You’ll pardon me for paraphrasing the B-52s, but bird watching in my back yard since spring has sprung really has been like living in my own private Audubon. Yang pointed out that we often see more birds (in number and variety) through our sun porch windows than we do on many of our nature walks! It’s been a delight to see many old friends return.
First back were these Mockingbirds. Usually we see one in February or early March. S/He doesn’t stay long, but chows down for a day or two – maybe a week – and then is on the way to wherever Mockingbirds like to chill. This year, we got TWO. A honeymooning couple? I don’t know, but they were a pleasure to see.
Another of the spring early birds are the Red-Winged Blackbirds. In my yard, they are one of the earliest sign of spring rolling in. These guys actually showed up in the end of February – and I’ve never seen so many of them! Usually their numbers tend to thin out as we get into May, but this year we still have many of these visitors with the red and yellow epaulets. You can see this chap flashing his shoulder embellishments as he shares the feeder with a grumpy-looking Grackle – tons of Grackles off and on since February. Below is the blackbird taking a turn on the suet.
In fact, everyone seems to be into suet this year! You saw the Mockingbirds above. And get a load of both the female and male Downy Woodpeckers. You can distinguish their genders by the red dot on the back of the male’s head.
These two aren’t the only woodpeckers who visit us. Through the winter and still into the spring, we’ve had a pair of Redbellied Woodpeckers chilling with us. In fact, this male is probably the one Yang and I saved from frostbite after he was stunned from hitting a window – the woodpecker, not Yang. Anyway, we call him Red and his mate Ruby. Original, aren’t we?
Of course we also had a spring newcomer woodpecker: my friend Flicker (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.). Just last week, I saw him hunting insects where my and my neighbor’s yard meet.
One of my favorite returnees is the Catbird. I love the way they say my name in one of their calls: “Sharon!” Last year we had two. This year, I’ve seen four! I don’t think they’re all pals, either. One day, I saw two of them in my Canadian Maple with their heads up, beaks pointing skyward, and their shoulders thrown back in a stand off. Bird number three was merrily chowing down on suet all the while. Who knows where number four went. Still, I do see two, three, four of them traveling together, making the rounds of the bird feeders in my yard.
We’ve also had some more colorful returnees as well. Although a Goldfinch or two would come by during the winter, we had a huge influx in April. They’ve thinned out a bit, but it’s been fun watching the boys gradually change back to their bright yellow duds. They’ve also broadened their tastes. Rather than only snacking on sunflower hearts, they are now going for the black oil seeds, no longer too lazy to crack them open with their powerful finch beaks. This fella is giving the feeder a quizzical study before he zeroes in on dinner.
Finally, May brought back two of my favorite friends. First, the Baltimore Orioles. This year we’ve seen two adult males and one juvenile. These guys love their oranges! Yang gets them the good ones from the Asian grocery store in town.
One day, Yang and I saw Dad taking his young son out for his first drink.
Dad says, “Watch me, son, it’s simple.”
The Kid dives in and proud Pop looks on.
Then they both turn to our window and stare: “What’re YOU lookin’ at?!”
One week later, who should come to town but the last of our colorful spring regulars: the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Usually we get a couple of couples. However, this year, I’ve only seen the male. Still, for all I know, it’s not the same male every time. There could be a bunch of them, each showing up one at a time. However many, these guys are always gorgeous to see! Here one of them is sharing the feeder with a House Finch. He doesn’t look too chummy, though, does he?
Of course, we’re not the only ones who like to watch the birds from the sun porch. But the girls are kept safely apart from feathered visitors.
Now, bring on the Indigo Bunting and the Scarlet Tanager!
I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of photography around the yard lately, since I’ve been so busy with writing and traveling. However, we do have many neat critters to see. We still have many interesting birds, for example, a turkey for several days, visiting around 5:00 in the afternoon. Rosalind noticed the turkey first and tipped me off. so, we got some nice shots of her.
