Feeder birds

Birdhouse in your soul

The new addition to my feeder collection was a gift from my friends — a birdhouse coated in seed. After it’s been stripped bare, I’ll mount it on a tree and see who takes up residence.

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Notice I come from the ‘Leave the weeds standing’ school of lawn care.

Soundtrack by They Might Be Giants.

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Bleach-blond redhead

Anticipating the first chilly morning, I filled all my feeders last night. I’m glad I did. Among the usual suspects at breakfast buffet, I saw this eccentric fellow.

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It’s a partially leucistic House Finch.

I’m always looking for leucistic birds, but this is the first time I’ve been able to get a photo. A few years ago an American Robin with ‘racing stripes’ – white feathers in its wings – visited the yard for a day, and I’ve seen mottled Robins on the Cornell campus. There’s a stunning white Red-tailed Hawk (frequently mistaken for a Snowy Owl) in the area, but it often hangs out on the I-90 bridge when I’m zipping past at 60. Maybe someday I’ll be fortuitously stuck in traffic!

Browse through Google images for leucistic birds and delight your eyes. Common birds, many of them, made stunning by a chance mutation. Of them all, my favorite is the calico red-winged blackbird seen by Nancy Nabak.

Categories: Bird photos, Feeder birds, Rara avis, What am dat bird? | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The usual suspects, part II

Common Grackles are blackbirds. That means they’re black birds, right?

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Look again!

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Amazing what a difference a change in perspective makes.

 

ETA: I will be chasing the Barrow’s Goldeneye tomorrow. AGAIN. Is the third time the charm? Stay tuned!

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The usual suspects, part I

It isn’t just the males of the species that brighten up their plumage for spring. This female Purple Finch caught my eye today, looking very crisp and bright. They always remind me of pint-sized female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

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At least, I assumed it was a female, but I don’t remember noticing this hint of red wash on the scapulars before.

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I didn’t notice that until I cropped the photo.

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Welcome back!

I know, we still have to get through March, Albany’s two heaviest snowfalls were in March, the Polar-freakin’-Vortex is on its way south again…

but the first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year sang in my yard today.

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Snow day

The view from Kestrel Hill today is horizon-to-horizon snow. 18 inches on top of half a foot already on the ground — that’s a whole world of white.

We had a new roof installed last year, a metal roof. You’ll love it, the  builder assured us, no maintenance and the snow just slides right off! And just as promised, for the several moderate snows we’ve had, the roof clears itself quite efficiently.

Well, this was the first heavy snowfall of the season. And it was impressive, all right: a full rolling broadside as the entire front thundered down. Maybe too impressive! The sleeping cat shot off my shoulder and into the basement. As for me, every time it happens I have to laugh, it’s so exhilarating.

One small problem. I hope no one’s standing on the stoop next time it cuts loose!

Is this the year our reprehensible shed will finally collapse? (One can only hope!)

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Since I wasn’t going anywhere anyway, I worked at my Great Backyard Bird Count. I had lots of help:

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Lots of couples out for lunch, including the Cardinals.

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House Finches…

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… and Purple Finches. You wouldn’t believe how many years it took me to tell them apart.

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40 or more Robins in the sumac grove.

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Two Song Sparrows have stuck it out all season. Angry Birds, anyone?

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As well as two Carolina Wrens.

I don’t know how we’ll scale those mountains to keep the feeders full, but I’d hate to disappoint the patrons.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Bird photos, Feeder birds, GBBC, Usual suspects | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Stillness

I just looked out the window to see something strange. The small birds had deserted the feeders. The only stragglers were a Red-bellied Woodpecker, two Downies, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. All of them, even the irrepressible Nuthatch, were pressed close against branches and rigidly still. Only their eyes moved.

After several minutes two chickadees flew in calling, and the silence broke. The usual throng flowed in and around, and the silent watchers vied for suet.

I think there must have been an accipiter somewhere just out of my sight, and when it took off the chickadees issued the ‘all clear’.

 

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Smudgy window birds

The snow is falling heavily now. By the time it’s done we should have a new foot over the snowpack already on the ground.

The feeders are teeming. A few diners, taken through my smudgy front window:

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A pastel American Goldfinch.

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I love the huge eyes of a Tufted Titmouse.

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“I know there’s seed somewhere down here…

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Ah! There it is!”

 

 

 

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Porch birding

Despite temps in the low 20s, the bright sunshine made it feel quite mild this afternoon. So I bundled up to refill the feeders, a slow process one-handed and in new snow. After dragging a chair to the porch, I slid the door open to enjoy fresh air and birdsong. One of the pair of Carolina Wrens rattled in the woods and a Tufted Titmouse “peter peter”ed.

