Time flies. Birds have been coming in every day to forage for seeds and insects.
American Goldfinches safely feed on the seeds of Cliff Goldenrod (Solidago drummondii). I watched them, counted three and then five flew out. Camouflage! These plants line our driveway wall. Dark-eyed Juncos eat the seeds and use the plants for cover and then duck into the spaces in the wall to stay out of the wind. It's a Keystone plant supporting 97 different Lepidoptera, which also feed birds, and a graceful beauty, too.
This is an irruption year for Pine Siskins, and they will join American Goldfinches at the feeders when they're not high in the trees. Some of the goldfinches are a very mousy gray-brown and without binoculars, can fool the eyes. Once you look, the stripes are very obvious on the siskins. The male siskins may have yellow wing-bars, too.
Over the last few years, in addition to hanging some feeders, we have set up the Grab'n Go Buffet Table on the deck. It began as a way to provide mealworms and bark butter or suet bits for the Eastern Bluebirds to help them get through the winter. Last year, I added some natural perches to give the birds a place to comfortably land and take off. This setup was a hit with the birds!
Back in 2018, I found two small reindeer made of white birch branches at our favorite local nursery, Greenscape Gardens. When I went back to get another, there was only one left, the one nobody else wanted. Just like his namesake, Rudy was a bit awkward looking and needed to be more than a decoration. So, Dan and I brainstormed about how we could re-purpose him for the treat table this winter. A hole, some washers, a recycled deli container, and a red fuzzy nose from our friend, Sue did the trick. It took no time at all for the birds to embrace their new friend.
You must know all of these birds: Blue Jay, Eastern Bluebird, Pine Siskin and Downy Woodpecker. There are a few more in the video: Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, American Goldfinch. They all brighten up our days!
Now, birds are still finding insects, an important protein source for them in the winter.
While cleaning up after baking a pumpkin pie, a flash of red caught my eye. A Pileated Woodpecker was hammering away on a large white oak snag in the woodland. It was going after beetle larvae, successfully. Got my hands dried just in time. It flew to a Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria) and came out of hiding for just a second. Definitely a male, as it has the red mustache.
The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest of the group seen in Missouri. Even though I've heard them this year, these were the first photos I'd been able to get. Large bird, yes, but it still can hide itself amazingly well in the woods.
A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was seen probing a limb on one of our Shagbark Hickories (Carya ovata). This species will eat insects as well as the sap from maples and hickories. Plant diversity in the yard brings in a diversity of insects and birds.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a bit smaller than the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Winter is really the best season to see the woodpecker group.
A Dark-eyed Junco bathes with four Pine Siskins. Even on cold days, birds do come in to drink and get a quick bath before the sun goes down.
The thermostatically controlled heated birdbath is now in use, as shown by this Tufted Titmouse. It's conveniently clamped to the deck, near the Grab'n Go table. We're set now to help the birds get through winter.
Hope you've gotten a few ideas for your yard birds!
November, the month of Thanksgiving, prods us to remember loved ones, near and far.
We're so grateful for those who have mentored, cheered and forgiven us as we've stumbled through this life.
Be kind to each other, the holidays are bittersweet for many.
Let's turn our thoughts now to the birds.
A large flock of 40-50 American Robins came in on 11-9-23. They quickly finished off the remaining fruits of the Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium). By a stroke of luck, in one frame these two showed us the methods for grabbing the drupes, on the fly and from the branch.
When there are so many larger birds vying for bathing space, the smaller birds find water where it's available. Two American Goldfinches drink from a depression in a boulder while a Yellow-rumped Warbler waits a turn.
The FOS Red-winged Blackbird, a female, found a safe corner to slip into the basin and drink.
Five Cedar Waxwings took advantage of a break in the action.
A female Northern Flicker used a high perch, an immature female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker slipped in from the side while an American Robin used the basin. The sapsucker finally enjoyed a real bath after the robin took off.
Pine Siskins came in again and the Eastern Bluebirds have been showing up mid-day. We've had no rain for 3 weeks, which always increases traffic at the bubbler and pond.
Our FOS Fox Sparrow foraged in the leaves and stopped by the bubbler on the same day, 11/11/23. Minutes later, about 3:15 pm, a doe raced through the woods, being chased by a buck. The doe doubled back, staying outside of the light fencing behind the bubbler. The buck could not turn as fast, and it came crashing through the fence!
Yes, the buck recovered enough to push on, through the hydrangeas and thorny gooseberry patch, after the doe.
