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.
This Halloween, Yang and I treated ourselves to a hike in the cold autumn air at Colbrook Reservoir Park. Once a small town was on this land, but the river was damned to create a reservoir here that flooded it out. Relax, they moved the people out first. Appropriately for the day, when the water is low in times of drought, there’s a ghost to be seen. More on that later. However, as you can see in this picture, though the colors might not have been flamingly spectacular, they were still pretty.
We went the opposite way, down the old highway that is often covered when the reservoir is not in drought mode. The two-lane highway makes for a pretty smooth walk and is in surprisingly good condition for something that’s been submerged off and on over forty or so years. You can see from this photo that the water level is waaaay down. The boat launch is yards from the water and the water looks to be extremely shallow.
There are lots of interesting rock formations and trees on either side of the road. There’s also supposed to be lots of wildlife around. We were fortunate enough to see an American Kestrel, a bird I haven’t seen too much of lately. The blue feathers on its back are gorgeous, especially when they contrast with the rusty red of its sides. I was surprised not to see much in the way of waterfowl- only a mallard powering along the water. You’d think there’d be plenty taking a rest stop on their migration route-whichever way they were going. Perhaps the water was too shallow to provide much of a traveler’s buffet. We didn’t see any beavers, but we did see the evidence of them.
There was also some nice views of the autumn colors in the hills surrounding the valley through which we walked .
If you click on this picture and look carefully, you can see the remains of old stone walls that marked the property boundaries of the people who had lived here
We came to an old bridge over a run-off into the river and could see further upstream the remnants of another bridge that had once led into the town. Looking down into the river and valley from the old highway, I couldn’t help thinking of what a beautiful setting this place was in which to live, with the hills and forest flanking you on one side, the small but swift river separating you from the highway, and the hills of rock and trees rising on the other. And then there was that clear blue sky! Greenly gorgeous in summer, brilliantly flaming in fall, and Christmas-card white in winter. It must have been hard to leave such a beautiful place behind. Of course, that’s just my imagination running fanciful and feeling.
Now, I promised to tell you about the “ghost” of the reservoir. Well, it’s neither human nor animal, but metal. “Huh?” you say? The phantom is known as the Ghost Bridge. When the reservoir is not in drought, the bridge is submerged. However, in seasons where there’s a dearth of water, like this year, the water recedes enough for you to see a metal bridge that crosses from one bank to the other of the old river bed into the little settlement that had been there. This year, we were in luck! Behold some neat shots that I got. You can tell by looking at the length of the bridge that the river must have been much narrower, originally-unless cars back then had aqualungs as standard equipment. Some other people we talked to that day (from over six feet away and masked) told us that someone had placed pumpkins on the boulders on our side of the bridge entrance. If you click on the first picture and look carefully, you can see an orange object. If you click on the second picture, you can see those boundary-marking stone walls. Boo!
As beautiful an embodiment of fall as this day was, it also presaged winter. Not only was the weather brisk, but what I consider one of the first signs of winter appeared there: hundreds of slate-colored juncos! I love their slate blue coloring, with the white flash in their tails when they fly off and make a sound like little castanets!
Here are a few more shots of the foliage and rocky landscape.
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!