Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowed In!

 Snow here in SE Virginia is somewhat of a hit and miss affair - mostly a miss. We normally get a dusting to an inch here and there with most of the big stuff just missing us. This month has been a bit unusual as we’ve had a couple inches already, so the prediction of a few inches the day after Christmas wasn't really that big of a deal. However, those few inches turned into 14 plus inches at my house. That's a BIG deal here! The last time the region got more than a foot of snow was over 20 years ago. No complaints here though. My wife is a teacher and my daughter is a six year old tom-boy, so snow days are like bonus holidays in our household.

My daughter couldn't wait to get out in it. She took two steps onto our back deck and just fell out in the snow.


While the snow is fun and games for us, it's a tough survival for the birds and other wildlife.
An abundance of Red-Wing Blackbirds are perched in the cypress trees waiting for me to re-fill the bird feeders. They can clean out a feeder in a hurry.


When the blackbirds aren't hogging the feeders a few of the smaller birds manage to slip in and get a snack, like this house finch.


Here’s one of my favorite visitors, the pine warbler.


My bird bath heater went kaput on me last year so I had to manually brush the snow off and fill it with warm water.




Providing a source of fresh water for backyard birds during the winter months can be a very beneficial, often attracting more birds than the seed in your feeders. I’ve read that many birds will eat snow in order to get sufficient water in the winter when their normal water sources are frozen, but open water is their preferred choice.

Take some time to feed and water your backyard birds during these tough winter conditions, and then sit back and get ready for some wild winter entertainment!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and continues to enjoy the rest of the holidays! Hopefully I can take advantage of this ‘inside time’ and catch up on some blogging.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nightjars of the World - Book Review

 There's nothing more serene to me than that of a whip-poor-will call on a quiet summer evening. It’s one of my favorite night sounds. While not frequently seen, the whip-poor-will makes itself known through its loud calling at dusk during various times of the year, especially in rural areas across the eastern half of the United States.


These birds belong to a nocturnal group mostly known as Nightjars; which brings me to the subject of this post:


I was fortunate this summer to receive a review copy of the book Nightjars, Potoos, Frogmouths, Oilbird, and Owlet-nightjars of the World by Nigel Cleere, and published by Princeton University Press. Right off the bat I was drawn to this book, not because it was just another bird book, but a book about a class of unique, secretive birds that many don’t ever get to see or experience.  It's the ultimate identification guide to the nightjars, potoos, frogmouths, oilbird, and owlet-nightjars of the world. It covers all 135 known species of these elusive and cryptically plumaged birds with more than 580 colored photographs. The quality of the book and photographs within it are outstanding. I'm not aware of any other book out today that has pulled together and captured these birds in such a magnificent way.

Lyre-tailed Nightjar:

Lyre-tailed Nightjar 
No, you won’t see these birds at your feeders, but there’s a good chance you could here there evening call or possibly flush one from its day-time resting place on a hike through the woods.

Many of these birds are rare or common in other parts of the world such as South America, Africa and Australia. Some of the more common nightjars that may be heard or encountered here in the the United States are the Whip-poor-will, Chuck-will's-widow, Common Nighthawk and the Common Poorwill (west).

Many are so unique they look more like something that should be part of a Harry Potter movie. this Indochinese Frogmouth.

...or these various nightjars shown below.


Serious and intermediate birders alike will find this book fascinating - great photography and easy reading that includes colored maps tailored to each species.

I highly recommend this guide / reference book to add to your collection. It would also make a wonderful Christmas gift to anyone interested in birds.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

From the front porch…


…to the centerpiece of the kitchen table.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone and God bless!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kiptopeke State Park & the CVWO

 If you're not aware, it's a great time of year to be out birding. Many birds not native to the region have, or will be passing through as they migrate south to their winter homes. This is known as the fall migration, and I'm fortunate to live along one of the bird migration routes known as the Atlantic Flyway. It's the route that generally follows the Atlantic Coast of North America and beyond - see map below.


One of the key stopover area along the Atlantic Flyway for many of these migrants is the Virginia Eastern Shore. The Eastern Shore is an important staging and feeding area that provides a variety of habitats for hungry birds; as well as cover for tired, wary birds.

At the southern tip of the Eastern Shore is Kiptopeke State Park. Since 1963, Kiptopeke has been the site of bird population studies for Virginia's Eastern Shore. Sponsored by the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory (CVWO) and licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, volunteers capture, examine, weigh, band and release resident and migratory birds each year from mid-August through November. In the raptor research area, hawks, kestrels, osprey and other birds of prey are observed and banded from September through November. Kiptopeke’s hawk observatory is among the top 15 nationwide.

CVWO has put together a short video that gives an introduction of the great work that they do there. It's a really neat video so if you have a few minutes to spare check it out.


The Yellow-rumped Warblers (below) is one of the many songbird species that visit the Eastern Shore this time of year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

For additional info check-out the CVWO website:

CVWO blog:                                                                                                 

Kiptopeke blog:


Thanks to Mary Reid Barrow for posting this video first on her blog.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Visit to Norfolk Botanical Gardens - November Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

  My family and I spent the afternoon at Norfolk Botanical Gardens last week enjoying some of the fall colors in the garden. I enjoy visiting other gardens during non-peak times to get ideas on what looks good this time of year. Like any other gardener, my goal is to have color and interest in the garden year around. With that said, I'm going to fudge a little bit for this months bloom day and highlight some of my favorite blooms from our visit last week.

The fall blooming camellias stole my attention right away. They were absolutely gorgeous. Some were just starting to bloom and others were in full bloom like this one below. The ground was just littered with pink pedals.




As expected, the chrysanthemum's were in full bloom. This one's called  'Hillside pink Sheffield'. I'm going to have to get some of these for my own garden next year!


