Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches

I think we've moved quickly past fall and firmly into winter. We had our first real snow at the beginning of the week (just a few inches), and the weather's been unrelentingly frigid and windy since then, with highs in the 30s during the day and lows in the single digits at night. So yes, hello winter!

All the birds in our yard are active in this wintry weather, especially around our feeders, and the finches are making a particularly strong appearance. Yesterday, I was surprised and happy to see that some new winter visitors have blown into our yard. Look, Pine Siskins!

My first thought when I saw one these birds was actually "wow, why is that goldfinch so stripey"? They really are remarkably similar to American Goldfinches, just about exactly the same size, with similar finchy mannerisms and dark barred wings. We've had goldfinches at our feeders for weeks now, so of course that was my first assumption about the ID of these small brown birds. But no, once I payed attention, these were no goldfinches. American Goldfinches look quite different, as several nearby handsome individuals made clear:

I've seen Pine Siskins only a few times before -- once during a winter visit to Paul's family in New Jersey, and again on a vacation in Utah -- and while these birds wander into Connecticut in small numbers in the winter, I never did see them while I lived there. And they're not common in Ohio either. So it's exciting indeed to have these northern birds visiting our Ohio yard! I'm really liking their yellow-accented wing feathers and pointy beaks:

Quite a subtly pretty bird:

The best surprise has been that the black oil sunflower seeds we put in our window feeders have been such a hit with the various finches in our yard. I'd thought that finches only went for smaller seeds (like thistle), which we don't offer, but the American Goldfinches, House Finches, and now Pine Siskins seem to like the sunflower seeds perfectly well:

Another fun surprise: I've noticed in recent weeks that the American Goldfinches are really bossy at our feeders, frequently chasing off larger Tufted Titmice and holding their ground with raised wings and open beaks. But now the Pine Siskins are here, and apparently they hold rank over even the goldfinches. If a siskin's at the feeder, it's going to stay there for as long as it darn well pleases, and if it wants a seed on the other end of the feeder, well the other birds had better get out of the way. I have way too much fun watching these various birds interact. Here's a video of one of the ultra-bossy Pine Siskins doing its thing (don't mind the somewhat dirty window):

Hooray for snow and winter birds! Who knows what fancy visitors will show up next.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This handsome male Red-bellied Woodpecker was working over a tree outside our window yesterday, and clearly he needed his portrait taken:

OK, I see a faint wash of reddish-pink on his belly, and I love his blushing cheeks and breast as well. But of course the feature that really stands out is that brilliant flame-red cap. What an awesome color:

He also spent some time perched on a nearby branch, looking as puffy as I've ever seen a woodpecker. From this angle, I can almost imagine I'm looking at some strangely-outfitted finch:

But no, that's a woodpecker all right:

Thanks for the photo shoot, handsome bird! It's definitely great to have these guys around.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Visiting Opossum

A surprising visitor showed up right outside our basement window tonight: a Virginia Opossum! It was rustling around in the dry leaves, probably searching out the sunflower seeds that the birds regularly scatter from our window feeder. We carefully opened the window to peer out at it (it was just a few feet away!) and it looked right back at us before running (well, waddling) away:

I've never seen an opossum so close and just going about its business before. (I have met opossums in live traps destined for relocation in the past, and those individuals were not exactly happy.) Look at that face! I'd say this is quite a lovely creature.

The opossum came back and spent some more time foraging in the same spot after we closed the window (even with the lit room and people moving around behind the glass). Then about an hour later, I was working on another floor, and I heard some suspicious leaf-rustling coming from outside the big glass doors. This fellow had found a second seed spot (beneath another window feeder), and it was foraging right next to the glass! I can't believe how much it just did not care about the room and porch lights and our faces and cameras inches away from it (until, that is, it noticed we were there). How amazing to be so close to this creature! Here's a video of our visitor at work:

Happy foraging, bold opossum!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rainy November Fox Squirrel

