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! 

New arrivals as of 3/27/17

March 27, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

By tomorrow, we will have gained three hours of daylight since the Winter Solstice on December 21.  I had not kept track before and it is interesting to me that there is that much of a difference.  Birdsong is strengthening, the dawn chorus seems to start earlier each day.  

 

A solitary Rusty Blackbird came in to forage on Tuesday, March 21.  I wonder where the larger flocks are that we used to see.  This is the second time this year that I've seen a single bird, the first of the year was on Tuesday, January 3, when one visited the Bubbler.  (seen in second photo)  It is possibly the same bird now getting its darker breeding plumage. 

 

Rusty Blackbird 3-21-17Rusty Blackbird 3-21-17

1-3-17 Rusty Blackbird1-3-17 Rusty Blackbird

 

On Friday, March 24, I had been watching a Song Sparrow under the feeders in back when another bird popped up onto a log.  Ah, it was the first Swamp Sparrow of the year with his rufous wings and crown stripes, olive gray nape and face.  It didn't stick around long so I was glad to confirm it.  

 

Swamp Sparrow 3-24-17Swamp Sparrow 3-24-17

 

A couple different Cooper's Hawks have been spending time in the neighborhood which really cuts down on activity.  Birds don't poke a beak out of hiding when they're around.  They are most efficient hunters and dispatch their prey quickly.  On Friday, March 10, I found this forensic evidence below the feeder.  It's a dead give-away that the meal was Mourning Dove.

 

Mourning Dove remains 3-10-17Mourning Dove remains 3-10-17

 

The very next day, Saturday, March 11, the Bubbler Cam caught this hawk going after another dove, which escaped with its life.

 

Cooper's Hawk after Mourning Dove 3/11/17Cooper's Hawk after Mourning Dove 3/11/17

 

On Friday afternoon, March 24, this adult Cooper's Hawk was wary while it bathed in the basin of the pond.  I was somewhat hidden from the bird's view, but it seemed to sense my presence. 

 

Cooper's Hawk at the pond 3-24-17Cooper's Hawk at the pond 3-24-17 Cooper's Hawk at the pond 3-24-17Cooper's Hawk at the pond 3-24-17

 

We got some much needed rain on Saturday, March 25, and then the sun peeked out which of course, spurred interest in getting a good bath.  This is one of the brighter Northern Cardinal females.  

 

Northern Cardinal female 3-25-17Northern Cardinal female 3-25-17

 

One of the three White-throated Sparrows that were here that day decided to join in.

 

White-throated Sparrow 3-25-17White-throated Sparrow 3-25-17 Northern Cardinal female and White-throated Sparrow 3-25-17Northern Cardinal female and White-throated Sparrow 3-25-17 Northern Cardinal female and White-throated Sparrow 3-25-17Northern Cardinal female and White-throated Sparrow 3-25-17

 

Eastern Phoebes arrived earlier this month and finally this morning, I was able to photograph one while it was fly-catching in the rain.  It perched briefly in a Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) before giving a good shake of its head and flying off.

 

Eastern Phoebe in Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) 3-27-17Eastern Phoebe in Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) 3-27-17

 


It's finally here! Signs of Spring 3-20-17

March 20, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

This mercurial month has finally given way to Spring.  We have been watching the daily changes in the American Goldfinches, their plumage transitioning to brighter hues of yellow even as snowflakes fell.

 

American Goldfinch 3-8-17American Goldfinch 3-8-17 American Goldfinch in snow 3-11-17American Goldfinch in snow 3-11-17

 

The birds took the snow in stride as the temperature plummeted to 13.3 degrees here on Wednesday, 3-13-17.  This Tufted Titmouse made frequent trips to the feeders.

 

Tufted Titmouse 3-13-17Tufted Titmouse 3-13-17

 

By the next morning, the little bird was singing loud and clear, "Peter, Peter, Peter!"  What a difference a day makes.

 

Tufted Titmouse singing 3-14-17Tufted Titmouse singing 3-14-17

 

These two Carolina Wrens have not only been singing, but have been seen in locked combat over territorial rights to the woodland.  We may have two families of wrens if they can negotiate a truce.

 

Carolina Wren male south woods 3-16-17Carolina Wren male south woods 3-16-17 Carolina Wren male west woods 3-16-17Carolina Wren male west woods 3-16-17

 

The busiest season of the year has begun for nesting birds.  One Carolina Chickadee was bathing when suddenly its mate brought a morsel of moth to strengthen the little bird for the duties ahead.  This pair-bonding behavior is another sign of Spring!

 

Carolina Chickadee 3-16-17Carolina Chickadee 3-16-17 Carolina Chickadee pair bonding with moth  3-16-17Carolina Chickadee pair bonding with moth 3-16-17 Carolina Chickadee pair bonding with moth  3-16-17Carolina Chickadee pair bonding with moth 3-16-17

 

Two Brown Creepers came in together on 3-16-17 looking for food on different trees.

 

Brown Creeper #1 3-16-17Brown Creeper #1 3-16-17 Brown Creeper #2 3-16-17Brown Creeper #2 3-16-17

 

Hormones are surging as temperatures warm again, and birds are getting testy about bathing rights, too.  Males want to look their best.  After a quick bath, the chickadee is chased out by the robin.  So, it puffs up to gather courage and reclaim some space in the basin.

 

American Robin and Carolina Chickadee 3-17-17American Robin and Carolina Chickadee 3-17-17 Carolina Chickadee 3-17-17Carolina Chickadee 3-17-17 American Robin and Carolina Chickadee 3-17-17American Robin and Carolina Chickadee 3-17-17

 

There are birds larger than robins looking for nesting materials.  A pair of American Crows have started a nest in a pine tree a couple yards to the west.  One of the crows came in to find some sticks and tugged on a small tree.  Better luck next time.

 

American Crow 3-17-17American Crow 3-17-17 American Crow 3-17-17American Crow 3-17-17

American Crow 3-17-17American Crow 3-17-17

American Crow 3-17-17American Crow 3-17-17

 

Our native plants are tough when it comes to surviving such temperature swings.  The Golden Currant (Ribes odoratum) is a good example.  Here it is before and after the hard freeze.  

 

Golden Currant (Ribes odoratum) in bloom 3-9-17Golden Currant (Ribes odoratum) in bloom 3-9-17 Golden Currant (Ribes odoratum) after six nights of hard freeze, one at 13.3 degrees 3-17-17Golden Currant (Ribes odoratum) after six nights of hard freeze, one at 13.3 degrees 3-17-17

 

It has been nice to be outside weeding while the fragrance of this beautiful shrub wafts my way.  Happy Spring!  

 

 


Avian Spring has begun!

March 08, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Avian Spring has begun!

March 1 - April 30

 

The birds know that it's spring and we can tell from their behavior.  Birdsong has intensified, more species are seen together in pairs and nesting has begun for some.  The Barred Owls have been heard calling to each other, but I've not seen them roosting together since last week.  One pair of Carolina Wrens has begun a nest under the deck and the Carolina Chickadees have claimed the tubular nest box again.  Dan put it up on the pole on Tuesday, 2/28 in the afternoon.  Immediately, they chattered at him and were very excited.  One of the chickadees took a look and called to its mate.

 

Carolina Chickadee calls to its mate 2-28-17Carolina Chickadee calls to its mate 2-28-17

 

Of course, all the excitement attracted other birds.  This pair of Eurasian Tree Sparrows checked it out and were reluctant to leave even though they cannot fit through the hole to get in.

 

Eurasian Tree Sparrows look at  the nest box 2-28-17Eurasian Tree Sparrows look at the nest box 2-28-17

 

The White-breasted Nuthatches came down the next morning to investigate.  The second bird is in the upper left corner on a tree, out of focus.

 

White-breasted Nuthatches look at the nest box 3-1-17White-breasted Nuthatches look at the nest box 3-1-17

 

Finally, the other birds left the pair alone long enough that they could begin their work.  Dan had filled the tube up to the entrance hole with fresh cedar shavings.  Part of the bonding process for these birds is to work together to excavate their nest.  They show their commitment to raising their family by beginning in this way.  

