Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Basically All of Spring: Part 2

Here are the rest of my sightings from our house since mid-March, continued from the previous post!

More Birds 
We've had a lot of nesting drama this spring. First, pair of Eastern Bluebirds developed a strong interest in one of our nest boxes. Here's a female bluebird visiting the box on March 15; I think she looks very pretty backlit by the morning sun:

The pair eventually went for it, and the female built a large (towering, really) nest with grass and lots of pine needles. Here's the finished nest on April 29:

The male was around, too, chasing off other birds and generally keeping an eye on things. Here he is on April 30:

On May 4, I found a single blue egg in the nest:

And then that was the end of the bluebirds' nesting attempt here! A week later, the nest still only had the one egg, and the adults seemed to have disappeared. Sometime after that, the egg was gone and the nest untidy. I'm not sure what happened or why the bluebirds left, but at least this all happened early in the season, and hopefully one or both of them will still have time to make another go at nesting this year.

The Eastern Phoebes seemed to consider putting a nest over our front door again this year (as they have for at least the past two years), but in a surprise twist, the female phoebe built her nest on some electrical conduit under our back deck instead. The first egg appeared in the nest on May 2, and all seemed well and normal until I peeked into the nest on May 9 and saw an unusually large and speckled egg tucked in among the pearly white phoebe eggs -- a Brown-headed Cowbird had found the nest:

Brown-headed Cowbirds are native birds that don't build any nests of their own, but rather lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, usually to the detriment of their hosts' actual brood. My first reaction on seeing this egg was disappointment, because I love phoebes, and it's been such a joy to see them raise their babies in previous years. But there's really nothing to be done; besides the fact that it's illegal to mess with native birds' eggs (without proper permits), there are all sorts of other reasons why it's a bad idea to remove a cowbird egg (see this site for a bunch of interesting points). So with all that in mind, I decided to view this nest as a chance to watch weird nature at work. I'd never gotten to actually see a cowbird being raised by host parents, after all. And, in the end, everything has worked out rather well (so far), which I suspect is mainly because these two adult phoebes are master hunters and excellent providers for their young dependents. I see the two of them snatching up bugs in our yard and meadow almost constantly. Here's one of the parents in a bush near the nest on May 16:

The cowbird was the first to hatch, on May 20:

I worried for a while that the phoebe eggs wouldn't hatch at all, but on May 25 (with the cowbird baby already six days old), the first phoebe baby appeared (wow, look at that size difference):

By May 29, only two of the phoebe eggs had hatched, and those two nestlings were pretty well dwarfed by the hulking cowbird baby:

And when I checked the nest on May 31 (only 11 days after hatching!), the cowbird had departed, and the two phoebes had the nest to themselves:

When I checked again yesterday, the two phoebe babies were still growing and doing fine. It's true that two phoebes is significantly fewer than the five original eggs, and some of that loss may have been because of the cowbird, but two phoebes is still better than no phoebes (which was another possible outcome), so I call this a win. Overall, I'm super impressed with these phoebe parents, who raised a cowbird nestling to fledging while also incubating and feeding their own babies. They deserve an award.

After a long period of indecision, a pair of Tree Swallows also took up residence in our second nest box, and that nest is going strong, with the first egg appearing in the nest on May 24. I love having these beautiful birds here, making their bubbling sounds and swooping around our meadow. I also appreciate how relatively amiable this particular pair of Tree Swallows is; these birds sit politely at their box while I work in my garden not too far away, whereas I've met Tree Swallows in other places who dive-bombed me for walking by at a further distance. Here's our pair at their box, the female peeking out of the entrance hole, and the male in his typical perch on top of the box:

Other birds are starting to nest in our yard, too, but these attempts are in their earliest stages, so I'll hold off on reporting about them until I know more.

Finally, this spring has brought an exciting bird milestone: We reached 100 species on the list of birds we've seen/heard on our property! Bird #98 was a Double-crested Cormorant who flew overhead (a pretty strange bird for a yard more than 10 miles from the nearest lake). Bird #99 was a group of Common Nighthawks who hunted over our meadow and woods for several evenings at the end of May, making their weird honking calls the whole time (what an awesome sight):

Bird #100 was a Mourning Warbler -- also a totally new bird for me -- who popped into our yard briefly near the end of May. 100 species of birds... wow. And we won't stop there! This place continues to amaze me.


