Our eyes and ears should be open and alert to the natural wonders that surround us every day. Take time to look out our windows to see the birds that visit us and open our windows to hear them. Walk around whatever space we have to enjoy the birds in nature. Every day, work on improving our powers of observation.
Nature happens. We cannot MAKE natural things happen (or NOT happen). We can create habitats to encourage natural things to happen around us, but there are no guarantees.
Birdfeeding comes with responsibilities to the birds and the environment we share with them. If you are unwilling to accept these responsibilities, you shouldn’t feed the birds. We also have a responsibility to share these natural wonders with the next generation.
Snowy Owls continue to be sighted in the upstate New York area around Albany and Ft. Edward. The Daily Gazette of Schenectady NY had a front page article in their Dec 29th issue. It's a brief, but interesting article, highlighting the two theories surrounding the appearance of the owls, both theories centering around their main food source, lemmings. Check it out at http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2008/dec/29/1229_owls/
In Albany, a Snowy Owl had been sighted perching on the State Capitol building. And today, one was perched for hours atop the Key Bank building at State & Broadway in downtown Albany. Sounds like many downtown workers got a good view of this special bird.
In Ft. Edward, the Snowy Owl continues to be sighted on County Rd 42. Last report I heard on the Hudson-Mohawk Bird listserv was Friday December 26. That day it was seen on the east side of CR 42. It is reported to frequently perch on distant tower cables, so sometimes the view is not great. And be careful out there - I hear there is no plowed shoulder to safely pull over and heavy, fast-moving traffic on the road.
If you wonder what the fuss is all about, check out some beautiful Snowy Owl photos by a gentleman named Jerry Acton.
Thanks to the contributors to the Hudson-Mohawk listserv, which is where I obtained most of this information. I'll keep you posted as I hear of additional sightings.
UPDATE JANUARY 6th: On Friday Jan 2, a Snowy Owl was perched for many hours on North Pearl St. in downtown Albany. I'm sorry to report that today, a Snowy Owl was found dead in Albany, perhaps (presumably?) the same bird.
I haven't posted much lately about the birds in my yard so I'm catching up with a recap of the past couple weeks. Project FeederWatch Week Three had a little slower activity but lots and lots of chickadees (17 of them!)
They come in waves, along with titmice and nuthatches making up their large winter flock. Mr. Cardinal is still around as well as lots of Dark-eyed Juncos.
Dark eyed Junco
Week Three Totals Blue Jay 9 American Goldfinch 4 Mourning Dove 8 Black capped Chickadee 17 Red breasted Nuthatch 1 Hairy Woodpecker 2 Dark-eyed Junco 14 Northern Cardinal 1 Downy Woodpecker 2 Tufted Titmouse 2 White breasted Nuthatch
11 Species 61 Individuals
Thanksgiving morning began with a Sharp-shinned Hawk stalking the yard, looking for an early meal. Forgive me for the poor quality of the picture - I came downstairs, saw the hawk, picked up the camera and just started shooting. Before I could adjust the settings, it had moved on.
In late October, I wrote about the absence of squirrels in my yard. Since then, 3 Red Squirrels have been around fairly regularly (a smaller number than usual) and Grey Squirrels remain absent altogether.
Our first American Tree Sparrow of the season visited the feeders on November 29. This was pretty late; last year, tree sparrows returned in mid-October. I always hope to witness the overlap of the American Tree Sparrow and the Chipping Sparrow - not a chance this year!! This little guy had a very distinct center breast spot, which serves as a good identifying characteristic of the American Tree Sparrow.
Project FeederWatch Week Four was again marked by heavy (double digit) counts of chickadees, jays, and doves. The tree sparrow seen just 2 days earlier did not show up on count days, but we did have a Ruffed Grouse walk through the corner of the yard!