 

Carolina Chickadees claim the nest box 3-5-17Carolina Chickadees claim the nest box 3-5-17

 

So, one bird in, one bird out, mouthful by mouthful they work together to remove the cedar shavings.  It's a well-coordinated dance to a natural rhythm and it's truly a joy to behold.  They check for predators, then carry the shavings off in different directions so as not to leave a clue that this is where their chicks will soon be.  This gets them in prime condition for the many trips they will make to carry food to their young.

 

Carolina Chickadee approaches the  nest box 3-5-17Carolina Chickadee approaches the nest box 3-5-17 Carolina Chickadee removes sawdust from nest box 3-5-17Carolina Chickadee removes sawdust from nest box 3-5-17 Carolina Chickadee removes sawdust from nest box 3-5-17Carolina Chickadee removes sawdust from nest box 3-5-17 Carolina Chickadee removes sawdust from nest box 3-5-17Carolina Chickadee removes sawdust from nest box 3-5-17 Carolina Chickadee removes sawdust from nest box 3-5-17Carolina Chickadee removes sawdust from nest box 3-5-17 Carolina Chickadee approaches the  nest box 3-5-17Carolina Chickadee approaches the nest box 3-5-17

 

Yesterday, the chickadees were disrupted again by the Eurasian Tree Sparrows.  This one was not happy, but finally the pair resumed their activity after eating, bathing and just waiting them out.  

 

Carolina Chickadee is not happy 3-6-17Carolina Chickadee is not happy 3-6-17

 

We also enjoyed watching one of the Mourning Doves doing water ballet in the basin on Monday.

 

Mourning Dove water ballet 3-6-17Mourning Dove water ballet 3-6-17

 

Tuesday morning, another male Eastern Towhee was in the woodland.  It stayed low in the leaf litter, foraging.

 

Eastern Towhee 3-7-17Eastern Towhee 3-7-17

 

Briefly, it popped out into the early morning sunshine.

 

Eastern Towhee 3-7-17Eastern Towhee 3-7-17 Eastern Towhee 3-7-17Eastern Towhee 3-7-17

 

To see all the photos from the last week and a video of the Eastern Towhee at the Bubbler, begin here:  Birds 3/1 thru 3/7

 

For another video of the herd of deer that came through early in the morning on 3/3, look here:  Deer 3/3/17

 

 


Not a robin! 2-27-17

February 27, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

There have been a few surprises since my last post.  The first Yellow-rumped Warbler popped in at the Bubbler briefly quite early on Saturday, 2/18/17.  By the time I saw it, I barely had time to get a photo and it's a blurry one.  Oh well, can't win 'em all.

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler 2-18-17Yellow-rumped Warbler 2-18-17

 

On Tuesday, 2/21/17 I heard the first Eastern Phoebe of the year calling near the Pond.  Others have reported seeing them and this is early for their return.  The biggest surprise of the week was the bird that flew in about 3:15 in the afternoon on Saturday, 2/25/17.  "Not a robin!" I thought to myself as I realized I was looking at an Eastern Towhee.  It is a large sparrow that thrashes about in the leaves and likes to be in the shadows.  I kept a watch on it for a couple hours and it finally came up near the freshly emerging Virginia Bluebells.  This bird is rare to see here in winter, and it's hard to believe but technically, it's still winter.

 

Eastern Towhee 2-25-17Eastern Towhee 2-25-17 Eastern Towhee 2-25-17Eastern Towhee 2-25-17 Eastern Towhee 2-25-17Eastern Towhee 2-25-17 Eastern Towhee 2-25-17Eastern Towhee 2-25-17 Eastern Towhee 2-25-17Eastern Towhee 2-25-17 Eastern Towhee 2-25-17Eastern Towhee 2-25-17

 

How does it differ from a robin?  Here's a comparison photo of both birds.

 

American Robin and Eastern Towhee 2-25-17American Robin and Eastern Towhee 2-25-17

 

Here is a link to learn more about this interesting sparrow who sings, "Drink your tea!"

Eastern Towhee

 

A fox has been around and I put together these clips from Monday 2/20/17 when it was at the large Pond and early this morning, 2/27/17 when it was at the Bubbler Pond.  

