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!
Right after I did my last backyard bird posting, wouldn’t you know that Mr. and Mrs. Grosbeak made their return. And they were ultimately joined by some exciting friends. But enough about the friends later – first, let’s get to the Grosbeaks.
First, I saw the female and managed to get some nice shots of her. I never noticed this on females before, so I’m not sure if this gal is unique, but you can see from these pictures that this gal has some lovely orange coloring, analogous to where her hubby has his rose breast – a broad splash, with a narrow taper. There may be another couple, because I believe that I have also seen a female this year without the orangey coloring. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled. We’ve been having Rosebreasted couples visit us for more than five years. At first, we had only females, then one year males joined in. One year we had two males. We may have more than one couple as it is, but I just haven’t seen all four at the same time.
Anyway, is it me or is this girl giving Yang a smile?
It’s fun to watch the male and female come and feed together. They seem to prefer the single copper-topped feeder. I usually hear one of them singing, then, there they are, having a meal out! I love to hear them sing in the trees as well. I can’t help wondering if they have any nests nearby. I do know that the pair with the gal in the peach-colored breast feathers makes the round with some of my neighbors, as well. According to the Cornell Ornithology site, both parents brood the children, with the Daddy often singing away in the nest. Here’s a link for more information on these wonderful birds. I also love to watch the males fly away, with the flash of black and white on their wings like a special optical effect.
I have also noted that these birds can be pretty aggressive. No Grackles, Starlings, Mourning Doves, or Blue Jays better mess with them when they want to feed. Who you Lookin’ at?
Another fairly aggressive beauty that I found on my feeder this year was the Baltimore Oriole.
Yes! We do have Orioles this year! Usually, one or so will cruise through in May, take a look at our suet and seeds, then turn up his beak and take it on the wing. This year, I got wise and noted how people placed their orange halves for Oriole delectation. It worked! I cut the oranges across the equator, then impaled them on the trellis for our Morning Glories. Now I can’t keep the Orioles away. We have two adult males, one juvenile male (below), and two females, one orange and one yellow (yellow to the right). And woe betide the Oriole who wants to join another Oriole at the juice bar, even if it’s a female with a male or they can sip from different halves. Orioles may have lovely calls to announce their coming, but their aggression chatter is NOT soothing. We even had an Oriole/Grosbeak confrontation – Mr. Grosbeak won. Still, if two Orioles can rarely feed together, the disappointed party will usually go to town on the suet. One time, Yang looked up to see a male Oriole perched on the window ledge and staring in at him!
If all this weren’t exciting enough, on three separate days we had a hummingbird on the hummingbird feeder. I couldn’t tell you if it’s the same one or not, but there have been repeat appearances. Yang was even able to snap some photos, as you can see – well, you can see better if you click on the photo. I normally don’t see these guys until July, but I’d been hearing on FB about all kinds of sightings. So I thought, maybe if there are no flowers around, the hummers would be more interested in my feeder. Bingo! It worked.
Now, for my final extraordinary sighting. I’ve never had a clear look at one of these guys before. I’ve always wanted to see one in all his glory. It seemed as if everyone in Massachusetts was sighting these guys but me! Then, yesterday, while we were watching the episode of Father Brown that I’d dvr’d, Yang said, “Wow! What is this strange bird. I’ve never seen this before.” I hopped up, took a careful peek around the window curtain, and there it was in all his indigo glory! Yes! My first full-color Indigo Bunting! Well, I guess he hasn’t completely changed from his winter to his summer duds, but he is still something!
I don’t know if he’ll be back. He wasn’t crazy about the oranges, he was skeptical of the suet, but the sunflower hearts did seem to grab his attention – though the Grackles kept getting in the way. Let’s hope we see more of him! Wow! What a bird- watching season!
Way back in the ’90s, when I was first married and either working on my dissertation or teaching part time at UConn and Eastern Connecticut State University, Yang and I had a place we liked to visit that we called “The Secret Place.” The name didn’t quite fit because we would run into my students canoeing by or other walkers in nature. However, “The Secret Place” was not crowded with people and a little hard to get to. In fact, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never think of going there. So what is this secret place and how did we ever find it?
Well, without giving away too many secrets, I’ll explain. We’ll go to the second part of the question first. Yang and I lived in the Mansfield/Wilimantic area in Connecticut while going to UConn. When driving one of the yellow-line-divided roads (no route number), we’d often pass over a bridge that let you look down into a lake made by a dam, with an abandoned asphalt road running alongside. It looked like such a cool place to walk, so Yang did some map snooping and found the road to take us there. That road in and of itself was almost a secret: a right that intersected the main road at such a sharp angle that taking it was almost like hooking a U-ie (non-New England translation: making a sharp U-Turn.). That brought you onto an old paved road tunneling through trees on both sides, a road slowly crumbling on the edges and being submerged by encroaching woods. A steel gate prevents vehicles from going more than about 1/2 mile down the road, but pedestrians are welcome. At one time this had been a route with houses following a river, but building the dam not only turned the river into a small lake but ended the status of the street.