We got to see several amphibians this spring. On the night of April 8, we went in search of the very loud Spring Peepers we were hearing, and after some careful searching we successfully spotted a few of these tiny frogs calling at the small pond (more of a large puddle really) in our woods. And then when we returned to the house, of course, who should be waiting at our front door, out in the open and easy to see, but a Spring Peeper. Oh well! I love these little frogs, regardless of whether we go looking for them or they come to us:

The night of April 12 was warm and rainy, and we spent some time shepherding peepers and Spotted Salamanders across our road. Unfortunately, several of these creatures had died trying to cross, but we made sure that at least a few got to the other side safely. Spotted Salamanders are wonderful, and I love getting to see them out and about on these early spring amphibian nights:

On May 16, I was surprised to find a Red-backed Salamander in our basement; it had crawled inside the warm, humid stand where I was starting seedlings for the garden. I find these salamanders fairly frequently in our woods, but transporting this individual outside was a great opportunity to admire it up close. Sooo cute:


Here are a few wildflower sightings to round out this spring summary. On April 7, eager for any signs of growing things, I admired the tiny new leaves of Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) in our meadow; this is second-year growth from seeds we scattered in 2017:

By May 26, these plants had become glorious mounds of greenery, with spires of purple/blue flowers:

I expected the lupine blossoms to be beautiful from afar (and they are), but I didn't know that these flowers would also have intricate and subtle markings up close:

The diversity of spring wildflowers in our woods is somewhat limited, but they're out there. I was happy to catch this Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) in bloom on May 4:

Likewise with this Starflower (Trientalis borealis) on May 24:

An Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) I planted last year produced beautiful ribbon-y blossoms this sping; here's a picture of these flowers from May 4:

And on May 29, the many hawthorn trees in our woods were covered with blossoms (many more than I saw on these trees last year):

And finally, although it's not a native plant, I can't stop admiring the blossoms on Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), which is common in all the spots in our yard where I haven't mowed:

And that's most of spring! There's still a lot of growing (for plants and animals) ahead in the upcoming months, but the wild rush is mainly over. I'm excited to see what happens next!

Basically All of Spring: Part 1

Since I last posted (in mid-March), I've been thoroughly enjoying spring in all its various stages. I love early spring, with its barest hints of growth; this picture of our house on a misty mid-April afternoon might seem bleak, but there's the faint green of new grass in the meadow, and the faint red of flowers on the maple trees:

And I love later spring, when everything's bright and new and so colorful; here's a view from our meadow just a month after the previous picture, on May 16:

The time frame for this current post almost exactly matches my two-part spring summary post from 2018 (which, while not planned, is convenient for me, because in the future I'll be able to look back and directly compare these two years). We actually got to spend more time at our house this year compared to last year (no lengthy traveling, and no house damage forcing us to stay in a hotel), so we were around to see more things. Even so, spring has felt like a whirlwind, with so much change and growth and motion, and not nearly enough time to take it all in. But I do what I can! And I've seen some really wonderful things this spring. (With so many sightings, this will need to be two posts. Here's part 1!)


All the usual mammals have been around this spring: White-tailed Deer (including a fawn as of yesterday, June 3), Eastern Cottontail Rabbits, Red and Gray Squirrels, and Eastern Chipmunks. A Groundhog has shown up to forage in our yard several times, and while we're fairly certain she's a mother, we haven't seen any babies yet. Here's a chipmunk posing near the edge of our woods on May 1:

This spring has also brought a couple of amazing mammal sightings. For a few chilly days (and nights) at the end of April, a tiny Tricolored Bat (which used to be called an Eastern Pipistrelle) roosted near the ceiling of our front porch. This bat was only a couple of inches long, and we worried about it a bit as it stayed huddled in the same rather open spot for so long; but as soon as the weather warmed up again, it headed off. I feel very lucky to have gotten to see this little creature, and we were happy to share our porch with it:

Also incredibly lucky: On the evening of May 25, I saw a Gray Fox in our meadow. We were both out walking through the meadow, we spotted each other, stared at each other for several seconds (I had binoculars but hadn't brought my camera, sigh), and then the fox turned and bounded off. I knew Gray Foxes were around because they showed up on our trail camera a couple of times last year, but I'd never seen a Gray Fox in person before. It was beautiful, and somehow sleek and bushy at the same time. What an amazing creature!


