Saturday, May 30, 2009

Birthday Girl & Guest

  It's hard to believe how fast kids grow up. One minute their wearing diapers and the next their starting school and so on. Where does the time go? This week my daughter turned 5 years old. It only seemed like days ago when I was rocking her to sleep with the bottle.

Last Saturday we pulled out all the stops and threw her a big birthday party. Scroll down to meet some of her special guest.

First is 'Little Billy'.


Baby Alpaca. So soft to touch.


Here's 'T-Bone' the miniature cow.


Lastly, 'Sheriff M' on 'Pony Boy'.IMG_3785

Needless to say, she and her friends had a great time.

Happy Birthday baby girl!!

Click the thumbnail below to check out more camera critters.

Camera Critters


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Learning About Butterflies

  As I touched on in my earlier post titled Three Years Later, creating a backyard habitat is a great way to invite back the native plant and wildlife species to your yard. Constant development displaces wildlife, so it’s important to do the best we can to help bring it back. It's no secret that I’m partial to birds, and attracting them to my backyard is a top priority, but I’m not stopping there.

Often unnoticed, butterflies play an important role in maintaining the balance in nature, and like birds, they provide lots of color and movement throughout the garden.


So my newest project is just that - creating habitats for attracting butterflies.

Two weekends ago I attended a free class offered by a local nursery on butterfly gardening. As a result, I obtained lots of great information, as well as some new plants to add to my wish list. The downside is that my ever-growing list of plants to buy has now exceeded my wallet! Isn't that always the case? Regardless, the class was fun and very informative.


To attract the largest variety of butterflies to your landscape provide a few host plants mixed in with their favorite nectar plants. Host plants, specific to each species, provide a place for butterflies to lay their eggs and provide food for the butterfly larva (caterpillars). The first time I experienced the effect of host plants was last summer when I noticed lots of little caterpillars on my carrot and parsley plants.


Plants of the umbelliferae family (carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, etc) are great host plants for the Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars (shown above).

My daughter and I collected one of these caterpillars and placed it in an aquarium. We feed and watched it for several weeks until it emerged from its chrysalis stage into a gorgeous butterfly - pretty amazing!

Here are some more tips that I learned from my recent class:

  • Studies show that color, fragrance and shape of the flower as reasons for butterflies visiting specific flowers.
  • Butterflies like to conserve energy and therefore prefer plants that have clusters of flowers so they can sit and sip nectar without exerting much energy.
  • Provide water for butterflies by sinking a shallow birdbath or pail filled with sand into the ground. Fill it with water to the top of the sand layer  and place a few rocks or sticks in the sand for the butterflies to perch on.
  • Most butterflies don't lay their eggs all in one place, so provide host plants in various locations throughout the landscape.


I still have lots more to learn on the subject of butterflies, so if you have some additional tips or favorite butterfly plants you want to tell me about please do so.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Black Vulture - Bird Photography Weekly #39

  For many of us, vultures are a common site along the edges of our roadways. Their not the most exciting bird to watch, must less photo, but they do have their place. I like to think of them as natures garbage disposals. This particular one was sitting along the edge of a field and remained there while I slowed my truck down to snap off a photo.


This is a Black Vulture. Black Vultures are often seen in groups, that's why I was a little surprised to see this one sitting all alone. I'm guessing that his friends weren't far behind.

The Black Vulture is a scavenger that feeds on carrion. I've read that they will also eat eggs and kill newborn animals if left unprotected. It finds its food by using its keen eyesight.

The Turkey Vulture is another comm0n vulture in our area. Both vultures are fairly easy to tell apart except in flight. In flight they both look similar except for a few small differences. Slight color variations in their wing and tail feathers are the giveaway.


This above silhouette guide was published by the NorthEast Hawk Watch (NEHW). As you can see, slight differences in feather color, size and the way they fly can help to tell them apart.

Check out more bird photos over at Bird Photography Weekly #39.

Have a great week!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Three Years Later

  This month marks the 3rd year anniversary my wife and I moved into our new house. As many know, the whole house buying experience can be very exciting one minute, and stressful the next. The hardest part for us (besides coming up with the $) was finding something that we both liked. I wanted a nice house like my wife, but I also wanted a large lot with it - a place I could enjoy gardening and creating habitats for birds and other wildlife.


