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.

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.

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.

Hurricane (continued)

After Nature Had Her Way

I always love that period right after a rain or heavy storm, provided I don’t have to vacuum water out from our basement.  The sky is clear and the air is clean; I can smell the freshness in it.  It’s a very distinctive scent of life renewed.  Plants shake off the shower that washed away dust and dirt from their leaves.  Birds come out chirping and looking for food.  Mother Nature has a way of cleaning her house; as much of a mess as we might have made, as fierce as she can be.  She will also show us both her beauty and her kindness afterward.

And, hurricane ‘Sandy’ was no different.

Hurricane ‘Sandy’ blowing past
Sky afterward
During sunrise the morning after
American Goldfinch (in their winter coat) and Pine siskin came out to share the feeder
Northern Cardinal (male) perched on top one of the feeders
One of the White-breasted Nuthatch zoomed in and out for seeds
Downey Woodpecker (female) packing in suet
Red-bellied Woodpecker (male) tried to figure how to get the seeds from the feeder.

Nuthatch

Bill’s Favorite Bird

I have always wondered why nature created this bird the way it is, for what purpose.  It can literately walk up and down the tree trunk and perch in the upside down position comfortably.  I’m talking about the Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).   The upside down part seems to be the most comfortable position for them.  Once we saw a Nuthatch spin round and round on one of the feeder perching pins trying to get some seeds from it.  Since the seed port is above the perching pin, this little guy had a tough time getting himself right side up to pick a seed out of the feeder.  He finally hung on long enough to get one.

Waiting for its turn at the feeder

A small bird in a tux, the white-breasted Nuthatch looks more like they’re ready for a party,  white chest with grey and black streaks on the wings.  The Red-breasted Nuthatch which we seldom see in our garden, are less dressy and have a little rust color on their under part.

Looking for insects on the patio beams

Anyway, Bill loves the way this bird does everything upside down including eating.   We haven’t seen any of them defecate in this position yet, but wonder how they might avoid soiling themselves in the event.  OK, just curious.

The good part is that they like to come looking for insects under the patio roof, inspecting every beam while the Wrens work the tiny nooks and crannies that have to be done in an upright position.