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.
2013 is almost gone and I don't have a new yard bird yet this year! With only days to go and migration done, the pressure is on to add #95 to my yard list.
Since the house was built and we moved in in July 1991, I've added at least one new bird species just about every year. And since our Wild Birds Unlimited shop opened in 2003 (when I probably started paying even better attention), we've had at least one new species every year.
Admittedly, it gets harder each year, and calls upon my identification skills more. There's been many a day, especially during spring or fall migration, that I thought I'd be able to add to my yard list if only one of my more knowledgeable birding friends was present. I'd bet big bucks that I've had numerous warblers stop by that I just couldn't identify.
Birds don't always give us the best view!
My 2012 new yard birds were a Lincoln's Sparrow in May and believe it or not, a first ever Red-tailed Hawk (overhead) in June. The year before, I added Field Sparrow and Palm Warbler.
Lincoln's Sparrow New Yard Bird in 2012
So over the closing days of 2013, I'll need to keep a sharp eye out for that new bird. I know the "potentials" are shrinking. My best bet might be to watch overhead, where if I'm really lucky, I could see a hawk or waterfowl that hasn't passed over before. Or I could dream really big and hope that one of this winter's irrupting Snowy Owls passes overhead.
Wish me luck! And if I don't get that new bird in the next few days, I'll just turn the calendar page and shoot for 2 or more new species in 2014!!
After finishing my second week of Project FeederWatch, I tallied the sad results and came up with only 6 species and 17 individual birds over the two-day count. It made me wonder what my counts have looked like in Week 2 of previous years and how those years turned out overall.
Bird activity has been very slow at my birdfeeders this fall, the product of a wet spring and warm summer that has provided wildlife, including birds, with a lot of natural food to feast upon. This Week 2 (during the 3rd week of November), I had only Black-capped Chickadees (albeit a fair number of them - 9), American Goldfinches (3), Mourning Doves (2), and one each of Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, and Dark-eyed Junco.
My single Red-breasted Nuthatch
This second week was even slower than my first week, when I had 9 species and 36 individual birds visit my yard. Oh, make that 35 individuals - I lost a Downy Woodpecker to a Cooper's Hawk that day. :(
Not only is the diversity of birds below average, the sheer number of birds at the feeders is way below average.
The yard "regulars" that are MIA include White Breasted Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpeckers, and Downy Woodpeckers. I haven't seen a Hairy Woodpecker in weeks! And the birds here in smaller numbers than usual are the Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, and Dark-eyed Juncos.
In other years, some of these week 2 counts have included some migrants such as Fox Sparrows and Common Grackles, as well as some uncommon birds to my yard like Ruffed Grouse and Cedar Waxwings.
The other two PFW seasons that had lower than average Week 2 counts were 2004-05 and 2011-12.
2004-05 finished with a high species count of 12 (average of 10) and a high individual count of 68 (average of 35) with 15 different species visiting over the season. That season may have been influenced by the fact that we were just then getting into the heavy birdfeeding in our yard and it was my first year counting.
2011-12 finished with a high species count of 15 (average of 8.1) and a high individual count of 94 (average of 51) with 17 different species visiting over the season.
Both these seasons finished below the average PFW counts (over 9 seasons) of 11 species and 71 individuals.
If I were to use this history as a predictor of what the remaining 13-17 counts might be, I would say that this will be a BELOW AVERAGE Project FeederWatch season at my birdfeeders here in upstate New York. I will see not only fewer species but many fewer total birds. To add to this grim prediction, Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast suggests that we won't see Pine Siskins or Common Redpolls in our area this winter because of plentiful natural food sources up in Canada.
My lesson here is that natural foods always trump the birdfeeders. Birds will return to birdfeeders when natural foods are either covered up by snow/ice or when those foods are depleted. Birds move to where the natural foods are plentiful.
Another important point is that I should (and will) continue my Project FeederWatch counts even during slow count periods. The REAL scientists who know what they're doing will add my counts to all the thousands of others that come in and make sense of it all. Here's what they say on the Project FeederWatch instructions:
"Remember if no birds visit your feeders, this information is important. The only way scientists know when birds are missing is if the people seeing no or very few birds tell us."
So I'll continue to count and continue to enter data, and hope my predictions are wrong. Either way, I'll take great joy in the few birds I'm seeing out my window this winter.
ps: My final point to this post is the realization that I'm a real nerd. But a real nerd untrained in math, or statistics, or science, which makes me a dangerous nerd. But thanks for reading anyway!
As a casual nature photographer, I do believe that every picture tells a story, and this seemingly simple image is no exception. But it's a sad story.
