel Island lighthouse beach today.

One came close to shore
Here you can see the back legs.
When they feed, they open their wings

and lunge forward and down.
Their wings propel them
underwater and they go really fast, like flying underwater, chasing mall fish, their main food.

In addition to the Razorbills, we saw this Horned Grebe.

Here are some photos I took today at Sanibel Island, FL, from the beach by the lighthouse. We saw 10 Razorbills from there and I was lucky that a few came near shore to feed, one as close as 20 feet from me. They were doing a lot of feeding and it was interesting to watch them dive for fish. They spread their wings, then dive down, zipping very fast underwater. Their main food is small fish. The Razorbill invasion of Florida is historic, with numbers never before seen here. There could potentially be thousands in Florida waters, all along the coasts. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Razorbills Invasion of Florida Keeps Coming!


Razorbill group. Sometimes they are far offshore, as we viewed them 2 days ago on Sanibel Island at Blind Pass.

The Razorbills keep coming down into Florida and the invasion is growing. 34 were just seen off Anna Maria Island on the Gulf Coast. We keep seeing them off Blind Pass on Sanibel Island. On Dec. 23rd. we saw 10 Razorbills off Sanibel Island at the lighthouse. A few swam close to shore.

It is thought perhaps unusually warm ocean waters in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic in Razorbills traditional winter range may have dispersed the fish there, so the Razorbills must continue south in search of food. See article on

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Razorbills, Gulf Coast of FL on Sanibel & Captiva

Razorbill, 1st winter plumage

Razorbill, winter plumage, off Sanibel Island, FL,  today. There's a Razorbill invasion of Florida going on with potentially thousands there.

One of the Razorbills, off Captiva Island, FL,  today. 

Here's a video of the Razorbill

Here's a Razorbill in summer plumage, for comparison, I photographed at Machias Seal Island, ME.

Here's another photo of the Sanibel Razorbill.

It mostly just sat on the water, but did stretch its wings.

We immediately posted our sighting of the Razorbill at Gulfside City Park, on the SWFLBirdline listserve, and several other birders came right out to see it. Don showed them the Razorbill through our scope. 

The Razorbill on Sanibel was rather far off shore but viewable with binos, and nice views through a scope. This is the view through the camera I was while standing on shore. Orange arrow points to bird. I zoomed way, way out, 140x to take the photos with the Canon SX 40, so excuse the quality of the photos.

There is a Razorbill invasion of Florida happening and today we saw 3 Razorbills off of Sanibel and Captiva, on the Gulf Coast of Florida. One Razorbill was off Gulfside City Park on Sanibel Island and we saw that about 3 pm. We watched for about an hour then went to Captiva Island and located the other two which where near the breakwater at Blind Pass. One was resting on the water, the other was feeding by diving near a large group of Pelicans. No one knows why thousands of Razorbills are coming to FL, as they usually winter in the Northeast down to the Carolinas, rarely to GA. After searching all morning, with no sucess at Bunche Beach in Ft. Myers where one had been seen two days ago, we finally located these three. Sweet! If you are in Florida and see Razorbills, report them to your nearest birding listserve and also
Make sure and send your record to the Florida Ornithological Society by filling out their FOS Bird Records Species Documentation form located here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Florida Razorbill Invasion Is Happening!

Razorbill, 1st winter plumage

Razorbill, 1st winter plumage

Razorbill, summer plumage



There is an invasion of Razorbills into Florida with birds being seen from many locations. Yesterday 150-200 were seen off Boynton Inlet/Beach heading south. As of early December, there were maybe fewer than 10 state records for the Razorbill in Florida, so suddenly having lots of Razorbills showing up is very astounding. Razorbills are a large auk usually found in the north Atlantic Ocean, and they winter usually to New England and down to NC, rarely as far south as GA. Razorbills forage on small fish and sometimes crustaceans, feeding in waters less than 200 ft. deep. They catch fish while swimming underwater, at 5-20 ft. below surface. Their populations are thought to be declining. Why are they coming down into FL in numbers? Is it lack of food for some reason in their usual wintering locations? Some of the birds being seen in FL have seemed weak and one was washed up on the shore and taken to a marine hospital where it did not survive.

