We’ve been seeing some wonderful birds this winter in our yard at our feeders. Let me share some of them with you, starting from December. This first set of pictures were taken that month, before and after the snow started. I have pictures here of some old friends and some new-like this Downy Woodpecker. Do you think someone should tell her that bugs don’t live in concrete or vinyl siding-or does she know something that I don’t?
We also see plenty of our old standbys, the Chickadees and the Titmice. They like to come and dine about 9:30 in the morning and about 4-5:00 in the afternoon-with an occasional snack or two throughout the day. The Titmice are one of Yang’s favorites, and he likes to call them “little faces.” With their big, expressive eyes, you can understand why. In this picture we have one of the cute chickadees.
One of my favorite birds is one of the first signs of winter: the Slate-Colored Junco. That’s the name they went by when I was first birding; however, I’ve noticed them now called “Dark-Eyed Juncos.” Maybe they all invested in brown contacts. I love their blue-grey coloring (though some are more brownish) and their white tails that flash when the fly away, as they give a call that sounds like castanets. We have large numbers of them in my yard, which it just fine with me.
These two Juncos don’t look to happy to meet.
“Who You lookin’ at?”
The Goldfinches haven’t flown away until the spring. They’ve just changed their sprightly spring plumage for heavy winter coats. One fellow appeared to have a white cap of feathers, even with his winter color. So, I dubbed him Whitecap. Original, aren’t I? However, closer viewing of him through these photos shows that his cap is more light yellow than white. Nevertheless, he’s staying “Whitecap,” as Slightly Light Yellow Cap” is way too much of a mouthful.
Here’s another nice shot of Whitecap, with a Goldfinch pal (in the upper left corner) who apparently thinks he’s a bat. I’ve got to stop watching Forever Knight when these guys are in the windows.
Here’s another one of Snowcap, after he was reading up on Edward Taylor and thought he ought to go out and starting preaching to Juncos. Of course, if Snowie believes in predestination, that suggests that even other species can be saved.
I particularly like this picture because it includes so many: Juncos, Goldfinches, and another of my favorites, the Carolina Wren, on the left. She doesn’t quite look like a wren because she doesn’t have her little bum cocked in the air, but her long beak and white eye-stripe give her away. We have at least one pair who come to my feeders. They’ve been around the house for several years, but it’s only the past three or four that I’ve seen them year round, and so frequently in the winter. I often hear them in the trees of the woods behind my house and across the street. I named this pair, Carolina and Carey. Additionally, note the Goldfinch coming in out of inter-dimensional travel in the upper middle of the photo.
We also had an unexpected visitor on our suet feeder. Regard this handsome Mockingbird. Usually I don’t see them in the winter. However, I was informed that they don’t travel south, but hide out in deep woods during the cold months. Apparently this guy didn’t get the memo about hiding out. He or she comes to see us just about every day to chow down on the suet. I know these birds tend to be highly aggressive, but this one really doesn’t seem to mind sharing.
Now, there’s one last interesting addition to our flocks: Mr. Cooper, as in Cooper’s Hawk. This guy showed up low on the Canadian Maple in our back yard, right outside my living room window. The first time I saw him was in mid-January, when I couldn’t get any good shots. Then, this week, he popped by and I was lucky, getting these three pix. Now I definitely know what caused the splash of blood and feathers on the snow near the tree last week. Still, he does leave alone the little birds-hardly worth consideration as hors d’ouevres? Anyway, click on the photos to get a good look at him-or her.
Anyway, now I think I understand why White Ears (named for these white tufts in his ears) has been keeping a low profile recently.
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!