Monday, February 25, 2008

Air Tilly

I recently ran across this site that I bookmarked over a year ago in my Internet Explore favorites (yes, I’m so organized that I can’t even find my own stuff) about a Golden Eagle named Tilly. I believe there was a special about Tilly a while ago on the Discovery Channel – you may have seen it. Tilly is helping scientists better understand how birds fly. Of course, she's getting some technological help – small cameras mounted on her back. You can view video from the camera for a bird's eye view of her world.

Sure, the videos are cool. But I really liked the "tour" of Tilly. It shows you how her wings and feathers help her fly. It's nothing short of amazing!


Friday, February 22, 2008

Counting the Birds

As most birders know, last weekend was the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). I reserved a few hours of last Saturday to count some birds around my yard. While I witnessed several varieties of birds throughout the day, the most abundant in my backyard were the American Goldfinches. They have been very active around my area lately. Here are a couple of pictures I took of them from inside the house—

I took these pictures through my window and screen, so I lost a little image quality. I thought about taking the screen out of the window but then realized that may be bad for the birds health, if you know what I mean (window strikes that is…). Here is one that landed on the window screen; he seems to be curious about what’s going on inside the house—

I also had a lot of American Robins in my yard. There seems to be a lot of them coming thru my area lately. A sign that spring is just around the corner!!

Now that the bird count is over I thought I would check out some results at the GBBC website. After a few minutes of browsing the site, I became blown away with the amount of data that was made available. Not only were there statistics for your state, but detailed statistics of your city or county that included the number of checklist reported and the number and type of bird reported. For example, one of the birds I spotted was a pine warbler. After viewing the stats for my city, there was only one other person that reported seeing a pine warbler in my area. When you look at it like that, you kind of feel like your contribution made a difference. Go ahead and look up your state and city; you may be surprised to see what kind of birds were reported in your area.

Along with all the stats, there is a photo gallery with some great pictures in it, as well as a video gallery. They also have an interesting blog that includes news and notes from behind the scenes at the Great Backyard Bird Count. As you can tell, I spent some time there today! I usually go to the site each year to view the overall stats, but never really paid close attention to all it had to offer until recently.

Currently, they are still collecting data. Here are the latest statistics:
Statistics from 2008
Total Checklists Submitted: 76,393
Total Species Observed: 640
Total Individual Birds Counted: 8,809,748
Updated: February 22, 2008 10:15:09 PM EST

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Expanding My Territory

I have expanded my bluebird box territory this week. My neighbor sits on about 6 acres of land. His house and immediate yard only takes up one acre, the rest is all grasslands with a couple medium size trees and a barn. It’s the perfect bluebird habitat.

I wasn’t too sure about how he would react to me asking for permission to put up a couple of bluebird boxes on his land so I thought a bit and came up with a foolproof plan. I got my cute little 3 year old daughter to walk over to his house with me. After a little small talk I started telling him about how much my daughter and I liked the birds, especially bluebirds, and how she liked to peak in the boxes and see the eggs – I then mentioned something about the American Bluebird Society, and maybe something about how bluebirds need our help, all of this while my daughter was looking up at him with her innocent little smile. Well, after laying it on as thick as I could and taking advantage of my daughter’s cuteness, he was practically begging us to put up the boxes, and not just one or two, but as many as we wanted!! Wow, that was easier than I thought. Hey, whatever works, right? That afternoon we put up one box (w/predator baffle) on his land. I plan to put up another one soon. Now on to the neighbors across the street – LOL!!

Here are a couple pics of my bluebirds I took last weekend:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Eastern Bats in Trouble

Well, I was currently in the middle of writing on a different subject when I was somewhat sidetracked by an article that I ran across in our local Sunday (2/17) paper – The Virginian-Pilot. It seems that bats located in New York and Vermont are mysterically dying by the thousands. At this point, scientists have no clue as to what is causing these cave dwellers to perish. The only symptom found on the dead or dying bats is a white ring of fungus around their noses – hence the name “White Nose Syndrome” was born.

This syndrome has affected at least four species of bats thus far and the numbers of deaths are enough that many are worried about the economic implications to local crops and orchards. Without the bats to keep balance, insects could potentially cause widespread damage to the local crops there.

Here is a link to the article in its entirety: Scientist in the dark over bat die-off cause

Frogs, bees, bats....what's next?

Here in Virginia, according to VDGIF, there are 14 species of bats. The Little Brown Bat and the Eastern Big-Eared Bat are the most common ones in my particular area…and BTW, the Virginia Big Eared bat is the official state bat of Virginia. It is a federally protected endangered species and is only confirmed in four states (VA, West VA, Kentucky and NC).

