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.
Some of the birds on my "life list" are pretty great birds. Like a Kirtland's Warbler I saw in Ohio. Or the Olive Sparrow I saw in Texas. But I have to admit that if it hadn't been for the outstanding birders I happened to be with at the time, I probably would not have seen these birds, let alone identify them.
So it's always quite satisfying when you find and identify a new bird, an uncommon bird, or hard to find bird all on your own. We had this experience while vacationing in south Jersey this May.
Clapper Rail (phonescoped)
The first bird we sighted and identified was a Clapper Rail while on the wildlife drive at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. I always considered rails very hard to find and observe, being secretive and skulky, as well as very well camouflaged. Lucky for us, the Clapper Rail is relatively big (nearly 15" tall) and often emerges from the marsh at low tide to forage in the relative open along the edge of the marsh.
Rails can be very difficult to find when amongst the marsh grass. Do you see him?
When he was up in the grasses, he was very hard to see. But he also spent a lot of time in the mud flats, allowing us many good looks at this chicken-like bird. After finding the first one, we got better at looking for them in the marsh, and by the end of the 8-mile drive, we had observed three clapper rail individuals.
Clapper Rail (phonescoped)
The other great bird we found and identified was seen swimming on an impoundment at Matt's Landing in the Heislerville Wildlife Management Area. While using the spotting scope to check out the shorebirds, we noticed a different-looking medium-sized bird with a rufous neck, white chin, and dark back. It was quite a bit more active than the other birds, swimming around somewhat erratically while other shorebirds waded nearby. There was no mistaking it as a Red-necked Phalarope.
Red-necked Phalarope (top) (Phonescoped)
As I learned later, they forage by spinning in circles, creating water movement that circulates food up towards them. Once we became aware of the phalarope's rather bright markings (compared to other shorebirds) and their active habits, it became quite easy to find it repeatedly. We even got to point it out to a few of the more experienced birders who had heard that a phalarope was seen in the area.
We still needed someone else to point out a White-rumped Sandpiper to us, but we did leave New Jersey happy with the special finds we were able to locate and identify on our own. Shorebirds are tough, and we'll take our successes one or two at a time!
I don't live near the shore and only get there about once a year. And then when I get there, I have to admit that I'm not very good at identifying many of the birds I find there. So I really consider myself lucky to have twice sighted a flagged shorebird.
Flagged Red Knot, North Carolina May 2011
My first flagged bird was a Red Knot we saw in North Carolina in May 2011. I entered the resighting on bandedbirds.org and found out this knot had originally been flagged and banded in Brazil (date unknown). It was first resighted on Delaware Bay in May 2008 with additional resightings there in May 2009. My resighting 2 years later was the only sighting outside the Delaware Bay Area. Nine days after I saw it, it was resighted again in Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Unfortunately, it has not been resighted again or since. Check out my post Red Knot: 65,000 Miles and Counting for more on my sighting.
Ruddy Turnstone 2KE (click on picture to enlarge for better view of flag) Phonescoped image
My most recent flagged bird was a Ruddy Turnstone we saw at East Point Lighthouse along the Jersey side of Delaware Bay. It was foraging near high tide with other turnstones, a few Red Knots, a few Short-billed Dowitchers, many Dunlin, as well as some other shorebirds I couldn't identify.
I didn't see the flag while observing the flock, but noticed it as I went through photographs later. The turnstone had a lime green flag meaning it was banded in the U.S. The letters 2KE were clearly readable. He also had a metal band on his lower right leg.
With that information entered into the Banded Birds site, I found out that this turnstone was originally banded on May 17, 2012 in New Jersey and was resighted 3 more times that May on the Jersey side of the bay. He returned and was resighted 5 times in 2013. My resighting on May 19 was the first of this year.
It's really exciting to see a flagged bird but more importantly, I consider it an honor to contribute to the work that researchers are doing by reporting my resightings. It's so cool to think that I may help make a difference!
On New Year's Day 2009, the first-ever Red-bellied Woodpecker visited my yard in upstate New York. It was a female, who enjoyed a snack at my birdfeeders and was never seen again.
Fast forward eighteen months, June 24, 2010, another female checking out the feeders, then moving on. Then another nineteen months pass, one shows up on February 2, 2012, stays a few days, then gone!
The next red-bellied showed up September 30, 2013, seventeen months later. This individual didn't venture into the yard, and was seen only that day, high in a nearby tree.
Then, a breakthrough! The fifth appearance of a Red-bellied Woodpecker on January 31, 2014, just four months later! And here it is, the beginning of April, and he's still around!
The suet logs are his favorite feeders and his favorite tree is the silver maple over-looking the yard. He's been here just about every day, he has been counted in just about every Project FeederWatch count since he arrived, as well as showing up to be included in my counts for the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Phonescoped image using iPhone & Vortex HD Razor Scope
But the big question is: will he stay?
