Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mistletoe: Not Just for Kissing

 Tis the season for mistletoe! Most would agree that the Christmas season and mistletoe go hand in hand. I remember my dad shooting it out of the trees when I was a youngster.  According to folklore, after every kiss under the mistletoe one of the berries was plucked, and once all the berries where gone, there was no more kissing.

American mistletoe can be found all throughout eastern and southern forest of the US, and is especially fond of maple trees. It’s unveiled each year when the last of the leaves fall from the trees and reveal their clumps of green, ball-shaped foliage growing among the tree branches.


There’s more to mistletoe than just holiday tradition. Believe it or not, it plays an important part in our ecosystem. Mistletoe is a host plant for the great purple hairstreak butterfly, and is the only plant that its larva will eat.


Mistletoe is also a good winter food source for birds. Birds feast on the female mistletoe’s white berries, which are toxic to humans, and then spread the sticky seeds to other trees through their droppings. From there it takes root into the tree. It’s considered a hemiparasite because it doesn’t live entirely off the tree. Mistletoe generates its own photosynthesis; however, it does depend on the tree for its food and water, enough so that the tree could die from a heavy infestation – but in most cases, that’s not the case.

For the most part, this unique native is harmless and its benefits to wildlife and our holiday enjoyment outweigh its potential invasiveness.

I want to personally wish everyone a happy and safe holiday!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Trip to the Zoo - Rhino Hornbill

 The zoo has always been one of my favorite places to visit, even as an adult it remains at the top of the list. I especially enjoy going there knowing that new animals have arrived, such as the case with Virginia Zoo’s new pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills.


It looks almost prehistoric doesn’t it?

Rhinoceros hornbills are native to southeastern Asia where they are currently under extreme pressure for survival due to deforestation and poaching (for there feathers). Rhino Hornbills are an indicator species in their range and their absence indicates a poor ecosystem. They eat a variety of fruit and play a vital role as important seed dispersers for Southeast Asian tropical forest ecosystems.

That’s why programs such as AZA’s Species Survival Plan Program (AZA stands for Association of Zoos and Aquariums) work hard with accredited Zoos and other organizations to manage and conserve threatened or endangered species.


These juveniles became part of the Virginia Z0o last November. The goal of the zoo is to establish a breeding pair among the two birds. They are only 3 years old right now and become reproductively mature at the age of around 6 years. In captivity, it’s important to attempt pairing these birds early so they can build their relationship/bond.

Like with most other hornbills, the male has orange or red eyes, and the female has whitish eyes.



One of the other distinctive characteristics of hornbills is the presence of the “casque”, a structure on top of the bill that is unique to hornbills. All hornbills have some type of casque, but few are as impressive as the rhinoceros hornbill.  The purpose of the casque is not entirely clear but it is thought to play a role in amplifying sound and used in mating behavior as well.


I found it interesting that Hornbills are the only birds in which the first two neck vertebrae (the axis and atlas) are fused together; this is obviously due to the extra weight from the bill they carry around.

It’s still early, but all indications from the zoo show that they’re getting along well and seem to be happy in their new environment.

This post was submitted to this weeks edition of Bird Photography Weekly (#167). Be sure to stop by and check it out.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Virginia Gardener Blog

 I wanted to write a quick and slightly overdue post to publicize another blog I’ve been contributing too since the beginning of this year. I consider myself fortunate to be a part of the State-by-State Gardening Publication team as one of their bloggers for the state of Virginia, alongside my blogger pals Les and Jan.

State~By~State Gardening has been publishing state gardening magazines for 11 years and provide quality magazines that have proven to be useful tools for gardeners in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Now, in addition to the magazine, each state has its own set of online garden bloggers. Here’s a link and logo to my Virginia garden blog (also located on the right side bar of this blog).

Virginia Gardener, Birds 'n Such

If you enjoy reading and learning about nature and gardening, be sure to stop by and check out my blog there, along with some of the other great blogs there as well. It doesn’t matter whether you live in one of these states or not, there’s something present for everyone that appreciates gardening.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Close Encounters


What a cool insect – looks like something from an alien movie doesn’t it? I’ve always liked praying mantises, they seem so cool and sophisticated.

Mantises are at the top of the insect food chain and will eat just about anything it can grab and hold with its powerful front legs. It didn’t take me long to realize why this particular praying mantis was stalking the area. Yes, it may be hard for some to comprehend (even myself), but these insects are capable of taking down a hummingbird if given the opportunity.


Hummingbirds passing through my area now are very active, franticly feeding and bulking up for their long journey south for the winter; but this large female praying mantis (above) has her own agenda. She will be laying eggs soon and could use the extra nutrition herself.

Out of curiosity I watched as a cautious hummingbird approached the feeder, while the mantis watched closely and tried to angle itself in a position to attack.


There are lots of species of mantis’s, but the one in these photos is the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinensis). It’s a non-native insect introduced to North America in the late 1800s to aid in pest control. The Chinese Mantis can grow to a length of more than 6 inches. Our native mantis’s are about half that size when fully grown making it easy to distinguish between the two.

Situations like this in nature don’t normally affect me, it’s just part of the circle of life and the way nature balances itself out. However, this particular insect is non-native, and it’s also stalking a man provided food source that's been put out for the birds. Under those circumstances, I feel as if I’m somewhat responsible for the birds safety. I guess one could argue that it’s no different than hawks that stalk backyard birdfeeders, but in the hummingbirds case, it’s just a matter of relocating the feeder to a safer location. And that’s what I did.

Just remember to always keep an eye out on your feeders to ensure that they’re in a safe location for the birds. Things will happen beyond our control but at a minimum we can at least eliminate the obvious dangers.

There’s an article on the Birdwatchers Digest Site titled “Praying Mantis Makes Meal of a Hummer”, along with photos. If your not too sensitive to such things like this be sure to check it out!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Surviving Irene

After experiencing a couple hurricanes and a few more close calls in my lifetime, the anticipation of Hurricane Irene wasn't a welcomed one. I wasn’t that worried about the storm itself, but more so the dreaded aftermath that such a storm can leave behind. Experiencing the wrath of Hurricane Isabel in 2003, I know the kind of damage that these winds and rains can bring.

Although not entirely the event that the news media made it out to be in our area, Irene was a storm to be reckoned with that flooded many low-lying areas and unfortunately took several lives. Damage in our area was mostly due to falling trees, which as a result, kept us in the dark for 5 days. Being without electricity definitely makes you realize the little things that we often take for granted. But I’m thankful nevertheless, it could have been much worse. With the exception of some minor siding damage to the house, and being without power for a few days, I’m pleased to report all is well with me and my family.

Here’s one of the many downed trees in our area –


This unfortunate family had one tree fall on their house, causing major damage, and to add insult to injury, a second one (shown below) fell across their front yard knocking down power lines that fell into the street and blocked the entrance/exit of their driveway.


For many, the rain from Irene was a welcome site. Normally this isn’t the type of rain that you would wish for, but for many local farmers who have been dealing with below normal rainfall for the last couple of summers welcomed it. Better yet, the rainfall from hurricane Irene contained most of the forest fire in the Great Dismal Swamp that has been gagging everyone in the area for a good part of the summer.

DS Fire

If interested, more Dismal Swamp fire photos are available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Northeast Flickr account:

Believe it or not, there are still a few smoldering areas in the swamp, but hopefully the latest rains we’ve been getting this week (remnants of hurricane Lee) will help put an end to the remaining flare ups.

If you’re a hard core birdwatcher, hurricanes can offer one the opportunity to see some rare birds, especially along the coast. Strong winds blow many pelagic birds off their course, driving them closer to the coast, offering opportunities to spot them in areas that they normally wouldn’t be. You can read about some of the cool birds that were seen as a result of hurricane Irene here.