Here is a picture of our state bat:

Personally, I have been thinking about putting up a bat house on my property once I research it a little more. From what I know so far, bats in my area can be attracted to bat houses if the house is located properly. I’m sure this will spark some interesting conversation with the neighbors. I can see the neighbors talking now – “What is he doing now?”; and my wife…don’t get me started with that; and the in-laws… Nobody around me understands the method of my MADNESS!! LOL!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Simple Highlighter May Reduce Window Collisions

Thought that this might be worth mentioning for those that may have missed it…

I recently read an informative article from David Sibley’s blog (Sibley Guides Notebook) about various window treatment methods to help reduce bird collisions. I think most of us that have bird feeders in our backyards have witnessed bird collisions into our windows or glass doors. Just the other day there was a dead House Finch in my flower bed. I suspect that he collided with the window I found him under and lost the battle.

Here is a quote from Sibleys blog:
“Estimates of the number of birds killed in window collisions each year in North America run as high as nearly a billion birds. It's the biggest source of direct human-caused mortality in wild birds. But a simple means to prevent birds from hitting windows on your house or office could be in your desk drawer, or at least as close as your local office supply store, costing only a couple of dollars and a few minutes of your time. This needs further testing, but it appears that an ordinary yellow highlighter can be used to draw lines on the window, and those lines may be visible to birds, warning them away from the window, but are almost invisible to people.”

While there may still be unanswered questions in his experiments, it sounds like he is on the right track with this –

Follow-up post-


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Frog Watch

As a child, I loved frogs. There was nothing more I wanted to do than catch a big bull frog along the edge of an old farm pond. I spent many a Saturday and Sunday knee deep in the mud doing just that. Now, it seems like they need my attention again – and yours too.
If you live near a fresh water pond, swamp, etc – you may want to consider volunteering for Frog Watch USA, a nationwide long-term study of frogs. Managed by the National Wildlife Federation in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, it is open to volunteers who can spare time to visit amphibian habitats near their homes and record what they see (sound familiar?); looks to me like the ‘Backyard Bird Count’ success has resulted in new ways to study other animals.

Go here where you can learn more:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Garden Thoughts

Well, the days are getting slightly longer now and this is normally the time that I start getting the gardening bug. I’ve recently started to flip through the seed catalogs and plan what veggies will be going in my garden this year. I normally plant the same vegetables every year, just different varieties. Its also a good time to sketch out where to plant what. I do this each year so I don’t plant the same type of vegetable in the same spot as I did last year. As most gardeners are aware, rotating your crops each year is important.
Rotating your crops helps in the prevention of pathogen build up in the soil. Keep in mind family relationships; like peppers, potatoes and tomatoes are all in the same family so don’t replace one with another. Instead plant sweet corn where you had tomatoes, beans where you had squash, tomatoes where the beans were, etc.
… and speaking of tomatoes, I especially enjoy growing the roma varieties. One particular variety that I tried and really liked last year was the ‘Golden Rave Hybrid’. They are golden in color when ripe and very sweet. They are also very disease-resistant. I recommend them to anyone looking for a good roma (paste) type tomato to plant. I will be growing it again this year!

Here are a couple of pics from my ’07 garden:

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fireworks and Bald Eagles

Until today, we have had some really nice, warm weather here in SE Virginia. My 3 yr old daughter and I have enjoyed being out in it over the last couple of weekends, doing various chores around the house. While outside, we noticed that the Bluebirds (Eastern) have been more active and a pair has already began to investigate one of the nesting boxes I have out. We also saw some large flocks of blackbirds (mostly redwings and grackles) landing in the nearby fields. My daughter enjoys watching the large flocks fly up and across the sky - she calls them "firework birds" because when they scatter across the sky she says it’s like fireworks exploding. Works for me; whatever can gain and keep her interest in birds.

I didn’t manage to get any photos while witnessing all the birding activity but I did manage to get a quick snapshot off of a Bald Eagle that was soaring very high. I first saw him while kicking the soccer ball with my daughter in our front yard and quickly ran inside to snap off some photos (at the time, my daughter thought I was going nuts!). It’s not a very good photo but you can get the idea of what I witnessed.

This is the second year in a row that I have seen Bald Eagles nearby. I must mention that there are a couple of lakes in the area. I’m thinking that they must have a nesting site somewhere along the lake.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Art Work

I’ve been painting off and on for about 15 years - mostly as just a hobby. I have shown work in various local art shows and have sold a few pieces here and there. I focus primarily on landscapes and wildlife paintings done in acrylic. I especially enjoy painting birds. Many of the scenes I paint seem to be slowly disappearing from our environment. I feel that this is my way of preserving those special scenes.

I recently had some prints made of a few of my pieces and hope to have more made soon. Currently I don’t have a dedicated web site to show my art work, but its coming!

Here are a few of my pieces:

"Passing Through" - Mallards

"Heading South" - Canada Geese

"Winter Farm"

"Spring Time" - Eastern Bluebirds

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Higher Prices...

Ran across an interesting article published in Newsweek Magazine (Nov ’07) explaining the rising cost in bird feed. There was also a good point made by Laura Erickson - don’t buy the cheap stuff! Not only do the cheap bird mixes contain “fillers”, but in my own experiences, they tend to attract birds that you may not care to have around; such as, European Starlings, House Sparrows and even pigeons.

You can read the article here: