Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More Snowy Feeder Scenes

Carolina wrens don't do well in winters that have long cold spells and lots of snow and ice.

"The recent unpleasantness" is how many Southerners would refer to The Civil War in the decades following the war's end. Unpleasant is a word that thoroughly applies to our winter thus far in southeastern Ohio. We've had several tenacious snows, a smattering of ice storms, and enough "snow days" off school to make us feel like we're home schooling our kids.

One of the few benefits of the harsh winter weather is that it keeps the feeders hopping, as long as we keep them full. We get visits from most of our backyard birds.

A nice three-fer: Eastern bluebird, tufted titmouse, dark-eyed junco.

The flying pigs attack! European starlings gobble up the suet dough.

The bluebirds often pose for their portrait between feeding bouts.

An over-wintering field sparrow has become a suet dough regular.

This winter reminds me of the winters of 1977 and 1978 when we had lots of snow and ice that stuck around. As a high-school-aged bird watcher, I remember those winters for their evening grosbeaks and common redpolls that came to my parents' feeders. And I remember those years as killing off most of SE Ohio's eastern screech-owls and Carolina wrens. I'm hoping this winter does not do the same.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Then Came the Snow

This male bluebird has some scapular feathers that are always out of place. We call him "Shoulders."

After the ice storm on January 27, we had a series of snowstorms. Fortunately the cold temperatures meant the snow was light and drifty. A wet and weighty snow would have meant much more damage to trees and more downed powerlines. As it was, the ice had already knocked out our power—we'd be out a total of three days—and canceled a week's worth of school for the kids.

Here are a few more images from the snowy aftermath of the ice storm.
Everyone's home was covered in ice and snow.

Even the clip art bird on our Birding Area sign looked cold.

Fluffed up against the cold wind, a female bluebird stares me down. The feeders needed a refill.

When horrible weather sets in, we let our guard down and permit even the hoggish European starlings to get a meal.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Ice Storm Cometh

A tree sparrow waits for the feeders to be refilled the morning after our ice storm.

On the night of January 27, 2009, southeastern Ohio (and parts of the surrounding states) was blanketed with a horrible ice storm. Freezing rain—not snow—fell, despite temperatures in the low 20's and every single exposed surface was encased in ice.

Throughout the night we heard repeated cracking and crashing noises as trees gave way under the weight of the ice. We dreaded waking up to see what the world would look like after the ice storm.

This has been a hard winter, as our winters go. Lots of cold temperatures for days and weeks at a time. Snow that sticks around well past its welcome. This has resulted in many snow days for the kids and quite a few power outages.

We can cope fairly well with the power outages. And we can make fun out of the challenges of no power and no vehicular mobility. But I always worry about the birds and animals which have no heated shelter.

Here are some of the images that greeted us around the farm the morning after the ice storm.

Our ancient pear tree completely iced. The sunlight glints off its clear shell of frozen water.

Martin gourds where our eastern bluebirds roost on cold winter nights.

A forsythia twig, dead flower stems preserved in ice.

The rain came down and froze immediately onto whatever it struck.

Frozen tears on the weeping willow.

White-tailed deer were standing up on their hind legs and pawing at the heavy sumac fruit clusters, desperate for access to any food.

We put out extra food for the birds, deer, squirrels, rabbits, and anyone else in protected spots around the yard. Needless to say we had to replenish these feeding areas several times during the day.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

More Death Rocket

Another image of the intense look on the sharpie's face as he waited for breakfast to show up.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Starting the Year Off Right

For the past 20 years of my birding life I've tried to start each new year off with a good bird, an exciting field trip, or at least SOME sort of birding activity. This, unfortunately, often comes into conflict with the revelry of New Year's Eve, especially in years when I am playing music for someone's party. Arriving home in the wee hours of New Year's Day, crashing hard, then waking up well after the sun's appearance has usually meant that the new year starts off with a cup of coffee at 11 am, accompanied by a bleary cardinal or two at the feeders.

I always note my first bird of the year. Last year it was an American goldfinch. I'll tell the tale of this year's first bird in a future post.

The subject of today's post is the first stop on the birding trip Julie and I took on New Year's Day with our pal Shila. We called all the members of The Whipple Bird Club to organize an impromptu field trip for January 1. The fact that it was already nearly noon on January 1 was of no concern.

The Whipple Bird Club may be the only bird club in the world with its own gang-style hand sign. From left: Shila, Steve, Bill, Julie.

