Saturday, January 31, 2009

Birding on Wheels

The further into winter we get, the more I come to the realization that being a birder during winter is rather difficult. Not so much for back yard birding, but for going out to other places in search for birds.

I started off my day as I always do which is staring out my kitchen window to watch the birds enjoy the bounty I put out for them. While I enjoy it immensely, I feel the need for something more. I miss the high I get when discovering a new species for the first time. The excitement in my heart and shortness of breath, the trembling fingers adjusting camera settings and joy you have for that one brief moment. Now that I am becoming more of an experienced birder, I have to go out and search for that fix because it no longer comes to my back yard.

So off to the cemetery I go which is covered in ice in the location that has the best birds. I get out of my car and slip and slide. The thoughts in my head start and I wonder if I can slowly walk into the deeper snow where falling on ice is a little less probable. I know right then and there that there is no way I am going to make it that far. The ice looks slick and unforgiving, the kind that makes you skate a couple of feet in horrid fear as you fall flat on your hiney and hit your head. I picture myself on the frozen ground in incredible pain as my shouts of "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up echo throughout the woods.

Feeling defeated and powerless against the elements I get back into my car and try and make the best of things. I can still bird I think, I will just do it in the comfort of my car. This is not something I'm used to. For me birding is about being outside with the birds and feeling the earth against your feet and the sun on your face. Being in a car means.....well.....being in your car. I drive around slowly trying to maneuver my way around ice and snow banks. The cemetery is very quiet and I hear no bird song or calls. Hmmmm, I think as I see some bittersweet.....I bet there must be some kind of bird around that area. Sure enough there was. A flock of about 10 robins were eating the bittersweet and trying to stay warm.

I also found a mockingbird eating rose hips all by itself. It doesn't even move as I take pictures of it. HA!! This is not so bad after all. The birds don't seem nearly as afraid of a car as they are of a human. Taking pictures is easier too because I can perch my elbows against the window to keep my hands a little more steady. This is wonderful I think as I fishtail around the cemetery trying to stalk a flock of Canadian geese down toward the river.
When I finally catch up to the geese, I realize they are not there, but a couple of hooded merganser's are. The problem is, that I can't get a photo of them inside of my car without some kind of fancy maneuvering. I park as close to a snow bank as I can and step into it. a few lesser scaup's take flight as they see me appear from behind the banking. Shoot, I think to myself, there goes that picture. I come up with the genius idea of using the snow banking as a bird blind and am able to get this lousy photo of the merganser. I am going to have to practice some taking photos of water with sun beating toward it because no matter what I did, it came out too bright.

All in all, it was an okay day. I didn't see my pileated woodpecker, but there is always tomorrow.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Free as a Bird

There are so many things I love about birds. Their colorful plumage, their sweet-joyous song, their unsatisfiable curiosity, but the thing I love most is their ability to fly.

I discovered the magic of birding this past summer. Sure I would spend countless hours in front of my window watching them eat fruit from my ripened trees, but one of my favorite things to do was to go outside and watch them fly. How free it must feel to be up in the sky with the breeze on your face watching the world from a view point we humans can only see in a confined airplane. I was envious of them as I sat there worried about bills, children, pets and all of the other responsibilities I have.

I fantasized about flying away with them to a majestic lake where I would perch right beside them on an old oak tree. The bright sun would warm my face, the ripples of water would entice my ears and all of the burdens that weigh down my soul would magically disappear. Yes, if I were to ever die and come back, a bird it would be for certain.

But then I got to thinking. Birds do indeed worry just like us human folk. While they are free to fly, that does not mean they are free of daily responsibilities. They cannot just fly freely all day as they need to find food, water and shelter. They are tasked with nesting and taking care of their young to ensure future generations to come. I guess no living organism is free when you think about it.

But they are free in a sense that many people fail to appreciate. They do not obsess about material things because all that they need is right there beside them. The birds are not held hostage by cell phones, blackberries and task lists because they live for the current moment and what it is they need to do now instead of next week. The birds still live by the rule of nature, not by the rule of man who always seem to complicate things. That is what makes them free I suppose.

I think I will try some of that myself this weekend and join the birds. I may not be able to fly along side them with the breeze in my hair and the sun on my face, but I can certainly try.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Meet Stubby & His Spouse

Allow me the opportunity to introduce you to a friend of mine. He is a Carolina Wren who goes by the name of Stubby.

Stubby got his name from my friends and neighbors. You see, he and his spouse live in my neighbors yard in a hanging pot that is sheltered with a porch awning. He and the misses have called this dwelling their home now since early November. My friends would always tell me about the wren they had in their yard named Stubby who was named that due to the fact that he had no tail, in fact, all that appears on this little guys hind quarters is a little stub. At first they were concerned, but then realized that Stubby really didn't need one to go about his business.

