Monday, September 18, 2023

May-June, 2023

I've already posted about the Eastern Bluebirds who raised their families in our yard this spring and summer, but we had a lot of other cool sightings during that time, too! Here are some highlights from our property during May and June of this year.

May is peak migration time, and it's always fun to get glimpses of the birds that pass through our yard on the way to their summer breeding grounds, near or far. Here's a White-crowned Sparrow on May 7, pausing briefly here during its journey to somewhere in northern Canada:

Migration also meant that we added three new bird species to our yard list in May this year, bringing our total list of bird species seen and/or heard on our property to 116! (Wow!) Bird #114 was a Least Flycatcher who was hunting and calling from a big apple tree in our meadow on May 7 (thanks to Merlin's sound ID feature for helping me to confirm this little bird's identity). Bird #115 was, incredibly, an Eastern Whip-poor-will who called for a few minutes after 9:00 PM on May 11; the bird was singing from somewhere beyond our property, but it was loud enough that I heard it from inside the house. (Eastern Whip-poor-wills are rare around here, and I expect that this was a once-in-a-very-long-while event.) Bird #116 was a Prairie Warbler who moved quickly through our yard, singing a few times, on May 28.

Of course it's also wonderful to come across birds that I see more regularly, especially birds who are only around during the warmer months. This Broad-winged Hawk circled overhead for a bit on May 7; I'm fairly sure that these hawks nest somewhere in the woods bordering our property, but I don't know whether this individual was here to stay for the summer, or whether it was planning to move on:

This male Common Yellowthroat was singing insistently at the edge of the meadow on May 14, perhaps establishing his territory for the season (this is another species that breeds here):

Also on May 14, this male Scarlet Tanager made a nice contrast with newly emerging Shagbark Hickory leaves and flowers:

Just a few days after I took that picture, we had a late hard freeze that destroyed most of this Shagbark Hickory's leaves (and many emerging leaves on other plants, too). This tree and pretty much everything else recovered fine, but it was tough to see so much blackened and bare plant life in the second half of May.

On May 16, I got to admire this Black Swallowtail butterfly up close after it emerged from a chrysalis that overwintered in our unheated mudroom:

Downy Woodpeckers had a nest in a partially-dead tree at the edge of our property this year. I didn't get to see the babies, but I certainly heard them, and the parents made frequent visits. Here's the male at the nest hole on May 27:

On May 30, this Eastern Chipmunk was stuffing its cheeks full of Silver Maple seeds that had fallen from the tree in our front yard:

Those are some big cheeks! And I love this view from behind:

On May 31, a swarm of Honey Bees settled briefly high up in the branches of an oak tree in our front yard:

I'd never seen a Honey Bee swarm in person before! Here's a closer view -- wow, that's a lot of bees:

I didn't take a whole lot of pictures of wildflowers during this time, but here's an especially floriferous Starflower plant along our woods path on June 2; I don't usually see three of these lovely blossoms on a single plant:

And I was pretty well blown away by the Wild Lupine display in our meadow this year. I wonder if these plants were helped along by the extremely dry May we had, or maybe they've just been really successful at increasing their population each year (despite the ever spreading goldenrod). Whatever the reason, there were more lupine flowers in the meadow this year than I've ever seen before, and it was glorious. I'm so glad these plants took off when we scattered their seeds after excavation work in the meadow in 2017! Here's a view of a small portion of the lupine show on May 31:

And a wider view on June 2:

I loved seeing some variations in colors among different plants, like these bicolor white-and-purple flowers on June 4:


These flowers were a big hit with the pollinators, too. Here's a Honey Bee enjoying the lupines on June 5:

This male Brown-headed Cowbird was looking fancy in newly emerging Redbud shoots on June 6 (after the tree's first attempt at new growth was entirely destroyed in the May 18 freeze):

In the woods on June 15, I happened to spot a Small-eyed Sphinx (Paonias myops). This moth was doing a very good dead leaf impression, dangling by its front legs from a Multiflora Rose stem:

Up close, this moth's wings look to me like they're decorated with gold leaf; ah, so pretty, and the shapes of these wings are so interesting:

(Incidentally, Multiflora Rose is one of those nasty invasives that I'm trying to gradually remove from the property; there's quite a lot of it out there, but it hasn't totally taken over any areas yet, and I've been making slow but steady progress each year. My strategy this year was to cut some plants to the ground and place a wide flat rock over each stump, and that actually seemed to work pretty well, as long as the rock was wide enough. Last year, I tried cutting down plants and treating the stumps with triclopyr, which mostly worked, but some of the plants still regrew. We have an abundance of wide flat rocks on the property, so I'll likely keep going with that strategy for now.)

On June 21, I saw one of our Eastern Phoebes hunting in the meadow, using young trees as convenient perches:

Here's another picture of this lovely bird perched on a small hawthorn sapling:

(I wonder how long it will be before this area is no longer quite a meadow, with small trees and shrubs moving in. I don't feel the need to maintain this strictly as a meadow, and I'm very curious to see how this landscape will change over the years.)

