Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Battle for the Bird House

Earlier this spring I had put up my favorite little bird house in the hopes that the house would attract bluebirds as it did the spring of 2011.  Obviously going back a few years but I can't help but hope!  Failing the bluebirds, I was hopeful the house wrens who nested there last year would return.

Unfortunately, the not so welcome house sparrow instead started setting up shop.  Here is a picture from March.  Shortly after this was taken I took the house down.

male house sparrow starts setting up in March

Away went the box, and I thought that was the end of the bird house stories for the year.

I couldn't predict how I would feel when I saw house wrens return to the yard later in spring.  I imagined at least one of these wrens was born in that bird house last year, and I had the feeling the bird was looking for the house.

So I put it up again.

I never imagined a battle for the bird house would ensue!

Fast forward to a week after I put up the house again.  The house sparrows had again started filling the house with nesting material.  Meanwhile the house wrens hung around the house chattering excitedly.  Once the house sparrows left the box unguarded, the house wrens made their move.

They started pulling out the nesting material the house sparrows had put in!  See the soft nesting material hanging from the outside of the box?  That little wren with his butt out the window had just pulled all that out!

house wren rifles through house

Here he is looking proud:

house wren removes sparrow nesting material

Shortly after this episode I came home one afternoon to see a bunch of trash on the grass under the birdhouse.  There were tissues and what looked like pieces of paper.  The neighbors carelessly throwing their trash away again I thought.  I was about to go pick it up when I realized the sparrows poking through the trash.

whats all this stuff on the ground

I realized the trash was house sparrow nesting material the wrens had thrown out of the house!  The sparrows were not to be deterred.  Here the male checks out the damage.

male house sparrow assesses damage

Then the sparrows took action.  First the male picked up some tissue:

male house sparrow picks up tissue

Then the female, and up she went!

female house sparrow flies with tissue

Back up to the house!

female house sparrow brings tissue back

And finally the female pushed the tissue back into the house:

female house sparrow stuffs tissue back into house

Ok, I said to myself, the sparrows are back in, the house wrens are out.  I made a mental note of their status and moved onto other things, thinking the matter settled.

But then, a while later....

house wren pulls tissue out

The house wren had returned and pulled the tissue back out!

It's been several weeks now of constant battles between the sparrows and wrens.  The sparrows for a while seemed to have the upper hand.  The male would sit perched outside the house, and the wrens would insistently sing and dive at the male.  The male for the most part was unmoved, and the sparrows are bigger than the wrens, so I figured the sparrows would win.  Lately though it seems the wrens are getting their way.  Maybe because they sat right outside the house, all day long, every day, singing at the house sparrow, the sparrow finally decided all this racket was not worth it, and moved to a quieter abode!

Tonight the house wrens were putting sticks (their preferred nesting material) into the house.  Sometimes wrens build "fake" nest sites, so too soon to tell if they are really going to nest in the house.  For all the sparrow activity, I never noticed any baby birds, so maybe right now the battle is a draw, with neither species successfully nesting in the box.

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Black and White Warbler

Wrapping up recent migration visitors to the yard.  The last of the warblers was this one, Black and White Warbler.  One day I spied her creeping along a branch of the pignut hickory tree.

I believe her to be a female, the mature adult male is more heavily marked on the face and neck with black.

black and white warbler

Here is one picture of her right out of the camera.  You can barely see her against the bark of the tree.  She's under the green leaves on the left hand fork of the trunk.  Easy to miss!

where is the bird

Luckily these birds have a distinctive song, "teesi teesi teesi".  Helped me this day in finding this bird.  I don't know if there was also a male in the tree, I didn't see him, or if both males and females sing.

black and white hiding

I remember when I first learned this bird, I learned the song before ever seeing the bird.  That first day I heard several of them singing in the trees, I couldn't find even one of them.

That's because I didn't know what I needed to know - these birds creep along tree trunks and branches, and look similar to a nuthatch.   I was looking for them perched on a branch in the leaves.

Now I know!

black and white upside down

They're pretty funny to watch.  They go up, down, and sideways.  Once you pick them out you can watch them for a while, they tend to wander around a tree for quite some time.

black and white into the light

This was the last look I caught of her, heading onto the backside of the tree.  A fun bird!  Black and Whites do breed in this area, but I have never noticed them around the yard except during migration time.  I'll continue to watch for them in summer to see if they actually breed nearby.