Here’s a quick photo (below) I took of a house finch (sorry for the poor quality) taking cover during the storm on our back porch up next to the house. A pair of house finches hung out most of the day there surviving the storm. Birds are very sensitive to changes in air pressure and know instinctively to take shelter. A sharp drop in barometric pressure alerts them that a big storm is on the way. This photo kind of gives you an idea what a lot of these little birds go through in times like these – not only do birds have to deal with the harsh heat of summer and freezing winters, but events like hurricanes can be costly to small birds. Read more about the effects of hurricanes on birds here:

House Finch during Hurricane Irene

And while we’re talking birds and hurricanes, check out this really cool video about a bird that got caught up in the middle of hurricane Irene and survived:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lessons from the Purple Martin Field Day

Last weekend I look a little road trip up to the northern part of my state (VA) to attend the 17th annual Purple Martin Field Day. It was my first time attending and despite the 2 hour, 45 minute drive I had a great time. It’s a small festival, but what it lacked in size it made up for in quality.

As a somewhat new Purple Martin landlord I’m always seeking to learn more about the hobby and meet people in the “business” that’s willing to share their knowledge and experience with beginners like myself. It’s a rewarding hobby but establishing and maintaining a healthy Purple Martin colony can be difficult, not to mention, very frustrating at times. That’s why it’s great to meet with individuals to discuss issues and realize that I’m not alone.

The featured speaker, Lance Wood, is an expert on Purple Martins and has published several articles about them in national publications. Mr. Wood has expanded his colony from four pairs of Purple Martins 20 years ago, to more than 130 nesting pairs today – wow! He shared his knowledge, techniques and best equipment available for successful martin attraction and management.

During the lectures we enjoyed watching hundreds of purple martins soaring overhead and feeding their young.


I won’t go into the detail on everything discussed, but if anyone reading this is considering, or would like to start their own purple martin colony the three basis things a person must have, according to Lance, is knowledge, some up-front funds to get started, and ‘moxie’; meaning the courage to do a few unpleasant things (like eliminating non-native competitive species like house sparrows and starlings).

As for the martins themselves, they require housing that’s erected in open spaces, away from tall trees and buildings but near human dwellings, quality housing that wont fail in strong winds, and adequate protection from predators such as owls, hawks, snakes and raccoons. Read more about the standards for Purple Martin Housing here and here.

Lance’s recommends natural gourds for purple martin housing, but if that’s not available, good quality plastic gourds will do fine. You can read about his thoughts on gourds here.


One of the best ways to get started and learn is to visit the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) and read some of the publications and other useful information on there site. PCMA also has a mentor program set up by region with contact information of experienced purple martin landlords in your area to help answer any questions you may have.

If you meet the basic requirements for purple martins, consider putting up houses for these birds. They are wonderful to have around and the effort is well worth it.

Also in attendance was Ron Kingston sharing his expertise on Eastern Bluebirds. Ron is best known for his invention of the Kingston Stove Pipe Baffle. If you have bluebird nesting box(s) in your yard be sure they’re protected from predators such as rat snakes and raccoons. Kingston Stove Pipe baffle is a great option and very easy to make. It will also work well on purple martin mounting poles.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wild Birds Unlimited Giveaway Winner

I want to thank everyone who participated in my recent Wild Birds Unlimited Giveaway. I’m happy to announce that the winner was Julie G! Congrats Julie, and I hope you enjoy your new Medium Quick-Clean Finch Feeder – I know I have really enjoyed mine.

Julie blogs over at Nature’s Splendor. If you get a chance stop by her blog and check it out – she has some great stuff there!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wild Birds Unlimited Giveaway Reminder

For those that may have missed it, or just haven’t had the chance to participate, there’s still time to get your comments in on my Wild Birds Unlimited product giveaway. Whether you’re a regular reader of this blog or just happened to stop by, anyone can participate. A winner will be chosen on 5/20/11, so be sure to get your comments in before the end of the day on Thursday, 5/19.

Here is the link -

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May Flowers – Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

 It has been a few months since I last participated in Carol’s monthly Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (GBBD), but I’m glad to finally be back! It’s not that I haven't wanted to participate, its just after moving into a new home 5 years ago with virtually no landscaping in place, its been tough coming up with blooms to show off each and every month. As many gardeners know, the challenges of adjusting to a new place can be overwhelming at times.