Bird activity has been slow around my house all fall. Lots of Black-capped Chickadees, some sporadic American Goldfinches, a Dark-eyed Junco and Red-breasted Nuthatch or two, a few Blue Jays, and a single Downy Woodpecker has been it for many weeks. It's been the slowest autumn of woodpecker activity we've ever had, as they forage on all the natural foods out there. One little downy had been all we'd seen in weeks.
A few days ago I was working at my computer that sits on a desk overlooking my yard and birdfeeding stations. Just after noon, I heard a bird glance against a window on the other side of the room, followed by catching out of the corner of my eye the movement of a large bird on our deck.
A bird had lightly struck the window, probably fleeing from the large bird - a Cooper's Hawk on the hunt. The hawk then plucked his prey, either straight off the window or off the deck, and flew to the yard to begin consuming it. I thought I saw the bird he held was mostly black and white. But as I got up for binoculars and camera and approached the window, the hawk flew off with the bird in his clutches.
I never really got a good look at the unlucky bird, but I did think it seemed bigger than a chickadee, and mostly black and white. I checked the feathers on the window, but they're mostly white down feathers that insulate a bird, and their size and color (or lack of it) tell me nothing.
What has somewhat confirmed my fear that I had lost my only Downy Woodpecker to this hawk strike is that my downy has been absent ever since. When you only have a few birds visiting your yard, the absence of even one is noticeable and notable.
I know there are more Downy Woodpeckers out there feasting in nature, and I wish for their speedy return to my feeders to fill the void created by my lost little downy.
I don't get up to our small cabin on Loon Lake very
often, and even when I do, sometimes I just veg out and don't even get my kayak out on
the water. But last week, I
spent a couple days there, and since the lake was practically devoid of any
boat traffic, I decided to put the kayak in the water and take a little paddle.
Loon Lake is a nice small lake, only about 2 miles long
and 1/2 mile wide. Most of the boats on
the water are residents', and while motors are allowed, with the kids back at
school, the lake is pretty darn quiet.
This, for me, is the best time of year to enjoy the lake.
Shortly after pushing off, I heard a loud and large-sounding bird call near the south point in the lake. I started paddling over, and heard the call
once more on my way over. I paddled to
about 50 feet from shore then started paralleling the shoreline, scanning the
trees for something, anything. I really
didn't know what I was looking for.
What I soon found exceeded any expectations I might have
had: two adult Bald Eagles! They were
perched in a large pine tree near the shoreline and were silent from the time I
spotted them. They sat, with a regal
bearing fitting of our national bird, within 3-4 feet of each other on a large
limb, just 25-30 feet above the water.
One eagle flew off shortly after I arrived in the area, and in examining pictures I made of him, I notice that he is a banded bird.
The remaining bird seemed unfazed by my presence. He did fly off once, covering the distance
halfway across the lake with just a few beats of his magnificent wings, and
dove for a fish but came up empty. He
came back to the point, landing just about fifty feet further down the
shore. It took only a few strokes of
my paddle to have him back in my sights.
With no motor boat activity on the lake, and only a
slight breeze, I was able to spend over a half an hour positioned in my kayak
just 40 feet or so from the eagle. He
preened some, but mostly he just looked over his domain.
What a wonderful paddle I had that morning,
rewarded by the presence of two gorgeous Bald Eagles. What great motivation to get up to camp and
out on the water more often
I still have trouble at times telling the difference between a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Cooper's Hawk. I've read a number of resources to help differentiate them, and just when I think I have it down, I see one that I just can't quite identify with certainty.
The problem is you can't just use one field mark to tell the difference. Cooper's Hawks are bigger...sometimes. Sharpie's tails look squared off...sometimes. And then there's the comparative field marks like the Cooper's head is larger or the sharpie legs are thinner. Yeah, if they were sitting side-by-side, that would be easy! And I find the in-flight characteristics like the Cooper's slower wing beats, or that the sharpie's small head doesn't extend past the wings even harder to pick out.
So I like when one of them flies up, nice and close, sits for a just a little while, and shows a number of field marks nice and clearly with little room for interpretation.
Like this guy (or gal). Rusty barring on chest, slaty back, red eye tells me adult bird, either species. That's the easy part. Smaller size...thinkin' sharpie. Nice squared off tail...another point for a sharpie. Skinny little legs...sharpie. More subjective (to my eyes) is the broader chest and narrower bottom of the sharpie.
Okay, I think I've got this one down. Sharp-shinned Hawk it is! But chances are when the next hawk comes through my yard, I'll have my bird books out again!
