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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Holidays From Lillian and Don Stokes

Happy Holidays!
Merry Christmas and we hope you have a wonderful
bird-filled 2014!!
Lillian and Don

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cedar Waxwing Glory of the Season

Cedar Waxwings

Our Christmas Bird Count team, l. to r., Don and Corgi Phoebe, me and Corgi Abby, Meade Cadot, Sandy Taylor, Jonathan Atwood (photo taken by Polly Pattison)

Cedar Waxwings move in flocks and look for berries in winter.

They love crabapples.

We did the Christmas Bird Count here, in southern NH, last weekend on one of the coldest days it has ever been held. After tramping around in the cold, we came across this glorious scene, a group of Cedar Waxwings feeding on crabapples. What beautiful birds, looking like velvety apparitions against the seasonal colors of red crabapples and white snow. I quietly enjoyed them and, from a distance, took these photos in the overcast winter light. Enjoying nature in each season is what it's all about. (Canon SX 50 photos.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Now that you've saved Snowy Owls, help save Bald Eagles, warblers from slaughter on Lake Erie

Bald Eagle

Nashville Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Sign near globally significant bird area on Lake Erie

Snowy Owls were just saved from killing when the NY Port Authority reversed their decision from shooting the Snowy Owls to trapping and removing them at JFK airport. The outcry of bird lovers on social media, TV, internet, etc. had an effect. Now Bald Eagles, warblers, and millions of migratory birds need your help!

These birds could face slaughter on a major migration flyway on Lake Erie by poorly located wind turbines. We are in favor of wind energy and wind energy is beneficial when sited in the right place, but not when massive wind turbines are placed smack in the middle of a major migration route where hundreds of thousands of migrating warblers pass by and where there is the largest concentration of breeding Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states! This could be a disaster for these birds.

Magee Marsh, the "warbler capital of the world," and nearby areas are under heavy pressure from the threat of wind energy development. Birders flock to Magee Marsh each fall to witness the many thousands of beautiful warblers and other migratory birds who fly through this area using Magee as a stopover and feeding area. More than 50 active Bald Eagle nests are nearby. There are plans to place numbers of large turbines along Lake Erie's shore in this area. In fact, several of them are already up and operating in these highly bird-sensitive areas. Future plans for even more turbines must be stopped! Black Swamp Bird Observatory is leading this effort.

Birders are an important voice for bird conservation, as well as an economic force. The tens of thousands of birders have who have visited Magee Marsh for warbler watching have brought significant money to the local economy.

If you are a birder or bird lover, here's how you can help:

Go to this link and SIGN THE PETITION and email these politicians and protest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Good News, JFK airport will now trap and relocate Snowy Owls, not kill them!

Well, good news for Snowy Owls! The NY Port Authority, which has allowed Snowy Owls to be shot at JFK airport has now changed its mind and they are starting a program to trap and relocate the owls instead of shooting them.

I was interviewed for the NY Daily News exclusive story that broke on Monday which said the NY Port Authority had put the owls on their kill list and had already shot 3 of them. While I understand that birds can pose a threat to planes, I expressed my dismay and told the reporter there was a better way to treat the owls. I told the reporter to also interview Norm Smith, a raptor bander, who, at Boston's Logan airport, had been successfully trapping and relocating the Snowy Owls for years. I also gave her the name to interview, of Jeff Gordon, president of the American Birding Association.

Once the story broke birders sprung into action to put pressure on the NY Port Authority to change its policy. Through facebook, blogs and social media, the word spread. There was an online petition (which I and over 3,000 other people signed) addressed to Gov. Cuomo, asking him to stop the killing of the owls. The TV news stations got on the story. The pressure from bird lovers and the birding community was successful!! Thanks to everyone who made an effort!!

Snowy Owls, a tundra breeding species, have been appearing in unusually large numbers in the U.S. this winter and seeking out tundra-like habitat such as large airports, coastal dunes, fields. Some think it may be due to a lack of enough food availability in their usual range or a population surge of the owls. Snowy Owls have been seen now as far south as NC and Bermuda. Snowy Owls eat lemmings on their breeding range and in winter can eat rodents and waterfowl.
I and my husband Don, saw 9 Snowy Owls in the coastal NH area on Nov. 30th, when I took the above photos.

Lesson learned. Birders are a community who can be effective at bird conservation when they join together and lobby for safe treatment of birds.