I'm going to need a little help with this next one. It's some kind of aster but I'm not sure of it's name. They were planted sporadically throughout the garden and provided a burst of color everywhere I saw them.


Here's a closer look. If anyone knows please let me know in the comments. This is another plant I would like to incorporate into my own garden.


Surprisingly, the roses were blooming like it was mid-summer. Lack of a hard frost has kept them looking good.


I thought this was an attractive color combination below - Russian sage with black mondo grass planted in front. Although the blooms of the Russian sage die back in fall , the rest of the plant looks attractive for most of the winter, as well as the black mondo grass.


Here's a neat plant called Pachystchys lutea 'Yellow Shrimp Plant'. The erect floral spikes are actually closely arranged bright yellow bracts. Small white flowers appear in between the bracts.


Berries were very abundant in the garden, as you can see with this pyracantha koidzumii 'Victory'.


And this viburnum. This one is called Viburnum dilatatum 'Erie'.


Crabapples are some of my favorite trees and they didn't disappoint.


These weren't labeled so I'm not sure about the name.


This one below is 'prairie fire'. Crabapple trees are great to have in the home landscape. They provide food for wintering birds and other wildlife.


I hope you've enjoyed this pictorial tour of the gardens with me. If you want to see more be sure to visit Mays Dreams Gardens blog for this month’s Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bird Chow Challenge Contest

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an ongoing contest that ends this week called the Bird Chow Challenge. I know this is short notice (sorry!) but if you have an interesting, funny or unusual photo of a bird chowing down, now is the time to share it!

I’m currently going through my photos to see what I may have for submittal. I’m finding a few photos captured by my Wingscape BirdCam that may work. That’s the great thing about this cam, just set it up and walk away.

Here’s a BirdCam captured photo of a curious Red-Bellied Woodpecker eating at my peanut feeder.

Here’s another photo courtesy of BirdCam of a momma Eastern Blue Bird feeding her young. Both of these photos were taken last summer.

It’s simple to enter, just go to the link below and follow the instructions. Be sure to have your entries in by Monday, November 1st to qualify. There’s lots of cool prizes being offered.

Have a look at some of the entries received so far:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another Year Older and a New Bird Feeder

 This past week I turned another year older. Forty-one years to be exact. Each year seems to go by faster than the last. I remember when older adults used to tell me to slow down and enjoy your youth because it will pass by before you know it. I definitely understand that now - not that being in your forties is that old... Oh well, I guess we're never to old to received birthday gifts, right? I look at them as  a way to help ease the pain of growing older.

My wife and daughter gave me a wonderful gift from one of my favorite stores: Wild Bird Unlimited (WBU). It was a new hopper bird feeder; but not like any other feeder, it's the EcoTough Classic Feeder. The Eco feeders are a line of feeders sold by WBU that are environmentally friendly and made of recycled plastic. It's a wood-free feeder that actually looks like real wood. These feeders won't crack, fade or rot and carries with it a lifetime guarantee. As with any good quality product, the price is a bit high but it's hard to beat the lifetime guarantee.

Hopper bird feeders look similar in shape to a bird house but offer feeding areas on either side of them while food storage is contained in the center housing. It attracts a wide range of birds. I've gone through several of these feeders in my "short" lifetime that were made of various wood  materials, and some were good quality ones, but over time the wood ones just don't hold up in the weather.

While this probably wont be the last bird feeder I purchase it hopefully will be the last hopper feeder that I have to buy.

After taking down the old and putting up the new I decided to dust off my Wingscapes BirdCam to see which birds would be the first to visit the new feeder.

As I expected, the house finches were the first to arrive. Lots of these birds in my backyard this time of year.


Here are a couple of female house finches posing for the camera.


Here's a neat photo. The male house finch just left his perch and looks like he is just floating in air.


It wasn't long before the Northern Cardinals found their way to the new feeder.


If you're thinking about feeding birds in your yard the best feeder to start with, in my opinion, would be a hopper feeder filled with black-oiled sunflower seed. Black-oil sunflower seed is the most popular choice of seed eating birds and will attract the largest variety of birds. I normally alternate my feeders with sunflower and safflower seed, sometimes mixing the two.

BirdFreak blog host Bird Photography Weekly every Sunday. Be sure to stop by their to see more interesting bird photos - and post yours there too!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shorebird Season

 Late summer and fall are the peak season for viewing shorebirds in many parts of North America. Many species that breed in North America journey from their arctic nesting grounds to winter here in the United States and all the way into South America, and then return to the Arctic the following spring. Some travel more than 15,000 miles in this annual circuit. Remember the whimbrel project?

A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to photograph a few of these birds along the coast of  North Carolina. Here are just a few I encountered. the the Semipalmated Plover. They breed along the sandy beaches of the tundra and winter along coastal California and the Carolinas south.


The word in their name "semipalmate" means having the front three toes partly webbed.


Look closely at this next photo and you can see the webbing between it's toes. (click the photo to enlarge)


Up next is the Ruddy Turnstone.


Ruddy Turnstones breed on coastal tundra in northwest Alaska and other islands of the Arctic. They winter in various areas along the US coast (east and west).


Another winter visitor is the Willet. Willets breed from central Canada to Northern California and winter further south along our coastlines.


Here they are feeding on some type of sand crab. A favorite food for may shorebirds.


Sanderlings are also popular here this time of year.


Sanderlings are long-distance migrants from the arctic. They often form in large flocks along mudflats and beaches. They are fun to watch as they are constantly bickering with each other.


If given the chance, get out and see what shore birds may be wintering in your area.

BirdFreak blog host Bird Photography Weekly on Sundays. Be sure to stop by their to see more interesting bird photos - and post yours there too!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bath Time! Wordless Wednesday

Sanderling bathing in the Atlantic surf:








Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday.