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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That day, this American Robin seemed to have the most sleet pellets of all the birds on its back .
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.
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!
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...
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.
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.
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".
White-necked Jacobins dominated the feeders often chasing other hummingbirds away, thus the Humming-blurs!
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.
What a joy to watch one of the Jacobins bathing in a rain shower, perfectly content as it shimmied.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
And to my joy, the bird bowed and showed me its crown. Yes, indeed it was another soul-satisfying view!
To see the full travelogue of photos with short video clips, start here: Trinidad and Tobago Birding Trip
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.
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!
A one-gulp goldfish meal it was anyway.
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.
In less than 24 hours, the pond was completely iced over again. No fishing allowed for a while!
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.
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.
The fourth sapsucker is an adult female with red on its head and a white throat. Here are two views of the female.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
And, the basin was pretty frozen, so more warm water was brought to the rescue. Watchful maintenance is required with water features in winter.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
We spread some mealworms in different places for the ground feeders, like the Rusty Blackbirds and this Groucho-mimic Dark-eyed Junco.
We also put some in this small globe feeder for Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches and Chickadees to get some extra protein, too.
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: http://tastyworms.com
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!
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.
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