The asphalt does continue through the woods and opens up along the body of water, ending in the dam. I have so many fond memories of coming here when the wild roses were blooming through the woods along the road, chickadees, titmice, and even Baltimore Orioles were flitting through the trees and brush, and all kinds of water fowl sailed along the lake, sometimes putting in at the many coves. I’d come here with Yang in all seasons to relax in nature, and even sometimes took a blanket and whatever books I was reading for my orals or dissertation and did my studying chilling in nature. What a wonderful place! But moving to Worcester and finding new places there and around the Northeast to explore, Yang and I put our thoughts of “The Secret Place” on the back burner – until the first week in March, when the good weather made us determined to explore something so old it was new again.
After a tasty breakfast at Bagel One in Windham – still the best bagels and cream cheese in my book! – we drove on down to find our Secret Place. This was not easy since we hadn’t been there in so long – and that entrance really hooks back from the road, making it difficult to see. But we found it! Our excitement grew as we drove down the old paved road through a tunnel of winter- denuded trees – it doesn’t take much to excite us. We found that metal gate and were surprised to see a sign calling the place a park – but a park with no name. I guess the state of Connecticut wants to keep it secret, too, sort of. We slipped through the gate and strolled in the sunny cold down the old road and found ourselves fascinated by stone walls and trees nature-crafted into twisted forms, which we’d never really noticed before. The bare bones of wild rose bushes tangled through the brush, but later in spring we knew they’d be bursting with sprays of white and soft pink tiny blossoms.
We emerged out of the tree-hugged road to see the lake sparkling silver-blue in the cold March sun. In days of yore, you couldn’t always follow the asphalt to the damn at the end because flooding would cover the road. You could still see the ghost of floods past in the scallops of dead plants and small debris across the road – nothing impassable, though! So, today, we were able to travel all the way to the dam, across an old bridge built in 1927. A place where in summer we would sit and watch fish and turtles take their leisure in the waters. And today, those waters sloshed over and under sheets of ice, hosting a variety of waterfowl: swans, golden eyes, mergansers, and the ubiquitous sea gulls!
The state has also now cleared and marked trails here that you can take through the woods. We circled back to the car over a roundabout route around coves (more ducks!) and up and down ridges. But they haven’t give the place a name. maybe they want to call it a “Secret Place,” too – but with well marked trails. Late spring and summer should bring us more beauty when we return – but, “Shhh! Don’t tell anybody!”
Here are some other neat shots:
Though some of these summer flowers have passed, like the roses, we still have some beautiful flowers going strong in our yard. The sea roses bloomed gorgeously and gave us a lovely scent for about a month. Here you can see the pink ones coming into flower. Years ago we started with three bushes, then they propagated across the back slope of our yard so they now look lovely, as well as ensuring that Yang has far less space to mow on the slope. My mother-in-law also gave us a beautiful yellow rose bush that flowers with one bud, once a year. It’s a lovely, delicate yellow!
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.
Yang went to pick up the watering can for the plants the other evening, and this is who greeted him. My friend Sarah tells me that he/she is a grey tree frog! We always have plenty of toads in the yard. In fact one used to sit on a floating platform in the fish pond and sing away the afternoon. However, I didn’t even know we had these guys in our yard! Quite the cutie, isn’t she/he?
Here, you can see, from left to right, a Blue Jay, a Mourning Dove, and the edge of a shy (or hungry) Red-bellied Woodpecker’s wing. I always get them mixed up with the Common Flicker. I can tell the difference in how they look; I just can never remember which name goes with which bird. Ah, here he is peeking out at us!
Here’s a Downy Woodpecker. It could be a Hairy Woodpecker. I know the latter is bigger, but I can’t exactly make the comparison here. I also know the Hairy has a longer beak, but unfortunately the picture is not quite sharp enough. We get both types, as well as Flickers and Nuthatches. No Piliated Woodpeckers, though!
Next are a Cardinal and a Mourning Dove. Some of these images aren’t as clear as they could be because I had the screen down on the window and had to shoot through it.
Darned old Mourning Dove with a Red-winged Blackbird. The Blackbird is hard to catch. He comes by all the time, but always seems to see me and fly off before I can get a good shot. I’ll have some more bird pictures later with him in it –– as well as other birds. I would also love to get a shot of our Catbird. She is forever landing nearby and popping around looking for food or getting a drink from the bird bath near the fish pond. All I have to do is hold still and she’s my buddy. I’m happy to say that on our bicycle rides, Yang and I have seen a plethora of Catbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Song Sparrows!
This week has been gorgeous! ––the weather, the birds and their spring songs, the flowers (and, unfortunately, their pollen!). I think, I hope, that spring is really here. I got my hopes up when one of my favorite flowers burst into view a few weeks ago, the Early Snow Glory. I love this purple/blue star with its snow center and lively slender yellow stamens. This year, they’ve migrated all over my yard. Beautiful. The hyacinths, grape hyacinths, and daffodils have all blossomed, with lilac and pink hyacinths just now drooping their flowers. But now the Bleeding Hearts are taking over.
The birds are wonderful to see, too. The Gold Finches have transformed from winter olive-drab to brilliant yellow. The house finch couple, the male looking as if he had been “dipped in strawberry syrup” (Peterson’s), are showing up far more often. A more romantic pair are the cardinals; the scarlet male tenderly (really) feeding his olive Mrs.––or Ms.
The Red-Winged Blackbird whistles his presence then bares the startling orange and yellow of his epaulets. Best of all is our pair of male
Maybe last year’s Baltimore Oriole will return? I think I’ve heard his song, sometimes, in the trees behind my house.
Oh yes, the humans aren’t the only ones in our house who enjoy bird watching.