House Bound

And Enjoying Bird Watching

Snow is still on the ground, a residue of the snowfall a few days ago.  It’s very peaceful watching snow falling and the quietness afterward as the snow absorbs sound pretty well.  Though it was too cold to go outside, a joyful moment was still there.

We hang bird feeders along the patio roof during winter which makes it  much easier for us to refill them and we can bird watch when circumstance stops us from doing anything else.  It’s also easier for us to patrol and protect the feeders from European Starlings and House Sparrows.  The down side is we have to sweep bird droppings and whatever else they’ve dropped off the ground underneath.  In spring, after we move the feeders back to the garden, we use soap and water to clean the remaining effluent off the fence.  But it’s worth the effort.  We can observe our avian friends closely and they can also take shelter in the woodpile under the roof from predators too large to squeeze in.

These are some of what we enjoyed a few days ago.

A pair of Cardinal and a House finch waiting their turn in snow
A pair of Northern Cardinals and a House Finch await their turn for the feeders in snow
Female Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal puffs her feathers up against the cold
Bright red male Cardinal
Bright red male Northern Cardinal looks like an ornament in the snow.  We have plenty of them in the garden as many of them were born right here.
American Tree Sparrow
A little puff ball- American Tree Sparrow-also came for the seeds
Female Bluebird
A female Eastern Bluebird enjoying warmth from the heated birdbath.  We have a flock of five bluebirds that stayed with us this winter.
Downey Woodpecker
Plenty of Downey Woodpeckers year round and they no longer seem to care when we are close by.
House Finch
House Finch also flocking around throughout the year
Dark-eyed Junco
Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco visit us only in winter and leave for their boreal home by early spring
Junco
Female and young Dark-eyed Junco have more brown color on them
American Goldfinch stay with us throughout the year. The male only change his summer bright yellow coat to a much duller brown in winter. We take a hint that spring is coming when they start to drop the brown feathers.
American Goldfinch stay with us throughout the year. The male only changes his summer bright yellow coat for a much duller brown in winter. We take it as a hint that spring is coming when they start to drop the brown feathers.
Chickadee
Here is our most friendly resident- Black-capped Chickadee
Song Sparrow
Member of the Avian Chorus- Song Sparrow-as the name suggested, sing one of the sweetest songs during spring and summer
White-throated Sparrow
We have a variety of sparrows, this White-throated Sparrow is also a good singer
Titmouse
This Tufted Titmouse has been checking the weaved birdhouse our friend gave us a few times during the day.  I wonder if he roosts in there at night.
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker is twice the size of the Downey Woodpecker and seldom come to the feeders.  This winter we have a pair that frequents one of the suets daily.
Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch tend to eat upside down most of the time
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch– a smaller cousin of the White-breasted Nuthatch seldom comes to the feeder.  They usually make a fast dash to the feeder, but won’t stay on it like its cousin.

There are others that are more elusive like the Carolina wren, the Pileated Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker.  Clearly not wanting the publicity with being caught on camera.

And the Orchestra Resumes

The Loudest Performance Of The Year

It’s still a little cold out, not freezing though close enough.   But it’s warm enough for birds to migrate back to this area.  The ones that take residence year round and group together for winter survival start to de-group now.  They all sing to make their territory known, and to attract females.  This time of year they usually sing at their loudest.

A pair of Northern Cardinals waiting their turn, with an American Goldfinch, at the feeder
A pair of Northern Cardinals waiting their turn, with an American Goldfinch, at the feeder

A few of them have already settled, built nests and some of them have laid eggs.  Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) have taken one of the nest boxes and produced four eggs a couple of weeks ago.  American Robins (Turdus migratorius) settled in the rhododendron in the front, also with four eggs.  A pair of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) is in the middle of building their nest.  The Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) are still choosing.  Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) should come back soon since the cherry trees have started to blossom.

Eastern Towhee foraging for food by a brush pile
Eastern Towhee foraging for food by a brush pile
A male House Finch shares a bath with honeybees
A male House Finch shares a bath with honeybees
Cooper's Hawk, our population control officer, also came to visit
Cooper’s Hawk, our population control officer, also came to visit

All in all we have a very loud garden and it seems a non-stop chorus, except when the hawks come by.  And, these are some of the louder singers:

A flock of American Goldfinches can be really loud. This male is in his full summer garb.
A flock of American Goldfinches can be really loud. This male is in his full summer garb.
Song Sparrow has quite lovely song
Song Sparrow has quite lovely song
Early morning and evening singer award goes to American Robins
Early morning and evening singer award goes to American Robins
White-throated sparrow is not a bad singer either
White-throated sparrow is not a bad singer either

Still more to come, some migrating birds have not yet arrived.

 

Birds of Winter

Enjoying The Hospitality

Winter temperature has finally matched the season and there is not much of anything out there.  Snow has not yet paid a visit.  The birds have picked most of the seeds off the buds I left in intact for them: Echinacea, Black-eyed Susan, Goldenrod… So now they enjoy the additional food we put out for them.  On  cold days they can enjoy a heated birdbath too.

We remove the feeders every night to prevent unwanted guests like raccoons and skunks.  A raccoon can empty a feeder in one sitting.  Once we had suet feeder removed and carried over to a neighbor’s yard.  We suspected a raccoon.  The only animal around here that is big enough to carry a suet feeder off and has ‘thumbs’ to open the cage.  Any morning that we can’t put out the feeders (when we have to go to work) or when we put them out a little late, there will be birds lined up on the pool fence outside the patio… waiting.

It’s as though they are saying ‘What’s wrong with these humans?  Don’t they know what time it is.’  As soon as we put the feeders out and turn our backs, they land on them, at the head of the line, the Chickadees and Downey Woodpeckers.  We try to keep them healthy and well-fed during winter so they will stay and patrol our garden in spring and summer.

These are the locals that stay with us year round:

American goldfinch in winter coat
American goldfinch in winter coat

As much as the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) like Nyger seeds, we’d rather feed them with sunflower seeds in winter.  The feeder is hung under the patio roof and the Nyger seeds make a big  mess under the feeder.

A pair of Chickadees at the feeder
A pair of Chickadees at the feeder
Male House Finch
Male House Finch

I have a hard time differentiating a male House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) from a male Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus).  But House Finches are more common in my area and this one has less of a red plume on the breast to be a Purple Finch.

Female Northern Cardinal shares a suet feeder with a male Downey Woodpecker
Female Northern Cardinal shares a suet feeder with a male Downey Woodpecker

I’m surprised to see this female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) on the suet feeder.  Most Cardinals prefer a tray feeder or a feeder with a horizontal bar that they can hop on.

Male Northern Cardinal sharing a heated birdbath with a Chickadee
Male Northern Cardinal sharing a heated birdbath with a Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch waiting his turn
White-breasted Nuthatch waiting his turn

It’s always fun to watch a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) walking up and down a tree trunk or a post or eating upside down.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker ready to take off with a beak full of suet
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker ready to take off with a beak full of suet
Another friendly Titmouse on a feeder
Another friendly Titmouse on a feeder

There are more locals than these shown above but they are either camera shy like the Eastern Bluebird or know they are not welcome like the Blue Jay, House Sparrow and European Starling.   I don’t know if the migrating birds from further North like the Common Redpoll and Pine siskin will be here this year since it has been so warm.  But for them too, the welcome mat is always out.

A Brutally Cold Winter

And A Busy Yard

Winter hit us very hard this year.  We already have more than two feet of snow on the ground and, as I’m writing this blog, it’s snowing outside.  The temperature has also dropped down below zero for a couple of nights and hanging below 20ºF most days.  As much as it is harsh for us, it’s much more difficult for our winged friends.  We depend on them to handle garden pest control and they have been doing a great job.  It’s only fair for us to provide some comfort for them when food and fresh water is hard to find.

Since we provide food, water and roosting places, when the winter gets really bad our yard gets very busy.  This year is even busier since the Pine Siskin are here.  They would come around once every few years when their food is hard to find in the sub-arctic boreal area.  There are so many of them that we have to fill the main feeders in the garden three times a week in order to keep up with their appetite.

We leave the feeders in the garden but remove the ones on the patio every evening so as not to draw in skunks and raccoons.   Every morning I see the birds line up on the fence waiting for us to put the feeders back.  It’s a wonderful sight.

A male American Goldfinch
A male American Goldfinch

I wonder if this male American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) knows something that I don’t.  He’s starting to molt and getting his black patch on the head back.  The male Finch shed their winter down when spring comes and turn bright canary yellow in summer.  Several of the finches have developed some bright color and black head patches now.  Either they are fooled by the temperature swing or spring is just around the corner.