I have to admit that most of the struggles have been with myself, trying to figure out what goes where, what combinations work best, and what plants do best in semi-sandy topsoil in mostly full sun. I've spend the last couple years amending the soil in my garden beds by adding various organic matter to it. After some success’s and a few failures here and there, the garden is finally starting to come together. I still have a long ways to go and a lot to accomplish yet but that’s the fun part about gardening; right?

With that said, here are a few of my favorite blooms in the garden right now:

First is the ever so hardy native Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata). A hardy, drought tolerant perennial. It thrives in full sun in well-drained areas (perfect for my landscape). This plant will spread by reseeding if you allow the seed heads to completely dry prior to trimming.


Not far away is another care-free easy perennial to grow – Yarrow (Achillea millifolium).


Combined with the yarrow is some Dianthus (Dianthus caryophyllus) ‘carnation’.


This next one is quickly becoming a favorite ground cover of mine – ‘Cranesbill’. I’m not sure of the cultivar. I dug up a clump of it from my dad’s house a little over a year ago and it has begun to spread nicely in my garden bed.


One of my favorite combinations in my front-yard flower bed is the ‘Gold Mound’ Spirea mixed with my Knock-out roses.


Another view…similar shaded blooms with contrasting foliage.


Here’s a nice, easy to grow native shrub, Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) 'Henry's Garnet'.


Below are the blooms of ‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint (2007 Perennial Plant of the Year).


This ‘Michael Dodge’ viburnum below was planted two years as a young 5” plant. This is the first year it has  bloomed. It produces bright golden berries in late summer. Mix this in the garden with the purple berries of the American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and you’ll have a show-stopper for sure.


Lets not forget the blooms in the vegetable garden. Below are the blooms of my sugar snap peas. My daughter and I check these plants daily for the sweet edible pods they produce and usually eat them before they ever make it to the house.


Thanks for stopping by to view some of the blooms in my garden. If you want to see more be sure to visit Mays Dreams Gardens blog for this month’s Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Also, be sure to participate in my giveaway (see May 6th post below) for a chance to win any one product from Wild Birds Unlimited up to $50!!! Runs through May 20th!

Friday, May 6, 2011

WBU Product Review and Giveaway

Don’t you just love American Goldfinches? No matter how often you see them, the male’s bright yellow plumage this time of year is an instant head turner. Like most bird species, the female’s plumage is a bit less colorful than the males, but nevertheless they are always fun to have around the yard.

I’m excited to share that the bird feeder in this post is my new Wild Birds Unlimited Medium Quick-clean Finch Feeder. As you can see, the goldfinches wasted no time acclimating themselves to it. The seed is easily added from the removable top cover and the reinforced metal feed port makes it safe and easy for the finches to dine on the Nyjer (thistle) seed.

One of my favorite things about this feeder is how easy it is to take apart. Two buttons on either side release the base from the tube for emptying old food and providing a one, easy step method for quick cleaning.

Keeping your birdfeeders clean is a must, but can present problems because many bird feeders on the market today aren’t designed with that in mind. A feeder not properly cleaned often can become contaminated with droppings and moldy birdseed, creating a habitat for unwanted parasites and harmful bacteria.

Like many of Wild Bird Unlimited (WBU) products, it’s backed by a lifetime guarantee that includes squirrel and raccoon damage (which is known to happen from time to time).

WBU was gracious enough to let me try this feeder out in my backyard at no charge, and you too can also have one of these feeders for FREE or any other WBU product up to $50.00 (US only).

Yep, that’s right! WBU is has generously allowed me to make this offer to one of my lucky readers. To participate just browse their website or the product links below, pick out any one item $50.00 or less and let me know what you’ve picked out (including item number will help) by leaving it in the comments below this post (one comment per person). I will determine a winner via help from the website “Random Thing Picker” .

I will contact the winner to gather shipping information and pass it, along with what you have chosen, to my WBU contact and they will ship the product to you at no charge. A winner will be chosen on 5/20/11 so be sure to get your comment in by then!