Stubby normally spends most of his time over their house but has decided to come to mine more often due to the fact that he prefers my suet more to their store bought brand. We realized this when I gave them a couple of blocks of my home made suet. The two wrens would gobble that down, and leave the alternative to the starlings and woodpeckers. Now they are out of my suet so the happy couple have ventured over to my house for the good stuff. My neighbors now have the recipe, so they are hoping to get their live ins back some time soon.

Here is Stubby watching the traffic on the street.

And here is the Misses who has recently discovered my heated bird bath. The two of them spent most of their day drinking from it.

And lastly, the picture below is the two of them in my brush pile reflecting on the day and happy for their mini vacation. Last I heard my neighbor made the suet and it is hung it out for these two for tomorrow morning. I will be sad to see them go, and hope they decide to visit me a little more often. They certainly made this cold, dreary day a little more tolerable.

Quick Post: Starling on Snow

Okay I am officially out of control!! I have been taking pictures all day and can't stop. The starlings were out of control this morning as always on snowy days and I decided to take a picture of one sitting on the snow contemplating who he could terrorize next. All of the birds are wet today including this one.

I love how the snow acts as the perfect back drop. Someone should have told me photography was addicting before I bought this camera!

Snow Day for me and the Birds

Here is the red bellied that comes to my yard on holidays and snow days. I have not seen her since the last snow storm and have been on the lookout for her ever since. She is here every time it snows and showed up on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. I have been worried about her and am glad she has survived the winter thus far.
This coopers hawk made a pit stop in my yard to see what was happening. I was lucky to get three photos of him before he flew off. Edited to add: Is this a sharp skinned hawk?
The song sparrow waking up this morning from its slumber to see what was for breakfast.

This Carolina wren has taken a deep liking to my bird bath and has spent much of the day here.

The tufted titmouse is wondering how come I have not filled up the coconut yet. I don't fill them when it's snowing because they just get covered in snow. I make sure my other feeders with shelter are plenty full though, but they always go back to the coconut. She is also wondering how I am going to get the dried bird poop off the branches and I can't think of any other method at this point than a chisel.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thistle Mania!

I don't know about any of you but boy am I going through a ton of thistle. I have up to 15 goldfinches at a time at my feeders and they and the juncos eat so much of this expensive food that I am filling it up twice a week. I wouldn't mind it so much if they were a little neater and didn't spill it on the ground. These two dining partners are looking at the blue jay in my tree who is jaying up a storm for everyone in the yard to hear.
Luckily I have a couple of juncos who will do clean up for me.

Monday, January 26, 2009

White Throated Sparrow

I have been trying to get pictures of this shy little bird since it decided to be a daily regular in my yard this past November. The white throated sparrows are very shy and will only go to feed underneath my feeders when there are other types of sparrows on the ground. I am convinced it can sense my presence at the window because whenever I go over there to take a photo off he flies.
Now with my new camera I can actually zoom into where he normally feeds which is underneath the wild blackberry bushes He is eating something under there, but I can't quite figure out exactly what it is.

I am thinking maybe a sunflower seed that has blown over there from under my feeders.

Here he is high up in my funky pod tree. I actually had to squint to find him and then tried to locate him with my camera. One thing I have learned with this new camera is that sometimes it is easier to locate a small bird through your eye piece. What I do is look at the location of the bird and then put the camera up to my eyes similar to what you do with binoculars. I then zoom out until I can see any kind of movement what so ever and then zoom it. It works much better than trying to locate them through the little screen you get on the back of your camera. I wish he were a little closer to me, but this will do for now.

Such handsome little birds and I feel honored that they decided to spend the winter in my back yard.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Downy Woodpecker Gets a Makover

JANUARY, 25, 2009 JANUARY 25, 2009

January 25, 2009

November, 2008

Some of you may remember this picture I took of the downy in my yard. I was frustrated and frankly embarrassed by my lack of photography skills. A lot of you gave me tips and encouraged me to keep practicing and I did. Photography was something I dreaded. I was never any good at it even before birding. When people used to ask me to take their photo, I would tell them to find someone else because I would certainly mess up the photo.

Not anymore, now I love how the camera feels in my hands. I love the fact that I can capture the beauty of nature and wild life if only for a brief second. Another gift the birds have given me.

One interesting bit of information on the Downy's. The male in the pictures above loves my suet that I make for him and the others. The female on the other hand will only eat the raw, unprocessed suet I offer. In fact, she didn't even start visiting my yard until I stared putting out both varieties. Different strokes for different folks even for birds I guess.

And speaking of woodpeckers, I posted a week ago about a sound of a bird that I had never heard before. I stated that it sounded as if it were saying hawk and did it in approx. 10 repetitions and had the pitch of a monkey. Deborah over at Notes from the Cloud Messenger thought that it may be a nut hatch. I listened to the clip over at Cornell and it may very well be a nut hatch. I then found a sound clip of a pileated wood pecker over at The Aspetuck Land Trust Blog which sounded even more similar to the call. Thanks Christopher
for all of your informative woodpecker links.

What is most exciting about this is that I have two birds I have to see this year (besides the various warblers of course), and that is the bald eagle and the pileated woodpecker. If there is one across the street from my house I will be in heaven! I am going to go over there the next decent morning we have as that is when I heard it last. I was over there both today and yesterday and didn't hear it so I am thinking it lays low during the cold weather. For all I know it is indeed a nuthatch, but half the fun is finding out for yourself.

Sunday Photos

I purposely did all my chores yesterday so I could spend today playing with my camera. I am not trying to get fantastic photos yet, but just practicing getting comfortable with my new toy. The camera also comes with some great software for editing pictures that I didn't have before so that's helping me manipulate the photos some. The picture of the blue jay is in the same area I take a lot of my backyard bird photos. The original picture came out dark and with the help of the software, voila!! Instant light.
The photo of the cardinal was a bit trickier. He is far away from my window and under a bush. I practiced with my zoom and took Abe's suggestions and it didn't come out half bad considering I had it at full zoom capacity. I love the fact that I could see what he was doing. I often see the cardinal in this bush and without my binoculars, I had no idea what he was up to. Now I know he goes to this spot to eat the peanuts I put out for them all. He is really working hard to get to the peanut!

I love this photo. Junco's are my most difficult bird to photo. I think it's because they are so dark. This is the first time I could get a half decent photo of one and I got in in flight!! Very cool.

I did go across the street in the woods to see if I could get some photos over there. The funny thing is that I have more activity in my yard than what is in the wild. The same thing happened to me yesterday. I went out to some fields and woods in town and the place was very quiet. I guess the birds are as sick of the cold as we are and taking it easy some.

My back yard is quiet now due to the fact that the cooper's who lives across the street from me is also aware that the woods are devoid of birds and has decided to hang out in my yard some. I am waiting for my new batteries to charge and then I hope I can get a photo of her too!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Bought a New Camera

Yes it was an impulse buy. Circuit City is going out of business and I did get a bonus for a huge project I inherited so I spent it on my self. There were a ton to chose from and I finally decided on a Fuji Film Fine Pix because it had the most pixels and zoom capacity.

Check out the photos. These gold finches are way up in a tree and my other camera would not even get close to them. This one does it with ease. The first picture is the gold finch eating those funky seeds that are on the tree in my yard that I have yet to identify.

In this picture the gold finch is enjoying the sun on its gorgeous feathers.

I have a lot to learn with the camera though. It is wayyyy to high tech for me and I am having a hard time getting used to all of the features. I am very shaky with it too due to its size. I was used to my tiny little Kodak Easy Share, but this one is very heavy in comparison. I think I may need to go buy a tripod!

I am out of my winter funk now and ready to take photos!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Perfect Way for me to Spend my Lunch Hour

I am so sick of being indoors and in my office. I decided yesterday to get out of my four walled prison for a while and take advantage of the 30 degree weather we had. I went to a park nearby that is supposed to have a lot of wild life. I saw this mute swan there who is swimming on the unfrozen water.

Mallard ducks congregating in another part of the pond that is unfrozen.

Juncos on branches in search for weed seeds.

A lone chickadee takes a break from foraging and watches the activity on the pond.

While it was a fun way to spend an hour, I didn't get out of the funk I have been in. Nature to me is my spiritual medication. If I go without it for too long, I get really down. I am like this every week it seems. Each day I get a little worse. I long for the outdoors and can't find the time to get out there during the work week and even if I did, it is still far too cold to explore for hours the way I like too. The bird activity isn't great either as many birds have migrated south and those who are brave enough to be here, are resting somewhere or out deeper into the woods.

I am going to try and get out today to see if I can find something. I long for something new. Yes I love my backyard regulars, but miss that instant rush I get when I find a new bird I have never seen before. I need something to awaken my senses that doesn't involve the bitter cold. I need evidence of spring. Whether it be green vegetation, brighter plumage, or a January thaw.

