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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

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Palm Warblers Are Migrating Now

"Yellow" subspecies of Palm Warbler photographed in NH in fall

"Western" subspecies of Palm Warbler photographed in winter on Sanibel Island, on the west coast of southern FL

In addition to many sparrows such as, White-throated, White-crowned, Song, Chipping, Swamp and Lincoln's Sparrows we have migrating through here in NH, there are some Palm Warblers, top photo above. These late migrating, beautiful warblers have yellow breasts and deep yellow undertail coverts. They constantly wag their tail up and down, a nice giveaway to their identification. These bright "yellow" Palms are the eastern subspecies of Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum hypochrysea) and breed from central Quebec east. They winter along the Gulf Coast, from LA to northern FL.

The "western" subspecies of Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum palmarum) breeds from Ontatio west, across to parts of the Yukon and ne. British Columbia and winters in the Southeast, down through south FL. Some may also winter on the West Coast. This subspecies has very little yellow on the breast but still has the bright yellow undertail coverts. There is a breeding zone south of James Bay where they intergrade. So this gives you some idea of why Palm Warblers may look different, depending on which area of the country you are in.

We enjoy watching the Palm Warblers on our property forage near the ground in the goldenrods along our "warbler edge", the edge of our field that faces south, and is the place where we see the most warblers in spring and fall migration.

For more on the subspecies of Palm Warbler as well as how to identify fall warbers, see our The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the best-selling photographic field guide available.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Monarch Butterfly Population Crash

Monarch Butterfly populations are dropping rapidly. This one was in my garden just now.

This was a second Monarch, near the first, nectaring on Verbena bonariensis. You can see this one has worn or damaged wing tips.

Just photographed these Monarch Butterflies in my garden. They have become rare as hen's teeth here in NH with reports of population crashes in many other places in the country as well. There were two in the garden just now and they were nectaring on Verbena bonariensis, which I plant a lot of just for the butterflies.
Some think the population drop is due to a loss of milkweed, their larval host plant. That is the only plant on which they lay their eggs and their caterpillars eat the milkweed then pupate and turn into the adult butterfly. Milkweed has gotten wiped out in the midwest due to pesticides as well as drought last summer. Monarchs go to Mexico to overwinter in a few mountain pine forests and those places are also under threat from logging.
So sad to think their populations are plummeting, not sure what the future holds for them. But also so special to have two in my garden today. Safe journey.