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Another recent visitor was Chestnut-sided Warbler.  This was the first time I've seen this warbler in the yard.

chestnut sided warbler in apple tree

I am not surprised I hadn't seen him before.  He was difficult to see this time because he kept going behind pink blooms, and even though he is not pink colored, he did blend in.

I heard him before I saw him.  His song supposedly sounds like, "pleased pleased to meet you!"

chestnut sided warbler in the pink

Or so I thought.  I heard this bird singing and thought, "He kind of sounds like a Chestnut-sided, but not quite, because he isn't saying, "pleased."

Turns out his song sounds more like, "very very pleased to meet you!"  The shuffling sound of "very very" was confusing me until I realized that's what he was "saying".  Different bird guides/apps describe this song with slightly different variations of the "pleased to meet you" phrase.  

People hear different things when listening to the same song.  If you use word phrases to remember song, you have to find the phrase that makes sense to you and that you will remember.  

chestnut sided warbler upside down

After finally catching sight of this bird, I watched him for quite some time.  It was a sunny evening and he enjoyed his time in the apple tree.

This species is around all summer, I look forward to seeing more of them.  They are both beautiful in plumage and in song.

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Magnolia Warbler in the Yard

Short update today.  I'm catching up since there have been so many birds in the yard.  This is the yard's best spring migration yet.  I don't know if I'm finally noticing birds or if for some reason there are more species around during this particular spring migration.

I had the pleasure the other night to find a Magnolia Warbler in the yard.  I'd had a female on fall migration last year; this is the first male in spring I've seen.  I heard him first - his song has been described as "weeto weeto weeteo".  In my opinion it kind of does sound like this, but you have to listen closely.

The funny thing about birdsong is that when one listens to it from an application, you're listening to just the bird, loud and clear without any other competing sounds.  In the yard this time of year, needless to say, other birds are making a racket, so it can be difficult to hear.  I say this because I was straining to hear this bird over the house wrens and house sparrows.  When I looked up luckily I found him.  I looked at him and he at me, and he sang his song as I watched.  Then he was flitting about and I managed this one not so great picture.  He liked this birch tree so I am continuing to look for him here; hopefully will get more pictures.

magnolia warbler in yard

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Swainson's Thrush in Yard

I had the pleasure of returning home over the weekend to find a Swainson's Thrush in the yard.

It had rained the night before and even during the morning it was quite misty.  Out and about during the day we had seen many migrant birds so I wondered what would be in the yard that evening.

swainson's thrush in yard

The first thing I heard was an ovenbird singing, a bird which I had never heard here before.  So when I saw this bird a few minutes later I expected it to be an ovenbird, but quickly it was apparent this was a thrush.  For one thing this bird was hopping along the ground like a robin, whereas ovenbirds walk.

Happily I had a nice long look at this bird.  He seemed comfortable in the yard and hopped along in the open for quite some time.

swainson's stays a while

Swainson's is a migrant through these parts, they don't breed this far south.  I have seen them on spring migration before, but not in the yard.  Last spring I thought I heard one singing but wasn't sure, so I was happy to see this one.

Other thrushes that breed here might be confused with Swainson's.  Wood thrushes are more boldly spotted and reddish on top.   To me they don't look much like Swainson's.  The Hermit thrush on the other hand looks very similar.  Two things say to me "Swainson's."

The first is the buffy color on the face along with the eye "spectacle" (the marking around the eye that looks somewhat like eye glasses).  Hermit thrush is not marked this way.

swainson's buffy face

The second is the tail color.  In Hermit thrush the tail color is reddish, contrasting with the rest of the bird's brownish color.  In Swainson's there is no such contrast between the color of tail and the main body, as you can see from this next picture.

swainson's thrush from behind

Ultimately one great way to tell the difference between these birds when one cannot get a good look is to hear them sing.  Both birds have lovely songs.  I won't try to describe them in words, you really need to listen to them to appreciate.  Because I don't hear Swainson's sing as often, I would give the edge to their song in loveliness over Hermit thrush.