The cardinals have been bringing their kids to visit. I see plenty of Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, but I’m not sure how many adolescents they have because they are all olive colored with black beaks (The beak helps you distinguish kids from female adults). I only see one baby at a time, so I don’t know if it’s the same one repeatedly or different Cardinal kiddos every time. Last year, the parents brought quite a few to the feeders, and we had about six males and females in the winter and through the spring. Then, we only seemed to have two adults. My guess is the last generation of kids moved off to college or got a job and nest in a new territory. What do you think, Cardinal experts? Anyway, this kid is pretty aggressive. He was on the feeder with a female Rosebreasted Grosbeak, who had scared every other birds off, including Mommy Cardinal. Not this kid! He kept pecking right back at her for some time.
Speaking of Grosbeaks, we have at least three males (whom I’ve seen all at the same time), but I’m not sure how many females. I have noticed that I do see a pair show up frequently, though I usually see a male or two show up without the wife. Occasionally, I’ve seen a female without the hubby. These two like to hang together on this particular feeder. They also decided to check out the oranges we put out for the Orioles as well.
The catbirds used to come frequently in the beginning of the summer, then they disappeared, pretty much, for about a month. However, now they are BACK. And they are aggressively defending the suet, cocking up their black tails and showing off that red spot underneath. I’m glad to see them-and hear them call my name, “Sharon! Sharon!” There’s one outside my window right now!
I’ll have to do another bird blog, to show you more pictures of our other feathered visitors.
Between Halloween and fall foliage, October seems the perfect month to post blogs on my cemetery visits. St. John’s Cemetery is one of my favorites, a beautiful rural setting that was just starting to put on display its lovely autumn colors. Unlike the rolling hills of some Romantic-style cemeteries, the layout is fairly flat, but it has a plethora of old trees providing shade in summer and wonderful colors in the fall. A river runs alongside with all kinds of brush that serves as home to many different birds.
There is plenty of beautiful statuary in this cemetery, as well. Some of it shows magnificently against the backdrop of autumn’s leafy splendor. Here we’ve got Jesus.
And here we have a sad woman shouldering the sacred cross, perhaps striving to lift the burden from Christ’s shoulders with repenting her sins.
There are so many beautiful statues here celebrating Catholic figures of holiness-many of which you won’t find in non-Catholic cemeteries. We found many different versions of the Virgin Mary. These are some especially interesting ones. This monument evokes the Infant of Prague motif.
These other two images of Mary are intriguing as well. The first figure reminds me of Our Lady or Lourdes or of Fatima. The second shows her crowned Queen of Earth and the Heavens, with the Christ child.
The images of angels were fascinating, too. I love this relief that seems to show Saint Michael, sword in hand, ready for Someone Special.
However this exquisite carving of an angel struck me the deepest. I’m including more than one shot, I’m so impressed with it. Look at the deep contemplation in the features. What is this angel thinking? Brooding on the fall of some many angels and humans once bright with promise? Or is there a trace of a smile in the subtle shaping of his cheeks and lips? Take time to delight in how the material of his gown seems to drape gracefully as a part of his body. What does he hold tucked behind? A sword or a staff? The features are so gracefully, believably carved that not a single Dr. Who fan would blink in his presence.
I’m just not sure who this saint is. He’s in monk’s robes, so it can’t be Joseph-and no baby Jesus. There are no animals around, so it wouldn’t be Saint Francis. No baby Jesus on his shoulder-not St. Christopher. Maybe St. Anthony or St. Peter? He is holding a cross, the way Peter was martyred, but what about the skull?
There are other wonderful statues that are not of Saints, much in line with what you’d expect in any cemetery. Behold this piece that looks like a cathedral.
Then there are some lovely statues of women, like this one of a mother reading from a book to her daughter. The book is probably a Bible, but I like to think of it as something by C. Brontë. Charlotte was actually pretty spiritual.
You can also find some impressive examples of Celtic Crosses in this cemetery, some with intricate relief designs carved on them. Below are two examples I found captivating.
The river that parallels one side of this cemetery hosts many wonderful critters. We’ve seen ducks and a Great Blue Heron here. Once we even saw a muskrat swim gaily upstream. The brush and trees along the banks host flocks of Robins, Chickadees, Vireos, Phoebes, Catbirds, and King Birds. In the summer, we’ve seen Orioles and woodpeckers flying and perching on the imposing tress on the grounds.