I will continue to search and hope for spring.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Let's Talk Food......Bird Food That Is

I thought this may be a fun topic to talk about. It is one of my favorite topics of all because it is something I can provide to the birds and know that I am helping them through this very long winter. You see, I love food. Whether it be food for me, food for the kids, food for the cats or food for the birds, it's all good. Food to me is nurturing. It means comfort and nutrition for not only the body, but for the soul. When my kids are sick, I want them to have chicken soup. When my cats are not eating, I tempt them with their favorite treats to make sure they are okay. When the birds are outside at my feeders, I go out there with more to make sure they have enough fuel in their bodies to survive another bitter night in the wild.

I started off quite modestly when I first started feeding my feathered friends. I bought some nyjer seed, BOSS and made nectar for the hummingbirds. All was well until the house sparrows and squirrels took over my yard and then I stopped feeding all together.

I started feeding again this late fall and started off modestly again, but all of that has since changed. This is what I have in my feeders now.

Black Oil Sun Flower Seed
Sunflower Heart Chips
Suet (both raw and made by me with lard and peanut butter)
Shelled peanut halves in a feeder
Whole peanuts in a shell on the ground

This is my occasional food
Fruit-Right now I have fresh blueberries and strawberries that are perched in the tree being held by an old clementine box.

Bread and dog kibble. This is for when I see seagulls and crows in my yard. I can't help but to feed them. They fly around my yard searching for food and they look so hungry. Out I go with the bread and dog kibble and they dive down and have a quick meal. They leave immediately afterwords and I won't see them again until the next early morning. They are the eat and run type I guess.

I also have my heated bird bath that gets filled with fresh water daily. All of this food management has since turned into a part time job. I spend on average 15 minutes a day preparing the bird food in their proper containers and then going out there to fill up the numerous feeders.

One must never forget the natural food that we can provide for wild life as well. I have my mulberry tree that brings me scores of birds in May, my wild blackberry that the cat birds devour, poke berries that I allow to fruit, the privet that the robins inhale and all of the weeds I allow to go to seed each fall. This is not enough you see because I planted holly this past summer and plan on planting two crab apple trees this spring. My end goal is all fruit that lasts through the winter so the birds have even more food especially when it's at its most scarce.

Well enough about me, how about you. What is it you offer to the birds. If you garden for wild life, what has been your most successful plantings as far as appetizing treats for birds and other critters. I would love to hear input from others because I need more ideas, especially when it comes to wild life gardening.


Monday, January 19, 2009

An Hour at the Cemetery

Monday was the day that cabin fever finally took it's hold on me and I could no longer be in my house. I have been taking advantage of the winter hibernation by catching up on some reading and read numerous nature books during the past couple of weeks. I had just finished Julie's book called Letters from Eden and the book inspired me so much I needed to put on my boots and go search for my own mini Eden, if only for an hour or so.

I got out of my car and heard a new bird call I had never experienced before. I tried to pinpoint the bird by its sound. It was coming from the river which had me perplexed because it certainly didn't sound like a water bird to me. I tried to stand on my tip toes to see if I could find it because I didn't want to have to walk in the 15 inches of snow we had. The tip toe method didn't work so off I went to trudge in the snow. I looked down in some brush and there before my eyes was a Carolina Wren! HA!! I have two wrens in my yard this winter and had never heard this. It had such a wonderful call and I am hoping to hear it in my own backyard very soon. I am convinced the bird was singing because she was as happy for the warm weather as I was.

I heard all kinds of bird songs this past Monday that I had not heard before. I think it's the birds way of letting us human folk know that spring is another day closer. The days are getting longer, the plumage is getting brighter and the songs are getting louder. I started singing a little song of my own over my discovery on this beautiful winter day.

I came across this hole in a tree that was rather large. My imagination started immediately as I pictured a sleepy owl in there snoring peacefully in a deep slumber. I was surprised I had not noticed it before because I pass this tree every time I pay a visit to the cemetery. I also started thinking of how lucky I am to have caught the nature bug this past year. If I had seen this tree last January, I would have passed right on by not even giving it a second glance. This year I am drawn to the tree and every thing else around me. It's as if I woke up one morning to a whole new world of wonder and beauty that is there for me if I pay attention to it. How sad is it that others don't see this beauty and life because they are too caught up with work, bills and other responsibilities that have made us lose sense of our role in the natural world.

A female mallard duck taking advantage of unfrozen water on the river. I could see water fowl every where I went this afternoon. They saw me too and away they flew before I could even adjust my camera. The whole flock of wood ducks and common mergansers took flight before I could even touch my zoom feature. Such skittish little creatures they are. I suppose they treat humans with suspicion since so many of us look at them through a barrel of a gun versus the lens of a camera.