I watched this bird hop in the yard for much of the evening.  He flew up once into the pignut hickory but still he did not sing.

swainson's in pignut

Later I fell asleep and awoke to birds singing.  Swainson's song rang out through the late evening.

Enjoy the day - 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Nashville Warbler in the Yard

The last several days have been exciting bird times.  It seemed like for days we searched fruitlessly for migrating birds only to all of a sudden have them arrive in full force, at least that is how it seems to me.  Now we have arrived in this season so anticipated for months, and it doesn't disappoint, it has been full of wonder, and great fun.

The other day I spent a few hours watching the goings on in the yard.  I kept hearing a bird song that I felt I should know, but I just couldn't place.  People ask me how I learn bird song, and the answer is it takes practice and experience for most, and I like most of us am trying to learn more all the time.  Bird song apps help, but nothing substitutes for being outside and hearing the bird, then seeing the bird sing.

So I heard this bird and couldn't place it, but neither could I find it.  I looked for it the whole time I was bird watching, then finally gave up to go inside.  As I moved to leave a flash caught my eye, and then I saw it - a warbler was flitting around in my neighbor's apple tree.

I didn't know immediately what it was, but I had my camera right there and started taking pictures.  Turns out it was a Nashville warbler, and that turned out to be the bird whose song I just couldn't place.

I've only known the Nashville to be in the yard on one other occasion, about this time last year, when it sang so long and so clearly that I sat with my bird app and went through the warblers until I matched the song to the bird!

This time though I didn't hear the song clearly, probably because until the last minute the bird was in a tree far away.  I did recognize it was a warbler though and that's why I sat there looking so long.  I guess if there is a moral to the story it is if you hear an unfamiliar song, try to at least place what kind of bird it is.  Recognizing a song as likely a warbler is a big start, you can then look in likely places for warblers to be, and look for warbler-like movements.

This is a rather long winded excuse to post a Nashville warbler picture!  I got one picture that I was very happy with:

nashville warbler in the yard

When I initially saw the bird my first thought was he was a Connecticutt warbler, as the Connecticutt also has a bold white eye ring.  The Connecticutt though has the grey of his head extend over onto his throat as well, and this bird clearly is yellow on the throat and in fact all the way underneath including the undertail.  The full yellow throat and belly plus the eye ring are big clues.

Also the Nashville can show a rusty patch on his head.  This picture somewhat shows that if you look closely.

nashville warbler top of head

One other note about Nashville's song - it has two segments to it, and the word "Nashville" has two syllables.  This is supposed to help one remember the song.  It didn't help me this time, maybe next time!

I don't expect to see this bird around here during the summer though it does breed in this range.  It likes brushy pasture areas.  The yard and surrounding woods combined do not have much of this type habitat.  I will continue to look and listen for it.

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Monday, May 5, 2014

Slow Spring Has Sprung

It's been a long cold slow spring.  I guess I've been slow too, not updating my blog during the entire month of April!  Thanks to those who contacted me to check in, I appreciate being missed.  The good news is I can correlate my time not blogging with an uptick in birding trips away from home.  Inadvertantly I took time away from this blog in my quest to see birds beyond "the edge"!  My new reality has me out and about more, so I need to adjust my blogging schedule.  I also at some point may need to adjust my blogging content as well, but right now I am happy to return to this blog I love, and I thank you for your patience and support.

Meanwhile, I am happy to report that the snow is finally gone, though today as with many recent days I've needed gloves outside in the evening due to the chill.  At least the yard looks like this now, not quite in full bloom, but getting there.

the yard in spring

In way of news, you might notice above the little birdhouse that I had taken down in March due to attempts by house sparrows to nest in it.  A few weeks ago house wrens returned to the yard; they are the birds who nested in the house last year.  They were singing in this tree and I felt that they might be looking for the house, so dutifully I went outside and put the house back up!

Soon a battle of sorts ensued.  Every time a house wren would approach the box, a male house sparrow would chase him or her away.  And every time a male house sparrow entered the box, the house wrens were waiting to harass him and chase him away.

I had my money on the house wrens, so was disappointed this weekend to see both the male and female house sparrows putting nesting materials in the box.  The house sparrows appeared to have won the competition, and the house wrens were no where to be seen.  At this point I feel like it would be cruel to the house sparrows to remove the box again, so I had been reconciling myself to house sparrows in the box.