Speaking of birds, one time we showed up in the cemetery too late to be allowed to continue our walk. As we were driving slowly toward the main road to leave, Yang asked me, “What’s that on the tomb stone ahead?” It was a great big red-tailed hawk! The pictures aren’t perfect because it was night and we took them through the windshield of our car, but they are pretty darned neat. I especially like the one where Mr. or Ms. Hawk does an almost 180 with the head and stares right at us. Yikes!
Lastly, this gravestone raised an important question for me. If Curley’s here, where did they plant Moe and Larry? Or Shemp?
Despite the polar vortex heading our way this weekend, spring is trying to sprung on us. And the feathered visitors to my backyard are showing the way. Bright new plumage is emerging and old friends are returning from warmer climes, though some winter visitors have lingered on.
The bird I’ll introduce to you first is a Downy Woodpecker. We’ve seen these lovelies all winter long, and this spring they’re still pecking away at trees and the wooden poles holding up our feeders, as well as chomping away at suet. I noticed that they seem to come in different sizes. I’m not confusing them with Hairy Woodpeckers, who seemed to disappear from my feeders in the winter, only to return in the spring- especially for suet. We also have gotten a few Yellow-Bellied Woodpeckers throughout winter and spring – and a Flicker or two. Unfortunately, so far this year, we’ve only gotten photos of the Downys.
Bluejays can be real stinkers – one of the biggest bullies at the bird feeder. We have four who show up together and try to boss the other birds away. Often they succeed, but we also have some extremely aggressive Cardinals, Chickadees, and Goldfinches who won’t take excremental effluvia from no one. So, the Bluejays aren’t always the boss of everyone. Still, they are beauties, aren’t they?
Speaking of Cardinals, we have more than a few pairs visiting. I suspect the same couples hang out here through the years, and their kids may even take up residence in the yard as well. The other day, I saw a female feeding a male black-oil sunflower seeds off the feeder. I guess when you both brood and fledge the kids and take them out to lunch, you split courting and parenting even-steven.
And in these pictures below, you can get a gander (so to speak) at the ‘ttude both Cardinals and Chickadees possess that enables them not to take any guff from Bluejays.
Who you lookin’ at?
Here’s a less belligerent chickadee. They have to be one of my favorites! I love their cheery calls and the way that that bounce through the air in flight. They seem to disappear in the mid summer and not return in number until almost fall. Then they stay winter through spring.
Juncos always herald the beginning of winter, with their castanet-like calls and the flash of white fanning out in their tales when they take flight. I haven’t seen any for about two weeks now, but they did seem to linger much later this year. I love how on some their grey feathers almost shine blue.
Speaking of blue, I adore the soft blue backs of the White-Breasted Nuthatch. It’s fun to watch them scoot up and down a tree, searching for a snack. You can always tell they’re around by the ack-ack-ack call they give. Like the woodpeckers (in that family, right), they go for suet the way my cats go for dental snacks. I used to see Rust-Breasted Nuthatches when I lived in Lowell or in Connecticut, but I can’t remember seeing any in Auburn.
But let’s look at some spring birds. The Goldfinches never completely left us, even in the winter, but now their numbers have increased. Better yet, the boys have shed their drab winter coats and put on their bright, yet soft, yellow finery. You can see that the fellas in these pictures have pretty much converted their outfits to suit (ha!) the season. They LOVE sunflower seed hearts the best of all, but real troopers that they are, they will also go for black oil in the shell. They also will take guff from no one when food is involved.
One of my favorite returnees is the Catbird. Another suet gobbler, this guy bobs her tale and shoots about with glee. I especially like this picture because you can see the bird has got her cap on. Like the Mockingbird (a relative), this character has many calls. My favorite is when she calls my name, “Sharon!”