Providing natural habitat for wildlife, especially birds, has always been important to me no matter where I’ve lived, and our new place offered many new challenges. The lot was once open farmland with few trees and no shrubs or evergreens. It doesn’t sound like an ideal place for birds, but I saw lots of potential and it provided a clean slate to work with.

Planting a diversity of plants and trees, paying special attention to native species, was my first step. Creating diversity in the landscape provides cover, nesting sites, and food for birds. For instance, thick compact shrubs like evergreens make great nesting sites for birds like chipping sparrows.



Keep in mind that birds nest from ground to treetop. Creating brush piles and un-mowed areas in the landscape not only provide cover for ground feeding birds, it also provides areas for ground nesting birds like the Killdeer.



Always take advantage of what you have. Living in open rural land is not a bad thing, especially when there’s a lake nearby. It’s the perfect ingredients for swallows like Purple martins…


and tree swallows…


Open landscape is also the preferred habitat of bluebirds. Providing nest boxes for cavity nesting birds is an easy way to attract certain species to your backyard. Just remember to be a good landlord and protect those houses with predator guards.



Even your own house can be made “bird friendly”. Hanging flower pots make good nesting spots for birds like wrens and house finches. There may not be much left of the plant afterwards but it’s worth the experience. Here’s a house finch nest on our front porch in a hanging flower pot.


Even better…here’s a female blue bird setting on eggs in what’s called a “Williamsburg Bird Bottle”. It's attached to our deck pergola.


…and don’t forget the hummingbirds. Their fun to watch and can be drawn in close by setting up a nectar feeder.


Thanks for taking this brief tour with me around my yard. There's always more to do but I'm pleased with my progress so far. Now, go out and take a quick survey of your yard and see what things you can do to make a better habitat for the birds.

All photos were taken by me in my yard; however, my Wingscapes BirdCam provided a little help on some of the photos.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Little Snake Charmer

Here we go again with those snakes! My daughter has looked forward to this day since last years event. I find it fascinating that a little 5-year old who has a phobia of bees loves snakes; go figure.

She's very excited to be holding a mole kingsnake in the photo below.


This was one of those interesting displays at the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival last weekend. This particular display was set up by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). Each year they bring two or three snakes (non-poisonous) out for display and allow individuals to touch and handle them if they dare.


These are captive snakes and obviously accustomed to being handled, so don't try this at home!! HA HA!

Here she is holding a cornsnake.



I personally think it's great that she likes snakes. There're fascinating creatures. I've explained to her that these are tame, and NOT to ever approach a snake in the wild without an adult.

Now, if I could only cure her fear of bugs...

Click the thumbnail below to check out more camera critters.

Camera Critters


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dismal Swamp Birding Festival - Day 1


  A great time was had by all who attended the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival this past weekend. Lots and lots of woodland warblers were heard, seen, banded and photographed over the three day event. I’m not sure of the final bird tally of the event but I’ll see if I can find out. Personal obligations kept me from attending several of the scheduled activities, but I tried to make the most of the ones I did attend.

A morning hike along one of the trails offered lots to see; like wildflowers…



...and a turtle sunning itself. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is an Eastern Painted Turtle (?).


There were lots of Palamedes Swallowtail butterflies out and about.


Here’s a Prothonotary Warbler perched on one of the boardwalk trails. These warblers are plentiful throughout the swamp. They are one of the few warblers that nest in tree cavities. Prothonotary Warblers can be found near water in their breeding range.


Tree snags like the ones below are plentiful throughout the swamp; probably a result of a lightning strikes. I guess it’s the price you pay for being the tallest, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. These old dead trees provide an abundance of food and homes for many small animals, especially birds.


I eventually made my way to the bird banding station. Action was a little slow but we did catch a couple Common Yellowthroats during the short time I was their.


This particular Common Yellowthroat was a little camera shy.


Thanks for taking the walk with me. Stay tuned for more from the 2009 Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival…


Monday, May 11, 2009

New Visitor - The Blue Grosbeak

With the spring song bird migration at it's peak here in VA, I spend a little extra time watching the backyard birdfeeders. You just never know what might show up. Last spring a rose-breasted grosbeak stopped by for a few days on his way up north. It was a first for me. This spring his cousin, the blue grosbeak decided to stop by for a few days - another first.

This was a juvenile male. Adult males are mostly all blue with brown wing bars.