Spring is a great time for birds, of course, with so many species leaving, arriving, passing through, and getting started with breeding. On March 23, I watched a flock of Snow Geese fly over the house, headed north:

A handsome male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker spent several days in April drilling and tending wells in our Shagbark Hickory tree:

A male Wild Turkey displayed in our meadow a few times, mostly for females who seemed uninterested (this picture is from April 11):

Turkeys are such strange-looking birds. Here's a flamboyant male who passed through the meadow on May 1:

Song Sparrows are among the cast of regulars in our yard during the spring -- I can almost always hear and/or see a Song Sparrow somewhere around the house or meadow if I try. But that doesn't mean I won't take the opportunity to make a picture of one of these handsome birds if they let me; I love Song Sparrows, and I'm very happy to have them around:

The male Chipping Sparrow with the white forehead arrived back in our yard this spring; this was the third year in a row we've seen him here, and it's nice to be able to greet a familiar individual bird:

Sadly, this is the last year we'll get to see this fancy fellow. At some point in May, he stopped showing up in the yard, and a few days later I found his body by the side of the road. I'm guessing he was hit by a car. Finding a dead animal is always sad, but this feels especially so because I could recognize the individual. I suppose these things happen, and I don't like it.

May brought all sorts of exciting avian arrivals. I watched this male Hooded Warbler singing from exposed perches in our woods on May 16:

The apple tree next to our house had lots of blossoms this year, and it drew in quite a few birds (who looked especially pretty surrounded by all those pink flowers). Here's a Blue-winged Warbler on May 17:

And a Tennessee Warbler on the same day:

I saw Tennessee Warblers in this tree several times this May, apparently because of some nice buggy meals hiding inside the blossoms. Here are some more pictures of the same individual from the previous picture, showing off some impressive foraging skills -- watch out, bugs:

Baltimore Orioles were also frequent visitors to this tree, although I kept missing them with my camera. Even at one of the more distant trees, though, a male Baltimore Oriole surrounded by apple blossoms made quite a sight:

See the next post (part 2) for the rest of this spring's sightings!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Things I'm Excited About (Spring!)

Spring is coming (!) and lots of exciting things are happening:

1. A male Eastern Bluebird has been checking out our two nest boxes over the past couple of days. I would absolutely love to have a bluebird pair take up residence in one of these boxes, which are a new addition to the property as of last year. (Of course, I also love having Tree Swallows as tenants, and other birds are welcome, too, but these are "bluebird" boxes, after all!)

2. Yesterday was apparently a fantastic day for migration, because big flocks of geese were passing overhead all day. In 10 minutes in the middle of the day, I counted 500 Canada Geese flying over our house, plus a couple of Snow Geese. And I saw reports yesterday of people counting Canada Geese in the tens of thousands as they passed over the area. We even heard flocks of geese honking overhead at around 9:00-10:00 PM, times which have normally been so silent around here all winter.

3. Garden season has started! I planted some asparagus seeds indoors a couple of weeks ago (I know people usually plant asparagus crowns, but seeds turn out to be much cheaper, and you have to wait a year or more to harvest the asparagus either way), and now there are the tiniest asparaguses (asparagi?) growing in our basement. I didn't know asparagus could be so small! And tomorrow I'll plant the next wave of vegetable and flower seeds and tuck them into their cozy growing area, with lights and heat mats. Yay, plants!

4. I visited Sapsucker Woods today (at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and saw even more early spring sights. Beautiful Skunk Cabbage blossoms are poking up above the snow, and while I didn't clearly see whether any of these super-early spring flowers are actually open yet, I was still very happy to see these lovely speckled plants:

Red-winged Blackbirds have just returned to the area (like, yesterday), and male blackbirds were displaying from perches all around Sapsucker Woods's many marshy areas. These are the first Red-winged Blackbirds I've seen this year! Those bright wings are intense, especially in otherwise bare trees:

This male was a little more reserved, keeping his red shoulders partly covered while he puffed up and called:

Here's one more picture of this bird, looking handsome in between displays:

And we're off! Hooray, spring!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Assorted Winter Yard Sights

Winter is so quiet and static, compared to the riotous diversity and quick change of the other seasons. It's nice, really, to have a couple of months of white-brown-green landscapes, bare branches, and just the core wildlife regulars, so I can enjoy the silence and consistency, notice details in my environment that I've never noticed before, appreciate surprises when they show up, and celebrate even gradual change. My chart of eBird checklists on our property over the the past three months (December through February) shows only 23 species, which is fewer bird species than I might find during a single walk around our meadow and woods on any given day in May. And of those 23 species, only about 14 have appeared on our property with any regularity during that time. (If you're curious, here are the regulars: Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal.) Our regular winter non-bird creatures (the ones we've seen, anyway) are the White-tailed Deer, Eastern Cottontail rabbits, Red Squirrels, White-footed Mice (or possibly Deer Mice), and Meadow Voles. And that's it. Winter is comparatively simple, but even so, these past couple of months have brought plenty of interesting sights.