We don’t yet have pictures of all the return visitors. The Rose-Breasted Grosbeak has been back for several days, but we haven’t gotten a good picture of him. I’m waiting hopefully for the Baltimore Oriole, though I did see one on a rail trail yesterday. You can see one of the first harbingers of spring in this group shot: the Redwinged Blackbird (center).
Another typical spring sojourner is the grackle. Mourning Doves are always with us – and pretty greedy, too.
However, we did have some real excitement when we saw this fellow on the ground beneath out feeder this week: a male Rufus or Rufous Towhee (I have heard it both ways!). It’s not the best shot because we had to grab it fast from indoors and a little far away. Still, you can see the wonderful colors. I haven’t seen one of these guys in like three years – when I was on a rail trail in Millerton, NY. Thrilling, isn’t it?
So, I guess that’s all for now. The end is in sight!
We’ve been seeing lots of beautiful birds as we move into June. Many of the usual suspects are still showing up. I managed to get some interesting close ups and Yang took some videos, so our birds are moving-picture stars!
One day when I was exercising in the parlor, I was lying on the floor, and when I cam up to window level, I saw the Rosebreasted Grosbeak up close. So, I snuck off to get my camera and managed to take some wonderful close ups! You’d swear he knew what was going on and decided to pose! We’ve been so lucky to see one of the males almost every day. We often see one male and one female together, while sometimes we also see a lone female. We can hear their birdsong quite often. I suspect they may be nesting fairly close by. Maybe they’ll bring the kids to brunch some day.
We’ve also been blessed with some frisky catbirds who mainly love to chomp down on suet from the two such feeders we have in the yard. I and the cats often watch them through the sun porch windows. Today, one was chattering to me while I was hanging out the clothes on the line. Anyway, here are some shots that Yang took for me.
The Downy Woodpeckers also like to feast on the suet as well. Yang got a few shots of one doing so. We haven’t seen many Hairy Woodpeckers this year – or Flickers or Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers. Maybe the latter were too scared.
Yang also took some videos. Here, we have The Adventures of Cardinal with special guest star Rosebreasted Grosbeak and a cameo by English Sparrow Roll ’em!
We also have some mammals in our yard as well. I managed to get a few shots of a baby rabbit, from which we strenuously held back both Rosalind and Natasha on separate occasions. Enjoy watching him/her nibble.
Someone else enjoyed watching the bunny, as well. She thought he looked delicious, er, adorable. We made sure that she was restrained.
The snow has finally been gone for some time now. Even though it’s raining and chilly today, we’ve had a whole week of sunshine and warm weather with just a touch of rain to treat the thirsty plants. And our spring birds are back! April brought a caravan of wild turkeys, one at a time, through my yard and past my sun porch. Though I was too busy watching them to take a picture, I did get some shots of one of my favorite avian harbingers of spring, the Redwinged Blackbird. He showed up at first on March 3rd, then I gradually saw more males flashing their yellow and red epaulets. They sometimes get resistance from another spring returnee, the Boat-Tailed Grackle, but the Redwings are pretty staunch in defending their places at the feeder. Just over the past week or two, I’ve been seeing the female Red-wings show up as well.
I mustn’t forget to mention the multitude of Gold Finches. They do tend to stay around all year, though the number of their appearances dwindles in the winter. However, in March and April I would see more and more of them. I loved watching their dull winter coats turn gleaming yellow as the spring progressed. I like that they are feisty and don’t let the bigger birds bully them off the feeder.
Another of my favorites is the Catbird. I first spotted one this year on May 5th, but this day I was lucky enough to catch two together, feeding with a Mourning Dove. I love how the Catbirds have such a plethora of different calls, many so musical. For me, it’s fun that one of their calls, though not of the musical variety, is “Sharon!” They’re always looking for me. It’s nice to be wanted!
We really hit the jackpot this week! Shortly after spotting a sleek, coppery fox gamboling in my yard, Rosalind focused my attention on the backyard feeder, and what did I see but a male Rose Breasted Grosbeak (5/8)! The next day, I heard a lovely birdsong (not Cindy) in the trees, and when I investigated, I saw the Grosbeak again! I’ve seen him at least once a day since, usually feeding on suet or black oil sunflower seeds. He’s quite the cheeky fellow, for when I was feeding the fish in our small pond, he sang me a song. When I repeated it back to him, he popped over to the nearby birdfeeder and chowed down for some time. This morning, he finally brought Mrs. Grosbeak to one of the feeders. I’m glad that these Grosbeaks are not easily intimidated by Grackles, Blue Jays, or Mourning Doves.