Monday, December 09, 2013

NY City JFK Airport Now Shooting Snowy Owls!

Showy Owls are in the crosshairs at NY City Airports

The Port Authority has shot three of them so far.

Update, Tues., Dec. 10th.
Good news, since I wrote the blog post below, the NY Port Authority has changed its policy and will stop shooting the Snowy Owls and instead trap and remove them. Read my update here.

I was interviewed for a story in today's New York Daily News whose headline and tease is is "Hoot To Kill... Exclusive: Whooo'd be so cruel? Port Authority declares open season on adorable snowy "Harry Potter' owl at JFK airport." This is terrible news for Snowy Owls, especially when there may be a better, safer way to handle the issue that these magnificent birds, who leave their tundra home in times of food stress, seek out tundra-like habitat, such as airports, coastal dunes and fields in the lower U.S. I told the reporter that Boston's Logan Airport has a ace raptor bander, Norm Smith, who traps and removes the Snowy Owls who show up at Logan Airport, safely releasing the elsewhere. She did also interview Norm and there is a separate story on him in the paper.

The NY Port Authority gave permission for Snowy Owls to be exterminated at NY City airports and three have been shot so far. Owls are an issue for plane safety since they could be sucked into a plane engine. The news story has a quote "Even a wildlife specialist didn't understand why they were being killed because they are not part of a large population and they are easy to catch and relocate, unlike seagulls." Norm said that even though a Snowy Owl could get sucked into a jet engine,"its not like a flock of geese that is going to take out more than one engine and bring down a plane."

Snowy Owls are showing up in the U.S. in huge numbers this year and have been seen as far south as NC and Bermuda. These owls live in the tundra and must leave in winter when there is not enough food because of a drop in their prey (the lemming population) or there is a bumper crop of owls. They then irrupt south in large numbers and seek out tundra-like habitat and hope to find things they can eat like rodents, waterfowl, etc. Don and I saw 9 on the NH Coast on Nov. 30th, and I got the above photos taken from a distance in a car. See my blog post and more photos on the Snowy Owls here.

Birders across much of the eastern part of the country are being thrilled at seeing Snowy Owls, a lifer for many. One issue has been to educate people to keep a respectful distance from the owls for observing or photography, so as not to disturb them as they need to conserve energy and hunt for food. Now this! When are we going to be more sensitive to the needs of wildlife and find win-win solutions when the presence of wildlife may come in conflict with human needs.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Snowy Owls, Historic Irruption Underway Now!

Snowy Owls are coming down into the U.S. in possibly historic numbers. (note, all photos on this post taken with long telephotos lenses from a distance, mainly from a car, so as not to disturb the owl.)
We saw 9 Sat. on the NH and MA coasts. This one was sitting in a parking lot.
I love the soft feathers around the bill, all the better to keep it warm.
This owl preened
and sat in the wind.
 Grassy flat areas, dunes, marshes, and anything like its tundra home are the habitats these Snowy Owls seek out.

Here it is in front of a New Hampshire Parks vehicle.
There are actually two of then on this breakwater way out there.
Here's a closer view taken with the powerful telephoto lens (up to 4800mm) of the Canon SX 50.
There is a mega irruption of Snowy Owls coming down from their tundra areas taking place now, with reports flooding birding listserves across the northern parts of the U.S., southern Canada, and there has even been a Snowy Owl reported in Bermuda. Birders in St. John's, Newfoundland are seeing 150 Snowy Owls in a day. There more owls on the way and this could be a historic event. You can see a map of Snowy Owl sightings on ebird.

Saturday we saw 9 on the NH and MA Coasts, with birders reporting many more owls from those areas. Owls are showing up more in coastal areas but also some from inland. They are attracted to flat or rolling, grassy or marshy tundra-like habitats. We saw our owls in coastal dunes and marshes, but they can be in other places. There are Snowy Owls showing up at airports, and one was seen hunting the grounds of the Budweiser plant in Merrimack, NH. They can perch on buildings, rocks, houses and lamp posts overlooking favorable habitat. Keep your eyes open, they could be anywhere!