 

Fox at Pond and Bubbler Pond 2/17

 

Last but not least, I had just come downstairs this morning when I saw one of the Barred Owls awkwardly carrying a squirrel up into a large pine tree just south of our yard.  The crows and jays were harassing it.  The bird then flew with the squirrel to an oak some 100 feet to the west.  It was followed by the second owl!  Finally, the other birds left them alone and the pair returned to the pine tree.  They were in a heavily branched part of the tree, but I managed to get this photo.  Now, I wonder if they do have a nest nearby!

 

Barred Owl pair 2-27-17Barred Owl pair 2-27-17

 

To view all of the images since the last blog post, start here:

More photos

 

 


Birds this week and first visit of American Mink for 2017

February 15, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

 

The Great Backyard Bird Count is next weekend February 17 - 20, 2017

  Find out more and sign up to share:  BirdCount.org

 

Woodpeckers and other usual suspects came in frequently this week.  The male and female Hairy Woodpeckers have been seen almost daily.  

 

Hairy Woodpecker 2-8-17Hairy Woodpecker 2-8-17

 

Birds like this Blue Jay bathed on Wednesday, 2/8/17 before snow flurries began.

 

Blue Jay 2-8-17Blue Jay 2-8-17

 

The snow didn't last long at all, but did increase the feeder activity.  This Carolina Chickadee waited for a turn at a seed feeder.

 

Carolina Chickadee 2-8-17Carolina Chickadee 2-8-17

 

A flock of 12-15 American Robins came in, turning over the leaves to look for hibernating insects.  This robin found a curled-up spider.

 

American Robin with spider 2-8-17American Robin with spider 2-8-17 American Robin with spider 2-8-17American Robin with spider 2-8-17

 

On Friday, 2/10/17 this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 'froze' in place as Blue Jays called to warn of a Cooper's Hawk in the neighborhood.  I saw the hawk in the yard to our south, but it flew west in pursuit of a meal, and the sapsucker was free to resume its movements. 

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 'frozen' in fear of Cooper's Hawk  2-9-17Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 'frozen' in fear of Cooper's Hawk 2-9-17 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2-10-17Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2-10-17

 

A short time later, a second male came in to investigate a food source found by the first bird.

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker #2  2-10-17Yellow-bellied Sapsucker #2 2-10-17

 

Saturday, 2/11/17 was very warm, so warm that the mosquitoes were out in the afternoon.  Sunday was a bit cooler again and the bark butter feeders got  a lot of use.  The female Red-bellied Woodpecker has mastered the knack of slipping in and out of the cage around this log feeder.

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker 2-12-17Red-bellied Woodpecker 2-12-17

 

The Carolina Wrens, White-breasted Nuthatches and woodpeckers like the easy access to this open feeder.

 

Carolina Wren 2-14-17Carolina Wren 2-14-17 White-breasted Nuthatch 2-14-17White-breasted Nuthatch 2-14-17

 

The Hairy Woodpecker deferred to the Red-bellied Woodpecker so it could get to the last crumbs.  There is a pecking order after all.

                                                                                                                                         Red-bellied and Hairy Woodpeckers 2-15-17Red-bellied and Hairy Woodpeckers 2-15-17

 

Last weekend, Northern California dealt with record rains and flooding, the Northeast received a foot of snow and here it is too dry.  A real sign of that was finding that an American Mink had visited both ponds during the night.   Mink only come around if they are pretty desperate for food.  Just once was a mink recorded last year and that was on 10/1/16.  The large Pond has plenty of places for goldfish to hide, but that is not the case with the Bubbler Pond.  The mink tried his luck at both and did manage to catch a few fish to eat.  They are amazing animals, svelte and swift.  The temperature was around 35 degrees, moonbeams danced and sparkled on the water as the mink dove and chased its prey.

 

American Mink 2-15-17

 

The mink was at the large pond at least 25 minutes hunting, and left some telltale tails and scales on the rock near the filter which I found this morning.  It's a good idea not to get too attached to fish.  They do serve a purpose beyond our needs for color and interaction.  

 

Fish remains 2-15-17Fish remains 2-15-17