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Friday, August 31, 2012

Fall Warbler ID Quiz, guess who!

Mystery Warbler 1

Mystery Warbler 2

Mystery Warbler 3

Just for fun, here is a fall warbler mystery bird quiz. Here are some warblers we saw this morning on our property in southwest NH. If you were standing next us this is what you would have seen.
Guess who these fall warblers are. Oh, come on, you can do it!

We will post the answers on our blog tomorrow morning at 7 am, so check back anytime tomorrow to see the answers and discussion. Be the first one to get it right and we will post your name with the answers.
Big hint, if you own our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, look in the warbler section, which has all the all the plumages of the warblers, including fall plumages, with multiple photos per warbler species.
Good Luck.
Send your answers in the comments section, or send us an email here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nighthawks are flying!

We just saw 417 Common Nighthawks migrate past our property, here in SW NH last night, wow! Get out and watch this awesome spectacle. They migrate down river corridors and best time is 5-7:30 pm to watch for them. Good Luck.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Nighthawks, Yes!

Common Nighthawk

Right on schedule, the nighthawks came, they must have read my last post in which I gave tips for finding Common Nighthawks. Last night we counted 26 Common Nighthawks right off our deck. They arrived between 6 pm. and 7 pm. in small groups, flying directly overhead. Interestingly they were moving ahead of a weather front that came in and dropped rain during the night. This is not unusual for nighthawks. Nighthawks feed on insects as they go, and may circle around in a flock, feeding for a while, before they start their migration that day. There are still more nighthawks to migrate and others in NH and MA have been spotting them. Get out and watch, from 5pm to 7:30 pm. is best. Nighthawks usually follow river corridors. Good Luck and if you see some, tell us. If you live in NH or MA, report your sightings here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Nighthawks are coming!!

Common Nighthawk

They maneuver to catch aerial insects, especially ants dispersing on wings.

Look for the tell-tale white patches on outer wings.

We eat dinner with binoculars in hand while searching for nighthawks.

The scene from our deck looks out over a river and we watch until dusk.

Common Nighthawk migration is starting and birders have already seen nighthawks in New England. Each year at this time we get excited by the prospect of nighthawk migration, and look for and record our sightings. We are lucky to live on a river corridor (actually a dammed up portion of the river which creates a large pond) because river corridors are good migration routes for nighthawks who eat the flying insects often found over water.

There is an official nighthawk count that comprises southern NH and the upper two-thirds of MA. If you live in these areas, try and watch for the nighthawks and enter your data at their website, click here. The more we learn about the migration routes, numbers, and breeding habitat of these wonderful birds, the better the chance for protecting them.

Here are some tips for seeing migrating Common Nighthawks:

1. Look during the later afternoon to early evening hours, from about 4 pm to 7:30 pm.
2. Look north, as they generally move from north to south.
3. Get comfortable, use a chair if you can, you will be looking for quite a while. Tuck your elbows in, it is less tiring and steadier to hold binos that way.
4. Nighthawks often move along river corridors
5. Note if there is an ant hatch. Nighthawks are attracted to, and eat, dispersing ants who rise up in clouds.
6. Study the photos above, to learn nighthawk shape. Often you will only see distant birds with long pointed wings, flapping rather slowly. When feeding, nighthawks fly erratically. When migrating, they move more directly and may even rise up on a thermal sometimes.

Happy Common Nighthawk watching!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Evening Grosbeaks, how cool are they!

Evening Grosbeak, male

Evening Grosbeaks are awesome birds. They're big, bold, beautiful, and big piggies at your bird feeder  – if you are lucky enough to have them. They breed in forests across the very northern areas of the U.S., in Canada, and across higher elevations of the West. They can irrupt down into much of the lower U.S. during non-breeding, especially when their food availability is less. The American Birding Association has chosen them as their 2012 bird of the year, hoping this will inspire birders to be more conspicuous and spread the excitement of birding. Here are some of my photos and reasons why Evening Grosbeaks are cool. For starters, just look at those knock-out colors of the male.

And that beak! Gros-beak, they're not kidding. The big bill can easily handle cracking open sunflower seeds.

Here's a male at our bird bath in NH. What dramatic colors of the male, and people have likened the plumage pattern to a space cadet uniform.

Here's the female, who has a more subtlety colored uniform, but then again she has to sit on the nest to incubate and it's best not to be too conspicuous.

