Ruby-throated Hummingbird on garden arborRuby-throated Hummingbird on garden arborOne of many ruby-throated hummingbirds in our garden rests on the garden arbor.

Welcome to our blog! It's all about our discoveries here in our Shady Oaks yard, a Sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. We began to restore habitat for wildlife here in 1996 and gauge our success by the diversity of species we observe and document with our photography. We hope you enjoy our images and come back often to see what's new! 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) 8-21-17

February 20, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) 8-21-17Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) 8-21-17

Wow, we have now had over 30,000 visitors to our website!  Thank you all for sharing our experiences with your family and friends, it's amazing!!

Margy and Dan

"There's no place like home" 2-17-18

February 17, 2018  •  1 Comment

It's fun to go places but it's always good to get back home.  The birds have returned, although I thought for sure I heard the Carolina Wren giving me a scolding for being gone! 


Pine SIskins have come in to use the feeders on colder days. They were hopping around looking for food or grit to help digest their food last Friday, 2/9/18.


Pine Siskins 2-9-18Pine Siskins 2-9-18


A species that has been challenging for me to photograph is the American Crow. They are very wary birds. I heard them come in one morning and stood very still behind the camera, just waiting and watching for them. However, a surprise came instead and perched nearby. It was a Sharp-shinned Hawk looking for a meal. This was my first sighting of the hawk this year and it didn't stay more than 15 seconds before zooming off to the west.


Sharp-shinned Hawk 2-10-18Sharp-shinned Hawk 2-10-18


My patience paid off and one of the crows came down a bit later.  I had put just a small amount of bark butter out for the Brown Creeper, and of course, the crow spied it a mile away. The bird was thirsty and drank at the basin, at 'the bubble' and even from the pond before leaving.


American Crow 2-10-18American Crow 2-10-18 American Crow 2-10-18American Crow 2-10-18 American Crow 2-10-18American Crow 2-10-18


Even though we've gotten small amounts of rain, it has been the driest winter in 40 years according to my friend, Wally George. The birds aren't the only ones who are thirsty.  On Saturday night, 2/10/18 there was a real party going on.



Even a Barred Owl came in on Valentine's Day. We heard a pair later that night, crooning together.



The Brown Creeper finally found some bark butter and the first Song Sparrow of the year came in to bathe and look for food under the feeders. One of the Yellow-rumped Warblers slipped in on a cold day, too.


Brown Creeper 2-10-18Brown Creeper 2-10-18 Song Sparrow 2-10-18Song Sparrow 2-10-18

Yellow-rumped Warbler 2-10-18Yellow-rumped Warbler 2-10-18


It seems that the Bubbler is busiest on the day preceding a storm and on the icy day itself.  A female Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker made appearances on Sunday, 2/11/18. Temperatures dropped into the teens the next morning.


Hairy Woodpecker female 2-10-18Hairy Woodpecker female 2-10-18 Red-bellied Woodpecker 2-11-18Red-bellied Woodpecker 2-11-18 Northern Flicker 2-11-18Northern Flicker 2-11-18


That day, this American Robin seemed to have the most sleet pellets of all the birds on its back .


American Robin with icy tail 2-11-18American Robin with icy tail 2-11-18


By Thursday, 2/15/18 the high temperature here was 82.5 degrees, a new record. And less than 36 hours later, we had snow all morning. Gotta love St. Louis' roller-coaster weather. 


Northern Cardinal female 2-17-18Northern Cardinal female 2-17-18


More wet weather is promised this week to help break the winter drought. Birdsong is increasing, I'm seeing just a bit more color in the goldfinches and cardinals. Can spring be that far away? If one still needs a winter break, check out the birds that visit the Panama Fruit Feeders. The Live Cam is sponsored by Cornell Lab and the Canopy Lodge. Many colorful tropical species can be seen!

Panama Fruit Feeders



To foreign shores - Trinidad and Tobago!

February 08, 2018  •  1 Comment

We've just returned from a 12-day birding trip to Trinidad and Tobago.  My initial birthday wish was to visit the Asa Wright Nature Center (AWNC) on Trinidad which I've heard about for many years.  My wish was granted in a soul-satisfying way with wonderful views of many tropical species.  Emphasis for me is always on 'soul-satisfying' versus quantity!  


We are still adding to the gallery, but here are a few highlights.  We saw 13 species of Hummingbirds.  This was a birding trip more than a photography trip for me, but I did take my camera and 18-200 mm lens, and I was glad I did.  The birds were close, especially at AWNC.


