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Monday, July 23, 2012

Puffin Fun in Maine

One of our favorite summer birding things to do in summer is to go see Atlantic Puffins off the coast of Maine. We have done this a number of times. There are several places to go, including Machias Seal Island. That's where I took the above photo. The best times are from June thru mid-August. You need to take a special tour boat, such as the one run out of Cutler, Maine by Bold Coast Charter Companythat has the permits to land there. When you land, you go to very small wooden shacks that are blinds with little windows that you can look out of, to photograph and watch the puffins close by. This is to create the least disturbance to the birds. It is an amazing thrill to see these little "Parrots of the Sea" up close and personal. Call in advance for the tours.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Are Hummingbird Numbers Down???

People have been emailing us reports of hummingbird population declines. Are your hummingbird numbers up or down and where do you live? Here are some recent comments we have gotten:

"It's now July 2012 and in Pittsburg, Kansas at this time of year ten or fifteen hummingbirds at one time might be buzzing at each other to be at the feeder on the south and others on the west side of our house. Now once in a while, I'll see one or two.  I mentioned this to a daughter in Rolla, Missouri.  She's noticed the same problem, and so has my daughter in Owensboro, Kentucky.  What's going on, we wonder.  Do you have any ideas??"

Not everyone is reporting hummer numbers as down, but some people we're hearing from are saying they see less hummers than usual. So what's going on? It's hard to know whether the reports we get accurately reflect a widespread population decline in hummingbirds, especially Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Who is even keeping track of hummingbird numbers?

The Breeding Bird Survey, a long-time study that started in 1966, surveys nesting birds in May and June. Volunteers drive a 25 mile routs and stop every half mile for 3 minutes and record every bird seen or heard at that spot. This is most effective at picking up singing males. Birds that do not sit in one spot and sing (such as hummingbirds) may be under-reported in the BBS. You can look up population trends for any species on the Breeding Bird Survery website.

eBird is another source of bird population data. This recent website was begun in 2002 by Cornell and it allows people to send in their bird reports electronically. You can look up how many reports of each species have been seen in your area on their website. People have been sending in reports of hummingbirds. But this is not a long term scientific study, so it's hard to draw conclusions about overall poplulation trends. 

The Christmas Bird Count is a long running population survery of birds in December and January and you can look up which birds are found where on the website. Many hummingbirds leave the Untied States in the winter months. A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do overwinter in southern and Gulf Coast states.

Aside from these surveys, there seems little else in the way of widespread collection of hummingbird population data in spring and summer.

Why might some people be seeing less hummingbirds in their areas?

Here is speculation:

- There is lack of food at critical times such as when they first arrive from migration. If colder or hotter or more severe weather (due to global warming) affects the flowering of their nectar sources or insect populations (Ruby-throats do eat insects) when they need it, they may not survive.
- Or there could be more abundant food and flowers in the wild, so hummers do not come to feeders where they can be seen and counted by people.
- Or there could be higher mortality for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in their wintering areas (Central and South America, and who is counting them there?) so less return each year.
- Or, there are other unknown factors (disease? severe weather extremes) impacting them that we do not know about.
- Or, their reproductive success rate, due to lack of food when the young are in the nest or other factors, is declining.

How can you help in the short term? Keep your hummingbird feeders clean and free of mold and bacteria, which can harm hummingbirds. That means cleaning your hummer feeders every 2 days in hot weather!! Plant hummingbird flowers that bloom at different times so there is ample wild nectar resources from early spring to fall. Help conserve land so hummingbirds continue to have places to nest.

Keep your hummingbird feeders full and clean for the rest of the summer. In August you may see more hummingbirds, and they may also come back to you next year. Hummer numbers are at peak in August as young of the year are out of the nest. There is also peak hummingbird migration through August and September and migrating hummingbirds may show up at your feeders.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dragonflies for Birders

Birders can look for dragonflies through their binoculars! This is a Halloween Pennant dragonfly, so aptly named, and one of my favorites. We have hundreds in our fields right now.

Widow Skimmer

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

When birds are quiet in summer, 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!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Fourth of July Birds!

Northern Cardinal

Great Egret

Indigo Bunting

Flowers from our garden

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