Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lincoln's Sparrow et alia

Lincoln's Sparrow (which is hard to find in Windham Co) greeted me with song at a management area just off the road to Grout Pond from Kelly Stand Rd in Somerset, Green Mtn Nat’l Forest.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

A few additional photos from this morning ...

White-throated Sparrow

Alder Flycatcher

Common Yellowthroat - a favorite rogue of the bush

Tiger Swallowtail on wild azalea

... and back at home, this visitor passed through the neighbor's yard, probably scared away from the feeders by the crew of painters working on the exterior. We all watched as it crossed the river and headed into the pines. But, it is certainly time to take in the feeders ...

Black Bear on opposite bank of Rock River
 Good birding ... and other stuff!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Weekend Highlights

A highlight of the weekend birding was this Hooded Merganser hen leading 10 chicks in the Wilson Wetlands, Putney, Vt.

Hooded Merganser, hen with 3 of the 10 chicks she was leading
In the same vicinity, I captured a Brown Thrasher taking his/her morning bath ...

Brown Thrasher
One of the odder moments was watching this female Red-winged Blackbird as she "danced" along the branch, much the way some tropical mannakin males dance. The female red-wings were busy with nest building. Could this one have completed her nest and was she now sending a signal to the male (males) that she was ready to mate? Perhaps ... but if so, the boys were not paying attention ...

Red-winged Blackbird, female
Additional highlights, photographically, are this Chestnut-sided Warbler ...

Chestnut-sided Warbler

... a Red-eyed Vireo on Black Mountain which sang from the same branch for as long as we were within range, and certainly before and after we were in range, since he was not trying to impress us - although he did ...

Red-eyed Vireo

... and this Black-throated Blue Warbler ...

Black-throated Blue Warbler
Good Birding!!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Is this turkey wild?

Storm recovery continues ...

... was my first thought when this hen Wild Turkey appeared in the backyard this afternoon, clucking softly and looking as though she would like to scratch for seed beneath the feeders. 

This was the first appearance of a turkey in my yard since Hurricane Irene wrecked her havoc last August. But this girl acted very strangely. My wife was doing transplanting only 20 feet from her, but she (the bird, not my wife) did not flee ...

I circled around her (the bird, not my wife) with my camera, expecting that she would take flight, but she clucked, moved slowly and watched me ... though it hardly seemed that she was very concerned. This was a very young, naive bird, I thought. Or was she a "wild" farm raised bird who wandered off. Perhaps the neighbor across the street who keeps various fowl also kept turkeys. Maybe we should call and ask if she was missing a bird.

After a bit, my companion finished her transplanting and went inside for a shower. I opened a cold local brew and sat on the porch, pleased about how well things were coming together after last year's storm. I also continued to mull the presence of the hen turkey.

And then ... the strange behavior of the hen evaporated and her behavior became clear. She crossed along the far end of the yard, leading a brood of recently hatched poults ...

I count 15 in this next photo ... a handful if she had to feed them ...

.. but she only shows them how to find food, and watches - diligently as I had previously observed - for potential danger.  

 Good birding in the backyard!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cerulean Warbler - Wantastiquet

This morning I spent several hours on the Wantastiquet Mountain trail (in NH across the Connecticut from Brattleboro). After about 2 hours, enough sunlight finally warmed the west facing slope and birds became active and singing. A Cerulean Warbler finally appeared and gave a few opportunities for photographs, though one could hardly say that he was cooperative.

Cerulean Warbler is rare and threatened, and it has been several years since I have had a good look at one. This was a treat!!

Good Birding!!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

As the Crow Flies

American Crow

Large, black, ubiquitous, and noisy - the crow does not make many people’s list of favorite birds. Maybe that’s because the crow is also intelligent. Forbush wrote that the crow “knows too much; his judgment of the range of a gun is too nearly correct. If Crows could be shot oftener they would be more popular.”

Birdwatcher’s Companion says: “Some taxonomists believe the crows to be the most highly evolved of all bird families, based on the charming (if self-serving) notion that mental development is proof of evolutionary ‘excellence.’”

Henry Ward Beecher, the prominent nineteenth century Congregationalist minister, is reported to have said that if men wore feathers and wings a very few of them would be clever enough to be crows.

There’s the problem. Crows are intelligent. They threaten our position as the most intelligent creatures on the planet. If intelligence is judged by the ability to ruin environment and destroy the planet, I guess we are the most intelligent.

Blue Jay - member of the Corvid family
Crows belong to the family, Corvidae, familiarly called “corvids” (crows, jays, magpies), and the genus, Corvus. Worldwide there are about 43 species of the genus Corvus, including jackdaws, rooks, and ravens, as well as crows.

In North America there are six species. The Fish Crow is fairly common in the southeast along the coast, rivers and swamps. The Northwestern Crow lives along the Pacific coast from southern Alaska to Washington State. The Chihuahuan Raven in found in the deserts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and southward. Rarest in North America is the Tamaulipas Crow which occasionally visits South Texas, particularly the Brownsville landfill.

Common Raven
In our neighborhood, we have two species of Corvus. The Common Raven is still scarce, but  continues to recover in our eastern mountains. It is quite common in the northern forests of Canada and in the mountains, forests, and deserts of the West.

And of course, there is the widespread and common American Crow.

All of these are big, black birds. They range is size from the diminutive Tamaulipas Crow (15 inches) to the hawk-sized raven (25 inches). They belong to the Order, Passeriformes (perching birds) and the sub-Order, Passeri (songbirds).

Yes, crows are songbirds. Now before you begin to grumble that the raucous cawing of the crows hardly qualifies as a song and bears not the slightest comparison to the other-worldly beauty of the thrushes, remember that the Grammy Music Awards include categories for “rap” and “heavy metal.” Perhaps the corvids lost their musical ability as they evolved their intelligence, which as an evolutionary principle, seems contrary to what has occurred  in our species; modern music genres suggest that musical ability and intelligence are both evolving downward.

American Crows
Crows are remarkable creatures. They are omnivorous. They will consume just about anything except green plants, which the youngster trying to choke down his spinach would undoubtedly see as a sign of their intelligence. Their diet includes insects, crustaceans, shellfish, small vertebrates (including nestling birds), garbage, fruit, and fast-food French fries. Corn is a favorite, which is what has made them anathema to generations of farmers.

Fall and winter, crows gather in large communal roosts which can number in the hundreds, and even thousands. During the day they disperse over a wide area. Then as dusk approaches, they reassemble in staging areas before retiring to the roost for the night. The roosts are sometimes viewed as nuisances, leading officials to try all sorts of bizarre things in order to relocate or eliminate the “problem.” Among those efforts are the occasional sanctioned murder of crows in which guns blaze away at the gathered birds. Like all efforts, it has little lasting effect. The crows fly away - for a while.

One problem for the crows in these large communal roosts, is that the birds perching on the lower branches often get struck by the dropping from those higher up. By morning, their backs may be speckled white. Maybe this is reflective of the cultures of more “intelligent” creatures, since it is certainly analogous to what happens to those at the bottom of the human society tree by those at the top of the tree.

Little is known about these roosts, but one thought is that the roosting crows may be younger, unmated birds that have yet to establish their own territory. The roost serves a social function, allowing the younger birds to find mates, challenge one another, and communicate their experiences. Bernd Heinrich has demonstrated this theory in relation to ravens.

American Crow
What is evident is that crows have a complex social structure and language, although very little is understood about either. Crow vocalizations go far beyond the familiar caws that we usually attribute to them. They can imitate sounds of other species, including elements of human speech. They have a wide variety of low volume vocalizations for communicating among one another. They have alarm calls, assembly calls, distress calls, and many others. And there is evidence to suggest that they may have different languages, i.e., different groups of crows, belonging to the same species but in different geographical areas, may not use or understand all of the same calls.

The March full moon is the “Crow Moon.” The cawing of the crows tells of the waning of winter. The roosts break up and by the end of March, crows begin nesting in their crow’s nests in the tops of tall trees.

American Crow
Henry David Thoreau wrote of the crow: “This bird sees the white man come and the Indian withdraw, but it withdraws not. Its untamed voice is still heard above the tinkling of the forge. It sees a race pass away but it passes not away. It remains to remind us of aboriginal nature.”