With the camera set up on a tripod, I was able to snap a few shots.

Mr. Downy Woodpecker helps himself to some suet.

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He’s ready for Valentine’s Day with that crimson heart on his nape.

His Mrs., or somebody’s, waits her turn. At least 5 Downys cycled in and out.

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The Dark-eyed Juncos appreciated the return of their buffet tables.

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So, nothing out of the ordinary, just a pleasant afternoon visit with the neighbors.

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Year-end highlights, 2013

 

January’s bird of the month was the pair of Sandhill Cranes at Crescent.What a thrill to see them so close up.

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February was gull month. I added three lifers to my list: Iceland Gull (below, with 3 Herring Gulls), Lesser Black-back, and Glaucous Gull, plus Little Gull in July. They really aren’t all the same! I begin to understand Laridaephiles!

And another!

March is the first stirring of spring, bringing the earliest Blackbirds and Tree Swallows. Waterfowl are on the move! 

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

There’s nothing better than April for a birder. Everything is coming! Almost as birdy as May, and fewer bugs! Tree and Chipping Sparrows switch places again. The earliest Warblers flit through the still-bare treetops. Shorebirds are bolting north. And herps are making their own short migrations.

Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle

All right, I take it back about April. May. May. MAY. Every day brings new migrants, new nesting birds, so many colors and voices there’s no time to blog or photograph or even think, sometimes. It’s all I can to to absorb every brilliant moment. I saw my first Hooded Warbler, my first Golden-winged Warbler, my first Vesper Sparrow. I heard a King Rail! Hummingbirds, Orioles, Swifts! These trees were dripping with warblers.

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June, and things are calming just a bit. The residents are settling down to the business of nesting. A field trip to Montgomery County showed me an Upland Sandpiper, doing exactly what an Uppie is supposed to do — pose on a fencepost and whoop his wolf whistle. A side trip to the neighboring town of Root produced a surprise — a Clay-colored Sparrow singing from the top of a shrub! A two-lifer day!

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July is the time to settle in and do some birdwatching, instead of birding. See fuzzy-headed fledgelings at the feeders, Tuftless Titmice and short-tailed Catbirds begging and nagging. Some of the territorial sniping has calmed and birds, like us, are just hanging out at the lake trying to stay cool. Hey, is that a Grasshopper Sparrow? Lifer!

Solitary on left, Yellowlegs on right

Solitary on left, Yellowlegs on right

For shorebirds, August means summer is over and it’s time to head south from their far-north nesting grounds. I caught this Sanderling on a rest stop at Cohoes. The surprise of the month was a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers in the Albany Pine Bush, first I’d seen since moving up here. And after seeing my first pair ever of Cliff Swallows, I looked carefully at the power lines on my road and found a new yard bird, too.

The warblers sweep back down in September in ‘confusing fall warbler’ plumage. Look carefully, and you can pick up species missed on the way up. I found my Philadelphia Vireo that way. Fortune favors the prepared, they say. I’d been looking for a Philly to complete the category, and so I was ready when I saw him — another lifer. The (white) Little Blue Heron was a surprise, though. In the style section, Pirate Birding was all the rage.

I spy with my little eye...

I spy with my little eye…

October, the month of mist and spiderwebs. Unexpected birds like these Tundra Swans show up with migrating waterfowl. Here one day, a hundred miles south tomorrow, any sighting pure chance.

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November’s big goal — I swore that this winter I would see a Short-eared Owl, if I had to pitch a tent on Fitzpatrick Road to do it. And I did! (See the owl, that is, not camping on the old tent-ground.) And up in the Adirondacks I caught glimpses of Boreal Chickadees, just as adorable as their Black-capped cousins. But the number of species has dropped by a third since last month, and I swear I recognize every beak at the feeder. Still I have something to be thankful for– a new camera, and better photos to look forward to sharing.

December — it’s Christmas Bird Count time! Pray that good bird hangs around until count day! Hope it flies over my sector instead of crossing the river! Swap tall tales of CBCs present and past, and how easy we young punks have it today — the old timers birded on foot! in the snow! barefoot! uphill both ways! just to score every Blue Jay! And sometimes (whisper it) ditch your count for a bird so cool you just have to see it.

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So I end the year the way I started it, with a big charismatic bird that doesn’t mind being gawked at.

 

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Christmas Bird Count, Feeder birds, Field trip, Life bird!, New bird, NYS 2013, OMG bird, scenery, the occasional herp | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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