The best way to attract Evening Grosbeaks is to throw them a sunflower party (their favorite feeder food),  with lots of seating room.

A large tray works best,

or a tube with a ledge wide enough to accommodate Grosbeaks, who, at 8" in length,  might shop in the plus size department.

In our area of SW New Hampshire, Grosbeaks sometimes breed, lucky us. Here they are in numbers at at feeder in our town. In the old days (pre-1980), we remember years when there would be large invasions of Evening Grosbeaks at our feeders in MA. Grosbeaks seem to have experienced a population decline since then, although the cause is not clear. Some think they are not moving as far south during the winter due to the hemispheric trend in warmer winter weather, or declines might relate to food availability, or other causes.

And here is a fledgling Evening Grosbeak getting fed at a feeding station in our town. Getting it's first taste of sunflower seed, yum!

Hope this cool bird inspires you to pick up your binoculars, invite the birds to your feeders, and share your joy with others.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dickcissel, in SW New Hampshire!

Dickcissel, 1st yr. female

landed in a shrub behind our bird feeder.

Photos taken with the Canon SX 40 HS, from a distance, with superzoom, so excuse photo quality.

Property bird #198! That's what we had this morning at Bobolink Farm, our NH property, when this Dickcissel landed about 30 ft. beyond our bird feeder in a tall shrub. We heard a harsh, low-pitched "djeep" call and spotted the bird on top of a nearby willow shrub. I ran inside and grabbed a camera. We keep a list of all the birds we have seen on our property, so it is very exciting for us when a new bird shows up for the first time.

This is an uncommon bird in our neck of the woods, but our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America does show it in our area on the range map, within the yellow dotted line, which connotes extralimital range in migration.

The above bird appears to be a 1st year female that has just molted out of its juv. plumage for it is very pale with little yellow wash underneath, appears to essentially have no distinctive reddish brown on the median or lesser wing coverts, has a suggestion of buffy wing bars, and the feathers of the wings show basically no signs of wear. Juveniles are browner overall and have fine dark streaking across their breast and on their flanks: they only keep this plumage until August.

The male, shown here, and photographed in FL in April,  (with a Canon 1D Mark IV) has a yellow breast with a central breast dot, black bib, yellowish eyebrow and malar region, white chin and reddish-brown wing coverts.

I wanted to document this new property bird with a photo, so when I ran into the house, the nearest, fastest-to-use camera was the Canon Powershot SX 40 HS, a digital point and shoot "superzoom." My big Canon 1D Mark IV with a big tripod and 500 mm lens would have taken longer to set up, and possibly spooked the bird. The bird did not stay long.

About the photos, (tech-head talk, skip this if you want),
This bird was backlit, at quite a distance from me, on a blowing in the wind shrub. Challenging photography. I used the SX 40 on the AV setting. The middle photo taken at 1/640, f 5.8, ISO 200, focal length 150.5 mm, the digital zoom ration is 195%, file size of photo was 1.94 MB, and photo was cropped. I used the digital zoom menu setting at 2.0x which zooms to a specified factor and shoots with reduced camera shake. The other two photos were taken at 1/1000, f 5.8, 200 ISO, 312% digital zoom ratio. Photos also cropped. There is plus and minus about using this Canon SX 40 camera. The plus is low cost (under $400) lightweight and it can capture birds at a far distance. However, it is often hard to use and you have to zoom in and out to find the bird. It is much easier to get a decent photo of a closer bird with a standard digital SLR (more costly) camera and telephoto lens. But all this is a topic for another blog post.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hummingbird Migration Happening Now!

Hummingbirds are migrating big time now, so keep your hummingbird feeders clean and full! Above is a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, chowing down, watch the video. This is the best time to see hummingbirds. Hummingbird numbers are at peak right now because there are the adults plus the new crop of young hummingbirds from this year. Throughout the East, you will see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arriving daily at your feeders. They are on their way south, going thousands of miles, down into Central America for the winter, many going across the Gulf of Mexico. Wow! Western Hummingbirds like Rufous, Broad-tailed and others are also migrating.