Since the 1950s and 1960s, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been steadily expanding their range northward. The New York Breeding Bird Atlas offers that, "before that, the species was not even common in northern Pennsylvania or northern New Jersey." It is also noted that the current distribution is in areas under 2,000 feet elevation and that it is possible that winter temperatures mark the limits of their expansion.
Recovery of forested areas and the abundance of bird feeding has probably helped fuel this exciting expansion of Red-bellied Woodpeckers. We hear more and more of our customers telling us they have red-bellieds as daily visitors at their birdfeeders. Some have seen young in their yards as well. They're being seen in suburban yards as well as in rural yards that are closer to the river valleys and at lower elevations.
We have the right habitat of mixed deciduous-coniferous woods (maybe a bit heavier on the coniferous side) that (in my biased thinking) would make a fine home for a red-bellied family. And while my male's extended stay in the area is promising, I wonder if will he stay if he doesn't find a mate. Is he on the "leading edge" of the birds' expansion northward and westward? And are there other red-bellieds - a potential mate - not far behind? Will my male stay around waiting for a mate to move into the area, and if so, for how long? Or will he retreat to an area that has an established population?
I hear his churrrr call from the trees, announcing his presence to whatever might listen. It will be interesting to see what happens this summer. Of course I hope he stays, and that he lures a mate into the area. The species' adaptability has brought them this far, so it's not too much of a stretch to anticipate their movement into my habitat as well. I'll keep watching and listening and bribing him with suet in the log feeder, savoring every day this red-bellied pioneer visits my yard.
The Supermoon through the pines. Digiscoped with Vortex Razor Scope and Sony Cybershot P&S
I betcha the Supermoon over the weekend was one of the most photographed moons in history!
Word of the Supermoon spread like wildfire and with the availability of cameras on phones, digital cameras, and digiscoping, thousands (maybe even millions?) of people were out there trying to capture an image of the moon Saturday night.
Supermoon is a fairly new term, popularized in 2010 to identify the moon that will APPEAR larger and brighter than all others that calendar year. This year's Supermoon appeared 14% larger and 30% brighter than a typical full moon.
One day before Supermoon, 98% full. Digiscoped with Vortex Razor Scope and Sony Cybershot P&S
The experts use the word "appear" because the moon is not actually larger or brighter, but just looks that way. The moon is at perigee (a new term for me) meaning the day each month that the moon is at its closest to earth. On the night of Supermoon, it was a mere 221 thousand miles away!
So let's get together for next year's Supermoon, which will occur on June 23, 2013. See ya then!
After an initial batch of 12 new birds for the year by watching my feeders at home, my next batch all came through the windshield of a car.
On my first trip into the store this year, I knew I'd pick up a few more easy year birds. I expected to see these suburban birds that usually don't visit my feeders. Sure enough, along Jones Road I saw American Crows, and from the Chipotle parking lot, a few House Sparrows perched in a small tree while across the road on Route 50, over 100 European Starlings were perched on the power lines, like quarter notes playing out a long, monotonous tune.
European Starling (digiscoped 2009, NY)
A couple days later, I headed down the interstate on a trip to the Philly area. I saw Rock Pigeons clustered around exit 12. All along my drive, Red-tailed Hawks perched high on trees and poles looking for their next meal in the snow below. In New Jersey, I started seeing Turkey Vultures with their teeter-totter flight. Turkey Vultures leave upstate New York in the winter, though now I know they don't go far.
Black Vulture (April 2009, TX)
In New Jersey along interstate 78, I saw a smaller vulture with a white only on the tips of their wings - now I'm glad I learned to identifyBlack Vultures during my trip last year to Texas! In Pennsylvania, Herring Gulls frequented the parking lots of the King of Prussia mall area.
Fittingly, near the Audubon exit on Route 422, many skeins of Canada Geese - and many other unidentifiable waterfowl - flew overhead. Unbeknownst to me, I was within minutes of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. I'll definitely make time for a stop there next time I'm in the area!
So my year list stands at 21 right now. I'll be in downtown Atlanta soon and while there, I'll be on the lookout for birds that can be seen in an urban environment to add to my year list.
Migration wraps up this month so this will be my last report on the birds returning to my yard this spring. I've used the arrival of each bird to learn something new or fun about them from Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion.
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Sapsuckers returned on May 15th, later than previous years. As the Mountain Ash trees in my yard decrease (I lost another this winter; read about it in my Lamenting the Loss of a Tree post), I wonder how long sapsuckers will continue to stop in my yard.
The two sapsuckers I saw went straight to work on the lone surviving ash tree, drilling a few new sap wells. It was then very fascinating to watch a chickadee check out the wells after they were drilled, I imagine searching for the insects that the sap attracts.