Shila could make it. Steve could not. Our destination was The Wilds, a recovering strip mine about 40 minutes north of Indigo Hill. The soil there is too poor to support trees, so it remains grassland and thus attracts birds that prefer vast open spaces: northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls, horned larks are just some of the winter species regularly found at The Wilds.

Before we could head north, we had to head south into town to drop of kids at my folks' house and to pick up Shila. En route to Shila's abode my cell phone rang. It was Steve.

"Billy! I've got a bird here that's different. Can you help me ID it?"

Now I know enough about Steve's birding skills to realize that he would not be fooled by a female red-winged blackbird, a leucistic house sparrow, or a winter-plumaged starling.

"I think it's something good."

We high-tailed it to Steve's and this is what we saw at his thistle feeders:

How many bird species are in this photograph (above)? Two? Three?

Is this any more helpful? There's an American goldficnh (upper left), two pine siskins on the upper and lower right. And...

An adult female common redpoll!

Steve had found a common redpoll among the 30 or so pine siskins at his feeders. We waited for about 40 minutes before the redpoll showed up and when it did, Steve's the one who spotted it for us. This was a great bird to see so early in a new birding year!

From the reports I've heard this is a big pine siskin year and a big white-winged crossbill year here in Ohio. We've had siskins at the Indigo Hill feeders for a month, but no other special northern finches have visited us (evening grosbeaks, crossbills, redpolls). However Steve's bird gives us all reason to check through the feeder flocks.

I first saw common redpolls at the Thompson family feeders in Marietta, Ohio in the winter of 1978—the very same year we started Bird Watcher's Digest. They came in with some evening grosbeaks and siskins and stayed for more than a month. They all came back the following year, too—both '78 and '79 were fierce winters. Little did I know it would be 14 more years before I'd see redpolls in Ohio again. We've had two visits—both short and more than a decade ago—from common redpolls at Indigo Hill. The last one we saw here was in 1994.

So this lone female common redpoll is a special bird, seen with great birding pals, on the very first day of a new year. Here's hoping 2009 turns out to be a special, memorable birding year for all of us!

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tough Times for Bluebirds

There have been some very mild late Februaries here in southeastern Ohio. This is not one of them. The bluebirds' normal food sources—fruits, berries, the occasional grub or nearly frozen grasshopper—are covered in snow and ice or simply gone in the case of many of the grapes and pokeweed berries. So they are seeking out alternative food sources. I watched them today doing what Julie described to me a week or so ago—eating sunflower bits from a tube feeder.

Bluebirds are not habitual nut eaters. The sunflower bits have no shell to deal with and are small and fairly soft. The bluebirds were on the feeders every chance they got, until the starling mob descended and took over.

I made sure to keep the suet dough feeder by the kitchen sink window full of food. The bluebirds know to watch for the re-up there and they come in right after the first daring tufted titmouse.

I'll bet the bluebirds are as eager as I am for spring to get here. I caught myself starting to eat a handful of sunflower bits tonight. . . hey—it was cold and my traditional source of food is not available.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

When Chickadees Attack!

We put out a LOT of food for our wild birds. When the winter weather is cold as it has been thus far in 2008, we struggle to keep the feeders stocked. We might fill the feeders in the morning, and again at 3 pm and STILL the food disappears by dark.

On really cold mornings we've often got a crowd of birds hanging out all around the feeders, staring crossly at our kitchen window. Like a surly gang of teenagers waiting for the Slurpee machine to get refilled at a 7-Eleven, our birds are hungry and p-o'd that we're not out there filling the feeders RIGHT NOW!

Once in a while a male eastern bluebird will perch just outside the deck window and wave his wings at us. It's the same move he uses to impress the "ladies" in the spring when he's showing off the nest boxes in his territory. But he's not trying to encourage us to mate with him (at least we hope not). He's letting us know that we're failing to keep the feeders full of mealworms and suet dough. Yesterday he tapped his bill lightly on the upstairs bedroom window to remind Julie that he and his azure flock were ready to eat. The un-anthropomorphic among us might say he was merely fighting his reflection (sorry, the window was covered in frost) or nabbing an insect (it was 4-degrees out! there WERE no insects).

Nope he was communicating with us. Reminding us of our responsibility as feeding station operators.

Then there's the Carolina chickadee (one of about 40 that we have around the farm feeders). He got so mad at the tiny amount of suet in the suet feeder that he threw a fit. I managed to document his latest fit in photos. See below....

Carolina chickadee: "Let me say this again, s-l-o-w-l-y so you can understand it. WE NEED MORE #@*%$# SUET!!!"


Do we understand each other?

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