Migrating hummingbirds eat voraciously, building their fat reserves for their long migratory trip. Keep your feeders clean, cleaning every two days in hot weather, so mold does not build up in the feeder. Fill with fresh nectar solution each time. Put up more than one hummingbird feeder, spacing them widely to reduce competition at each feeder. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, juvenile male

Watch for males, females, and the young hummingbirds will look like the females, but with pristine feathers and paler edges to their crown feathers, creating a scaled look. Young males may have a few colorful feathers growing in on their throats. 

Keep looking and enjoying for soon they will be gone.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Shorebirds Are Migrating Now!

Semipalmated Plovers, top two photos, are migrating

Sanderlings resting during migration

Large group of migrant shorebirds including Semi-palmated Plovers, Semi-palmated Sandpipers, and White-rumped Sandpipers.

What's happening in the world of birding now? Shorebirds are migrating through the northern half of the country and will continue big time through August. 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 and more. 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 and see what you can find.
If you are shorebird ID-challenged try our Stokes Beginner's Guide To Shorebirds.
For the full nine yards and THE most complete reference to shorebirds and all other birds, get our best-selling The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Stokes in Birds and Blooms Magazine

We're in the current issue of Birds & Blooms magazine.

Here are some of our blooms, Cleome and Verbena Bonariensis (loved by hummingbirds and butterflies) with our feeders beyond. We're avid gardeners as well as birders.

And our Eastern Bluebird, male at his favorite mealworm feeder.

Birds & Blooms magazine did a nice article on birding advice from famous birding couples, including us, Kenn and Kim Kaufmann, also George and Kit Harrison and Jim and Nancy Carpenter. Birds and Blooms is a fun magazine full of great articles and tips on gardening and birds, and butterflies, with beautiful photos. Check it out here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Pelagic Birding

Sooty Shearwater

Great Shearwater

One of the great birding things to do this time of year is to take a pelagic birding trip to find seabirds. You can up your birder life list and experience some pretty cool birds firsthand. Often the trips are billed as whale watch trips, but you can see pelagic birds as well as the whales, especially if the captain caters to the birders on board and tries to find pelagic species. Birds such as Great and Sooty Shearwaters can be seen in numbers.

Great Shearwater 

On a whale trip in the past we saw many seabirds, we weren't counting as much as looking and I was also photographing. The seabirds were out feeding with the whales, near Jeffrey's Ledge, a 33 mile long shallow glacial deposit underwater formation that stretches from off Rockport, Mass. to south of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Because of nutrient rich upwelling from the deeper waters next to the ledge, it's very productive of food (small fish, mollusks, crustaceans) for the whales and other marine creatures. Here's a Great Shearwater in flight. By far, the most numerous seabirds we saw were Great Shearwaters. They have grayish brown upperparts, a dark cap and a variable white collar. This one has less of a collar. You can see the narrow U-shaped white patch on the rump.

We also saw a fair number of Cory's Shearwaters, shown here. The yellow bill is quite prominent, a help with their ID.

It ain't easy to photograph seabirds. First of all, you're on a moving boat. We were lucky in that the seas were calm, with no big swells. Some tips, brace yourself against the wall of the boat, keep you knees slightly flexed and plant your feet somewhat widely to steady yourself. Forget a tripod. The boat is crowded, rocking and you have to manuever around people. Use a telephoto lens with image stabilization. I had a Canon 300 mm IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter (giving me 420 mm). If you can hand hold the heavy 500 mm lens or the 300 mm f 2.8 lens then good for you, they are too heavy for me.
Here's a Great Shearwater taking off, love the pinkish feet.

Another species we saw was this Sooty Shearwater, an easy ID because of its almost all over sooty color, except for the whitish on the underwing primary coverts.Here's what it really looks like, with lots of little shapes bobbing on the water. These are Greater Shearwaters, but you need to look carefully at each group of birds and all birds flying by to ID them.
There are many seabirds that can be seen in the Gulf of Maine from whale watch boats from NH and MA. The Granite State Whale Watch Trips leave from Rye, NH. and is a great trip to take if you live in that area.

Whale watch boat we took near Digby Neck, Nova Scotia, Canada a few summers ago.

Greater Shearwater, swimming

Of course, the whales are spectacular also. Here's a photo of mother and baby Humpback Whales I took from Nova Scotia. What a thrill to see such huge mammals up close.
While most were on one side of the boat watching the whales, I was the only person who ran to the other side of the boat to get some of these seabird photos. Look for a pelagic birding trip near you.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012