I was very disappointed that I did not hear any golden crowned kinglets during my visit. I had worried about them so much last week and was hoping they were able to find food. It is frustrating that they won't eat any seed because I would have gone there and dumped 40 pounds of whatever it is they fancied if I thought I could help them. I am trying to be optimistic in my thinking and hope they went deeper into the woods to search for insects in trees they had not discovered before. I will search for them again next week when there is not as much snow on the ground which has made deep woods exploration close to impossible.

A Monday I Enjoyed

I normally don't like Mondays. Monday is the day that you are back to the rat race, enclosed in your office to stare at a computer screen all day vs. the great outdoors. Not this Monday though. In remembrance to Martin Luther King, many of us were fortunate enough to have the day off and that included me. It gave me time to look out my kitchen window and search for birds. The cardinals are back and I am happy. Cardinals are so fun to photograph because they are so bright in color and large compared to some of the other birds so I can always get a good shot of them even when they are far away.

The chickadee is back too. I thought I would be inundated with chickadees this winter but it has not proven to be the case. I didn't see much of them last week during the terrible cold spell we had and they are not frequent here during heavy snow either. The weather is warmer now and the snow is melting so my chickadees have returned to take advantage of an easy meal.

The juncos have not left my yard since November. Out of all of my backyard birds, this is the most challenging to get a photo of. The lack of sunlight in my yard makes it even worse. I was able to get an okay picture of this one though as it was eating from the coconut. What is it about coconut feeders that the birds find so appealing?? I have a ton of feeders around my station that offers the same tiny morsels, but they all prefer the coconut feeder for some reason.

Two crows surveying the landscape in search of predators. There is another on the ground in my yard eating dog kibble I brought out for them. I know many don't like crows but I am not one of them. I find them one of the most intriguing birds to observe especially when birds of prey are around. I like to think of them as the busy bodies of the bird kingdom. I think these two are a couple and they make a cute pair.

My resident song sparrow coming out of the brush pile to guard the feeding station. He is looking toward his favorite feeder to make sure the house sparrows are not on it eating his food. I love this little guy. He looks as if he has a bib in preperation for his lunch.

Finally a snow swirl. I was cleaning out my freezer and came upon some frozen boneless chicken breast I was not going to use due to freezer burn. I decided to bring it across the street in the woods for whatever wild creature may find it appealing. I was overjoyed to hear the birds singing!! How I have missed that sound. Birds of many species were out in the woods singing their joy over a warm day with sunshine and melting snow. I brought my camera with me in hopes I could photograph a few but none of them would stand still, for they were too busy searching for food.

I did hear a bird call I had never heard before and I am curious to find out what kind of bird it is. The call was a series of ten notes and it sounded like it was saying hawk. It almost had the pitch of a monkey, so it sounded like "hawk, hawk, hawk, hawk, hawk, hawk, hawk, hawk, hawk, hawk. It would stop for a few seconds and then do the same call in the same fashion all over again. A new thing for me to investigate!!!

January Snow

We have had plenty of snow the past 24 hours. The snow we had was my favorite which are those large snow flakes that are fluffy and full. The thing I love most about the snow is that it serves as a blank canvas to photograph your birds and really appreciate their colors because they stand out against the white. I have been putting peanuts out closer to my other feeders so the blue jays are coming closer to me which allows me better photos.

I am starting to get a lot more cardinals. This female was around my house the entire day yesterday. I got this picture and while it is blurry, I love the fact that I got her in the midst of flight.

A chickadee who has found my peanut feeder and decided she liked it.

The goldfinches love my bird bath and take turns getting a drink. This bird bath has withstood temps of -6 this past week and is the best thing I have ever had for my feathered friends.

The seagulls come every morning waiting for me to put bread out for them. They fly over my yard in eager anticipation.

As a side note, an interesting thing happened to me on Friday night. My son went to the movies with friends and the first show was sold out, so he went to the later one which meant I was giving him and his friends rides home at 1:00 AM! One of his friends lives on a dirt road and I had to drive my car slowly over the bumps and ditches. It was so quiet that all you could hear was the sound of the ice crushing against the wheels, the roaring of the heat was on full blast and all teenagers were quiet after their night at the movies. Suddenly I see a tiny figure in the middle of the road in front of me. He stops and looks at my bright head lights and takes off. It was a deer mouse! I yelled to the kids in surprised excitement. They looked bored and yawned.

I drove home in amazement and cursed myself for not thinking to bring my camera. It was -6 that night and here was this tiny little mouse looking for food at 1AM. Such amazing creatures when you think of it.

Off to shovel now. It has become my new part time job.


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