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.
Birds like this Blue Jay bathed on Wednesday, 2/8/17 before snow flurries began.
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.
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.
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.
A short time later, a second male came in to investigate a food source found by the first bird.
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.
The Carolina Wrens, White-breasted Nuthatches and woodpeckers like the easy access to this open feeder.
The Hairy Woodpecker deferred to the Red-bellied Woodpecker so it could get to the last crumbs. There is a pecking order after all.
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.
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.
Spring is 40 days and a few hours away, March 20, 2017!
We've gained over an hour of daylight since the Winter Solstice.
The Pond Cam caught the first ghostly appearance for the year of a Barred Owl on Wednesday, February 1. We heard it in the woodland early Friday morning.
Birds have been singing, Mourning Doves were seen mating and a Hairy Woodpecker has been working on a nest hole in a Black Cherry snag (Prunus serotina).
This would be the first time we've had nesting activity of this species in our yard. You can read more about the Hairy Woodpecker and its habits here:
Birds are still using both the bark butter feeders, but the Brown Creepers have not yet figured them out. So, I put some bark butter on a few trees for the creepers one cold morning. This bird found the motherlode!
I discovered a nice surprise on Sunday morning when I checked the Bubbler Cam. One of the healthy foxes had stopped in to drink at the bubbler about 4 a.m. Oh, would I love to see a family of these beautiful animals again.
Later Sunday afternoon, a young hawk flew into the woodland to hunt, landing on a tree near the Bubbler. It sat there awhile, looking in every direction. I eliminated Red-tailed, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned and was pretty sure of the species of hawk before me. Even though it is considered common, I had not photographed a juvenile in winter here before.
The hawk flew over to the sugar maple by the pond, then dove down into the leaf-mulched flower bed, hoping for a meal of mouse or vole, but came up empty. That hunting behavior also fit the profile of this species.
It moved to a branch out near the street, preening in the late afternoon sunshine as people passed by with their dogs, oblivious to its presence.
Soon, it flew to the ground again but before I could re-focus, it spread its wings, flew toward me and confirmed its identity - a Red-shouldered Hawk.
What a beautiful young bird, I hope it has better luck next time finding some food. It's tough being a hawk. Learn more about this species:
Today, the high reached 65.5 degrees and it was good to be outside doing a bit of pruning. Dan changed the filters on both ponds and the birds lined up to bathe. We're all anticipating spring, though roller coaster temperatures will stay with us.
The feeders have been busy and that activity can be very attractive to hungry hawks in the winter. Usually, we see Cooper's Hawks as they are permanent, year round residents. But occasionally in winter, we will see another smaller accipiter similar to the Cooper's, a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Last Friday, one came in with an explosive blur of motion. I was photographing these American Goldfinches just as they realized the hawk was above them.
The hawk missed out on a meal, but took time to rest. It perched on a persimmon tree near the gazebo, just below the deck railing. I could see by the shape of its head that it was not a Cooper's. The Cooper's is technically a larger bird with a squared-off head, but differentiating these two species in the field is challenging. A Sharp-shinned is 10"-14" and a Cooper's is 14"-20" with the female of each species being larger than the male. That means a female Sharp-shinned is very close to the size of a male Cooper's.
This was a young hawk and had the white superciliary line, i.e. line above the eye, typical for a Sharp-shinned. Its legs are like pencils, the tail notched and usually square shaped at the end. The bird stayed on this branch for several minutes before taking off like a shot to the west.
Here is a composite photo showing the two species of birds at about the same age in different winters. For more information about the Sharp-shinned with comparative photos, check out this page: Sharp-shinned Hawk
In other news, the birds are singing a bit more, tuning up for spring and male goldfinches are beginning to get brighter yellow and even black head feathers in their plumage.
Dan made a new feeder to hold "bark butter" and it has attracted Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches and Carolina Wrens thus far. This Hairy Woodpecker was the first to investigate it.
The Carolina Wren came in soon afterwards.
Yesterday, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker returned to the yard after having been away for a while. So, the mix of winter birds will continue as the season progresses. We have gained 47 minutes of daylight since the Winter Solstice on December 21. January ends today with 31 species for the year in the Yard, 26 at the Bubbler.
This past week, we spent a lot of time outsmarting a squirrel. This can seem a daunting task when one wants to have a few feeders up for the birds.
Here is the Eastern Gray Squirrel as it hung by its toenails to clean out the feeder.
The hook was changed and a new sleeve added. Well, that didn't work. The squirrel took seeds then chewed on the feeder to sharpen its teeth.
A taller sleeve still did not deter this squirrel who had one foothold on a tiny branch, the other on the sleeve.
Finally, third time's a charm! The long PVC sleeve seemed to be enough to make him give up.
The squirrel concentrated on eating bark butter on the adjacent tree while looking for other opportunities.
Then, the squirrel took a different tack. It scrambled onto the deck and jumped onto the tube feeder.
It was time to play the game of musical feeders so we moved the tube feeder out to the garden pole.
The squirrel again managed to get to it until Dan added the large green guard.
We also moved the 'ball' feeder from the viburnum to remove the temptation. Now the birds can easily get to the food without disturbance.
It's on the hook near the deck and the birds stage from the small trees nearby.
A White-breasted Nuthatch acrobatically grabbed a seed, then took off, upside down.
A Carolina Chickadee can quickly come in and do the same. Now, maybe we're ready for the next blast of winter.
(And, please, please...spare me your squirrel stories!!)
"In order to see the birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence."
Robert Lynd, 1879-1949
"Silence is an endangered species."
Gordon Hempton, international acoustic ecologist
In late December, Dan shared a podcast with me that featured an interview with Gordon Hempton by Krista Tippet in her public radio series, On Being. What exactly is silence? Hempton defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. I think that is exactly what Robert Lynd meant. There is much more to this idea, though. According to Hempton and his research, through millennia, our species needed to be able to hear birds at great distances because as it turns out, good habitat for birds is good habitat for humans.
Give yourself a treat, put on stereo headphones and enjoy this interview: Silence and the presence of everything
This is Gordon's personal website with samples of his recordings: http://www.soundtracker.com
Now, back to listening for birds...