Here's two good sources: Tricky Bird IDs on the Cornell Lab Project FeederWatch site and Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding
On Sunday, we had a Holiday Open House at our Wild Birds
Unlimited shop. Besides the usual stuff
like refreshments and giveaways, prize drawings and specials, we also had a
volunteer from North Country Wild Care, our local wildlife rehabilitation
group, bring a Eurasian Eagle Owl to show.
The Eurasian Eagle Owl is one of the largest owls in the
world, weighing 6 pounds and boasting a wingspan of up to 5 feet. Native to wide area of Europe and Asia, this particular owl, named
Wyatt, was born 3 years ago in captivity here in the United States.
He lives with his handler Trish, who is one of the
dedicated volunteers of North Country Wild Care. North Country volunteers work with injured,
orphaned, or debilitated birds and other wildlife in a nine-county area of eastern New York State. Many customers and local residents think of
calling our shop when they find an injured bird; we, in turn, refer them to the
rehab group's hotline. We know that the
bird will be taken care of by well-trained volunteers.
Just seeing Trish handle Wyatt and as she shared information about him with our customers, you can see the love and dedication she puts into his well-being. When Trish picked him off his perch and he flapped his wings to right himself, Lois and I got to experience a little of his awesome size and power - the draft created by his flapping wings was amazing, and was felt by others standing nearly 10 feet away!
To help support the work being done by North Country Wild
Care, Lois and I have started our first Holiday Match Program:
Until end of business Christmas Eve, we will match up to $500 all in-store cash or check donations to North Country Wild Care.
Nothing would make us happier or prouder than to
present a combined $1,000 to North Country Wild Care.
Please help us achieve that goal: stop by the
shop before Christmas and drop off whatever amount you can in the collection
box. Every dollar, every five, every
ten, every twenty, will be MATCHED up to $500.
Thank you and we hope you'll join us in supporting this group that works so
hard for the birds and other wildlife.
This shadowy image is what was left on my window after an unknown bird hit a window while fleeing a hawk. I saw the hawk leave the area after I heard the strike, but this time, the intended prey escaped his attack.
Mourning Doves often leave very powdery marks on a window they come in contact with, and the size was about right for a dove. I was fascinated how the body, face, left eye, and left wing are all clearly evident.
Unfortunately, even when birds fly off from a window strike, they sometimes die from the internal injuries they sustained.
When I think of woodland hawks, I think of the accipiters: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and Northern Goshawk. All are relatively short winged, all the better for them to maneuver through trees. These hawks are hunters of birds, making the sharpie and Cooper's the most likely for many of us to see in our yards.
Little did I know that one of the buteos I see most often is also a forest bird.
I often hear and then see the Broad-winged Hawk in the skies well over my house, especially during spring and fall migration. And every once in a while, one gives us a closer look.
What I didn't know is that the Broad-winged Hawk nests in mature deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests. You can look for them perched along forested roads. Migrating broad-wingeds are known to stop for the night in forests.
I was also surprised by the broad-winged's measurements especially compared to the accipiters:
Smaller in length and lighter in weight than the Cooper's Hawk, with a little longer wingspan, the Broad-winged Hawk seems to nestle in nicely with the accipiters, though in all ways, it's dwarfed by the goshawk. Broad-wingeds eat birds as well, in addition to their diet of small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. And just like the accipiters, they will hunt by flying through woods looking for prey.
But unlike many individuals in the accipiter genus, all Broad-winged Hawks migrate, leaving the continent to winter in Central and South America.
Living in a forested area like I do, I'll now be more alert to the possibility of a Broad-winged Hawk in my midst.
Sources: Sibley Guide to Birds, David Sibley; Lives of North American Birds, Kenn Kaufman
I was frankly surprised when I looked at my yard list and saw I was missing the Red-tailed Hawk.
We've had all the accipiters - Sharp-shinned, Cooper's and even Northern Goshawk. And we are lucky to be in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains where we can enjoy migrating raptors in the thermals overhead. We mostly see (or are able to identify) Broad-winged Hawks, and even had a nice fly-by visit from one. Broad-wings are known to inhabit mixed and deciduous woods like where I live.
But until this week, I can't say I've positively identified a Red-tail Hawk in the skies over my house. But a clear, repeated "keeerr-r-r keeerr-r-r" tipped me off to its presence overhead.
Yard Bird #94 - Red-tailed Hawk
It gave me a fairly good look, good enough for me to see its characteristic belly band and its kind of beat up tail.
The Red-tailed Hawk become yard bird #94, and my second new yard bird of the year!