Week Four Totals Downy Woodpecker 1 Blue Jay 10 Black capped Chickadee 18 Mourning Dove 12 Tufted Titmouse 3 Dark-eyed Junco 9 Hairy Woodpecker 1 Northern Cardinal 1 American Crow 1 Red breasted Nuthatch 1 White breasted Nuthatch 1 American Goldfinch 5 Ruffed Grouse 1
13 Species 64 Individuals
We have been hearing lots of reports of Pine Siskins in the area and thought we had a large flock move through about a week ago, but couldn't confirm it. Then 2 siskins were seen hanging around with the goldfinches on December 5th.
American Goldfinch flanked by Pine Siskins
It's easy to see a group of goldfinches and miss the siskins amongst them. Stop to look for any streaked, pointy-billed birds, feeding or flocking right along with the goldfinches and you may find that you have Pine Siskins in your yard too! Read more about Pine Siskins on WBU's rightbird online field guide.
Although my heated birdbath is a busy place all winter long, it is mostly visited by birds using it to drink. But the other day, I saw a Blue Jay take a full-fledged, bone-soaking bath. Here's a couple pix of the tidy bird.
The Hairy Woodpecker below was "frozen" on a tree for minutes on end. I had heard the jays' alert calls, so I assume a hawk could've been passing through. I never saw the hawk, but whenever you see birds "frozen", or staying perfectly still for a long time (many minutes), look around to see if a hawk is near. The birds I see exhibiting this behavior most frequently are woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice. In my experience, jays and doves just skidaddle.
In closing, I may be posting a little less between now and Christmas as I spend more time at my Wild Birds Unlimited store in Saratoga Springs NY. If you're ever in the area, stop by to see us! Just like reader/commenter Ellen (LNMP) who stopped by and introduced herself on her return trip from checking out the Snowy Owls in Fort Edward. Thanks Ellen and nice to meet ya!
Besides the Snowy Owl fished out of the Hudson River near the USS Slater in mid-November (status report on that owl on Tuesday was that he is nearly ready to be released back into the wild) and the snowy on the UAlbany campus on November 25th, there have been a number of reports of Snowy Owl sightings in Ft. Edward NY.
Don and Sher of Are We There Yet? blog captured a couple images and posted them in their "Pair of Snowy Owls" post.
And local nature photographer Ken Harper has two great images on his website at Peliken Photos.
If you venture up there in search of the birds, remember to always be respectful of the bird(s) so they are not subject to stress. No photographic image or sighting is worth harming a bird.
Upstate New York author Bruce Hiscock wrote and illustrated a children's book about the snowy owl called "Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl".
When the Snowy Owl's main food source in northern Canada declines, the owl flies south to the grasslands of northern New York. You will really enjoy sharing this story with your children, as it tells of the challenges faced by this magnificent bird.
We were lucky enough to have Bruce in the store this October to sign copies of his childrens books.
"Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl" is available at Wild Birds Unlimited - Saratoga Springs.
This monthly feature highlights 3 blog posts from the past month that exemplify the Zen nature lessons of Attention, Acceptance, and Responsibility. I encourage you to take a moment to enjoy these thoughtful posts.
Attention Vickie of Vickie Henderson Art gave us a two-for-one lesson in zen attention. In "A Robin's Cap", photos taken of a robin allowed her to learn more about this common bird, its features and its behaviors. And in "Just a Robin", by really paying attention to a robin, she moved toward never using that phrase again.
People often mistake the "hummingbird moth" for a real hummingbird. Check out "The Sphinx Moth" on the Birds 'n Such blog to read more about this imposter. Make sure to take time to view the video.
Acceptance Well I haven't done this before but I'm going to highlight a recent post from my own blog to reinforce a lesson in zen acceptance. My post "Birds I Don't Have in My Yard" talks about cardinals and wrens and woodpeckers that I don't have in my yard, even though I feel I do "all the right things".
But we can't MAKE nature happen and although we try as hard as we can, "there are no guarantees" in nature. I enjoy what I do see - and I see plenty - and I am grateful for every bird that graces my yard.
Responsibility Part of our zen responsibility (at least as far as I define it) includes "a responsibility to share these natural wonders with the next generation". Don & Lillian Stokes' post "Birding for Kids" provides tips and resouces about birding with kids.