If you do see a Snowy Owl do several things:
* Report your sightings to ebird, the national database that tracks birds, so this event can be well documented.
* Do not get close to the owl to view or photograph it so as not to scare it away or harass it. These are birds that have left the far north because there is not enough food there. They are hungry and may be starving and need to conserve energy to hunt for food.
*Enjoy watching and appreciating these, usually rare, Snowy Owls for this is a special event. Some of these birds, unfortunately, may not make it if they do not find enough food.

Snowy Owls breed in the far north and in winter some come down into Canada and the northern half of the U.S. Sometimes when there is a food shortage in their usual areas, they may irrupt in large numbers and move south as they are doing now. They are diurnal hunters and eat lemmings and other small mammals and rodents, sometimes ducks and seabirds.
Male Snowy Owls are generally white overall with a suggestion of grayish barring. Females are heavily barred overall and young birds are the darkest of their sex with first year females being the darkest.

To learn more about Snowy Owls, and how to identify other birds (including all those you photograph!!) see our new field guides:

The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America contains over 3,400 bird photos (many of them from me and other top bird photographers) and is the most complete photographic guide to those birds ever done.

It is also available as eastern or western regional editions,

If you want to learn more about how to take photos with the Canon SX 50 Camera, go to my blog post here, where you can find out about my extensive tips.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bald Eagle & Stokes Booksigning Dec.1, Peterborough, NH 2-4 pm Toadstool Bookstore

Bald Eagle 

Lillian and Don

The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, and the regional editions, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Eastern and Western Regions

We will be doing a book signing this Sunday, Dec. 1st, 2-4 pm, at the Toadstool Bookstore, Peterborough, NH. Come do your Christmas shopping and get a signed Stokes Field Guide! We would love to see you! Other local authors will be there too.

Birds are so special. We got a Thanksgiving surprise when, just after our guests arrived, our Corgi, Abby, went to the glass sliding door and looked up and started barking. We were all treated to the sight of 4 Bald Eagles (one adult and 3 sub-adults) flying over our mountain view. So much to be thankful for, including our bird-watcher dog, Abby, and also Bald Eagles!

If you are reading this blog post and cannot make the book signing, then be sure to take advantage of all the Black Friday sales and shop online for our new field guides,

Buy Now, click The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Eastern Region,

Buy Now, click, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Western Region

Buy Now, click, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving Turkeys

Wild Turkey

These Wild Turkeys are headed in the right direction.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

About Wild Turkeys:

* Wild Turkeys populations were once in decline but turkeys were reintroduced and have recovered and now Wild Turkeys occur in every state (but not Alaska) and in parts of Canada.

* Wild Turkeys live in forests and eat berries, buds, seeds, insects and nuts, especially acorns. They can scratch the ground to find food. They may come to bird seed under feeders.

* Wild Turkeys roam together in flocks in search of food. You may see them along roadsides and in fields and crossing roads.

* In spring, male turkeys perform courtship displays in fields. They fan their tails, puff up and strut and give their familiar gobbling calls. The female raises the young chicks, who can follow the female after hatching and soon can find food on their own.  Females and young form into groups and roam together.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Snow Buntings Are Coming Your Way, Be On The Lookout

Snow Bunting in flight

Snow Buntings are now showing up in NH and other northern areas so watch for them in your area. To see where they have been spotted go to this ebird map. Photographed a few years ago with my Canon 1D Mark II (I now have a 1D Mark IV), and my Canon 300mm f 4 lens with a 1.4 teleconverter. When I photographed them it made me think about what it might be like to be a member of this Snow Bunting flock. There's safety in numbers. The bold pattern of the wings may help flock members keep close visual contact in flight. Interestingly, when the birds land and fold their wings, the buffy, brownish body plumage makes them rather camouflaged against the brown grass, another help with predator avoidance.

Snow Buntings breed in Alaska and the Arctic on tundra and rocky slopes. They winter across much of the upper one-third of the U.S, and southern Canada on weedy fields and shores. In summer, the buffy feather edges wear off, revealing the breeding plumage which is more black-and-white 
especially in males. 

Snow Buntings make interesting calls and learning their calls can alert you to their presence and help in identification You can become a much better birder if you know the songs and calls of birds. To help you we have the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, CDs (recordings by Lang Elliott and Kevin Colver) which come as The Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs CDs eastern region, western region, or combined together in a boxed set. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How to Help Bluebirds in Winter!

We still have Eastern Bluebirds visiting us occasionally and even checking out some of their nesting boxes from this past breeding season. They even grab a snack of the dried mealworms. They usually move on when the weather gets really bad.