Until today - on goes the drama, an unexpected turn - this morning I found a house wren entering the box!  I don't know if this means the wren has gotten the better of the sparrows, but I did not see the house sparrows enter the box today at all.  Stay tuned!

house wren checks house

Today also saw a return to the yard of many migrating birds:  Grey Catbird, Northern Parula, Blue-headed Vireo, and American Redstart.  I struggled to take pictures of the warblers and vireo, and even the catbird did not seem to want to stay in sight today.  This picture of the American Redstart is the best I managed.

american redstart first of year

The Redstart reminded me that I needed to get the birdbath back out in the yard.  Last fall the Redstarts loved the bath so maybe now he will come out of the trees and into the open lured by the water.

We still have plenty of winter bird friends around, including this White Throated Sparrow.  This time of migration makes for a fun mix of birds, some coming, some going.

white throated sparrow still here

Hurray it's May, what a great time!

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

So Long Winter

Hello Spring!  Where are you?

Still feeling like February here, with temps below freezing, and snow in the forecast.  We have had enough mild weather for most of the snow to melt, but the ground is still frozen.  As winter stubbornly holds on, it seems the bird assemblage does the same.  Every day I look outside and see juncos flying about, and they are the most common bird on the ground in the open.  They congregate under the feeder and eat seeds that have fallen from the tray.  Usually there are six to eight of them at any one time.  I would expect to also see some sparrows, maybe a song sparrow or two, or some white throated sparrows, or even a migrating fox sparrow, but for some reason only the juncos are filling the role of under feeder visitor.

junco looking for seeds

I know one day later this spring the juncos will fly away for the summer, and I will miss them.

The most common on feeder bird of late has been the house finch.  For much of the winter the house finches have maintained a low profile, but in March I have heard the males singing every day.  When they are not singing they come into the feeder.  Unlike the chickadees and titmice, they are happy to sit on the feeder and eat for several minutes at once.  Titmice come and go, the house finch eats on.

house finch on feeder

If I could pick one bird to remember the winter of 2013-14 by it would be the wild turkey.  The turkeys have continued to visit the yard almost every day.  Sometimes twenty or more congregate for several days in a row, then they are not seen for some time.  Instead a group of three males comes by.  They hang around the feeder for a while, then make the rounds of this yard and the adjoining ones before returning to the feeder area to halfheartedly peck at the ground for bird seed.

It's as if they're bored and ready for spring too!

As an aside, one of you has told me that turkeys are not very pretty.  I disagree!  Their feathers shine in the sun.  This time of year when nothing is in bloom they show the prettiest colors around!

pretty turkey

Also this time of year the male turkeys are displaying.  They look pretty neat when they do.  They are a majestic bird!


In other March news, the downy woodpeckers have apparently abandoned the birch snag they were so interested in a few weeks back.  The downies are still around, but they must have chosen a different tree for their nest, because they are definitely not at the birch anymore.  I'm disappointed.

That's my winter wrap up.  I am ready for some spring migrants to visit!

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Sunday, March 9, 2014

House Sparrow, Not What I Wanted To See

This morning while bird watching in the yard I saw something I definitely did not want to see.  A few posts back I told how I put up a birdhouse in the hopes of enticing bluebirds to nest.  Unfortunately the bluebirds have not shown an interest.  Instead today a male house sparrow began bringing nesting material into the box.

house sparrow on bird house

House sparrows pose two problems.  One, they are a non native species whose success here has come at the expense of other cavity nesters, such as bluebirds.

Second, speaking of bluebirds, house sparrows are notorious for attacking nesting bluebirds and destroying both the eggs and the adult birds when they catch an adult in the nest box.

So if one is trying to attract bluebirds, hand in hand comes the responsibility to watch out for house sparrows and place some controls on their nesting.  I won't let them nest in a box.  When I saw this sparrow pick some nesting material -

house sparrow with nesting material

- I knew it was time for the box to come down.  I went outside, scared the bird off, and took the house down.

I felt kind of bad for the bird, but he'd been at it only for a few minutes.  Honestly too I felt guilty.  I knew the house sparrows were around and still I sought to bring in bluebirds.

Not to mention the house is not the right kind of house for bluebirds to begin with, but that's another story.

