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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

MOTUS wildlife tracking system a revolution in tracking songbirds!


Existing Motus sites

Semi-palmated Sandpiper

Blackpoll Warbler

Wood Thrush

Have you heard about Motus Wildlife Tracking System? If you haven’t you will soon. It is an international collaborative research network that uses a coordinated automated radio telemetry array that can now track the movement and behavior of small birds and animals like songbirds (such as Wood Thrushes, Blackpoll Warblers, Semi-palmated Sandpipers), butterflies, dragonflies, bats and more who are fitted with very small, light radio-transmitter tags (previously transmitters have been too big to be used on these small animals). The animals are tracked with a growing system of transceivers scattered throughout the landscape. It is very cool that The Harris Center for Conservation Education here in SW NH will be one of the first inland tracking stations in this area, most are coastal. Each tag on an animal sends out a unique signal that tells where animals go, how fast between points (migration ecology) how long they stay in an area (stop-over ecology) and more. The purpose of Motus is to facilitate landscape-scale research and education on the ecology of migratory animals. It is a program of Birds Canada in partnership with collaborating research organizations.
To learn lots more go to
From the Motus website “As students of migration ecology, we’re ultimately after the ability to know everything about all individuals at all times. Unfortunately, the technology required to do this for most flying migratory animals, particularly the smallest bodied ones, does not exist. Therefore, biologists have to use a combination of complementary tools such as tracking-based geolocators, GPS and GSM, GPS and Geolocation data loggers, as well as isoptopic, genetic, and good old bird banding/ringing to discover the complete life histories of migratory animals. While often viewed as having competing value, these tools are undeniably complementary, and researchers need to employ the best tool for the job given the specific questions and study system in mind.
What is most unique about Motus is that it provides an opportunity to track the widest variety of the smallest animals possible, today, at local, regional, or hemispheric scales depending on the location and species in question. And best of all, almost anyone can get involved in one way or another – Motus is the ultimate hands-on community science project.
Another important differentiation between automated radio telemetry and other technologies available is that the temporal precision of the data can be much greater with radio telemetry as tags can repeat their signals as quickly as every 2 seconds. This extremely high temporal precision can allow for exceptionally detailed examinations of an animals behavior, movement patterns, direction and speed of flight.”

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Birding Hobby is Booming, Stokes Field Guide in NYT

The birding hobby is booming during this pandemic time according to news sources, as people stay at home and turn to activities in their yards. That is a good thing and may lead to more conservationists. Always nice to have a shout out of our field guide in last weekend's New York Times article about how to become involved in the birding hobby and attract birds. Indications are that once people are hooked they tend to remain so and that becomes a positive force for protecting birds and their environments, so needed now

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Western Kingbird took a wrong turn!

A Western Kingbird was seen way up in Conway NH. This species breeds, as you can guess, in the West and winters in Mexico, Central America and southern FL , where I photographed this, so it took a wrong turn. Rare birds show up all the time, that is why you must always be on the lookout for unusual birds. The American Birding Association has a rare bird alert where you can see all the rarities showing up. Report rare birds to your state ornithological committee or Audubon society and through eBird.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

White-crowned Sparrows Coming Through, Look for Them!

White-crowned Sparrow, first year.

White-crowned Sparrow adult.
Highlight of my day yesterday was these two migrant White-crowned Sparrows, first winter, visiting my NH yard and enjoying the feeders, birdbath and lawn areas. Such an elegant sparrow and unusual for here, we usually mainly get White-throated Sparrows, rarely White-crowned. White-crowns breed in the upper West and across upper Canada and Alaska and winter in approximately the lower two-thirds of the country. The adults have bold black and white stripes on their head. Watch for them at your feeders.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Blackpoll Warblers are Coming Through!!

Coming through, Blackpoll Warbler migrant yesterday in our garden! This is unusual for us here. A thrill to see. This warbler will launch from the northeastern U.S. heading out over the ocean to winter in South America, safe journey!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Here Come The Winter Finches, Pine Siskins and More

Here they come, will your feeders look like this? It's going to be a good year for irruptive finches and Pine Siskins are already on the move country-wide. We have had some at our feeders in NH (photos from another time). Evening Grosbeaks were seen in the Florida panhandle and a Common Redpoll showed up at a feeder in New Mexico. Keep your feeders full! See these two articles for the Winter Finch Forecast and remarkable finch happenings.


Monday, October 12, 2020

ID Help for Fall Sparrrows!

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 have seen these in our NH yard.

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 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. 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 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.

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 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.
Our newest guide is The Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America, contains over 580 stunning photos, covers 250 species, and can fit in your pocket!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

American Kestrel hunting!


American Kestrel male
American Bittern

American Kestrels hunt from our birdhouses in our now mowed Bobolink field here in NH. Here's a male kestrel yesterday flying up to land on a house after getting perhaps a cricket. The field is habitat for so many birds and critters. In spring Meadowlarks stop by on migration, Tree Swallows arrive in March and claim nest boxes and sometimes bluebirds can score a box. The big thrill is when the Bobolinks arrive to breed in early May. Savannah Sparrows sometimes breed in the grasses and we used to have American Bitterns nest in the field. In summer the grasses, wildflowers and weed seeds feed goldfinches, Song and Chipping Sparrows and more. The Bobolinks stay all summer, raising their young and leave in late summer. In August we have a big Common Nighthawk migration fly by and the nighthawks can be seen swooping over the field catching flying insects. In late summer or early fall the field is mowed. It is amazing who then uses the birdhouses to hunt from including Eastern Phoebes, American Kestrels, a Red-tailed Hawk, imm. and also the bluebirds. Crows and Wild Turkeys patrol the mowed field finding food. Northern Harriers stop by the field and edge of the pond to look for voles and prey. In winter the bluebirds may roost in the birdhouses and also look for any insects who emerge in a warm nook. Foxes and Coyotes leave tracks in the snow as they hunt for voles. Endless dragonflies, butterflies and other insects and spiders use the grasses and flowers to feed and hunt. It is a spectacular habitat year round and we manage it to be so.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Migration Alert! Northern Harriers are migrating now!


Classic Northern Harrier, white rump a giveaway, hunted our field edge by the pond at 4 pm yesterday as we watched from our deck. We are lucky to get a number of migrating harriers attracted to our big Bobolink field and vegetated pond edge. This one is a female, males (the "gray ghost") are pale gray above, juv. are orangish buff below. Watch for them migrating now.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Palm Warblers Are Migrating Now!


"Yellow" Palm Warbler, photographed in NH 

"Yellow" Palm Warbler

"Western" Palm Warbler, photographed in FL

Palm Warblers, one of the later migrating warblers in fall, are migrating through NH now and we had two in our yard yesterday. Here (as in these photos from NH) we see the "yellow" Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum hypochrysea) which have yellow breasts and are the eastern subspecies of Palm Warbler. They breed from central Quebec east. They winter along the Gulf Coast, from LA to northern FL. The "western" subspecies of Palm Warbler (Setophaga 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. For all the subspecies of birds, with photos, see our The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Eastern and Western Regions.