Tufted Coquette  - at 2 3/4" this bird is not much bigger than a bee, but check out its head feathers!  Well, you do have to find the bird first...


Tufted Coquette 1-26-18Tufted Coquette 1-26-18

Tufted Coquette 1-26-18Tufted Coquette 1-26-18 Tufted Coquette 1-26-18Tufted Coquette 1-26-18 Tufted Coquette 1-26-18Tufted Coquette 1-26-18


It reminded me of an ancient warrior king with that crown.  The bird patrolled a patch of purple Vervine right outside our room near the veranda.  Here is one of the females.


Tufted Coquette female 1-27-18Tufted Coquette female 1-27-18


Two other hummers are the same size at 3 3/4" long, just a bit larger than the Ruby-throated.  The first is the White-chested Emerald, often seen at the feeders.  Next is the Copper-rumped Hummingbird which blends in so perfectly with its favorite flower.


White-chested Emerald 1-26-18White-chested Emerald 1-26-18

Copper-rumped Hummingbird 1-26-18Copper-rumped Hummingbird 1-26-18


Another small beauty was the Long-billed Starthroat.  I was lucky to catch this one resting on a perch.  It is a bit larger at 4 1/2".


Long-billed Starthroat 1-26-18Long-billed Starthroat 1-26-18


White-necked Jacobins dominated the feeders often chasing other hummingbirds away, thus the Humming-blurs! 


White-necked Jacobin 1-26-18White-necked Jacobin 1-26-18

Three species were at the feeder before the chase begins. A White-necked Jacobin chases a Black-throated Mango who is after the Long-billed Starthroat, all 4 1/2" long.


White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango and Long-billed Starthroat 1-26-18White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango and Long-billed Starthroat 1-26-18


Hummingblurs 1-26-18Hummingblurs 1-26-18


What a joy to watch one of the Jacobins bathing in a rain shower, perfectly content as it shimmied.


White-necked Jacobin 1-31-18White-necked Jacobin 1-31-18


On the other end of the spectrum is the Green Hermit at 6 1/2" long.  This female has built her nest inside the Nature Center on a lamp cord.  She has produced 5 broods already in the last 12 months!  Well, what could be better - it's all open air but protected and the bird can freely come and go.


Green Hermit female 1-30-18Green Hermit female 1-30-18


Green Hermit female on nest 1-26-18Green Hermit female on nest 1-26-18 AWNC Green Hermit nest on lamp cord 1-26-18AWNC Green Hermit nest on lamp cord 1-26-18


Another similar species is the Rufous-breasted Hermit with the same decurved bill.  Notice that it does not have the long whitish central tail feathers, but a rounded tail and it is 5" long.


Rufous-breasted Hermit 1-26-18Rufous-breasted Hermit 1-26-18


Two Black-throated Mangoes chased each other at the feeder.  Wow, are they eye-candy when their colors flash.  This hummingbird species is 4 1/2" long.


Black-throated Mangoes 1-26-18Black-throated Mangoes 1-26-18 Black-throated Mango 1-31-18Black-throated Mango 1-31-18 Black-throated Mango 1-31-18Black-throated Mango 1-31-18 Black-throated Mango 1-31-18Black-throated Mango 1-31-18


There were a couple more hummingbirds I wasn't sure I would see.  The first is the Brown Violetear.  It is uncommon and we were there at the right time to possibly see it.  (I said pretty please, but it wouldn't turn around.  You can catch a bit of the violet ear.)  It is 4 3/4" long.


Brown Violetear 1-30-18Brown Violetear 1-30-18


The other hummingbird that I was thrilled to see was the Ruby-topaz.  It is common on Tobago, and largely absent from September to December during times of nectar shortages. But it was being seen at AWNC so I spent a few hours watching it one morning.  It is just a bit larger than the Tufted Coquette, but darn near as fast.  It comes in at 3 1/2" long, the same size as our Ruby-throated Hummingbird.


This bird looks dark, especially in the rain.  Finally, the rain let up and a bit of light came through the clouds to catch some of the colors of this beauty!


Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18 Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18 Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18 Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18 Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18

Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18 Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18Ruby-topaz Hummingbird 1-31-18


The last bird I'd like to mention is the Trinidad Motmot or "King of the Woods".  We saw it first on Trinidad where it has more forest to hide in and was more difficult to see.  I was able to photograph a pair on Tobago, right outside our bungalow on the beach.  One seemed to be collecting grass as nesting material.  They nest in holes in the slopes or banks, like bee eaters.


