Saturday, October 26, 2013

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker & Co.

This gorgeous young male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker came through our yard this past Wednesday:

This guy hasn't got the brilliant clean red throat and cap that adult males have, and I think he's missing a black mark on his chest as well, but young or not, this is one handsome bird! I love those scalloped feathers on his chest, and yeah, his belly is kind of yellow... I guess.

Like so many other birds right now, this fellow was here for the Red Cedar's fruit!

Well, add another bird to the list. A Northern Flicker came by to eat these berry-like cones last year, so this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the second woodpecker I've seen eating from this Red Cedar. Still, it seems a strange thing for a woodpecker to do! Ah well! Who's going to tell this guy that he should be hammering tree trunks instead of munching berries?

That's right. Eat away!

I had way too much fun admiring this bird. I love the pattern on his back and wings:

And he looked cool in a more typically woodpecker-ish pose as well: (Look, a tiny woodpecker tongue!)

Those grappling-hook feet sure do their job well:

There were two other woodpecker species in these trees at the same time as this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but neither of them seemed interested in the cones. A Red-bellied Woodpecker hopped around outside of my camera's reach, and a female Downy Woodpecker (positively petite compared to the other woodpeckers) rested behind a branch:

She came out to forage as well, but she was after tidbits (insects? seeds other birds have secreted away?) hidden in the Red Cedar's bark:

And while not a woodpecker (but similar at least in those large clinging feet), this drowsy White-breasted Nuthatch was also hanging around, all puffed up against the cold:

I'm veering slightly off-theme again now, because I have one other yard bird to share. Yesterday, a curious little Carolina Wren apparently decided to see what all the titmouses were doing at our window feeder, and it ended up exploring the sill:

I have read that Carolina Wrens do sometimes eat sunflower seeds, but this bird either wasn't interested or couldn't quite figure out the source. It wasn't for lack of exploring, though!

You're quite the acrobat, little bird. Also, adorable:

I didn't see any Carolina Wrens in our yard all summer, but a couple of these guys have been hanging out here recently, singing their super loud songs and just basically being awesome. I certainly enjoy having them around, along with the woodpeckers and all the other cool avian visitors that stop by in the fall. :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Preparing for Next Year

A few weeks ago, I noticed some strange structures on one of the plants on my porch. Now that leaves are browning and falling off, these weird shapes have become more noticeable:

I'm fairly certain these are katydid eggs! More specifically, I think they might be the eggs of a Greater Angle-wing Katydid, which I see frequently (and hear even more frequently) around here in the summer. How interesting that some female decided to pick this spot to deposit her crazy-looking eggs:

I'm really curious to see the baby katydids that will emerge from these shapes in the spring! (Fortunately for the katydids, this is a deciduous plant that I leave outside all winter, so they'll still get all the same natural temperature and climate exposure as if they were on a native plant actually growing in the ground.) In the meantime, I'll just admire these cool structures.

Also, this is totally unrelated to the katydids, but I can't help sharing another picture. Along with lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, we've been getting a bunch of kinglets in our yard recently. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet who visited us on Sunday kept hovering just below our gutters before slipping up to get a drink. I couldn't resist taking a quick picture of this bird who was staying so relatively still in midair (if only for a second at a time), when kinglets are so fidgety even perched on a branch:

This kinglet must've been pretty darn still for my camera to get that much sharpness on its head and body. Nice hovering skills, little bird!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fish Crow Invasion

Something strange happened this past Saturday (October 12). It was late afternoon, and I was starting to think about cooking food, when I heard a big ruckus outside. I looked out the window and there were crows all over. As far as I could tell, there were about 100 birds out there, crowded into several nearby trees, and chowing down on our Red Cedar cones. (Everybody likes these things!) I have to say, it was a little disconcerting to look outside and see rows of crows looming over me:

Even weirder than the number of crows, though, was the species. These were Fish Crows -- I could only tell this because of their constant nasal cawing -- which I'm used to encountering whenever I'm at the shore, but which I almost never see in our yard. Around here, black corvids are pretty much always American Crows. So we got invaded by a passing mob (or "murder," I guess) of Fish Crows! Crazy and cool!