In the same week, (5/9) Yang called me to look at the backyard feeder, and what did I see but a Baltimore Oriole! He also appeared for a snack on the suet feeder by the side of our house, as well. I haven’t seen him in a few days, but my neighbors usually report on him. Of course for all these birds, I may not be seeing the same one every time, but it is fun to note that they seem to show up at almost the exact same date every year. It’s lovely to see old friends!
Of course, I have lots of help bird watching.
I’ve had the pleasure of many wonderful bird sightings since spring began. Some are old friends, and at least one is a new addition. Because I don’t have a fancy camera and the birds are too shy to let me get close enough or they don’t stay still long enough for me to get a good shot, some of these pictures aren’t the best and some I had to find online – but I hope you enjoy hearing about what I’ve been seeing lately.
One of the first signs of spring was the return of my friends, the Red-winged Blackbirds. They’re usually the first to arrive, so I’ve been seeing them March 6th. They even stuck it out through our April torture by snow. I’ve seen several males and also several females. I guess these folks must find my feeders quite the congenial place.
In April, I was further delighted by the return of the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Interestingly enough, my first sighting this year was almost exactly the same date as my sighting last year. This year, we have at least one male and one female – it’s hard to tell if I’m seeing the same or different ones every time. Happily, even as we move through June, I still see these beauties every day. Please forgive the fuzziness in some of the pictures. It’s rather hard to compensate for the pattern-effect of my window screens.
Also back once more is our buddy from last year, turkey Raymond Burrd – though I have since figured out that “he” is a “she.” Still, if there can be gals called Micheal, Jamie, and Ashley, having one named Raymond shouldn’t be any problem. It’s the twenty-first century, folks. Get over it! She has shown up every day, sometimes more than once a day for over a week now – starting 6/4. She’s pretty friendly – not that she’s asking me to tea or anything, but she doesn’t startle and run away or threaten me when I have to walk past her for one reason or another. If I’m enraptured in reading, she’ll wander by quite close without turning a feather. My neighbor said he thought she was going to hop into my lap the other day! Although Natasha was howling out the window at Raymond in the beginning, she and Rosalind have settled down to a minor glance in the turkey’s direction while looking daggers and claws at chipmunks and morning doves.
We were not able to use the front porch for a while because the Robins would shout up a storm at us – they had built a nest in a rhododendron surprisingly close to one of the porch columns. It was so surprisingly close that I happened to glance down and was shocked to see two young, speckled robins checking me out from a nest. Needless to say, the flowers on the front steps went thirsty for awhile. After some time, no Robins could be heard squawking in the rhododendron, so I checked and noted there were no kids in the nest or parents around. Fledging must have occurred, and the parents probably figure they’d move to a neighborhood with less traffic for their next clutch. That’s why I was able to take these pictures.
We also had a Baltimore Oriole visiting our yard. I had heard him for some time, then found him sitting in the juniper bush outside my bedroom window. I ran to get my camera, but he’d taken off when I got back. I have seen him in the high trees in my backyard and hear him as well. In fact, I’ve had lots of Oriole and Yellow Warbler sightings. We saw both types of birds at the Blackstone River Trail and I later had about six sightings of as many as two Orioles at a time by the Quinnebaug River in Putman, Ct. There were also plenty of Yellow Warblers, too. I wonder if the plentitude of Orioles has anything to do with the large number of Gypsy Moth Caterpillars invading New England now. I could hear the caterpillars in the trees by the Q. River – I’m too delicate to tell you what I’ve been informed that I was hearing the caterpillars doing. Let’s just say I was glad I had a hat on!
