Monday, January 27, 2014

Winter Feeder Watching

The last snowfall sets the mood of the yard.  We had some mild weather earlier in January, and unfortunately all our snow was washed away making everything look mucky and dreary.  Luckily we had just enough snowfall the last few days to make everything look wintry and fresh again.  Probably six inches of snow out there now, the top inch or two is fluffy.

The cold and sunshine made for some great from the house bird watching.  Things were rather quiet and uneventful, as if everyone and everything had settled into a happy winter's rhythm.  I took the chance to watch the chickadees and titmice do their acrobatics at the bird feeder.

flying to the feeder one

Back and forth, back and forth.  You who have seed feeders have seen them.  These birds do not like to visit for long, they do not sit and lounge at the feeder like some other species do.

flying to feeder two

They come in for a quick stop, grab a seed or two, and fly off again.  And they come in one at a time.  As one flies off, another flies in.

flying to feeder three

These birds need to eat a lot of calories to keep warm over the winter.  They don't eat all these seeds right away, they stash some so they have them when they need them.

flying to feeder four

They're fun to watch.  They are different species yet they coordinate their feeding, it's as if they have built a community surrounding the feeder.  It's nice to see.

flying from feeder

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Friday, January 24, 2014

It's Not Always Pretty

One evening as the last light left the yard, I noticed a dark blob and movement under the canopy of the pine trees at the edge of the woods.  It turned out to be a hawk feeding on something on the ground, something with, it turns out, a bunch of feathers.

hawk and feathers

I got the best shots of the scene as I could considering the dim light.  Even though the pictures are fuzzy it's pretty obvious what's going on!

good eats

The next morning I went to the scene to see if I could determine what had happened.  Or at least find out what had been for dinner last night.  There wasn't much left.


Looks like the hawk was not the only one involved.  Tracks lead to the pile of feathers....

tracks in the snow

They came from a spot several feet away where there were signs of a struggle.

point of struggle

Fox maybe?  Something big apparently killed the bird, and the hawk got the leftovers.  So what was the bird that was killed?  The feathers hold the clues.


more feathers
and more feathers
This mourning dove flew to the feeder that day.  Seeing his black and white tail feathers in flight made me realize the dead bird was probably a dove.

mourning dove in flight

Also see the large dark spots on the brown wings, they match the feather in the second feather picture.

mourning dove

One never knows in this life when the end may come, nature reminds us of this truth.  That is why it is so important to -

Enjoy the day!


Monday, January 13, 2014

Hawk on a Bird Feeder

Today I learned, or maybe re-learned, the value of looking out the window while talking on the phone!  I was chatting, gazing out on a lovely day when I saw a hawk land on the bird seed feeder.

hawk on feeder

I'd seen a hawk or two land on the feeder over the years, but never had one stayed long enough for me to get a picture.  This time I hung up my call and ran and got my camera, slowly opened the deck door, and started snapping shots.  The bird sat there for at least two minutes, and my presence did not seem to bother him.

hawk looking around

Both Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks will hang around bird feeders looking for little bird prey.  I am not the best at id'ing hawks, but I believe this to be a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Overall Sharp-shinned Hawks are smaller than Cooper's, and the streaking and barring on the chest makes me lean toward Sharp-shinned as well.  The Sharp-shinned head is smaller than Cooper's in proportion to the body.  Seeing the bird in a picture with the entire bird feeder house was the final straw for me - the bird's body looks about the same size as the house, not that large.

how big is hawk

The best way to tell is to see them fly, and finally this one did fly up and land high in the box elder, but it all happened so fast I didn't note what I should have been noting - the shape of the tail, more rounded in Cooper's, more square in Sharp-shinned, and the wingbeats, stiffer in Cooper's, more "flappy" in Sharp-shinned.

hawk looks fierce

The bird stayed in the box elder for a minute, landed in another tree for a few seconds, then flew away.  As far as I could tell, it didn't get any small bird snacks from the yard!

hawk in box elder

Enjoy the day - Cheerily

Friday, January 3, 2014

American Tree Sparrow, Seventy One And Counting!

Happy 2014!

Thank you all for joining me on this blog in 2013. I was lucky to have great birds in the yard and great birding companions from whom I learned much.  You who read this blog encouraged me to continue, and I have had lots of fun and laughs writing it!

In 2013 I made my intention a reality to create a list of bird species seen here the last few years.  This fall the species count was at 67.  I updated again at the end of the year - we are up to 71 and counting!

I have to admit of the four recent "additions" only one I had never truly seen in the yard before.  That was the Hermit Thrush which I saw here end of October, and not one day before or since.  One of the other species, the Common Redpoll, I see here every winter, but not very often; somehow I forgot all about it and left it off the original list.  One other, the Red Breasted Nuthatch, I'd only seen my first winter of bird watching here at home, and not since.  I found an old picture to convince me I hadn't been imagining things, and the list was up to 70.

Number 71 was the American Tree Sparrow.  It's a common sparrow in winter but I was never sure I'd seen it in the yard, and whenever I thought about it, I'd look for it and not find it.  So finally I saw one the other day, and only one, but one was enough for now.

american tree sparrow one

They have a rusty crown and a rusty eyeline, a bi-colored beak, plus a clear breast with a faint dark dot.

american tree sparrow two

Below is a view from another angle showing the bird's back.  You can see the reddish tones.

american tree sparrow three

Sparrows can be confusing.  It can be difficult to tell related species apart, especially certain times of year.  I guess if I were someone fond of New Year's resolutions, my 2014 birding resolution would be to improve my sparrow knowledge.

Two of this bird's closest relatives (the three are genus Spizella sparrows) are on the species count list too:  the Chipping Sparrow and the Field Sparrow.  They are both common sparrows, but the Field I've only seen once on the "Edge", because I suppose the yard is not enough of a "field" for it to inhabit.  This is the one, from mid-October:

field sparrow

Note the distinct eye ring, the clear breast, and the full pink beak.  You're probably thinking how could you ever confuse this bird for the previous bird.  In this case the two look very different, so I guess I'm not illustrating my point!  This is the best case scenario.

The third relative, the Chipping Sparrow, seems to be everywhere, and the yard is no exception.  Here is one from last spring.  I don't have many recent pictures, mostly because they are small and active birds that don't seem to want to sit still for me in summer and fall!  Note the rusty cap but the black line through the eye, and note how far forward the line comes, all the way to the beak.

chipping sparrow

Again, these pictures make these birds look very different, but they can be confused for each other.  In this breeding plumage above, the Chipping Sparrow has a dark beak, but in non breeding plumage, the beak is paler, similar to Field Sparrow's.  The rusty cap looks similar to Tree Sparrow's, but Tree Sparrow's eyeline is rusty, not black.

Time of year matters in identifying these birds.  The American Tree Sparrow is around these parts only in winter, as they breed farther north.  The other two breed here in the summer, then move south in winter, though some range maps show Field Sparrow sticking around here in winter.

Happy New Year, I didn't mean to go off on a bird id tangent, what I really wanted to say is, we have a lot of birds around here and hope for more in 2014!

Enjoy the day - Cheerily