These birds were already impressive when they were just sitting around and eating, but their numbers were especially intimidating when they took to the air:

And the sound of all these birds was pretty intense, too. I took a quick video to try to capture the sound (most of the birds had flown out of easy view by the time I got ready to record), and it more or less worked:

Exciting stuff!


An update!

On Tuesday (October 16), the crows came back! This time, the lighting was better, so here are two more videos of Fish Crows taking over our yard:


(So many Fish Crows!)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Yellow Butts and Blue Berries (Technically Cones)

We still have flocks of Cedar Waxwings munching on the berry-like Red Cedar cones outside our windows, and now the Yellow-rumped Warblers are visiting more frequently as well. I absolutely love these little birds, and I'm glad they seem to like the food in our trees so much!

This subtly-colored individual stopped by on Wednesday. I keep thinking of this bird as female, but it could very well be an immature male (as far as I can tell). Either way, this is one pretty bird:

Yellow-rumped Warblers have yellow on their butts, of course, but they also have those yellow patches on their sides, and yellow on top of their heads as well. This bird had such soft side patches, and an even subtler wash of yellow on its head:

I watched this bird pluck individual cones and then toss them up into the air and catch them again before swallowing. I'm not sure why it was doing this, but it was a bit like watching a juggling act. Very impressive stuff! (And much too quick for my camera.)

Speaking of motions too quick for my camera (in this day's low light), I actually quite like this picture of the bird taking off, streaky yellow patches and all:

There was another Yellow-butt foraging in these trees at the same time, and this bird was distinctly darker, with sharper yellow in all four spots:

I'm assuming this is an adult male in his non-breeding plumage (they're much darker in the spring), but I could be wrong!

I absolutely love the blue-gray patches on this guy's wings. The combination of gray and russet and black here actually reminds me -- strangely enough -- of the colors on an American Kestrel. But I'm sure that's not what this little creature is going for:

During all this time that these two Yellow-rumped Warblers were posing for me, I actually saw very little of the spot that gives them their name. Ah, there it is!

Fall is such a fantastic time, with new yard visitors practically every day. A couple days before these Yellow-rumped warblers showed up, we got a surprise fly-through from a Scarlet Tanager (any scarlet that this bird might have is hidden away for the season):

And a fancy Blue-headed Vireo stopped by as well, showing off its cool white spectacles:

These last two birds weren't eating any cones -- nor any sunflower seeds from the feeder we have set up nearby -- so they didn't stay around very long. Even these brief visits, though, are an awesome addition to this season's variety of wildlife. Hooray for diversity!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Real New England

Paul and I spent this past weekend in New Hampshire, at the eastern end of the White Mountain National Forest. It was, simply put, amazing. I can't believe we've lived in Connecticut for so many years and not explored the states to our north until now. And I have to say, for all that Connecticut is technically part of New England, everything in New Hampshire felt just so much more New England-y than what we have in Southern Connecticut. The fall weather was lovely and crisp, we drove through cute towns and farms and forests and mountains, and we saw gorgeous scenery everywhere we looked. Of course, the magnificent fall foliage had a lot to do with that!

We did a lot of things during our brief trip, but the nature-related highlight was our visit to Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S. at 6288 feet. We drove up the Mount Washington Auto Road, braving the narrow turns with no guard rails. The somewhat harrowing drive was 100% worth it, both for the things we saw on the way and the amazing views when we got to the top.

We got out of the car to walk around a few times during the drive, and the change in environment as we went up in elevation was amazing. At around the 2000-3000 foot level, the abundant clusters of Mountain Ash berries were extremely dramatic:

So many berries!