Five American Goldfinches bathed together one day. The Brown Creeper clung to a break in the bubbler rock while thinking about its approach to the water.
Two White-breasted Nuthatches and three immature Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been seen frequently.
The FOS Rusty Blackbirds showed up on Friday, 11-17-23. The flock numbered at least 24, maybe as many as 30. Tough to count as they forage in the leaves!
I was talking with my friend, Sue one afternoon when we heard and then saw nine Cedar Waxwings fly over. The next day, they all needed water.
Look again at the first photo and you'll notice that both birds do not have the red tips on the secondary feathers!
"The "wax" tipping the Cedar Waxwing's secondary wing feathers is actually an accumulation of the organic pigment astaxanthin, a carotenoid that gives red fruits their color. The tips increase in number and size with an individual's age, and immature birds may show no red wingtips at all. Some scientists speculate that waxwings evolved these waxy tips to signal important information — such as age and social status — to other birds within the flock.
The waxwing's striking yellow tail tip is also the result of the carotenoids that color the fruit this species loves to eat. In recent years, waxwings eating the fruits of an introduced honeysuckle have grown orange-tailed tips instead!"
For more fascinating information: Cedar Waxwings
Finally, two male Red-winged Blackbirds came in with the Rusties and robins on 11-17-23.
Our feeders have been up now for a couple weeks. We wait until November because there is plenty of insect food, fruits, seeds and acorns for the birds to eat in our native habitat. Once we have a few nights below freezing, birds start looking for supplemental food.
Eastern Bluebirds have been checking out the latest addition to the Grab 'n Go Buffet table.
There's a new mascot on board to pique their interest!
We'll introduce him next time.
~ November ~
Fall color is waning and in six weeks, the shortest days of the year will be here.
For now, we are grateful for birds that visit to feed on insects and fruits,
and rest up before moving to their overwintering sites. Some will stay to brighten our winter days!
Blackhaw drupes(Viburnum prunifolium) remain on a few of our plants to feed many species of birds.
Golden-crowned Kinglets are still coming through, and one day there were four at the bubbler at once!
Ruby-crowned Kinglets still stop by, they love moving water whether at the bubbler or at the pond.
This young male Orange-crowned Warbler felt safe to tuck in behind the Yellow-rumped Warbler to bathe.
Brown Creepers usually stay over the winter.
Brown Thrashers are rare in winter, but a pair nested here and we have seen some this fall.
White-throated Sparrows are another winter resident that has arrived.
Blue-headed Vireos are often around in October, but the second photo is of one that came in on 11/2/23.
Happy Birthday #23, Bubbler!
A good time was had by all on Saturday, 11/4/23, for the unofficial belated "bird-day party."
First surprise visitor was this young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Poor thing tried several times to get close to the water, but there were at least 40 American Robins taking turns, putting off other birds. It was Bubbler Bird #93 for the year.
Two female Purple Finches were the first of fall. These irruptive finches aren't always seen each year, though I'd had them in the spring.
A Black-capped Chickadee checked the sky to see if it was clear for a quick bath, while a Cedar Waxwing decided there were too many robins! The waxwing was Bubbler Bird #94 for the year. The biggest surprise was yet to arrive!
PINE SISKINS! Another irruptive finch, they have been seen sporadically around the state this fall. Didn't see them at all last year, so what fun to have some come in. They did not go to feeders, though they will eat sunflower chips and thistle. These five (yes, there are five) only went to the water to drink and were Yard Bird #122 and Bubbler Bird #95 for the year, both new records for our sanctuary.
So, provide safe habitat with native plants and water, where birds can rest.
Plant natives like Gooseberry (Ribes missouriense) and leave the leaves so birds like these Yellow-rumped Warblers can find insects to eat.
Be sure to include native shrubs that bear fruit, like the Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium).
Add moving water and you're sure to be treated to a bevy of beautiful birds!
The white oak (Quercus alba) was gorgeous in the late morning sun today,
but most of those migrants had moved on. The chickadee bathed alone.
Two Tanager species breed in Missouri.
Let's start with the stunning Scarlet Tanager!
The bright red male is in breeding plumage, but by September, its plumage has changed to the yellow with black wings.
These last four images are of a male and female that came in together on 5/6/23. The female's wings are not fully black but greenish.
By fall, both species are transitioning to winter plumage which will give them better camouflage on their wintering grounds.
Summer Tanager is a species with quite variable plumage!
These are immature males and the breeding plumage is the deep rosy red.
This is a red morph female, with splotches of red feathering.