Remember, our children need to learn to appreciate nature now in order to want to protect it in the future.
While you are enjoying the many tasty treats that abound this holiday season, don't forget to share some goodies with the birds. Decorating a tree for our feathered friends and other wildlife is an activity the whole family can enjoy.
Here are some fun and easy recipes for making treats for the birds.
Suet Stuffing • 1 cup Bark Butter® or chunky peanut butter • 1 cup WBU Simply Suet ® (pure rendered suet) • 2 ½ cups coarse yellow cornmeal • WBU Deluxe Seed Blend, raisins, peanuts or other tree nuts (optional)
1. Mix Bark Butter or peanut butter, suet and cornmeal together. 2. Stir in birdseed, raisins or peanuts if desired.
1. Secure a piece of heavy craft paper to the bottom of a pipe cleaner. 2. Place in muffin tin cup. Spoon in Suet Stuffing. 3. Repeat for each muffin cup. 4. Place the muffins in the freezer to harden. 5. Once hardened, remove from the tin and hang the suet muffins on a tree or, if temperature is above freezing, place in feeding stations.
Pine Cone Feeder 1. Pack Jim’s Birdacious® Bark Butter® into pine cones. 2. Roll pine cones in WBU Deluxe Seed Blend. 3. Hang with string or ribbon from a tree.
Bagel Feeder 1. Split bagels in half and harden overnight. 2. Spread Bark Butter® or peanut butter on each side and then sprinkle with WBU Deluxe Seed Blend. 3. Tie a string through the hole, and hang from a tree.
Grapefruit Feeder 1. Poke three holes in the edges of a hollowed-out grapefruit half. 2. Run twine through the holes. 3. Spoon Suet Stuffing into grapefruit; sprinkle WBU Deluxe Seed Blend on top, and place in the freezer to harden. 4. Once hardened, knot the strings at the top and the bottom to secure. 5. Hang outside near a window.
Wild Bird Seed Cookies (makes 2-3 dozen) • 2 cups flour • 1/2 tsp. baking powder • 1/2 cup sugar • 2/3 cup WBU Simply Suet® (pure rendered suet) • 2 eggs • 2/3 cup WBU Deluxe Seed Blend • Macaroni elbows or Ditali pasta pieces as hangers • 1 egg white for wash • 1 cup WBU Deluxe Seed Blend for garnish • Bird-shaped cookie cutters. • Yarn or twine to hang cookies
1. Sift dry ingredients together. 2. Cut in suet with pastry blender or fork until crumbly. 3. Add eggs and mix. 4. Add WBU Deluxe Seed Blend. 5. Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth. 6. Wrap in wax paper, seal in plastic bag and chill for at least an hour. 7. Roll out on lightly floured surface to ¼” thickness. 8. Cut out bird shapes. 9. Press in macaroni piece towards the top of each cookie for ease in hanging. 10. Brush cookies with slightly beaten egg white. 11. Press more WBU Seed Blend over the top of each cookie. 12. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. 13. Bake at 325° F for 12-15 minutes or until cookies harden. 14. Cool and hang.
Decorating a tree for the birds is a fun and easy activity.
Be sure to select a tree somewhere near a window so that once you have completed your decorating, you and your family can sit back and watch as the many beautiful birds and creatures come to enjoy their holiday treats.
Additional Treat Ideas Decorations that can be strung and placed on the tree include popcorn, fresh cranberries, thick fresh orange slices, peanuts in the shell, dried apples or dried figs on heavy string.
You can also hang rice cakes with string, fresh crab apples by the stem, baby dried corn bundles, dried ears of colorful corn husks, or red seedless grapes tied up in bunches.
In addition, peanuts in the shell and whole walnuts can be scattered under the tree.
Natural rough brown string, ribbon and raffia can be used for hanging the decorations. Also, consider decorating with lengths of natural wool or string. The birds will use this material for nesting in the spring.