Trinidad Motmot pair 2-2-18Trinidad Motmot pair 2-2-18

Trinidad Motmot 2-3-18Trinidad Motmot 2-3-18 Trinidad Motmot nesting holes 2-2-18Trinidad Motmot nesting holes 2-2-18

Trinidad Motmot 2-3-18Trinidad Motmot 2-3-18


And to my joy, the bird bowed and showed me its crown.  Yes, indeed it was another soul-satisfying view!


Trinidad Motmot 2-3-18Trinidad Motmot 2-3-18


To see the full travelogue of photos with short video clips, start here:  Trinidad and Tobago Birding Trip






An uncommon visitor 1-19-18

January 19, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

We did have our break in the cold and it lasted a few days.  The ice eventually melted in both ponds just long enough for an uncommon bird to come in.  We were sitting in the breakfast room on Thursday, 1-11-18 with a second cup of coffee when I saw a large wing out of the corner of my eye.  Thud.  Something landed on the roof.  Maybe it was the Barred Owl I heard at 5:00 am.  I got up to investigate.  


"You won't believe this," I said to Dan.  


Great Blue Heron on our roof 1-11-18Great Blue Heron on our roof 1-11-18


The bird was a Great Blue Heron.  It was looking down at the Bubbler pond to see if there were any fish in it.  Well, we haven't had fish in there for several years because the mink and raccoons get them too easily.  The heron didn't stay very long and flew west to the neighbors who also have a pond.  



The bird was there about 30 minutes.  Later, when I checked and didn't see it next door, I carefully went into the front room and peeked around the corner.  There it was, fishing in our pond, and being successful at finding a meal!


Great Blue Heron catching goldfish  1-11-18Great Blue Heron catching goldfish 1-11-18


A one-gulp goldfish meal it was anyway.


Great Blue Heron catching goldfish  1-11-18Great Blue Heron catching goldfish 1-11-18


I watched the heron for a while and it did make a few more attempts at lunging for fish, but it seemed to have lost the element of surprise.  The fish have plenty of places to hide in the caves of the big pond.


Great Blue Heron   1-11-18Great Blue Heron 1-11-18


In less than 24 hours, the pond was completely iced over again.  No fishing allowed for a while!


Icy pond 1-12-18Icy pond 1-12-18


Another interesting factoid is that we have seen five different individual Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers since late December.  The first young female is scruffy-looking and this one I have seen the most often.  


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  12-31-17Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 12-31-17


Two more young females could be twins they look so alike, but I have seen them at the Bubbler at the same time, chasing each other between getting drinks or a bit of bark butter.  Their heads look quite black, the latter one has more black on its chest.


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  12-30-17Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 12-30-17 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  12-30-17Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 12-30-17


The fourth sapsucker is an adult female with red on its head and a white throat.  Here are two views of the female.


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker female  1-6-18Yellow-bellied Sapsucker female 1-6-18

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker female  1-6-18Yellow-bellied Sapsucker female 1-6-18


And last but not least, there is this young male who is getting its red crown feathers in and has the red throat and yellow-belly.


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker juvenile male 1-14-18Yellow-bellied Sapsucker juvenile male 1-14-18


Last week on Friday, 1-12-18 it had dropped down to 13.5 degrees and birds were moving around.  There was an influx of American Robins and they all came to the Bubbler at the same time.  I believe there are 15 of the 17 birds that I saw in this photo.


American Robins 1-12-18American Robins 1-12-18


There have been Rusty Blackbirds coming in most days in small numbers.  They will forage, drink and then find a branch on which to puff up and rest.


Rusty Blackbird 1-12-18Rusty Blackbird 1-12-18 Rusty Blackbird at rest 1-12-18Rusty Blackbird at rest 1-12-18


A few times I have seen two Yellow-rumped Warblers at the Bubbler together.  Perhaps they are already thinking about spring!  I know I have been!


Pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers 1-13-18Pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers 1-13-18


We have been working on a new exhibit called, "Warblers!" that will be up for viewing in May at Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center.  It has been fun looking at spring photos of these beauties and finalizing the choices for the exhibit.  More on that soon.  For now, we're back to enjoying our winter birds!  





1-7-18 Frosty Start to 2018

January 07, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Happy 2018!  


It has certainly been a frigid start to this new year.  It was -5.9 degrees on the first day!  For us it has been all about keeping the water features from totally freezing up, feeders filled and being grateful to be able to come back inside where it's warm.


