Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Closing Out the Old Year With a New Toy

On this final day of 2013 (how is that possible?), I made a quick stop at Southford Falls State Park to try out an extremely generous holiday gift: an upgraded telephoto lens for my camera. It's a strange and exciting change. Things are now a little closer (300mm instead of 200mm) and a little clearer (vibration reduction technology is amazing).

So on this cold, overcast day, and from a distance that would have been too far just a week ago, I'll let this handsome Song Sparrow in what I'm pretty sure is a Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) close out the year:

Here's to another year of interesting sights and exciting events. Happy new year!

(And thank you, Grandpa!)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Feeder Bird Behavior

About a week ago, when we were getting all that wonderful snow, I took some videos of our window feeder and the tons of birds that were visiting. I'm sure a lot of people reading this are used to watching birds at feeders, but it's still pretty novel for me. I just get totally engrossed with these creatures' behaviors at our little feeder.

Things I've learned from watching these birds come and go: Titmouses have huge personal space issues. They will not share the feeder, and they just barrel other birds out of the way when they decide to come in for a landing. Chickadees also don't share space well, but they seem pretty polite about the whole process; one bird will usually be waiting in the trees and ready to fly in as soon as whoever's already eating flies off (and a chickadee and titmouse on totally opposite ends of the feeder is sometimes OK). Things I still haven't figured out: How in the world do these birds avoid mid-air collisions when two or three of them try to come in at once?

I think my favorite part of this video is at 0:57, when two titmouses somehow both end up on the feeder and just raise their crests for a few seconds like, "well, what do we do now?" (The titmouses later in the video aren't so hesitant to tell other birds to clear out.)

Not shown: The amazing Carolina Wren who camped out inside the feeder that afternoon for several minutes, just chowing down (I didn't even know wrens ate seeds) and not caring at all about the other birds, even when a titmouse landed practically on its back. This snow storm also brought our first Song Sparrow visitor to the feeder, which was really lovely to see.

When I took this next video, I learned a few things about birds and closeness to my phone. (I used my phone to take these videos.) The nuthatch cared not at all about the big black box floating in front of its face, and the chickadees didn't seem to mind too much either. The House Finch wasn't too enthused about the idea and left just to be safe. The titmouses, though, were all freaked out. Don't go to the feeder, there's a monster there! I guess titmouses' personal space issues extend to strange objects, too. (I just love how much the nuthatch doesn't care, though.)

The bird activity has slowed down a bit now that the snow is melting. (It'll be all gone in the next day or two, and we've got rain on the way....) I'm glad I made this recording of the birds at their craziest, and I wanted to post these videos before I forget what winter's like.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Red-shouldered Hawk

I was about to do some laundry today when I looked out the window and saw an adult Red-shouldered Hawk in our yard. Well, I was going that way anyway (we have to walk around the back of our house to get to the laundry machines), so I brought along my camera just in case....

And surprisingly, the hawk didn't fly off as soon as I showed up outside!

I tromped through the snow on the path, my bulky laundry bag over my shoulder, and the hawk shifted and turned her back to me but stayed put:

(I don't actually know whether this bird is male or female, but "she" just sounds right.)

I've often admired Red-shouldered Hawks -- they're frequent winter residents in our neighborhood -- but this is the first time I've gotten to see one so close. I absolutely love the rusty feathery cape across her back.... And really, yard visitors don't get much cooler than this.

Thanks for the visit (and the patience!), lovely creature. Happy hunting, and I'll see you around!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

First Snow

We had our first real snow of the winter today. :) I love it when the trees in our yard get all delicate and feathery:

And when endlessly layered webs of these transformed branches fill our windows' views:

The birds managed to work through an entire (small) feeders-worth of seed today. But that's perfectly fine with me. The birds get food, and I get to see them up close in the snow. Hello, Mr. House Finch, have I really never posted a picture of your species on this blog before? Well, you picked a nice setting for your first portrait:

Hooray for snow. :)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gray Day Window Birds

The past few days have been generally gray and cold, but the avian activity in our yard just keeps speeding up. The chickadees and titmouses make traffic jams when two or three of them try to come to our small window feeder at once (we definitely need to get another one of these things soon). When the process goes smoothly we can stand for minutes and see visits from bird after bird after bird.... It's basically non-stop action around here!

Usually the chickadees and titmouses just fly in, take one seed, and fly off. A few of these birds, though, are kind of picky, and they'll toss away three or four seeds before they find one they actually want. (The sound of sunflower seeds pinging off our window is pretty common by now.) So now there are seeds on the rooftop below the feeder, but the birds don't let these seeds go to waste! This past Thursday, I discovered that I could sit with my camera sticking through the open window and get right at eye-level with these rooftop birds.

Hello, Black-capped Chickadee, finding anything good?

It's a novelty to be close to Dark-eyed Juncos, because these birds don't want to sit on our feeder. They're happy to clean up dropped seeds on the roof, though!

I love the hints of chocolate in this bird's feathers, as well as its utter roundness. (Where's your neck, bird?)

This last bird was here for the Red Cedar berries rather than the sunflower seeds, but she was also especially close. Is this not one of the prettiest female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers ever?

We've been getting a bunch of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in our yard this fall -- more than in previous years, I think -- but they've mostly been juveniles. This adult female is definitely gorgeous, with her sleek black bib and full red head (I took this next picture a couple days later, but I'm pretty sure it's the same bird):

I wish there was a way to know for sure whether this is the same female who stayed here last winter and made sapsicles in our maple tree. Even if it's not, I'm hoping she'll stay around. Sapsuckers aren't as common in Connecticut as some of our other woodpeckers, and I feel really lucky to get to see these creatures so often in our yard.

So go ahead, weather, stay cold and gray! There are plenty of things to see right here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Snowy Owl! (In Tiny Picture Form)

Owls are awesome. Big white owls from the high arctic are super awesome. Really, Snowy Owls are practically mythical creatures for me. So when multiple Snowy Owls started showing up along Connecticut's coast this past week, I couldn't not go to the beach and try to see one. (I didn't take advantage of the last Snowy Owl invasion, in 2011, and I wasn't going to let the current invasion pass me by!)

I went to Milford Point yesterday morning with my spotting scope in tow. This tool turned out to be absolutely essential, because while no big arctic birds were in range of my binoculars on the beach or in the marsh, the scope picked out a suspicious white and gray shape aaaaallll the way out on a rocky breakwater far offshore. It was tiny and distant, but I watched it turn its round white face and preen under its gray-barred wings. Yay, Snowy Owl!! There was no way my actual camera could reach that far, so I took some blurry photos through the scope with my phone:

Look, an owl! See it? ...How about now?

OK, so yes, it was really far away, but I watched this awesome (tiny) creature for a good long while nonetheless. This was a rare encounter indeed, and even this less-than-perfect view was still extremely exciting. I love that these creatures exist. :) And you never know, maybe I'll get a chance to see another Snowy Owl this winter if they keep showing up and hanging around.

Other big white birds were haunting this beach during my visit, too. Mute Swans are non-native, but they sure are impressive (and I still just cannot get over the color of that marsh grass):

One pair of swans was settled on the beach, and they didn't seem to care when I walked by. Pretty bird:

Their necks are so fuzzy, and so collapsible when it's time to rest:

A male Northern Harrier was hunting along this beach as well. I don't think I've ever seen a male harrier before, and now I understand why they're often described as "ghostly." This bird's gray and white costume fit well with the overall gray day:

All these big white and gray creatures definitely made for an awesome trip to the beach!