(part of brett's logjam.)
6 May 2008
1 May 2008
An Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) perches on the deck in my backyard.
27 April 2008
I seem to be on the mend; I actually enjoy taking bird pictures again.
My ear is healing well, with substantially fewer periods of dizziness or pain. It’s still a bit numb, but as the nerves were cut it’s expected. (Apparently, it’s going to itch a lot when they regrow.)
I am cautiously optimistic about regaining some hearing. I think it’s a little better, especially in crowds. I’d like to see the hearing test results in a month or so before really believing it, though.
Mostly, I’m glad it’s all over with. Less thinking about ears, more listening to birds.
The weekend was filled with a welcome set of domestic activities, none of which were beyond my abilities; mowing the lawn, planting some trees and bushes, putting together a bookcase for T.
This is a modest list, to be sure.
But I take great joy that these tasks were merely exhausting, not debilitating.
It’s a welcome change.
15 February 2008
I have met more birders in the last two weeks, in the most unexpected circumstances, than I have in the last two years of watching birds. It’s really kinda odd, but in a good way.
22 December 2007
A Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) perches in a sweet gum tree.
8 September 2007
A House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) sits on my stoop.
16 June 2007
I was really quite happy with how this series of shots turned out; the Tucker House always provides a nice striking background. (I think the second shot is my favorite for exactly this reason; the background is outstanding.)
And, you know, I’m there every week. So it’s not really out of my way.
This bird rooted around on the ground for a little while before moving up to the top of the fence. I didn’t know what he had in his mouth until after I viewed it on my computer.
23 April 2007
A young Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) poses in the nor’easter rain in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Photo by Merrystar.
A Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), moments before flight.
An American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) perches on a feeder in front of a flowering dogwood.
31 March 2007
A Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) visits the lawn outside my window at lunch today. He entertained us while he ate his own lunch.
30 March 2007
The only brown woodpecker in Virginia, the Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is an odd duck among woodpeckers: it migrates and commonly feeds on the ground.
A pair have moved into the area in the last few days. When I first saw them rooting around in the leaves, I thought it was a Brown Thrasher… then a Mourning Dove… then a woodpecker that had lost its mind. (The red chevron on the nape of the neck was what clued me to its true nature.)
This is the male of the pair, with a big black moustache. No, really!
28 March 2007
An American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) perches on a thistle feeder in my backyard.
The Canon S3 doesn’t support a remote, so I sat in the shade of a pine tree about 3 meters away from the feeder and waited.
Goldfinches molt their drab winter colors in the springtime, which is why he looks so patchy right now. Soon he’ll be bright yellow with black and white markings.
I’m fond of goldfinches. They’re ridiculously bright birds, with a crazy up-and-down roller coaster flight path. If you see a yellow streak going up and down through the woods, it’s a goldfinch.
24 March 2007
Trip’s Red-bellied Woodpecker finally visits the new peanut feeder, purchased solely for the purpose of luring the woodpecker into sight more often.
This has backfired spectacularly, by the way. I’m telling 2-5 woodpecker stories a day.
21 March 2007
A Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perches in a tree in my front yard.
This Mockingbird sang for quite some time the evening this photo was taken. Unfortunately, this particular bird has built a nest in my yard by my son’s room. I now know who to blame for the singing at 3:00 AM.
(n.b. that he knows, too. When asked who was singing outside yesterday, he said “mock”. The Avalanche of Language continues.)
17 March 2007
A Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) takes a peanut from the feeder in my backyard.
This shot was the last in a series taken slowly walking towards the feeder. I was maybe 25 feet away when the wren grabbed the peanut and ran.
I’m really pleased with how this series turned out.
9 March 2007
A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), catching some winter sunshine.
5 March 2007
3 March 2007
It was a really beautiful day here in Williamsburg, so we went down to the beach of the James River to have a picnic lunch. I took my camera (par for the course these days) and — surprise — there were a lot of birds along the riverside. So of course I snapped a lot of pictures of them, hoping to get lucky.
I was not lucky. Instead, I took about thirty bad shots, in varying states of awfulness.
But here’s the thing about my new Canon S3 IS — even the bad shots are good enough. They may not be great photography, but they’re valuable in learning how to identify birds.
Take, for instance, these two pictures:
Given the number of Turkey Vultures in our skies, it’s easy to think that every big black bird with fingered wings is one. But this one (of a pair) is not. It’s an American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), also relatively common, but with a different flight pattern, different wing markings, and different wing shape than its cousin.
While these photos don’t scream “professional wildlife photographer,” they do let me confirm what I thought at the time — namely, that the white wingtips and wing shapes give it away. I’m pretty sure that I can now tell the difference between these two New World Vultures from a long ways away.
