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.
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!
|These waning days of winter have given Yang and I some fun bird watching, whether at home or away. For instance, Yang went for a stroll one day on a canal that runs perpendicular to the Blackstone River and sighted some interesting ducks and the peripatetic Kingfisher. So, the next day, I had him take me back there. Sure enough we saw some swell birds. Yang got some really nice shots of a pair of hooded mergansers. At first we thought they were both females, but I noticed that one had a distinctive long, pointed tail sticking above the water, as well as a fluffier brush of feathers at the back of the head. I suspect that one was a juvenile male. We either had a Mom and her teenage son or a Cougar duck. Who can tell? Enjoy the pictures!
I also got to see the Kingfisher, a male. I heard his excited chatter way down toward the end where the canal ran into the Blackstone. I kept my eyes peeled until I saw a blob of white way ahead in a tall tree over the waters. Training my binoculars confirmed my suspicions, bringing into focus a magnificent male Belted Kingfisher. Yang came up and got some shots with the binoculars he could attach to his cell phone. We had a great time watching His Majesty swoop down into the water, skimming along to fly off with his fishy dinner.
Further from home, we visited Forest Park in Springfield on our way to lunch in Montague. This turned out to be the mecca for Common Mergansers. We saw tons of them in one of the ponds. They were shy guys, as whenever we got close to the shore, they paddled off to the middle of the pond. Yang did get some nice pictures of them, though. I love how the males gleam white, their green heads almost black. Their head feathers in the back are far smoother than those of the male Red Breasted Mergansers. In both these types of Mergansers, the females are beautiful, with their Rita Hayworth-red locks! Yang loves the ducks’ red beaks.
We also found some American Black Ducks enjoying the same pond as well.
Closer to home – as in the bird feeders next to my house – we’ve been seeing some nifty birds, old friends and new. The Mockingbird and the Redwinged Blackbirds are back. Would you believe that even in the snow, the Robins have been scooting about for at least two weeks? Here we have a Robin and a Downy Woodpecker chilling (literally with all the snow) in a tree outside my sun porch window.
I must say that this Robin loves his/her? suet.
We also had the pleasure of this Red Bellied Woodpecker’s company. Since it’s a female, it wouldn’t be the one who was stunned after hit our sun-porch window. We brought him in in a box and let him warm up for about an hour then set him free. Whoosh! He was in great shape and off to the races. We see him and his mate here quite a bit. They’re also big suet lovers.
and perky Downy Woodpeckers.
Bring on the Rose Breasted Grosbeaks!
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.
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!
These past few weeks, Yang and I have had some wonderful bird sightings, sometimes, literally, in our own back yard. Case in point, one Friday, Natasha was meowing at the door all day. Then Rosalind was in the pantry window bird-chattering away, while I worked on my novel in the dining room. I stopped and suddenly became aware that I’d been hearing a high-pitched hawkish call. I got up and looked out the window in the dining room, and what did I see in the patch of sea roses, but two Merlins! One flew away, while the other hung out for some time – before attacking a sparrow who out-smarted him. I got these pictures through the window because I was afraid going outside would drive my visitor off. Hence, it’s much blurrier than I’d like. What do you think of this new guy? I haven’t seen him since, but I did find an ominous splash of tiny white bird feathers on the nearby back porch.
Our bird feeders have returned to us the usual suspects. Lots of Titmice and some Chickadees battle four pushy Blue Jays. We also have two male and one female Cardinal visiting. One of the males is pretty aggressive. While he’s fine with the little birds, he’ll go after the Blue Jays and drive them off! We also have Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Goldfinches wearing their winter buff, and even a Yellow-bellied Woodpecker. One day, a Carolina Wren gave me such a scolding when I came too near the juniper bush!
On a visit with friends on the Cape, we came across one of my favorite, but rarely seen, birds. At first, seeing the creature head on, I perceived a bird with a brownish head and chest with a white belly forming a “v” into the brown chest. I claimed I’d never seen such a bird before, until he took flight and I saw the luscious blue. Bluebirds! A good-sized flock of them! I noted in my Peterson’s that Bluebirds are usually found year round in New England mainly on the Cape. How appropriate! The Bluebird was one of my “must see” birds for the year. I still need to see an Indigo Bunting, a Piliated Woodpecker, and a Scarlet Tanager. It’s probably too late in the year for the first and last, but I’m holding onto hope for that Pterodactyl-sized woodpecker. The Bluebird photos are courtesy of Andrea Krammer.
Today, when we took a morning walk (about 7:00) on the Blackstone River Trail, we saw some interesting birds. A Great Blue Heron and a black Cormorant were fishing in the same part of the river. Then, atop a tall dead tree, we saw a bald eagle. We watched as he sat there majestically for some time before he soared off away from us and the river. We didn’t have the means to get a picture, so I’m borrowing this one below.
I can’t wait to see what the remainder of the year brings!
Source eagle image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eagle_on_roots_-_crop_3_(430008061).jpg
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.
Summer is almost officially past, so I’m posting some images from my gardens. We have three kinds of morning glories flowering in our yard. We’d have four, if the large blue ones would flower, but they won’t. So, we have some deep purple, some magenta, and some orchid ones. I don’t know all the names of the types, but they are lovely. Every year, I collect the seeds from these flowers to replant them in the spring. Sometimes, we get some interesting hybrids. I managed to get pictures of one of my favorites. Sometimes the orchid morning glories will sport a broad, deep purple stripe, as you see here. The seeds will actually reflect the combined types. Orchid seeds are cream colored and purple or magenta ones are black. These hybrid seeds are usually cream with a black stripe. Sometimes, the orchid ones will also blend with the magenta to produce a pink flower. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the one pink flower I’ve seen so far, but I did tag the flower so that I can retrieve the seeds.
The birds have also been having a grand time in our yard. We’ve seen lots of cardinals, including the Daddy Cardinal taking the kids out for dinner. We also have Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, scads of Gold Finches and Purple Finches, Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches. I even saw a hummingbird three times this year! One time was in early September! The young gentleman Coopers Hawks have since taken off and rarely visit now. We named them Shawn and Gus – I know you know that I AM telling the truth about that! In this picture, you can see one hawk in the foreground and if you look carefully, the other is in silhouette in the triangle of railings on the right.
The drought has certainly left my pumpkins gasping for life. I’ve seen so many pumpkin and gourd embryos wither and die. Still, some made it. Here is an odd shaped pumpkin, which some critter took a chunk out of. Still, the pumpkin lives and now resides on my sideboard in the dining room. The pumpkin below isn’t a rogue that needs to be caged to protect the other flora and fauna. The vine climbed over the garden fence and the pumpkin embryo became fertilized hanging over the outside of the garden. Since we found evidence of some creature trying to dig into the garden, we developed protective caging from milk cartons. The ploy worked, for this pumpkin matured and now resides in state on the what-not table in my parlor. You can also see a crown of thorns embryo ready to flower and be fertilized. The good news is that this little guy is happily growing away. Maybe I’ll have some more pictures of it later.
Here are some of our eggplants and peppers. These guys were delicious! Yang can cook! So, I guess the drought didn’t totally blacken my green thumb.