Bluebirds may sometimes remain in some northern areas in winter, much to people's surprise. Here's some tips for bluebird enthusiasts, on how to help bluebirds survive in winter.

1. Bluebirds can roost together in bird houses to keep warm. Insulate your bird houses by closing off all cracks, drainage holes, etc., with some sort of insulating material so less drafts and cold get into the bird house. Just leave the entrance hole open. Face bird houses away from prevailing winter winds.

2. Bluebirds mainly eat fruit and berries in winter. Plant your property with an abundance of crabapples and native, berry-producing shrubs such as viburnums and hollies (like winterberry holly). Place these berry plantings in sunny, protected areas, blocked from winter winds. The bluebirds will have a warm place to eat and use less precious energy.

3. Some bluebirds will come to food such as, hulled sunflower, suet, dried mealworms, and some of the many "bluebird meal mixtures" or nuggets. Generally most bluebirds do not learn to do this. You can certainly try putting out these foods, but your best bet is to have lots of berries planted in your yard.

4. Bluebirds like water (may help with processing the berries) and will visit bird baths and heated bird baths. In general, when it is very severely cold, some people think it is a risk for birds to bathe. Holding off on the water, or placing sticks over the bird bath to only allow birds to drink, not bathe, may be a good idea in this situation. Many birds will eat snow in winter to get water.

Most bluebirds move out of the northernmost areas of their range in winter. Even ones that may linger eventually move on, once their berry sources are depleted or ice-covered. For bluebirds, and many birds, there is a trade-off of staying more north in order to be first to claim prime breeding territories, yet risking survival due to bad weather. Some of these tips may help them survive and you feel you're helping them. Bluebirds are truly beloved.

For more complete information see Stokes Bluebird Book.

For the very latest identification information and range maps on all three species of North American Bluebirds; Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird and Western Bluebird, see our new best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America and the new regional editions, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Regions.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Cardinal Portrait

"Our" male Cardinal in late afternoon light as he perched near the feeder, waiting his turn. His feathers are beautiful and fresh after his end of breeding season molt. He has raised two broods. Now he can relax and just focus on enduring the winter.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Calliope Hummingbird in NH, 1st State Record

Calliope Hummingbird is one of the smallest breeding birds in the U.S.

This male Calliope took a wrong turn from its usual migration route and wound up in NH

The celebrity bird of the moment here is a a little Calliope Hummingbird, male, a bird from the Northwest who in has strayed far from its usual range and migration route. He is coming to a feeder in Manchester, NH at the home of some very gracious birders who have been wonderful hosts to the hummingbird as well as the many birders who have shown up to view this hummingbird, a lifer for many!
This is not the first time a Calliope Hummingbird has shown up in New England and there are records from other eastern states also. Calliopes have recently been reported from MA and NJ. It seems like more and more out-of-range hummingbirds are showing up in the East in fall at feeders. No one knows exactly why this occurs. Some birds' internal compasses may just direct them east instead of south. Over time that species may have a range expansion if those individuals survive and have offspring. Other people think that having more hummingbird feeders available and hardy plants in a human altered landscape may make it possible for some of these hummingbirds to be in the East in fall and winter.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Short-eared Owl in NH!

Recently we saw a Short-eared Owl migrating over Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory in Peterborough, NH, a first record for that site. It was migrating during the day and popped up above the mountain in the midst of some ravens. Much excitement at seeing the first one there and it was a thrill.

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.

All the photos above, except the small bottom photo which is of the owl over Pack Monadnock, are of a Short-eared Owl I saw on Christmas several years ago in the marshes of Salisbury Beach, MA. This owl 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. 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, October 30, 2013

23 Red-shouldered Hawks, yes!

Red-shouldered Hawk, adult

What do you get if you go hawk watching at this time of year? If conditions are favorable, then you get Red-shouldered Hawk migration!
Yesterday we saw 23 Red-shouldered Hawks going over Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory in Peterborough, NH. Great Fun!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sparrow ID Help Is On The Way! Here's How To ID Them At Your Feeders

White-throated Sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, come in two morphs. One morph has brown head stripes, as here;

the other morph has black-and-white head stripes, as here. There is much individual variation. They all have white throats and are very common at many feeders in winter.