(But the photos are still pretty sucky.)
As we were getting ready to leave, we heard a commotion and then saw two raptors flying overhead, one with something in its talons, the other in pursuit. Someone yelled out “OSPREY!”, and I didn’t even take the lens cap off - I just swiveled the camera up, flicked it on (knocking the cap off as the lens extended) and started shooting.
(Oh my, the suckage! I am ALMOST too embarassed to put these on teh internets, they suck so hard. But I endure the shame to make a point.)
First, the pursuer:
Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), light morph. As soon as I applied the enchancement filter I could see the wing patterns and chest band as clear as day. I wasn’t sure of this until I saw the picture, but now I am.
And as for the onlooker who shouted “OSPREY”?
You, sir, know your Pandion haliaetus well.
(Yes; that Osprey is carrying a fish in its talons, which is why the Red-tail was no doubt interested. I do not know what kind of fish it is — I shoot birds, not fish.)
Now, I’ve never (knowingly) seen an Osprey before, so at the time all I could do is watch it and marvel at the sight. It’s really a striking bird. These very sucky photos, though — they let me go back to the bird books and tell my son about the hawks and ospreys fighting over fish at lunch.
You know it’s a good day when even your bad shots are good.
(Now go to Trip’s site to see the good shots, because these are too embarassing.)
28 February 2007
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) high above Colonial Williamsburg.
24 February 2007
On our Saturday morning walk through Colonial Williamsburg, this Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) landed in a tree less than 4 meters away from me and Trip. He stayed there for about 10 seconds, and then flew off.
(I now understand the value of quick-drawing your camera.)
22 February 2007
A juvenile light-morph Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perches by Ironbound Road in Williamsburg. He flew down and got a snack by the roadside about a minute after this picture was taken.
20 February 2007
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), no relation to either Turkeys or Old-World Vultures.
19 February 2007
An Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) visits my neighbor’s garden.
(I am really starting to like the Canon S3, in case you hadn’t noticed.)
16 February 2007
Don’t forget: fill up your feeders, because the Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend.
I’ve already seen a few new (to my backyard) species, like the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) and a Common Grackle. Hopefully Merrystar’s Carolina Wren and my Brown Thrasher will make an appearance.
Saturday Update: Brown Thrasher showed up, along with 2 (!) different kinds of hawks, a new kind of sparrow, and I figured out how to turn on the digital zoom on my new S3.
Also caught this Blue Heron in mid-flight while out on my walk today:
Sunday Update: Another new visitor today, this time a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Dendroica coronata).
I’m still trying to get the hang of the new Canon S3’s super-zoom. I may have to take the screens off the windows — all the good shots are through the clear glass on the door.
7 February 2007
- Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes during February 16–19, 2007. Count birds at as many places and on as many days as you like—just keep a separate list of counts for each day and/or location.
- Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time, and write it down.
- Enter your results on the Great Backyard Bird Count web site.
The program itself is a great example of participatory science. I’m a little more stymied by the cost to join Project FeederWatch; it’s a barrier to participation that is hard to explain away. I offer to perform labor for you, but you want me to pay to have it count?
It’s a headscratcher, I admit.
(Nonetheless, I will be counting birds the weekend after next for them. I do it anyway for free.)
3 February 2007
My son is obsessed with Birds of Virginia, one of the field guides we keep around the house to identify the birds at our feeders. He takes it with him upstairs and tries to have us read it to him as he’s going to sleep; he points to the cardinal on the cover and then points outside, saying “ka-ka-ka”.
It’s really quite unnerving how interested in things he becomes.
Anyhow, it should really come as no surprise that we have to tell him all about the birds that are outside, which in turn causes both me and Merrystar to up our bird-spotting game. So, seen at the feeder this week:
- A big flock of red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) muscled aside the normal complement of finches and juncos on Wednesday, when the snow started here in Williamsburg. Blackbirds are, of course, one of the first heralds of spring. They also ate all my sunflower seeds.
- There’s this one brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) who comes along every few days and joins the dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) in picking through the seeds on the ground. He’s a funny bird; Trip does a great impression of him, bobbing his head up and down.
- Speaking of my son’s bird impressions, he started patting the back of his head when Merrystar mentioned a woodpecker. That’s because there’s a female red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) who’s joined the finch-nuthatch-junco flock with a prominent red neck and head. (The top of her head is gray; that’s how we know she’s a she.) Merrystar and I were both more than a little surprised at this.
- Merrystar has probably the best sighting of the week: a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). I hope it’ll be back tomorrow; I have new seed to put out.
And flying right outside my office window, two sightings for me this week:
- A red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) buzzed by today. I’ve seen this one on three different days this week; he caught a mouse near the road while I was IMing with the home office, perched in one of the trees while Trip and I finished breakfast, and flew across the backyard at second-storey height this afternoon. The white with black spots makes this one easier to identify than some of the other raptors who have been by for a visit.