Chickadee visiting a sapsucker well
Dunne Fun Fact "A shy bird, Yellow-bellied often moves to the far side of a limb to avoid study...observers are often unaware of the bird's presence. Dislodged shards of bark are few, and the bird's tapping is surprisingly soft, almost soundless. Often birders are alerted to the bird's presence by its call." All so true, just as I've experienced the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!
Appearing later this year than all other migratory birds to my yard, Tree Swallows usually show up in mid-April but they didn't show up until May 16th! I don't really have a good habitat for them to breed, but they regularly pay me a spring visit and are often seen catching insects on the wing. I oftentimes witness courtship behaviors and copulation as well before they move on to more open areas. This year was no exception.
Dunne Fun Fact "Sometimes carries (usually white) feathers aloft and, releasing them, pursues them in the air."
Male Evening Grosbeak, April 2009. Digiscoped image
I had been wondering about the total absence of Evening Grosbeaks in my yard this spring. Birdwatchers in British Columbia, Canada and in the western U.S. seemed to be hogging all of them!
But then on June 2, I was lucky enough to have a pair pass through the yard. In years past, they came through in April! Unfortunately, they moved on after staying only a few minutes.
Dunne Fun Fact "In breeding plumage, the huge lime green bill is too anomalous and imposing to ignore...The yellow eyebrows make the birds look fierce or cross."
FUN FACT SOURCE: Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, Published by Houghton-Mifflin, 2006.
Of the nine oriole species found in North America, the Baltimore Oriole is the most widespread in the east and the Bullock's is common in the west. Orioles of all kinds can be drawn into our yards by offering food such as orange halves or slices, grape jelly, or mealworms. Orioles might even use the protein-rich mealworms to feed to their nestlings!
Baltimore Oriole (digiscoped image)
Female Baltimore Oriole (photo from WBU Image Library)
When serving grape jelly, it's important to put out smaller quantities and in shallow dishes. This will help minimize the danger of other small birds inadvertently getting trapped in the thick jelly.
Orioles will also visit nectar feeders, which supplements the natural nectar they find in flowers. You'll need a special nectar feeder for orioles; their beak is too big to access nectar in hummingbird feeders. The nectar solution for orioles is also weaker than hummingbird nectar - a 1 part sugar to 8 parts water solution (vs. 1-to-4 ratio for hummingbirds).
Orioles seem more easily attracted to feeders if their preferred foods are waiting for them upon their return from their tropical winter homes. That's why it's a good idea to maintain a journal of the bird activity in your yard from year to year. Orioles return to my area within the first 2 weeks of May each year. It's when the black cherry trees are in bloom - another easy way to remember!
Oriole enjoying apples on a Johnny Apple Feeder (Photo from Holland Hill Birdfeeders)
Place feeders in the open so they're very visible. Remember these are treetop birds so try to think about their perspective when you choose a spot for your feeders. It's also best to keep oriole feeders separate from other bird feeding stations.
Orioles at a recycled plastic oriole/jelly feeder (Photo from WBU Image Library)
WBU Oriole Feeder serves nectar, an orange half, and safe quantities of grape jelly (Photo from WBU Image Library)
Remember to keep the foods you offer orioles fresh, replacing the food every few days. Clean the feeder regularly. And BE PATIENT - it may be several seasons before orioles find and utilize a feeder. But it will be worth it, so give it a try and in the meantime, enjoy this gorgeous bird and his wonderful song!
Orioles are also amongst the birds that are known to winter in shade-grown coffee farms. Help protect the birds you love by drinking only certified shade-grown "Bird-Friendly®" coffee like Birds & Beans™ brand. Available at WBU-Saratoga Springs NY and online.
The site is the largest intact grassland habitat in eastern New York and is vital for grassland birds, many of whose populations across North America have plummeted in recent years due to habitat loss. High quality grassland acreage in New York State has been rapidly decreasing due to fragmentation and urban sprawl.
- The IBA hosts many summer breeding bird species, including Northern Harrier, Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark.
- The IBA is also an important raptor wintering area. Species commonly found include Northern Harrier, Short-eared Owl, and Rough-legged Hawk. Non-raptor species that depend on the grasslands include Snow Bunting, Horned Lark, and Lapland Longspur.
Rough-legged Hawk, Ft. Edward IBA 2009
- Other interesting sightings in the IBA have included: Merlin, Snowy Owl, Brown Thrasher, Northern Shrike, Blue-winged Warbler, Dickcissel, and Orchard Oriole.
Snowy Owl, Ft. Edward IBA 2009 (digiscoped image)
Nearly all acreage in the IBA is privately owned. Pressure from residential development has put this special place at risk for not only the grassland birds, but for residents who value their rural lifestyle.