White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, in their first winter have rufous brown head stripes

and no white throat.

The dramatic adult White-crowned Sparrow has beautiful black head stripes and a white central crown stripe.

Sparrows are migrating big time. White-throated Sparrows are coming to bird feeders across much of the country now. Somewhat less common here in NH, White-crowned Sparrows are also migrating and coming to feeders. Both these species winter across much of the country and you may have them at your bird feeders all winter. We recently had first-winter White-crowned Sparrows at our feeder amongst the many, many White-throated Sparrows.

These sparrows love to feed on the ground on millet or seed mixes containing millet. We make a special sparrow feeder by building a big brush pile and sprinkling the seed in front and under the pile. It's a sparrow magnet and provides perching spots and cover from predators. The big bonus for us is that we get to see lots of fall sparrows.

If you live in the far western part of the country, you will get lovely Golden-crowned Sparrows visiting your bird feeders. They have a golden forecrown, surrounded on the front and sides by black or brown.

All these sparrow species are in the genus Zonotrichia. We discussed the characteristics of the sparrows in the Melospiza genus as stated in our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the most complete photographic guide available. In our guide, p. 656, we discuss the Zonotrichia genus and say these are "large deep-bellied, broad-necked sparrows with a fairly small conical bill, rounded crown and fairly long, slightly notched tail." In addition to White-throated, Golden and White-crowned Sparrows, the Zonotrichia genus includes Harris's Sparrows.

Tip: Look at these sparrows through your binoculars at your bird feeder and learn the characteristics of the shape of each genus. You will get better at ID-ing them and it will set you up to learn the sparrows in other genera.

Sparrow ID, Melospiza Sparrows

Lincoln's Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Sparrow ID can be challenging, to say the least. At the Dead Creek WMA in VT, we once saw this lovely Swamp Sparrow, hanging out appropriately, in a swampy area at the edge of the water. Birds are often habitat dependent and thus the Swamp Sparrow's name.

This is a subtly beautiful sparrow with a strongly marked face, russet wash along flanks and reddish-brown on crown, wings and tail.

Swamp Sparrows are in the genus Melospiza, along with Song and Lincoln's Sparrows. In our new The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, in addition to individual thorough species accounts with multiple photos per species, we have colored boxes where we give helpful Identification Tips and an overview for many of the bird families. Look for these in our field guide.

For Sparrows, in the new Stokes guide p. 656, we say,

"Sparrows are small birds with short conical bills and varied-length tails. They are birds of primarily grasslands, fields, and open edges, where they feed mostly on seeds and some insects. Most are brownish with streaked backs, and they can look quite similar. Fortunately there are several large genera that have subtle but distinctive shapes. Becoming familiar with these shapes can help you place an individual sparrow into one of these groups, or genera; then you can look for plumage clues to complete your identification.

Species ID: There are 12 genera of sparrows in North America. Only 5 have 3 or more species, and these are the ones that are most useful to know to use in this generic approach.

* Melospiza: Medium-sized to large sparows with rather average proportions: they are slightly deep-bellied and have a medium-sized bill, rounded crown, and fairly long rounded tail. These sparrows are easily seen in brushy areas and marshes; when flused or curious they tend to fly up to higher perches for long periods and give short alarm calls. Some (Song Sparrow) come regularly to bird feeders. Includes Song, Lincoln's, and Swamp.

Our big book, The Stokes Field Guide to The Birds Of North American is now available for your convenience in two regional guides that are lighter and more portable. The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions recently came out and can be bought at and your local bookseller. Get them for they contain multiple photos of each species of sparrow and will help you with identifying and and enjoying your sparrows more.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bonaparte's Gull, So Special

Bonaparte's Gull in winter plumage

Diving under to catch prey. Look at the dramatic pattern of the white edge on the front of the wing.

Looking down for fish

We went to the coast of NH to bird recently and were treated to some special moments with Bonaparte's Gulls which were feeding close to shore.
These beautiful, delicate, small gulls remind me of doves with their rounded head. They were feeding very near the shore by pumping their feet to stir up little prey, then quickly diving under to catch it. These gulls can be found near lakes, coasts, estuaries in many parts of the country in migration and winter. They nest in Canada and AK in conifers around boreal lakes and marshes. These birds have black heads during breeding.
Look for them this fall and winter.
Photos taken with Canon SX 50 HS