- A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) scared the living bejabbers out of me on Wednesday when he flew right past my window, banking to show me what a 5-6 foot wingspan is really like. I’m lucky I was muted on my conference call. Holy crikey, let’s not do that again!
So that’s the birdwatching report for this week. No doubt I’ll wake up to calls of “dada, ka-ka-ka-ka” tomorrow morning and a toddler who insists upon feeding the birds before getting dressed. In the freezing cold.
I really do love that little boy.
25 January 2007
So my first birdfeeders were nestled in amongst the trees of my backyard, the better to provide shelter and protection from predators for the songbirds in my area. They were somewhat spread out, with the finch feeder hanging from a tree and the two seed feeders hanging from hooks on a pole.
The biggest drawback to this configuration, of course, is that we couldn’t see the birds very easily. And then the squirrels came, and so I bought a baffle, another hook, and moved the feeders to a new location, out towards the lawn but still close enough for flight when the hawks come.
What a difference a few feet of placement make.
(Click to see full size, with identifying notes.)
I snapped the above shot a few mornings ago during a quiet period at the feeder. Ten birds would have been a maximum in the previous position - now I’ve counted over 30 at one time. Goldfinches, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, chickadees, red-bellied woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, blue jays, cardinals, mourning doves - all are regular guests for meals.
I went in to buy thistle seed last weekend and remarked how well the finches seemed to be doing this year. The guy behind the counter raised an eyebrow and said that most people were having trouble attracting them. “They must all be in my backyard, then,” I laughed. Dozens of well-fed finches, all keeping me company as I work.
It’s not just the backyard, either. I’ve got about a half-dozen eastern bluebirds who rotate through the trees in my front yard. Williamsburg is really wonderful for seeing colorful birds.
What’s really interesting to me is how much my son likes watching birds, too. He may be a rambunctious toddler most of the time, but he’ll sit and watch the birds during breakfast and lunch very quietly. He also insists that the feeders must be full at all times, which is cute when it’s a mild day but not nearly as funny when the temperatures plummet.
Still: it’s nice to be able to share it with him.
3 January 2007
It’s safe to say that I wasn’t expecting this when I woke up this morning.
A venue of Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) roosted up in the trees in my backyard this morning. There were 8 in my yard, and perhaps a dozen more scattered throughout the trees across the road.
As the sun came up, the crowd thinned out:
But still, it was nice having company for breakfast.
(Wikipedia trivia: a group of vultures is a “Venue”, when circling they are a “Kettle”.)
29 December 2006
About two weeks ago, I saw the hawk (one of a pair) in the picture above from my backyard. Subsequent viewings of the hawk(s) from a distance led me to identify it as a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), which spells trouble for the birds at my feeder. Cooper’s Hawks will prey upon unwary birds at feeders, and will even chase songbirds into trees for a tasty treat.
Yesterday, I was out in our driveway with Trip when a Cooper’s Hawk came flying at full speed around our house, no more than 3 feet off the ground. He came around the corner into our driveway headed towards the feeders, saw us, banked sharply away from Trip, and then flew at low altitude away across my neighbor’s backyard.
Holy moly, was he fast!
(Trip was facing away from the whole thing, so he missed seeing it. This is probably for the best: having a hawk zooming at you at eye level would startle anyone.)
22 November 2006
There really is no way to say that birdwatching is a manly activity.
3 January 2006
On vacation, watching trees and birds.
Cheep, cheep, cheep.
29 April 2005
Lord God Bird! Rare woodpecker discovered in Arkansas:
Wildlife scientists confirmed on Thursday that a bird long thought extinct, the Ivory-billed woodpecker, has been found in Arkansas. The remarkable birds have a 30-inch wingspan and stand nearly 20 inches high.
The birds inhabited a wide swath of American bottomlands and mountain pine forests until the latter part of the 1800’s. They require a large feeding ground, and it is thought the expansion of towns and cities closed off their domain. They went extinct in Cuba during the same period. Ornithologists say each mating pair of Ivory-billed woodpeckers needs three square miles of forest to survive. There were thought to be only 22 of them left in 1938.
There have been several independent sightings of the bird in Arkansas over the last year, and even a videotape. In an effort to support the birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Nature Conservancy and other groups have joined to form the Big Woods Conservation Partnership to conserve 200,000 acres of forest habitat and rivers in the area during the next 10 years.
John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology told the Associated Press, “the bird captured on video is clearly an ivory-billed woodpecker. Amazingly, America may have another chance to protect the future of this spectacular bird and the awesome forests in which it lives.”