On a trip to the rail trail that runs from Falmouth to Woods Hole, my husband and I were lucky to see Ospreys hunting and feeding their kids. Here’s an older picture from the same area. We also saw out first Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. It’s quite the lively bird, and you can’t miss the white vertical bars on the sides of its tail. This link shows the little guy in action and captures his blue-gray colors.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen as many goldfinches, chickadees, Titmice, and nuthatches of late – though I have seen s few. I know they sometimes disappear around this time to brood their young, then return with the kids, when they can fly, for family smorgasbord. I hope they haven’t been driven out by the greedy Grackles, Mourning Doves, and Sparrows. Though Sparrows can be pesky, I have to admit these guys are cute.
At least I saw the Catbird again yesterday while I was reading! This picture is from last year.
Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers have come by, as well as a Flicker. Here are two neat, albeit window-screen-fuzzed, photos of a Hairy Woodpecker. Like most Woodpeckers, this guy just loves that suet!
Oriole image from Pexels.
Yellow Warbler image from: Pixnio.
The other day I did a post on the birds of winter. I still have enough pictures for a Part II; but, right now, let’s accentuate the springitive (so to speak). Many of my favorite warm weather birds have returned. Even before the snow was gone in March, I caught this shot of a Robin in the Canadian Maple outside my window. Apparently, the winters are warm enough that most Robins don’t go South for the winter, but stay in the deep woods up here. Nevertheless, this was one of the first Robins I had seen in quite some time. Our Robins are quite different from the blue and rust-colored English Robins. As you can see, this guy is much bigger and is actually grey/black on top.
To me, of the first avian signs of spring is the return of my friend the Redwinged Blackbird. He’s always at my feeder and showed up for the first time on 3/2. I had a hard time catching him on film, but I did manage to sneak around the window and get a few pictures. Yang helped as well. I’ve also seen a female at the feeder, though I wasn’t able to get a picture of her. So, it looks as if he brought the Missus. Of course, there could be a whole bunch of different birds showing up, just one at a time. Still, I like to think that he is my old-time buddy, as is his wife, who comes back every year to whistle in the spring with his trademark call.
My next favorite harbinger of spring is the Rosebreasted Grosbeak. For years, I’ve seen either some females, a male, one year two males, or pairs. This year, I saw the female first. Don’t you love the impish way she peaks through the window here?
Then, not many days later, the male showed up. He only would show me his back at first, the little stinker. However, before long, I was able to get some shots of that rose breast for which he is known. Isn’t the pink just like pure liquid color? And the pristine white proves a gorgeous contrast to the rose and his black feathers. They both love the sunflower-seed hearts. Already shelled, the seeds don’t require them to put their grosbeaks to work cracking. I first saw them here on 5/4. I hope they stay a few weeks. Maybe they’ll nest and have baby grosbeaks?
Here’s two more shots of the Grosbeaks, just because they’re so fun to see.
My next favorite harbinger of spring is the Catbird. They are so perky and intelligent. Many a time I’ve sat quietly by the fish pond and one has come over to drink, getting quite close to me. And they have so many delightful calls. I believe they are related to the Mockingbird, so that would explain their extensive array of vocalizations. I think one reason that I’m partial to them is that one of their calls sounds like, “Sharon!” My name.
They adore suet, so I play bird police and chase away the grackles and starlings when they try to hog the suet block. Don’t you just love the sassy way Madame Catbird gives a little cock to her tail?
Another favorite pair are the House Finches. They may occasionally show up in the winter, but I never see too many of them until spring.
All year round, we have Goldfinches. In the winter, even the males turn a drab olive. It was neat to watch them gradually change to a more brilliant color as the spring progressed. However, whatever their colors, neither male nor female Goldfinch will abandon our feeders – especially the ones with the sunflower hearts. They are delightful old friends.
Speaking old friends, the Hairy Woodpeckers had a grand old time going after suet and sunflower seeds. We also had many Downy Woodpeckers and, from time to time, Flickers and Redbellied Woodpeckers. The Titmice, chickadees, Cardinals, and Nuthatches have kept us company year round as well.
So, it’s up to Yang and I to keep our avian friends up to their beaks in sunflower seeds and suet.