A few small birds were flitting around in this area, including this female Purple Finch (a bird I don't get to see very often in Connecticut):

Another couple thousand feet up and we were nearing the tree line. This might have been my favorite environment on the mountain, just because every plant here was so warped and weird. These fully-grown trees must have lived through some astonishingly harsh conditions to end up so small (about my height) and crooked; they look now like they're constantly being pushed by the wind, although there was hardly a breeze on the day we were there:

(We did learn that the Mount Washington observatory held the record until recently for highest wind speed on Earth. Poor trees!)

There were lots of little birds foraging in these small trees, too, but they mostly stayed under cover, so that the miniature forest seemed to be constantly chirping. As far as I could tell, most of these birds were Yellow-rumped Warblers and Dark-eyed Juncos. Hello, Junco on your tiny tree perch:

I just love how barren this whole area looked, especially compared to the lush, colorful, berry-laden forests on the lower mountain slopes:

And I am totally fascinated by these trees:

I described this place as "barren", but there were actually things growing all over. These things were just amazingly tiny. There were carpets of strawberry plants with multicolored leaves no bigger than my fingernail:

Edit: Huge thanks to Jackie for pointing out that these plants are actually most likely Three-toothed Cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata), a plant which thrives in alpine regions. I should've known better than to jump to conclusions about plant IDs in such an unfamiliar place as near the top of a mountain!

And bone-bleached woody plant stalks among the most perfect little rock gardens:

I don't know what kind of plant this is, but it looks like it should be tree-sized in any other environment, instead of the creeping, foot-wide (delicate, beautiful) thing it is here:

Even the rocks were green with big bright patches of lichen:

Finally, we reached Mount Washington's peak, and there were no more trees, not even tiny ones. Instead, there were rocks and lichen and clumps of brown grass, and astonishing views from the top of the world in every direction:

These mountains look like huge creatures to me, with their green-ridged backs:

So yeah, this was an awesome experience, and unlike anything I've seen before. (Although Paul and I have noticed that we tend to end up in high places on all of our trips together. We suspect that we have goat instincts.)

We made it back down the mountain safely and got to explore other wonderful things as well. In our other wanderings, we thought we might've found a Moose print on the edge of a muddy pond, and there were also the (possibly) Coyotes howling at night while we were getting ready for sleep. I would've loved to stay longer and see what other wildlife might show up, but our brief visit was awesome nonetheless.

At the end of our trip, we took a brief detour into Maine, which, as it turns out, is also beautiful:

Thanks for the lovely vacation, New England. Hopefully we'll get to visit again sometime soon!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Welcome Back, Waxwings!

Now I know it's fall, because the Cedar Waxwings have arrived and are feasting on the Red Cedar cones outside our apartment's windows. Big flocks of these birds have shown up for the Red Cedar harvest in the last week of September every year since we moved here, and they were right on time again this year. :)

Almost all of the birds in this group are streaky juveniles. They're not quite as sleek as their adult relatives, but they're still pretty awesome with those cool masks. They do look kind of funny head-on, though:

The feasting is pretty much all-day out there, with waxwings crowding onto branches to get the best berry-like cones:

Mmm food!


Juvenile or not, all these waxwings are sporting their perfect yellow-dipped tails:

Hey, bird, your yellow spot is in the wrong place....

Oh! A Yellow-rumped Warbler!

I was actually really surprised to see this little yellow-butt (as Paul and I call them) feeding with the Cedar Waxwings. Usually, the waxwings come through our trees in late September through early October, and then flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers show up for a later feast in the last half of October through early November. (This is the magic of eBird, that I have these records so readily at hand.) This fellow (lady?) seemed to be alone, though, so maybe the groups of yellow-butts will still stop by in a few weeks. In any case, I'm happy to have this early visitor! I love these little birds and their amazingly showy butts:

While I'm already sharing pictures of yellow birds, here's a very puffy American Goldfinch in its dull winter garb who also showed up outside our windows in the past couple of days. I almost never actually see goldfinches in our yard, although they're anything but rare in this area, so it was cool to see this creature up close:

I love fall. :)