I've already posted about the flock of Evening Grosbeaks that visited our feeders in early December. Those fantastic birds stayed around for four days, and then they moved on for good. (I wonder how many years it will be before I see another Evening Grosbeak.) Just a week later, though, on December 13, we had another surprise at our feeders when a single Common Redpoll showed up:

I haven't seen a Common Redpoll since I came across a small flock of these little finches at the Connecticut shore in 2013. These birds certainly aren't common around here, and my understanding is that it's quite special to have one visit your feeder. Either way, I was delighted to meet this streaky brown-and-white creature, with its pointy yellow beak and perfect little red cap:

The redpoll seemed to thoroughly enjoy the nyjer seeds at our feeder:

While I watched the redpoll, I also had the opportunity to see one of the Meadow Voles that had taken to boldly foraging under the feeders around that time (I haven't seen these creatures outside of their burrows beneath the snow in a while, but there was a span of a couple of weeks when we saw them frequently in the open and munching on dropped seeds) -- look at this cute little rodent face:

The redpoll stayed around for a few hours and then moved on. I'm happy to host these rare northern visitors in our yard, even if only for a little while!

On the morning of January 14, a layer of ice on twigs and branches made for some amazing sights in our meadow:

By around 9:45 AM, clear sunlight (in January! amazing!) lit up the icy trees and created all sorts of interesting textures and patterns:

Perfectly ice-coated treetops made for quite a view through a telephoto lens:

Even an old spider web outside our kitchen window was beautifully highlighted by frost and sunlight:

By a couple of hours later, the sun had melted much of the ice, and this male Red-bellied Woodpecker looked very pretty in his sunlit apple tree:

The half-melted landscape was in some ways even more interesting than the fully iced version of two hours earlier:

I don't know how the sunlight melted the treetop ice on the hillside into these distinct lines, but I think the result is amazing, like wave-shaped sand on a beach:

On January 27, I wandered through our snow-covered meadow and admired the intricate patterns of dead flower stems -- many of them from seeds we planted -- against the pristine snow:

These Black-eyed Susan blooms were strangely pretty from above:

I love the graceful shape (and reddish color) of this Little Bluestem stalk:

And these Common Yarrow stalks made interesting shapes against the snow:

While walking in our woods on February 2, I came across the signs of what seemed to be a rabbit festival, with more rabbit droppings than I think I've ever seen in one area, as well as -- this is new to me -- spots of shockingly red pee:

The next day (February 3), a walk in the woods turned up a spider -- what a robust creature this must be, to be out and about in February, with snow still on the ground:

On February 17, I wandered outside under an amazingly blue sky; I love sunny February days:

This Blue Jay perfectly matched its gray-branch and blue-sky surroundings:

A Dark-eyed Junco sang quietly from within a sun-lit bush (practicing its song for breeding season?) and then emerged long enough to have its portrait taken:

An American Tree Sparrow also made an appearance:

This is such a handsome sparrow, especially against the clear blue sky:

I stopped to admire (as I do every time I pass by) the fuzz-tipped buds of this Allegheny Serviceberry tree I planted last year:

At another edge of the meadow, I was surprised to see the incredible amount of old Yellow-bellied Sapsucker holes on this very old apple tree, and just as surprised that I'd never noticed all these holes before now:

The afternoon light perfectly set off some big pine trees on the wooded ridge across the street from our house:

On February 21, a temporary thaw and bright sunlight brought out a cobweb-like tracing of snowy remnants on the hills across the valley:

As I write this on February 25, we're getting frigid winds and fresh snow, and it certainly still feels like winter. But changes are happening: the daylight is getting noticeably stronger and longer, the cardinals and chickadees have started singing in recent weeks, and I even spotted some crocus leaves emerging from the ground way back on February 10. I know that March will bring more tantalizing signs of the coming spring, and I'm excited to see what will happen during this year's more active seasons.