I think this year I will keep all the birdhouses inside and let the birds find their own nest spots.

As for the house sparrows, they will not be happy with me after this weekend.  In addition to taking down this nest box, I also closed off one of the places in the roof slats where they have been nesting the past few years.  I meant to do it last year, but by the time I thought of it they already had baby birds in there.

house sparrow checking out house

I won't be seeing this scene anymore this year.  Last year this box provided a home for house wrens.  They'll also have to find other quarters this year.

Enjoy the day -


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Quick Downy Update

The downy woodpeckers continue their work on the birch snag.  The last few days both the male and female have been around.  The female is doing most of the work now.  The male's contribution at the moment seems to be chasing the female around the yard.

Yesterday I saw some movement within the hole.  A second later, the female poked her head out.

downy female gets comfortable in birch snag

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Downy Update

Last we saw our male downy, he was on a birch snag building a hole.  This week he continued his efforts.

male downy on the birch

I marked his progress by how deep he could get his body into the hole.

male downy back at work

In this next picture you can see how much deeper the hole is getting.

downy inspects his work

Later in the week, the female downy appeared.  You can tell she is a female, she does not have red on the back of her head.

female downy appears at entrance

She continued to work at the site.  Unlike the male, she did not peck at the hole.  Instead, she would crawl inside and seemed to dig out the wood.  All the while she made soft "tweeking" noises.

female downy continues work

Stay tuned - 

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Downy On Birch Snag

It's a great time of year to watch woodpeckers.  They are especially active now, and it's easy to track their movements with no leaves in the trees.  I spied this male on a dead birch snag.

downy by a new hole

The sound of him excavating this hole is what caught my attention.  See how fresh the wood inside looks.  These dead snags make great habitat for woodpeckers and other cavity nesters.

downy inspects hole

I watched as he continued to excavate.  At several points he buried his head in the hole and seemed to inspect the inside of the tree.  Then he would lean back and look from the outside before continuing his work.

downy inspects his work

After several minutes, he took a break, turned, and climbed the snag.

downy climbs

Last I saw him he was enjoying the view from the top.

downy on top

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bluebirds in the Yard

Happy to announce something that makes me extremely happy - a pair of Eastern Bluebirds made an appearance in the yard today.  For my "country" friends maybe this does not seem like such a big deal, but we are not always so fortunate here to have bluebirds around.

In fact, last year we only saw bluebirds for a couple of days in the spring before they moved on.  The last time they were here for more than a few days was spring of 2011, when they appeared to set up house in a nest box I had hanging in my favorite "birding" tree.  The birds stayed for a couple weeks, perching in the tree together near the nest box.

One day they were just gone.  I saw both a chickadee and house wren fly into the house, so maybe they scared the bluebirds off.

Last year I put the box back up, and a pair of house wrens nested in it.  I had a couple of blog posts on the baby wrens leaving the nest box last summer.

What will happen this year?  I don't know.  A few weeks ago I thought I heard a bluebird singing in the woods out back.  Turns out I was probably right.  Today I looked up from my laptop to see a pair fly by the window.  I looked out and couldn't find them, but a few minutes later I looked up again and the female bluebird was perched in the pignut hickory, seemingly looking through the window at me.

I took some pictures through the window.  They came out terrible but I was afraid if I stepped outside the bird would fly.

female bluebird first of the spring

I couldn't believe my eyes at first, I took this picture then got a closer look.

female bluebird blurry through the window

In a moment she flew off towards the woods.  I looked where I lost sight of her and for a moment saw the male bluebird sitting in the sumac at the wood's edge.  I lost sight of him almost immediately, but in a few seconds he began to sing, and he did that for some time.  It was a bright sunny winter afternoon, and I was glad to hear his song.

Hearing the song made me think I should get that nest box back out in the yard.  I take the nest boxes down in late fall to clean and put out in spring.  Maybe this year sooner is better.

my favorite birdhouse

I love this birdhouse.  The birds have had some success with it.  It's not designed for bluebirds, and it's not placed ideally for bluebirds (on a pole in a field,) but the bluebird box I bought for them and placed on its pole in the open a few years ago has sat empty.

birdhouse up for spring

Thus begins the 2014 bluebird watch.

Enjoy the day - Cheerily