Shared feeder
Shared feeder

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus), American Goldfinch, Eastern Bluebird and Black-capped chickadee sharing a feeder.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Male Downy woodpecker
Male Downy woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker

We have plenty of Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubesceus) and they are not as wary of us as the other woodpeckers.  The Red-bellied and Northern flicker woodpecker are very camera shy.  The Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) have never come to the feeder.  The one above was pecking on the maple tree in the front yard.

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird

These five Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were waiting for their turn at the feeder.  We see them more and more in winter.  We assume that either we have plenty of food and shelter to offer or they were born here and feel comfortable being in the yard instead of migrating south.  By religiously monitoring the nest boxes, we managed to raise one to two broods every year.

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Female Northern cardinal
Female Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal

Nothing wrong with this male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  It was so cold that he alternately tucked one foot in while feeding.  Many of the birds either do this or just sit on both legs to keep them warm like the Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) below.

Song sparrow
Song sparrow
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee

House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) waiting his turn while a Pine siskin defends his space from a landing Chickadee.

Some photos are not much in focus since they were taken through two panes of glass.  Sitting in the blind wasn’t an option when the temperature was below 20ºF.

 

 

 

 

First Day Of Winter

And Snow, Right On Schedule

Today is the official first day of winter and it has been snowing lightly on and off all day.  It’s very peaceful and quiet outside, the only sound the birds singing.  The birds are the only bright colors in the garden at this time and without them it’s a plain brown and gray everywhere we look.  We couldn’t fill the feeders fast enough but we’re not complaining.  Here’s my first day of winter outside:

Light snow on and off all day
Light snow on and off all day
Milkweed seeds still hanging on to the seedpod, topped with light snow
Milkweed seeds still hanging on to the seedpod, topped with light snow
Spent Goldenrod flowers
Spent Goldenrod flowers

There’s nothing to do in the garden at this time aside from filling the feeders, cleaning and filling birdbaths, and stalking birds with the camera.  So, I spend time in the house trimming tropical plants, reading and listening to the music.  This time of year the radio stations seem to put Beethoven’s Symphony #9 and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on almost everyday, so far, twice today on our local station.  I don’t mind at all especially the Symphony#9 which I always turn up really loud.  For some reason this symphony always sounds so much better loud.  A friend once told me that Beethoven composed this piece when he was nearly deaf so he needed to feel the music.  I don’t know if that’s really true but when I listened to it at Carnegie Hall I could feel the vibration.  The same goes for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. When not listening to the radio, our outside chorale is equally good to me.  Herewith some of the Avian Chorus’s members:

Male Northern Cardinal in the rose bush
Male Northern Cardinal in the rose bush
Chickadee enjoying a heated birdbath
Chickadee enjoying a heated birdbath
American Goldfinch in show
American Goldfinch in show
House Finch waiting his turn at the feeder
House Finch waiting his turn at the feeder
Nuthatch shares a feeder with an American Goldfinch
Nuthatch shares a feeder with an American Goldfinch

Though nothing is flowering in the garden, flowering continues in the basement and on the windowsill.  Nothing soothes my mood like the scent of jasmine and they are still blooming.

Almond verbena will continue flowering, even under artificial light, if I keep cutting and feeding them
Almond verbena will continue flowering, even under artificial light, if I keep cutting and feeding them
Azores jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) has very subtle scent
Azores jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) has very subtle scent
Winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) with delicate vine and flowers but very strong scent
Winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) with delicate vine and flowers but very strong scent
Winter jasmine close up
Winter jasmine close up
Moth orchid at the bay window
Moth orchid at the bay window

Christmas Bird Count

Unofficial Observation

I’ve been thinking about joining the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count  (CBC) every year but never did.  Though I have good intentions, if I’m not sure I can fully commit I would rather not do it.  This year is the 114th of the Christmas Bird Count which is taking place from December 14, 2013 to January 5, 2014.  I envy those who brave the cold and snow to do this bird census.

I decided to do my unofficial Christmas bird observation in the garden today despite the 20 degree temperature.  Below are some of the birds that stop long enough for me to get a shot of them, but there were more of the camera shy (Northern Flicker, Carolina Wren) that stayed away until I came back in the house.  There were also the usual Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Chickadee that aren’t bothered by my presence.  I spent just 30 minutes behind the camera each time in the garden, my fingers were numb despite having a hat, a jacket and insulated gloves on.   That’s why I envy those who commit to do the CBC.  Here’s my very short, unofficial Christmas Bird observation in the garden:

Male Downy Woodpecker
Male Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is very common in our garden and they stay with us year round.  Once in a while we would see a Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), a larger relative of the Downy.  I haven’t seen any of them this year.

American Tree Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

Identifying a sparrow is always fun since there are many types of sparrows around and they look similar.  This American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) is a winter visitor from the North.  The easy way to identify this one is a pronounced dark spot on the plain grey breast.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) has plenty of dark brown streaks on the breast and a dark spot in the middle of the breast.  I mistake them for Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) many times when I try to identify sparrows.  I’ve since learned that the Fox Sparrow is a little larger and their color is more of a rusted brown.  I saw two or three Fox Sparrows in early fall but haven’t seen them since.

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) are also common in our garden.  They are easy to identify because of the white patch under the chin.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

I think the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is a very cool bird.  They routinely eat upside down and can do a very fast walk up and down a tree trunk.  There are about five or six of them that regularly come to the seed and suet feeders.

Male House Finch
Male House Finch
Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

We have plenty of Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) as well but we don’t see them much in summer when food is plentiful in the woodland nearby.  When it’s very cold out, they puff their feathers up and make themselves look like a black and white ball.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) are our garden’s permanent residents and plenty of them too.  I have difficulty identify male and female in winter since the males shed their canary yellow and black cap starting in early fall.

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper’s Hawk landed on one of the birdhouses but quickly took off when he saw me adjust the lens.  I think he’s looking for his flying Christmas gifts.

These are birds that enjoy winter in our garden.  We are still waiting for the Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) and Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) to come down from the tundra for a visit .  We hadn’t seen many of them last year but they usually flock down every two or three years.  Hopefully, we will see more of them this year.

From an Icy Rain To Snow

It’s a Time to Care For Friends

We’ve been having a roller coaster weather this year and December temperature around here rages from 60º F to 18º F which is a pretty wide gap.  We had icy rain yesterday and snow today, haven’t seen the sun in the last couple of days.  Weather like this raise my concern for my avian friends in the neighborhood.  As much as they are descendants of Dinosaurs but they probably have a hard time adapt to drastically changes of the environment; evolution takes time.  One day is so warm, the next day everything freeze.  Food are harder find at this time of year and even harder when the weather is unpredictable.

I put all the birdhouses up this year so they can have warm places to roost during the frigid cold nights.  Neighborhood pet food store loves us during this time of year because we buy a variety of twenty five or fifty pound-bags of bird food monthly, plus a case or two of suet cakes.  We just want to make sure that our feathered neighbors are well cared for.  I think the Tufted Titmouse and Chickadee keep their eyes on us since they’re always the first two groups that get to the feeders every time we refill them.

So far I’ve seen just the neighborhood birds that stay here year round like Northern Cardinal, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Red-bellied woodpecker, Downy woodpecker, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Nuthatch and the pesky House Sparrow.  I haven’t seen any visitors like Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) or Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) yet.  The neighborhood population control officer, a Cooper’s Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk, are also on regular patrol this time of year.

Today, the population is more condensed in the garden as the snow has been falling since early morning.  They have learned that we are dependable at this time of year for food and water, so our garden becomes a gathering place during harsh weather.  Here are some of them….

A daring Blue Jay swooped pass me to the feeder a couple of feet away.
A daring Blue Jay swooped pass me to the feeder a couple of feet away.
A male Northern Cardinal enjoys fresh water and warm air raising from the heated bird bath
A male Northern Cardinal enjoys fresh water and warm air raising from the heated bird bath
Female Northern Cardinal waits patiently on a rose branch for her turn at the feeder
Female Northern Cardinal waits patiently on a rose branch for her turn at the feeder
Black-capped Chickadee taking cover in a rose bush
Black-capped Chickadee taking cover in a rose bush
A male Red-bellied woodpecker waiting for his turn at the suet
A male Red-bellied woodpecker waiting for his turn at the suet
A male House finch on an ice-covered rose branch
A male House finch on an ice-covered rose branch