Again, immature and mature males in varying plumages in spring.
Looked like a female. That's a Tennessee Warbler in the background.
This bird was photographed on 9-26-20 and frankly, I'm not sure of the sex on this one.
Perhaps both of these were red morph females.
Summer Tanagers feed mainly on insects, including bees, wasps, caterpillars, grasshoppers, dragonflies, beetles and cicadas.
In fall, these birds are differing shades of yellow, usually mustard yellow for the Summer and greenish yellow for the Scarlet.
So, what about this bird?
This bird, a Tanager species, was seen and photographed for a total of 22.95 seconds late in the afternoon on Friday, September 29, 2023. I had contacted several experts in Missouri birds, in hopes that the bird might come back the next morning. The birders were here for several hours, but the bird did not show. So, we were left with just these few photos. My original thought was that it might be a Hepatic Tanager, and if so, this would be the first time this species would have been seen in Missouri, i.e. a new state record. I checked the eBird page on this species and one can zoom in on the map to see sightings much farther north and east of Missouri.
So, how to be certain of a bird in transitional plumage? The bill was large and somewhat horn colored but not fully visible. Hepatic Tanager has a tooth-like notch in the upper mandible. However, this bird had a very gray cheek and dark lores, which had pointed me to Hepatic after studying online photos.
My photos were sent around and it was up to Pete Monacell, chairman, and Bill Rowe, secretary of the Missouri Bird Records Committee, to build a consensus. Birding Trip Guides of the southwest were consulted because of their field experience there with both Summer Tanager and Hepatic Tanager. They mostly agreed on Summer Tanager.
Bill got back to me and said that Mark Robbins, author of The Status and Distribution of Birds of Missouri, had checked skins of birds in the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum's collection. Mark also finally called the bird a Summer Tanager.
Bill wrote to me again, "This was an unusual and difficult identification and there is no reason to feel funny about calling it a possible Hepatic and giving us a heads-up on it. The bird did deserve that kind of attention! It was a learning experience for all of us, and we are glad you were able to grab those photos." The irony is that many observers, including those consulted, have never seen this plumage in a Summer Tanager. "Weird, anomalously plumaged Summer Tanager," it was called, and well, a lesson was learned by all.
At Shady Oaks, we welcome all the ugly ducklings!
As for me...
"Let me keep my mind on what matters most which
is my work which is mostly standing still
and learning to be astonished."
~ Mary Oliver ~
Migrants are still part of the scene!
Some birds, like this Tennessee Warbler, have to claim space to refresh before moving on. The body language of the female Northern Cardinal says it all! The local birds don't always share amicably.
The Bay-breasted and Black-throated Green Warblers can manage bathing together.
A Northern Parula is one of the smallest warblers, and it looked but did not take the plunge.
There have been several female Black-and White Warblers this month.
Two often confused flycatchers nest in our yard. The first is the Eastern Wood-Pewee and this is an immature bird. The second is the Eastern Phoebe, which has the distinct habit of pumping its tail. That's one clue in telling them apart.
American Robins discovered the berries on the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). We have probably a dozen plants and some had lots of fruit this year. These plants also host the Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies, feeding their caterpillars.
There have been several days with a large influx of robins which always means competition at the Bubbler.
On 10/6/23, the first of the season (FOS) Ruby-crowned Kinglets were seen. It's rare to catch them staying still for a second!
Finally saw our FOS Brown Creeper on 10/10/23, it had been detected by our HaikuBox for several days. This one went straight to the bubble for a well-earned bath!
Another tiny favorite, the FOS Winter Wren came in yesterday, 10/12/23. I saw it early in the morning, and it came back again later in much better light. Thank goodness! How many speckles can a little bird have?
The day before, a young Red-shouldered Hawk took a turn in the basin. Notice the light colored crescents near the wing tips. In flight, these look like 'windows in the wings'. From the tiny to the mighty, the Bubbler serves them all!
Back in March, I gave a program for the Partners in Native Landscaping event coordinated with the St. Louis County Library. Dan Pearson, Bring Conservation Home Program Director, wrote to me to saying there were 521 views of my webinar. It received a very high average rating of 4.9 out of 5, second highest for the series. I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity! It's a real honor to be able to share that "Our Garden is for the Birds!" is now available to view on the BCH YouTube channel, and to further educate the public. So, if you are interested and would like to view it or share it with friends, here's the link.
Tanagers will be featured next time, in discussing our early "Trick or Treater" from the last post.
Check back on 10-28-23 for the final consensus on that mystery bird!