The Blue Grosbeak, unlike the rose-breasted grosbeak, will spend its summer here in the south. In fact, they nest across most of the southern half of the US to northern Mexico. Winter months are spent in Central America.


Blue grosbeaks forage mostly on the ground for seeds and insects, as this one was doing. It was tough to get a decent photograph of this guy. I waited patiently for him to perch up on the birdfeeder he was under but he didn't want to cooperate; nevertheless, I enjoyed his company while it lasted.

For more bird photos, check out this weeks edition of Bird Photography Weekly #37.


Friday, May 8, 2009

It's all about Spring Migration on BirdwatchRadio

One of the online programs I really enjoy listening to is BirdwatchRadio. BirdwatchRadio is hosted by its creator Steve Moore. It's a podcast that discusses a variety of topics pertinent to birds and birdwatchers. Through BirdwatchRadio Steve offers a variety interesting interviews and conversations with people who represent all areas of birding - authors, artists, columnists, bloggers, professionals and back-yard birders.

A new episode (#21) of BirdwatchRadio is out and believe it or not, yours truly has a small part in it. This episode is about spring migration and Steve has asked a number of listeners and others within the birding community to give their thoughts and feelings about the spring migration. Thanks again Steve for the opportunity!

So, check it out when you get a chance, and while your there, go ahead and subscribe via iTunes or RSS Feed so you can listen to more of this great program. You can also download each program in MP3 format and listen on your computer if you'd like.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Symmetry in Nature - Wordless Wednesday


Chipping Sparrows by Alan Pulley, 2009

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday


Monday, May 4, 2009

How 'bout them Swallows (BPW #36)

We're at the peak of the song bird migration here in Virginia and one of the bird groups that I always look forward to seeing return is the swallows. Open fields with nearby barns and bridges attract lots of barn swallows here. I enjoy watching them fly in the skies all summer, along with the purple martins. Purple Martins are the largest North American swallow and I'm fortunate to have a few of them call my backyard home for the summer.

There has been a new swallow hanging around this spring. It was about three weeks ago that I looked out my back door toward the field across the street and saw what must have been a hundred or more tree swallows whirling around in the sky. A good portion of their diet is flying insects - obviously the insects were plentiful that day. I took a few photos of the event but as you can imagine, they were tough targets to nail down. Click to enlarge the photos below to get a better look at these aerial acrobats.



A few days after the tree swallows made their way through, one stopped by to pay a visit and investigate one of my nest boxes. Here's a 10 second video clip I captured with BirdCam...the birds you hear in the background are purple martins.

Tree swallows are cavity nesters and will readily use nest boxes, including those built for bluebirds. I'll keep you updated and let you know if this swallow and her mate decide to nest here.

Here's some info on building and managing nest boxes for tree swallows -

Have a great week everyone and be sure to check out more bird photography over at!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Trip to the Zoo: Camera-Critters #56

A couple weeks ago I enjoyed a few days off with the family in celebration of spring break. My wife is a school teacher so spring break is always a big deal around my house. One of the days was spent at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, VA. I always looked forward to going to the zoo when I was a kid, and now that I'm grown nothing has changed in that regard.

The Virginia Zoo is home to 350 animals, on 50 plus acres of beautifully landscaped grounds that borders the Lafayette River. Here are a few of the animals that we saw...

A new addition to the zoo was this red panda. Red pandas live in bamboo forests of Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in China, the Himalayas and in Myanmar. Red pandas are endangered, with fewer than 2,500 adult red pandas in the wild.


The giraffes were our favorite animals at the zoo. There were three of them there. Giraffes are the tallest land mammals.


Here is one of three African elephants at the zoo (South African Bush Elephant). Elephants are the world’s largest living land mammals.


Here we have a cool looking little Meerkat.


A sleeping African lion...


I'm not sure what kind of monkeys these are, but aren't they cute? At first I thought they were little stuffed animals until they moved. They were about the size of a kitten.


These little Squirrel Monkeys were fun to watch. They very seldom sat still. It was like they were putting on a show for us.


This is a very cool looking bird called the 'Grey Crowned Crane'. They are native to Africa.


A nearby Canada goose (not part of the exhibit) was setting on her eggs near the pond. We saw a couple nest in the park.


I hope you enjoyed this brief zoo tour. For more critters check out the Camera Critters website over at

...and if your interested, the zoo has several web cams set up throughout the park so you can watch many of the animals online. Here is the site:

Have a great weekend everyone!