 Reports keep coming in.

Here is a link to a google map where the Florida sightings are being posted, click here

Report your sightings to your state listserves and also to ebird.

Above photos are of summer plumage Razorbills. In winter they have white on throat that extends behind eye, little or no white on lore.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

White Pelican Magnificence

White Pelicans are such magnificent birds. There are quite a few here now in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, FL, where they spend the winter, just like the "snowbird" human winter residents of the island.

Preening is a big part of their job, gotta keep those beautiful feathers in shape.

After they feed as a group, herding the fish, then scooping them up in their bills. Then they swim or fly and splash down, over to their sand bar, where they rest up. Come spring they migrate to their breeding areas in the western areas of the U. S. and Canada such as MT, ID, UT, WY, etc. Their relatives, the Brown Pelicans, live in southern coastal areas all year, and feed by diving headfirst into the water to catch a fish.
Canon SX 40 HS photos.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Tall Tales (Tails) of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are cool little birds!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The undertail is completely white and white extends through the undertail coverts.

What's faster than a speeding warbler? That would be this little bird, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a very hyperactive bird found in winter in far southern areas of the country, including FL. Here in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel, FL, birders can see them flitting through the mangroves, hunting for small insects in the leaves.

"The adult male in summer has a thin black eyebrow, mostly in front of eye and extending to forehead" (SFG) but not in winter. In summer their breeding range extends throughout much of the country.

I love the way the top photograph shows the full tail fanned, something they do often. The outer tail feathers are mostly white. In the bottom photo you can see how, when they close their tail, it's like a fan closing. The two outer tail feather come together and when the tail is fully closed it would appear all white from underneath. On this bird, there is white extending all the way from the tail feathers continuing down through the fluffy white undertail coverts. This may help ID it as to subspecies.

There are 3 subspecies, "caerula (KS-cent. TX and east); m. back bluish gray, undertail white through undertail coverts"... obscura (w. TX-WY and west); m. back darker undertail mostly white but black just before the undertail coverts... deppei (s. TX) like caerula but smaller" 

In today's world of digital photography, where many a birder carries a digital camera, it becomes possible to see intimate details of a bird's plumage and tell things about it never before possible. Look closely at your digital photos, blow them up on your screen. Our new Stokes field guide will help you discover new things about the birds you are seeing.

As to getting a photo of this hyper species, moving through mangroves, well, that's a topic for another blog post.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Christmas Bird Count, tips for how to have fun and get the most out of it!

Christmas Bird Counts are coming up, from Roseate Spoonbills in Florida

to Ravens in Alaska, all the birds will be counted.

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

It's a 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 15 mile diameter 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. To participate by joining a search party or staying (warm) at home and counting birds at your feeders, click here.

The census data, while obviously affected by how many people participate from year to year, and whether new count circles are added, etc., is still very valuable. It gives a sense of the status and distribution of early winter bird populations across the whole country.

We have participating in the CBC, wherever we have lived, for just about as long as we have been birding. One of the things we like best is that on that special day, every bird counts, no matter what species it is. All birds are censused, so each is sought after. Just staying out all day and seeing what birds are around and what they are doing is special, something most people rarely do. We so enjoy the camraderie of the people we join with in our search party, as we go about our group effort to find every bird we can.

Every year is different. This year should be exciting because there are so many irruptive species that have come down into the U.S. How many Common Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Northen Shrikes and other irruptives will be found? We will be counting in the Sanibel-Captiva, FL, Christmas Count this year and we will fill you in on how it goes.
Christmas Bird Count tips:

1. Keep your feeders full, watch in early am and mid-afternoon, times when birds feed heavily at feeders.
2. Count the maximum number of a species you have in view at one time, in one place, to avoid duplicate counting. Use binoculars. Bring a scope, if you are counting in wide open areas, it will help you see farther.
3. Chickadees in a flock fly across an open space one at a time. So wait for a chickadee flock you are watching to cross an open space, it will give you a more accurate count.
4. Watch carefully for other birds who hang out with chickadees in a "mixed flock". You may see a Brown Creeper, or kinglets.
5. Dress warmly, or cooly, depending on where you are. It's no fun to count if you're too cold or too hot.
6. Bring, or stop for snacks, (granola bars, coffee, hot cocoa in the North, cool water and sun block in the South) to keep you energized.
7. Bring our new, national,  The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which has all the plumages of the birds you will be seeing, and complete ID info. 
8. Listen to our Stokes Field Guide to Bird Song CDs, eastern or western regions, beforehand, to help you ID birds by sound you will be finding.
9. Have fun!
10. Tell us about your own CBC if you participate in one. For more information on how you can join a Christmas Bird Count in your area go here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Bald Eagle Moment

We are in our winter home on Sanibel Island, FL and, visible from our backyard, we have had this magnificent Bald Eagle frequenting a perch on a large Australian Pine. She (females are larger and have larger head and bill) comes there each morning and evening. As you can see, this morning she was preening, perhaps because she is sitting on a nest and incubating, then leaves to take a break to groom and go feed. This may be the eagle from the pair that traditionally nested behind the Dairy Queen, but moved their nest last year. We shall see. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, we were just thrilled this am to have this special moment with the eagle.
Photos with the Canon SX 40 HS, from a distance.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Short-earred Owl

The Short-eared Owl is one of my favorite owls. This medium-sized owl lives in open habitats, such as tundra, grasslands, fields, marshes, prairies and savannas, where it hunts small mammals. It breeds mostly in the far North and parts of the West and can be seen in winter in many parts of the country.

I saw this one on Christmas several years ago in the marshes of Salisbury Beach, MA. It mostly hunts at night, sometimes during the day. I was lucky, it was out, and gave me photo ops. This owl flies erratically, like a moth, and courses low over the ground, so photographing it in flight was a challenge (as usual!) I was thrilled to get some photos.

One of the wonderful things I love about capturing a bird in a photo, is that you get to keep and cherish that moment. You can look at it again and again, re-experiencing the adventure, and share it, as I have done today, with others.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Winter Bird-Feeding Tips, How to Keep Your Birds Happy


Here's Some Advice on Winter Bird Feeding Basics

Brrrrrrr!  When winter temperatures plummet, furnaces are turned on, down parkas and mittens are taken out of storage, and hot cocoa is made on the stove. This how we humans cope with winter, but what do the birds do? Their feathers are their down parkas and their metabolism keeps them warm but they need increased fuel to stoke their furnaces and shelter from wind and cold. Understanding their needs is the first step in setting up your winter bird feeding station.

Where to place feeders

One of the best places to set up feeders in winter is on the south side of a thick stand of evergreens whose branches go from ground level to tree top. This green wall should have as much sunlight hitting it as possible. Not only is it a big solar collector that the birds will love for its warmth, but they can use the dense foliage as protection from predators, shelter from storms, a nightime roost and a place to await their turn at the feeder, or munch a seed recently taken. 

If you do not have this ideal set-up, then be inventive and  create some of its elements. Put your feeders in protected locations that get lots of sun, create a brush pile nearby for cover, plant evergreens, or stand up your discarded Christmas tree near the feeder.

Pine Siskins, Purple Finch,m.

Winter Chow; Supersize me

Because birds have higher metabolic needs in the winter, they consume more calories than in  warmer weather; thus, they need foods that are calorie-rich. Interestingly, one gram of fat provides 11 calories, and one gram of protein or carbohydrate contains only 4 calories.

Here is an interesting list of bird seeds and their protein, fat and carbohydrate content by percentage of weight. 


black oil sunflower   16/40/38
peanuts   30/48/2.5
thistle   18/32/13.5
millet   11.5/4/6.5
milo   11/3/2.5
Cracked Corn   9/4/2   

So for winter feeding in cold areas, the type of food you provide for is important.

Black-capped Chickadee

Suet cakes contain a high amount of fat so they are a calorie-rich food; so are black oil sunflower, peanuts and thistle. These foods are a good choice for feeder birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, finches and cardinals. Offer these seeds in tube and hopper feeders hung above the ground. 

There are other feeder birds, such as Mourning Doves, White-throated Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Juncos that normally feed on the ground and whose seed preferences can tend toward carbohydrates. These species will eat seeds such as millet or cracked corn, or mixes containing them. You can offer these birds winter food on platform feeders near the ground, or even sprinkled directly on the ground provided you keep the ground raked clean of any old seed that is not quickly eaten.

Evening Grosbeak, males

In addition to offering food variety to fit the palate of your winter customers, the basic tenet of winter bird feeding is the all-you-can-eat buffet. Basically, keep feeders full so the food is there when they need it. Even though many of your feeder birds will alternate feeding at and then away from your feeders, they especially need supplemental food in severe weather when the wild foods are covered with ice and snow. In these tough times, a good feeder set-up can help their survival. Pay particular attention to filling feeders in mid-afternoon and early morning. This is when birds need to stock up on food and calories to heat their bodies through the cold night and replenish their furnace fuel in the early AM.

Consistency is the key

Once you have the birds coming to you in winter, it is important to be consistent in your feeding program, for they tend to rely in severe weather on the additional supplementation of foods you are offering. So if you go on vacation, see if a friend or neighbor, or hired youngster, will fill your feeders; that is what we do. You may also want to put out larger capacity feeders in winter so they do not have to be filled so often and so there is less chance of them going empty.

Let it Snow

One of the challenges in keeping your winter restaurant open for the birds occurs when there are storms that pile up snow and cover feeders. It is important to keep your feeders free of snow, especially in the portals of tube feeders, ledges of hopper feeders and the tops of platform feeders.  We always go out and knock or wipe the snow off feeders several times during a storm. Another good trick is to hang one of those squirrel baffles shaped like a clear plastic umbrella, above the feeder to shield it from the snow. One of the best snow protectors we have seen was done by someone who had made a giant plastic umbrella out of two big plastic window-well covers mounted back to back. This was held up well off the ground by wooden posts and multiple feeders were mounted under it.

Dark-eyed Junco

Keeping the ground free of snow for ground feeders like White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Juncos, Mourning Doves, and even Wild Turkeys, like we have coming to our feeders, takes dedicated shoveling or a snow blower. During one of last winter’s worst storms, we took turns shoveling out a space on the ground under our feeders just about every hour. On our deck we shoveled out spaces under our built in benches and sprinkled seed there for the Blue Jays and Juncos.

Northern Cardinal, f.

In Milder Climates

We are aware that not everyone shivers through winter with snow and cold. Mild climate areas, like California and the southern states, escape the worst weather. In addition to the resident birds, such as Cardinals there, many migrant birds from the North, like Goldfinches, Doves, Catbirds, even an occasional hummingbird, visit feeders there. We have fed birds in Florida in winter for a number of years and it is great fun. While there is not snow, some of the basic practices of bird feeding apply — a diverse menu for both tree-dwelling and ground-dwelling species, providing clean water and good cover, and keeping feeding areas clean. We have even put out oranges in Florida and had catbirds regularly come to them. Maybe they are the same catbirds that breed in our yard in New Hampshire in the summer. We like to think so.


One of the biggest rewards of winter feeding, in addition to knowing you are helping the birds survive, is being entertained by all those wonderful, active creatures while you are house-bound. Colorful Cardinals, perky Chickadees, big-eyed Titmice, maybe even a more rare visitor like a Pine Siskin, will line up for your restaurant where there will be standing room only.

This winter, meet your birds’ needs for the right food and shelter and have your own winter bird festival.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Say's Phoebe, First State Record for NH!

It was way far away and had flown
behind the other side of the buildings and the chain link fence. Don is looking for it.

Just got back from seeing New Hampshire's first state record of a Say's Phoebe, a bird from the West, far out of it's usual range here in NH. It was found by Chris Borg at the Penacook, NH wastewater treatment plant. Pardon the photos, when we got there it had flown farther back into the wastewater treatment plant, too far for decent photos with my usual high end Canon gear which I had with me. So I did what I could with the Canon SX 40 HS camera, the little superzoom point-and-shoot which zooms out and can magnify things up to 140x, albeit with grainy photos at that distance. In this case having that camera with me meant the difference between getting less than ideal record shots, or no photos at all. It was a very cool little bird to see.