Good birding!

Quotations are from Forbush, “American Birds,” Leahy, “Birdwatcher’s Companion,” and

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Connecting Bird Activity to Mothers' Day

It is still early in the season for the birds to be celebrating Mothers' Day, but there is lots of activity that will lead to motherhood.

Many of the tropical birds are still heading toward their nesting grounds. Much of their singing is "tune-up" variety, but it makes for good birding.

Yesterday's warbler walk yielded wood warblers, but no photo opportunities. However, vocal Scarlet Tanagers were gleaning mid-level branches and through the leaves some very good views. Nearby, a potential mate to this gentleman was assessing his value, but stayed discreetly out of view ...

Scarlet Tanager
In the deep woods, a Mrs. Robin was busy gathering nesting material and constructing her nest in a high tree fork. Mr. Robin kept watch on the Mrs. Robin and the bird watchers ...

American Robin
At home, the Baltimore Orioles are singing around the house and occasionally presenting themselves for a good view. But I have yet to get one to come to the oranges and provide mouth-gaping close-ups.

Baltimore Oriole
This demure Tufted Titmouse waited in the bush while her mate (or candidate for mate) foraged sunflower seeds and fed them to her ...

Tufted Titmouse
Evening Grosbeaks are still moving through the region. A flock of ten was present yesterday. Those who have already chose the neighborhood for their breeding season are very busy singing (if you can call it that) and the males are displaying at every opportunity ...

Evening Grosbeak
The best entertainment is being provided by the Ruby-throated Hummingbird who has taken claim to our yard and feeders. He patrols his domain with unrelenting attention and absolute proprietary claim. An intruding male is summarily driven out. The following photo shows him watching for intruders. He spent about fifteen minutes on the feeder and was drinking most of the time, refueling for the energy intensive task ...

Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Of course, he was also alert for the visiting females, pursuing them with the deep u-shaped swoops that constitute hummingbird courtship ...

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female)
I hope the birding is good is your woods and your neighborhoods.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Warblers & More

Since my Saturday post, I have had two more days in a row with good birding - at Herricks Cove on Sunday, and along the Connecticut River and elsewhere today. Just a sampling of photos ....

Magnolia Warblers have challenged me by refusing to pose nicely. Still looking for the cooperative Magnolia; this one was semi-cooperative ...

Magnolia Warbler
 The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was just reported late last week. This one at Herrick's Cove on Sunday appeared to be carrying nesting material, so it is wasting no time in getting down to business.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
 Sunday at Herrick's Cove, I ticked my first Vermont Orchard Oriole, an uncommon Vermont species. It was eating apple blossoms throughout the morning. When I attempted photos, it gave only gave rare glimpses at the top of the apple tree, and often against almost consistently bad lighting. Eventually ....

Orchard Oriole
 Black-and-white Warbler this morning ...

Black-and-White Warbler (female)
For me, Saturday and Sunday was a banner day  for seeing Wilson's Warbler, but rarely did the bird emerge for a photograph. This morning along the Connecticut River, this one allowed a brief pose in the dark thicket ...

Wilson's Warbler
 For several years I have been pursuing the Louisiana Waterthrush without success. I might see it, or hear it, but it did not allow any photos. Today I was on a road which followed a swift moving stream. With car windows down, I drove slowly and heard it singing. It was secretive and wary, but the hormones betrayed its presence as it sung from many mid-level perches ....

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush
Good Birding !!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Rose Surfeit & a Great Day Birding

Hard to know where to begin. Birding this morning at Herrick's Cove was about as good as it gets in southeastern Vermont in early May with 78 species, including 14 warbler species - one apple tree with Prairie, Nashville, and Wilson's.

However, few birds wanted their portraits taken, so I only have these two ...

Solitary Sandpiper

Nashville Warbler

Around the house yesterday and today, we have had a surfeit of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, abundant almost to excess. At least five males and a couple of completely disinterested females.

She wants nothing to do with him ... yet!

Good Birding!!

The way a crow ...

American Crow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

– Robert Frost


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