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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Our Christmas Bird Count 2019

 Don looking for the Tree Sparrow

 Eastern Towhee

 Cooper's Hawk

Belted Kingfisher

Northern Mockingbird

 Can you find the mockingbird?

An Eastern Towhee was our best bird yesterday when we participated in the Christmas Bird Count for the greater Concord, MA area which includes parts of 18 towns. Our section in Acton had good habitat and the towhee was found in a shrubby area near a pond. Other highlights were Belted Kingfisher, Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagle, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Tree Sparrow (found in the wetland near Don) 2 Northern Flickers and Raven, considered less common here. For big numbers we had 58 Mallards and 142 Canada Geese. If you can find a big patch of Multiflora Rose (unfortunately an invasive) you can find a Northern Mockingbird and we found 2. Mockingbirds can form a winter territory around a good berry food source. Our Bald Eagle was seen while we were looking up searching the trees for a kinglet. You just never know where something will pop up, that's the fun! Temps started out below freezing and rose to the 40's, much better than today's sleet storm! We ended the day with 32 species and saw 457 birds for our small section of the total count area where last year they tallied 88 species and 52,501 birds (some of that number included an amazing count of over 20,000 robins). The countdown party is on Thursday so we will see what the numbers are for this year. There are always surprises. (Photos were taken just for records in the field with the canon SX 50 or cell phone, not for high quality portraits of the birds, I was too busy recording birds!)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Thursday, December 19, 2019

How to Help Bluebirds Survive Winter!

We have recently seen Eastern Bluebirds checking out some of their nesting boxes from this past breeding season. They even grab a snack of the dried mealworms if you offer it. 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 in winter by closing off all cracks, drainage holes, etc., with some sort of insulating material so less drafts and cold get into the bird house (open these in spring). Just always 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.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Blue Jay and Cardinal Beautiful!

Such beautiful birds in the snow! Cardinal like a flame and soft blue beauty of the jay.
Makes winter wonderful!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! This is a good year for Wild Turkeys in NH, we have seen lots. And there is a bumper crop of one of their favorite foods, acorns!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Palm Warbler still in NH

Palm Warbler, NH, fall

Palm Warbler, FL, winter

Warblers are gone from NH, just a few lingering ones have been seen, such as a Palm Warbler. Will have to wait until next spring to see them again. However, if you live in the Southeast or Gulf Coast states you may have wintering Palm Warblers and one subspecies of Palm Warbler is resident in central to south Florida. See our The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America for complete photos and subspecies information.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Common Mergansers Migrating Now!

Common Merganser, male
Common Merganser, female

Migrating now through NH, Common Mergansers (male above, female below). They will winter across some of the eastern, middle and western areas of the country where there is open water, preferring freshwater large lakes, rivers and estuaries. Look for them near you.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

White-throated Sparrows come in two flavors!

 White-throated Sparrow, white morph

Tan morph

White-throated Sparrows are migrating too! Love their "Oh-sweet-Canada-Canada" or "Old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody" song (depending on where you are from!). They come in two color morphs, with variations. The white morph has a white eyebrow and central crown-stripe and black in lateral crown-stripe. The tan morph has a buffy eyebrow and central crown-strip and more brown in lateral crown-stripe. All have a yellow supraloral dot. In general the older male white morphs have the brightest most contrasting plumage. Look for them at your feeders.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Hooded Mergansers are Migrating!

Hooded Mergansers are migrating! Keep checking your local water areas this fall for migrating waterfowl, 'tis the season.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Trumpeter Swan in NH!

There has been a Trumpeter Swan in Candia, NH since April far from this species usual Midwest and upper Western range. The NH Rare Bird Alert says it was last seen Nov. 2nd. Photo was taken elsewhere. These are all white birds but sometimes their heads get stained orange from feeding in areas rich in iron salts.

Friday, November 01, 2019

It's Great Horned Owl time!!

It's owl time! We have heard Great Horned Owls begin hooting this time of year. Even though they begin nesting in winter, it's not too early for them to begin their courtship and territorial behavior. They call most in early evening and pre-dawn hours. The male usually calls more than the female. Her hoots are shorter and higher-pitched than those of the male even though she is a larger bird. Listen for them now.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Real Bats On Halloween!!

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Just in time for Halloween, a bat appeared in our yard several years ago. I just photographed this migrating Eastern Red Bat in flight as it foraged over our house. We watched it for about 10 minutes as it swooped over the trees and fields, catching insects. So cool!! But what is even more fun is looking at the photos. In the middle photo you can see the ear, lit by the sun. In the bottom photo you can see the outline of the bones.

These bats live in trees in wooded areas and roost up in the foliage curled up in their furry tail membrane. They are mainly solitary, just getting together to mate and during migration. They eat lots of moths as well as other insects. They live throughout the eastern half of the country. In fall the more northern ones migrate to southern areas, often using the same migratory routes along the eastern seaboard as some birds do.
We were so lucky to see it!

To learn more about bat conservation go here

and see out Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats, written by Rob Mies and Kim Williams.

To learn more about birds see our best-sellers, the most comprehensive photo guides,

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Shorebirds Still Migrating!

Long-billed Dowitcher


Still migrating on the NH coast, recent reports of Long-billed Dowitchers and a Western subspecies Willet, Tringa semipalmata inornata (unusual for here). Not to late to go look for shorebirds.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Roseate Spoonbill, National Wildlife Refuge Week!

This week is National Wildlife Refuge Week. I photographed this Roseate Spoonbill at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife, Sanibel, FL. Be sure and visit a national wildlife refuge near you, they are a national treasure and bird haven in an increasingly difficult world for birds.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Yellow-rumps coming through! aka Butterbutts

Yellow-rumped Warblers coming through now in NH. They're the most abundant of the migrating fall warblers we see here. Love how their yellow rumps stand out against the colorful fall foliage which is peaking here now.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Here They Come! How to ID Fall Sparrows!

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. We just saw one of these in our NH yard.

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

Sparrows are starting to migrate, will you be able to ID them? White-throated Sparrows will be coming to bird feeders across much of the country. Somewhat less common here in NH, White-crowned Sparrows also will be 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 sometimes have 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 The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the best-selling and 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. Saw one recently here in our NH yard.

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodyLots are at our bird feeders and bird bath now.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana. Hang out in swampy areas not usually at feeders.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Sparrow ID can be challenging, to say the least. We often see Swamp Sparrows, hanging out appropriately, in swampy areas 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 flushed 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.

Chipping Sparrow, Spizella  passerina, adult summer. Chipping Sparrows come to feeders.

In winter Chipping Sparrows change and look like this. Chipping Sparrows are in the Spizella genus.

* Spizella: Small to medium-sized sparrows with high rounded crown, short conical bill and fairy long notched tail. These are fairly conspicuous sparrows that often feed in flocks on the ground. When disturbed they tend to fly up to higher vegetation and look around. They include Chipping, American Tree, Clay-colored, Brewer's, Field, and Black-chinned Sparrows.

In addition to the above, look for this different sparrow at your feeders,
Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca. These are large beautiful sparrows that can be seen in fall and winter at feeders.

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 are a must to help you with identifying and enjoying your sparrows.