Also on June 21, a couple of Ovenbirds in the woods came near me and made sharp sounds and generally made it clear that I wasn't welcome -- I think they may have had a nest somewhere near the path. Yes, you are bold little birds, and also adorable:

Speaking of adorable, here's a young Tufted Titmouse at the edge of the meadow (also on June 21):

On June 29, I was surprised to see a juvenile Dark-eyed Junco grooming itself right in the middle of a small table on our back deck:

This little bird then sat on the table for several minutes, apparently resting -- it didn't seem to be hurt, and it flew away after a little while, but it was definitely strange to see this young bird lounging on our deck furniture:

Finally, our trail camera in the woods picked up several cool sightings in June, so here's a small selection of clips, featuring: 

  1. Our first sighting of an American Mink on our property. This was a surprise, because I've only seen mink around water before! But this mustelid-type creature was too big to be a weasel and too small to be a Fisher (both of which have appeared on the camera in this spot in the past), and there are wetlands just a little further downhill from here; and it sure looks like a mink.
  2. An Ovenbird doing its chicken-like walk across the log.
  3. A mother White-tailed Deer and her twin fawns.
  4. A Raccoon with two babies (and sounds!).

And that's it for May and June! As I'm writing this, the fall season is arriving (yay, fall!), but the next posts on this blog will feature summer sights. Next up: July!

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Eastern Bluebird Neighbors

In 2018, we installed two bluebird boxes on the edge of our meadow and yard, and this year we finally had our first successful Eastern Bluebird tenants! The boxes have gotten plenty of use over the years, and they've helped to produce many baby birds: Tree Swallows have used one of the boxes almost every year (but not this year, sadly, and I've so missed having these birds around), Black-capped Chickadees successfully raised a brood here one year, and House Wrens nested in one of the boxes for a few years. Aside from a brief failed nesting attempt in 2019, though, bluebirds have declined our offer of housing... until this year! A pair of bluebirds showed up in April and stuck around, raising two broods and eight babies total in one of the nest boxes. I've so enjoyed the opportunity to watch these beautiful little thrushes while they were regular fixtures in our yard this spring and summer. What a treat! And yes, I took lots of pictures. :)

The first bluebird egg appeared on April 20, and we ended up with five eggs in this first brood. When I peeked into the nest box on May 6, the female had arranged the eggs into this neat little circle:

On May 10, the nest held five tiny bluebird babies, maybe a day or so old:

Here are those same babies on May 21, much bigger and so fluffy:

While the babies were growing in the nest, the parents did a whole lot of hunting in our yard to keep these little creatures fed. I was worried about this family when we had a late heavy freeze on May 18 (down to around 25 degrees F) that was severe enough that a lot of the emerging plants were damaged, but these birds made it through just fine. Good job, parents!

Here's the female bluebird on May 14 bringing a big brown caterpillar to the nest:

Big larvae like this seemed to be a popular food item. Here's the female again on May 27 with another big brown larva delivery:

On May 25, I sneakily peeked my camera lens through our open living room window and used the house as a blind while the male bluebird hunted from the small Eastern Redbud tree between our house and driveway -- my car is a not-so-natural backdrop here, but is this guy gorgeous or what?

(This redbud tree's emerging buds were all blasted in the late freeze, and it took a while for the tree to start growing again. The bare tree wasn't pretty, but it did make for a clear view of the birds!)

Bluebirds hunt by perching and watching the ground below, and then fluttering down on top of their prey. Here's one of this guy's successful catches during this hunting session -- it's another big brown caterpillar!

Soon enough, the baby bluebirds fledged, and we had a bunch of juvenile bluebirds in the yard! Here's one of the juveniles with the male on June 5:

And wonderfully, the bluebird pair went ahead and started a second brood in the same nest box, which meant that the whole family stayed around! (I didn't clean out the old nest, so I think the female just added a bit more nesting material and reused the old structure.) I think these young birds are so very pretty, with their blue-edged wings and tails, and their spotted backs and shoulders. Here's one of these juveniles on June 8:

And this same bird from another angle; so pretty!

Here's another of the siblings (or possibly the same one?) after I was able to sneak a bit closer to the tree where they were hanging out, also on June 8:

I especially loved seeing these birds perched on posts in my garden; this looks like a good spot to practice searching for meals in the plants below! This picture is from June 21:

And here's the female and a juvenile perched on top of my pea trellis on the same day:

OK, here's one more picture of one of the juvenile bluebirds, hovering above berry-laden Black Raspberry plants on July 10 (I have many more pictures of other birds and creatures enjoying the berries this summer, too, but that will be another post):

Meanwhile, a second batch of siblings was growing in the nest. Three of these five eggs hatched into brand new babies, pictured here on June 24:

And here's the second brood on July 5, with open eyes and emerging feathers:

Since the second brood fledged, the family of bluebirds hasn't been around nearly as much, and we see them only occasionally now. I'm really glad that this pair decided to raise their families in our yard this year! It's been so cool to have these lovely birds around for a few months. Good luck out there, little ones!

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

January-April, 2023

Oh look! Somehow it's been another half-a-year since I last posted sightings from around our property on this blog. :) I seem to be falling into a pattern of gathering pictures on my computer for months and then sharing these highlights in bursts -- but ah well, better late than never! It's time to start catching up with 2023!

