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.
1. Once migration starts, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds you see today will most likely be replaced by a new group of hummingbirds tomorrow.
2. Adult males typically depart first, with adult females and young birds following. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to tell these remaining birds apart.
3. When you watch hummingbird behavior closely throughout the summer, you can become familiar with the behavior and preferences of your resident hummingbirds, like what feeders they frequent most and where they perch. With that knowledge, you can more easily notice when your resident birds have departed and have been replaced by migrating hummingbirds that behave and visit feeders differently.
4. Keep feeders clean and nectar fresh so these migrants can easily locate high quality nectar sources. Fill feeders only halfway when activity slows down so you're not throwing away a lot of nectar.
5. Keep your hummingbird feeders up and filled with fresh nectar for at least two weeks after you see your last hummingbird in the fall. I like to keep at least one feeder up well into October, in case a wandering Rufous Hummingbird were to be in the area. Hey, you never know, but if one does, I want it to stop in MY yard for a nectar source.
Rufous Hummingbird, Ballston Lake NY, October 2010
Some late stragglers to my This Year's Youngsters series. All birds that were born this year in or around my yard. Enjoy!
We're lucky to have Dark-eyed Juncos all year long, not just in the winter like many of our customers. Our 1,300 elevation makes a difference. Junco young could be hard to identify if you didn't see them with their parents. These birds will probably migrate to lower elevations to spend the winter, but will be replaced with juncos that have bred to the north of us.
I don't usually see much warbler activity in my yard during the summer. I know a few warbler species nest in my area, I just don't see much of them until fall migration. So when I saw five different warbler species in my yard on a very warm (mid-80s) day last week, I was both thrilled and surprised.
Here are the three I was able to capture an image of:
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Ovenbird (all I could get!!)
The camera shy warblers were an American Redstart and a Common Yellowthroat.
I know I have two more warblers around this summer that just didn't show up that day. A few days earlier I saw this Black- throated Green Warbler.
And here's a female Yellow-rumped Warbler that was gathering nest material in my yard in early June. And I just recently saw the male yellow-rumped foraging in our trees.
I hope this is a sign of a good warbler breeding year that will lead to a great fall warbler migration, maybe one that will add a new bird or two to my yard list!
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!
Last winter, I was moaning and groaning about having no new yard bird so far in 2013. All that complaining did me no good and I ended the year empty handed. And this year, at the start of spring migration, I was out there again, writing about searching the trees for #95 as spring warblers made their way north.
So it was on Mother's Day morning, as I was sitting on the deck in my Adirondack chair enjoying the endless stream of chickadees and jays and woodpeckers at my feeders, that my next new yard bird passed overhead. Good thing I count overhead birds since my habitat is not exactly right for that Osprey!
Not the exact Osprey I saw, but one just like it!
Then later that same day, sitting on the deck after a day at work, my second new yard bird of the day and year flew overhead as well! This time it was a pair of Mallards, heading in a northeast direction, perhaps toward the bit of wetland less than 1/5 mile from my house.
A pair of Mallards like this male flew over my house to become yardbird #96
They both gave me only a brief look, not even long enough to grab my camera, but long and good enough to identify and log as new yard bird #95 and 96. Now, onward and upward (skyward?) towards 100 yard birds!
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!
I'm stuck. Stuck at 94 yard birds. Since I moved into my house in 1991, I've had at least one new yard bird just about every year, but I got shut out in 2013. So I'm on the lookout for my newest yard bird. And the century mark is within reach!
I've spent some time thinking, and maybe hoping, what that new yard bird might be. Near the end of last year with fall migration wrapping up, I thought my best bet might be an overhead hawk or waterfowl. That didn't happen, and as I headed into winter, the chances for a new species for 2013 looked slim.
All the most common winter finches are already on my list: Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks. I can't say that I've definitely had a Hoary Redpoll in my yard, but there have been suspects that I just couldn't definitively label as such. And while I considered other cone seed loving birds like the crossbills as potential visitors, I thought it unlikely that they'd make their first appearance this past winter. Abundant food supplies across the boreal would keep most winter finches away all winter.
So as spring migration revs up, so do my hopes for a new yard bird. The possibility of a new migrant passing through open up significantly. In my yard, spring migration doesn't bring as many warblers as fall migration does, but I know that this is where the greatest potential for a new yard bird exists.
I've had some great warblers pass through my yard, 17 species in all.
Black & White Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Northern Parula Warbler
Most of these warblers made their first appearance in my yard in late summer/early fall. Fall warblers are a real challenge to identify, but in spring, any migrants that were to visit my yard would be in their easier-to-identify breeding plumage. And they might just be singing as well, so the conditions would as ideal as ever. The sight of a beautiful, singing male Black-throated Green Warbler on May 6th fuels my hopes for a new spring warbler. Now I just need to bone up on my warbler ID - and get out in the woods more - to be prepared when the warblers pass through our area. I hope my new Warbler Guide comes in handy.
Female Black-throated Blue Warbler at suet log feeder
Other possibilities include overhead birds, which I include in my Yard List because, well, because it's my list and I make the rules! I do get some overhead hawks and have had Broad-winged Hawks pass through at lower altitude.
So I'll keep my eyes in the trees and overhead. I'll check every foraging sparrow, just to make sure it isn't new to my yard. I'll listen closely for that song that sounds different from all the regulars, and for those hours I'm inside working, I'll keep my outdoor speaker turned on.
Hopefully my diligence and attention will bring #95 to my yard this spring as I make my way to the century mark of birds that have graced my land or the skies above it, and have let me call them "mine".
Like thousands of other folks across the continent, I just wrapped up a weekend of counting the birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This was my 7th year participating in the count.
I was able to count some all four days; Saturday and Sunday I only had a couple hours available before heading into the shop, but on Friday and Monday I was around all day to count.
I saw 16 different species of birds that I was able to report, including all the regulars: Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, Hairy and Downy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Red- and White-breasted Nuthatch, Mourning Dove, Dark-eyed Junco, American Goldfinch, and Northern Cardinal.
But it's always the less frequent birds that you love to have show up for the count, and I had a few of them this year. The male Red-bellied Woodpecker that has been frequenting my feeders since the beginning of February showed up to be counted everyday. While red-bellieds are becoming more common in upstate New York, for me they've been very infrequent, with only 4 prior sightings before this current stay. Let's hope he sticks around, establishes a territory, and finds a mate this breeding season!
This winter has also brought regular visits from 2-3 American Tree Sparrows, present since the end of December. This is the first time they've ever been included in my GBBC.
Purple Finches nest prolifically in my yard during the summer and regularly depart in the fall. But a small group of these gorgeous finches have returned to my yard this winter, first seen a couple weeks ago and showing up everyday for the GBBC. This was the first time I've been able to include these birds in my GBBC.
Since the end of December, I've had 2 Brown Creepers around somewhat regularly. I was excited with the thought of them showing up to be counted too. Three count days went by with no creepers. The morning of day 4 passes as well without any creepers. Finally, at 3:00pm on the final day, with only 2 hours or so of daylight left, 2 creepers showed up, spirally together up the big pine tree and foraging on the snow-covered ground. Just in time to be counted!
Species that showed up in bigger numbers included 23 Blue Jays, 16 goldfinches, and 11 chickadees. All in all, a nice bird count weekend, averaging 13 species and 52 individual birds each day. Another GBBC under the belt, but the counting continues...Project FeederWatch runs until early April!