The scenery around our yard is particularly stark right now, and things get even bleaker when it rains. This lovely Fox Squirrel was huddled in a tree outside our window on a recent gray afternoon:

How nice it must be to have a fluffy tail to use as an umbrella/blanket in the rain:

Even if we no longer have colorful autumn leaves on the trees, at least our neighborhood Fox Squirrels can still brighten things up!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Raptors, Rodents, and Reptiles (and More) at Sheldon Marsh

Yesterday was sunny and gorgeous and not all that cold, so I headed out for my first dedicated woods walk in a public park since moving to Ohio. (It sounds crazy, I know, but I've been so impressed with the nature in our own yard that I haven't really felt the need to explore other places.) I've been very curious about this whole Great Lake thing, so I drove up to Sheldon Marsh Nature Preserve, which is right on the shore of Lake Erie. For such a small park (there was only a mile or so of trails) this place had a whole lot of things going for it, including really lovely woods, fields, marshes, and beaches, and wildlife all over the place.

A Red-tailed Hawk was soaring over the small field near the entrance right when I arrived:

At the edge of the lake, an even bigger raptor was keeping watch:

I'm fairly certain this is the closest I've been to a wild Bald Eagle. An impressive bird indeed:

Wow, what a huge beak. I wouldn't want to be a smaller creature in this bird's sights:

Ready for launch (the tree's branches got in the way of my pictures of the takeoff):

The path through the forest featured lots of small mammal activity, even with all the people walking by. Fox Squirrels buried nuts next to the path and waved their fancy red tails:

We have regular old Gray Squirrels around here too, but I see Fox Squirrels much more often -- a first for me, since I've never lived in a place with Fox Squirrels before. I definitely admire their orange bellies and tails.

This Eastern Chipmunk was keeping an eye on me, but it was much more interested in the second Eastern Chipmunk a few feet away (a grand chase began soon after I took this picture):

I was surprised and happy to see several Painted Turtles basking in one of the ponds, even though it's getting quite late in the year:

We have a different subspecies of Painted Turtle out here than we had in Connecticut (Midland vs. Eastern Painted Turtles), but I still recognize these guys as familiar friends. I love the extreme balancing act of the turtle on the far left of this picture.

I was just a footstep away from this little Brown Snake before I noticed it. It's a good thing twigs aren't usually so curvy! I took this picture then urged the little fellow off the path and out of the way of dangerous feet:

I got to meet a new (for me) bird on this visit, too. Rusty Blackbirds have been declining dramatically in numbers in recent decades and they're listed as "vulnerable" by the IUCN. A couple of these handsome fellows were hanging out with some Red-winged Blackbirds and they stopped only briefly for a picture before heading off to forage in the swampy woods:

A bunch of different ducks were hanging out in the marsh, and I was super happy to meet a pair of Wood Ducks close to the path. They were foraging behind a screen of bushes, which made picture-taking rather difficult, but it also helped them feel safe despite the person with the camera nearby. Wood Ducks are -- I think -- the most beautiful of ducks. The female was lovely (with duckweed on her bill, so cute), and I love the faint sheen of iridescent purple in her hair:

And of course the male was resplendent:

I love the way he looks against the reflected fall trees:

And boy do I wish this next picture was entirely in focus! I had no idea his wings would be so colorful as well:

As I was leaving, I met the most personable (or perhaps most tired/hungry) White-throated Sparrow ever:

This little bird kept hopping along the path I was taking, basically right next to me. It would startle up every few seconds while I walked, but then it would come back and continue foraging on my path, only a few feet away. So I did what I used to do with shorebirds in Connecticut: I walked a little ways ahead of the bird and then crouched down and let it keep foraging and work its way toward me. I've never had a sparrow come so close!

The food on this path must have been really good; this bird found a morsel every few steps:

It's nice to get a sparrow's-eye view of the woods every once in a while:

So Sheldon Marsh turned out to be a lovely place, with lots of awesome creatures. I'm sure I'll make my way back here at some point!