The first few months of this year were especially busy, and I'm sure I missed a lot of the goings-on in our yard, meadow, and woods (sadly). But even so, I got to see many cool things, and I've had a lot of fun getting to know my brand new camera (thank you, family, for the Christmas gift!). My old, much-loved, 10+ year old DSLR camera simply wasn't working very well anymore, and it was time for an upgrade. So I've been playing around with this new toy, learning some new things, and so enjoying having a fully functional camera again.

In this post, I'll share some highlights from winter and early spring -- January through April -- and then I'll have much more to share from the rest of spring and early summer in later posts. Here we go!

On January 8, I wandered through our meadow and woods, admiring the sunny blue sky and snow-free ground. Most of this year's winter was quite mild; it's strange to see our meadow in January without snow:

In the woods, I was having too much fun taking pictures of the jungle of moss on this fallen log:

I spent some time figuring out how up-close I could get to another patch of moss with my new camera (much closer than my old camera could go!) -- I also love the tiny ice crystals in this next picture, showing that yes, it is really winter:

We did have some snow in January, although not a lot. Here's a crisp wintry view of the hills across the valley from our house on January 16:

This male Downy Woodpecker was in the apple tree outside our window during a light but driving snowfall on January 13, and I can't resist sharing this picture of this cute little bird with his heart-shaped cap:

On February 12, without snow on the ground in which to build their usual network of tunnels, this Meadow Vole was foraging around a wood pile, quite exposed. Be careful, little vole:

Nearby, I was surprised to see a spider out and about in the sunshine, climbing on a peach tree twig (I think this is some sort of Long-jawed Orbweaver, genus Tetragnatha):

There usually isn't anything blooming here in February, but with all the mild weather and lack of snow, our Snowdrops bloomed on February 16, a good three weeks earlier than I'd seen these flowers bloom before, in the six years we've lived in this house.

And although they're not actually flowers, I also loved seeing the little flower-like bracts on the American Witch Hazel shrub in our front yard; the bracts are left over from last year's blossoms, and they'll host the expanding seed pods in the coming months. Here's a picture of these bracts from February 12:

On March 5, I spent some time admiring some of the birds hanging out in our yard. I love how the underside of this Mourning Dove's tail seems to glow:

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker and Pileated Woodpecker sat in the same tree across the meadow from our house for several minutes, preening and apparently keeping watch over the territory (this tree was sooo far away from me -- yay, camera!):

A male House Finch looked handsome in the branches of a fir tree in our yard:

And here's another (or the same?) male Downy Woodpecker in the apple tree again, this time without a window pane between us:

On March 12, a few inches of puffy wet snow made a pretty frame for this American Goldfinch:

And some mammal's tracks led the way through the pristine snow into our woods trail:

Speaking of mammals in the woods, here's a selection of mammal sightings from our trail camera in February and March; the camera was watching a spot just a little further down the path in the picture above. This video includes six brief clips, featuring a Gray Fox carrying an unknown object (something hard? a bone?), our very first Fisher recorded on our property, a Raccoon, an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, a White-tailed Deer, and a Red Fox with a mouthful of voles:


It's so amazing to be able to see these creatures as they passed through our woods!

On March 26, our American Hazelnut shrubs were blossoming, with tiny female flowers:

And dangling male flowers:

That evening, as it was starting to get dark, this fancy male Dark-eyed Junco spent some time displaying right at eye-level in the blooming Silver Maple in front of our house:

What a puffy, handsome fellow!


A burst of warm weather in April meant that a lot of the early spring flowers bloomed and faded quickly, and I missed many of them this year. Fortunately, I was at least able to grab a view of these Bloodroot flowers at their very brief peak, since they grow in our front yard (next to emerging Virginia Bluebell buds):

And I was very happy to get to see our one Red Trillium blossoming in the woods on April 19:

April was also the time when our neighborhood birds started building nests and laying eggs. This is the second year in a row when the Eastern Phoebes declined to build a nest in their traditional (and as far as I've seen, always successful) spot over our front door, so I suppose that time has finished. Instead, they nested in our old shed again, where they were parasitized by Brown Cowbirds. The phoebe's April nesting attempt failed -- they actually removed the cowbird egg, but then they didn't continue on with that nest.

In happier April bird-nesting news, this was the first year since we put up bluebird boxes in 2018 that we've actually had an Eastern Bluebird family come and stay! (A pair of bluebirds made a brief attempt in 2019, but they disappeared after they laid one egg.) It's been so wonderful to have bluebirds as a common fixture in our yard this year -- usually they're only infrequent passers-through here. I don't have any pictures of the bluebird family from April, but don't worry, I'll have plenty of pictures of them in the next posts.

On April 19, I was surprised to see a Black-capped Chickadee checking out the nest box containing the fully-constructed bluebird nest (the first egg appeared the very next day):

The chickadee even went inside the box to take a look around, but it left again quickly:

Sorry, chickadee, this spot is taken.

And that's it for 2023 up through April! I've got lots more to share from spring and summer so far this year, so more will be coming later. :)