Early on New Year's Day, the "Bubble" had quite an ice dome over it before we helped matters with buckets of warm water.


Icy Bubble  1-1-18Icy Bubble 1-1-18


And, the basin was pretty frozen, so more warm water was brought to the rescue.  Watchful maintenance is required with water features in winter.


Rusty Blackbird  1-1-18Rusty Blackbird 1-1-18


There was so much ice on the big pond that we had to put in a heater/de-icer for the first time.  Usually, the water keeps moving and at least a trough stays open. But these temperatures have been the ultimate test, the water was barely flowing under the ice which was thickening rapidly.


Here's the steam bed on 12/31/7 when we decided to add the heater.


12-31-17  Icy stream bed12-31-17 Icy stream bed


After adding many gallons of water to bring the level back up, we placed the heater where the ice had melted and it started working.


1-1-18  Heater in pond1-1-18 Heater in pond


The flowing water opened up the ice in the bubbling spring area on top. Rusty Blackbirds and Common Grackles of different ages soon came in to drink. The sun helped, too!


Rusty Blackbird 1-1-18Rusty Blackbird 1-1-18

Common Grackle adult and first year  1-2-18Common Grackle adult and first year 1-2-18


The feeders have been very busy.  We have the mix of black oil sunflower and safflower in several tube feeders.  The safflower is not a favorite of Common Grackles and mixing it in helps deter them from dominating the feeders.  This bright, beautiful Northern Cardinal welcomed the sunrise on New Year's morning.


Northern Cardinal  1-1-18Northern Cardinal 1-1-18


There are two wire mesh feeders for the goldfinches and siskins filled with half sunflower chips and half Niger seed.  The first Pine Siskins of the year enjoyed a brunch of the mix on Tuesday, 1/2/18.


Pine Siskins 1-2-18Pine Siskins 1-2-18


We spread some mealworms in different places for the ground feeders, like the Rusty Blackbirds and this Groucho-mimic Dark-eyed Junco.


Rusty Blackbird  12-28-17Rusty Blackbird 12-28-17 Dark-eyed Junco with mealworm  12-26-17Dark-eyed Junco with mealworm 12-26-17


We also put some in this small globe feeder for Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches and Chickadees to get some extra protein, too.


Carolina Chickadee 11-25-17Carolina Chickadee 11-25-17


Thanks to my friend, Sue Poley, we have a wonderful source for freeze-dried mealworms in the United States as opposed to buying them from China.  It's a small family owned company that supports bat rehabilitation efforts in Central Florida. 

Check them out:


We have two bark butter feeders that are up.  One is a box shape and the other is a black cherry log.  Both have holes in it that are filled with the bark butter.  One can use chunky peanut butter which works.  We offer the bark butter from Wild Birds Unlimited.  Prices vary at different locations from $10-$13 per pound.  I will buy 3-4 pounds at a time which gets us through the winter. 


Hanging this type of feeder upside-down helps to deter the European Starlings.  No solution is 100% with them however, there is always one who will try to cling.



The bark butter log is in a cage that Dan made to prevent access by the starlings.  So far, that seems to be working.  Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice, Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers can fly up into it from the deck.



The bark butter can also be spread onto the bark of trees, thus the name.  I am careful with this - too much hammering by larger woodpeckers can eventually damage trees.  So, I spread it on snags or dying trees first, then on trees with thicker bark.  Many species of birds look for this food.  From tiny Brown Creepers to Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, it's a favorite.  This year, there are two American Crows coming in for it!


Red-bellied Woodpecker at bark butter  1-6-18Red-bellied Woodpecker at bark butter 1-6-18 American Crow  1-6-18American Crow 1-6-18


The problem is that any kind of peanut butter is also very attractive to European Starlings.  When they come in, it's all over.  That's when I stop putting it out for a few days until the starlings aren't around and try again.  


European Starling at bark butter  1-6-18European Starling at bark butter 1-6-18


We used to offer plain suet, but have found that the woodpeckers prefer chopped peanuts.  So, of course, we accommodate.  This female Northern Flicker is a frequent diner.



Today is Sunday, 1/7/18.  We've gained five minutes of daylight, can you feel it?  Temperatures have risen above freezing for the first time in over two weeks.  There's a catch - freezing rain is on the way before we get a real break from the cold.


To view all the photos of the new year, visit the new gallery:  2018 Birds at Shady Oaks