You can choose this feeder or select from one of many of the other products and accessories that WBU offers. For you convenience I have added links to their products below. Have fun browsing and GOOD LUCK!

Binocular Strap
wild bird seed
thistle seed
nyjer seed
black oil sunflower seed
suet feeder
wild bird feeder
window bird feeders
finch feeders

Other WBU Links:
Wild Birds Unlimited Newsletter
Wild Birds Facebook Page

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Upcoming Events and a Contest

 Just a quick post to remind everyone that’s local or going to be in the VA/NC area during the 2nd week of May to stop over and visit the Great Dismal Swamp NWR for its 5th Annual Birding Festival. The event starts on Thursday the 12th of May thru Saturday the 14th. There will be guided bird and nature walks, bird banding demonstrations and various workshops. Saturday (14th) will be family fun day that will include children activities, live music, food and more. I’ve had a great time at this event in the past and looking forward to it again next month. Check out their website for more details.


The Dismal Swamp is a great place to bird this time of year. During the spring migration, thousands of warblers pass through the swamp on the way to their summer breeding grounds. Many birds, like the prothonotary warbler and American Redstart will stay and nest on the refuge. Although not that great, here’s a photo I took of a redstart last weekend in the Dismal Swamp:


I got a sneak preview last weekend, along with my Master Naturalist group, when we all went birding there with local birding expert Bob Ake. We had a nice encounter with two
Barred Owls who responded to Bobs call (by mouth) and some good looks at Prothonotary Warblers, American Redstarts, and a Belted Kingfisher to name a few. Bob is excellent at identifying birds by ear so he helped us identify a few singing birds like the Louisiana Waterthrush and the ever elusive Swainson's Warbler that was calling nearby, but unfortunately never showed itself.

And for another bit of upcoming news…

Birds ‘n Such, for the very first time, will be featuring a contest and giveaway sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited. All the details will be available in my next post in a couple of days. STAY TUNED, you don’t want to miss it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Website Updates

I'm currently in the process of making some design changes to the blog over the next few days, so if things look a little out of whack that's the reason.  Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bringing Nature Home–Lecture by Doug Tallamy

I recently had the opportunity to hear Douglas Tallamy speak at a local event sponsored by the South Hampton Roads Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society and hosted by Virginia Wesleyan College. You may know of Tallamy from his popular book titled Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Tallamy is also a science professor, gardener and naturalist on an awareness campaign to spread the word about the benefits of native plants and preserving our biodiversities.

Tallamy, speaking to a full audience, brought to light many issues that face modern suburbia landscapes today, and presented a convincing case for protecting our current “wild” places, as well as adding new ones right within our own properties. He raised some thought-provoking questions and challenges, along with detailed facts and statistics to back up his message. His message challenged each of us to evaluate our own backyards and ask ourselves if we’re doing enough to sustain wildlife, preserve biodiversity, and making the most of local native plants within the garden.


Sustainable, in natures sense, is defined as an area capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting its natural resources or causing severe ecological damage. Tallamy explained that an area is either sustainable or its not, nothing in-between. Throughout the country we have cleared land to build our homes, but have failed to replenish the surrounding landscapes, leaving only small habitat patches for our wildlife to sustain itself. As a result, biodiversity needed to run our ecosystems cannot survive long term being sustained by these small “habitat patches”. “It’s not about humans disappearing” Tallamy said, “It’s about sharing the Earth”.

We all enjoy nature, but tend to pick and choose what we like about it. Even as gardeners, we often favor plants that are so called ‘pest free’. Many go as far as believing that we’ll still be alright if the things we don’t like about nature ever disappeared, never to return. Tallamy strongly disagrees, and believes that all aspects of nature are needed. The benefits of plants and animals go far beyond what we could ever imagine. A staggering statistic Tallamy shared showed that we have already removed approximately one-half of the plants on this planet. That’s pretty scary considering all that plants do for us. And as plants decline so do the animals that depend on those plants for food. Plants depend on animals as well. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that up to 80% of all plant pollination is done by animals, and many of those pollinators are slowly disappearing as well – habitat loss being the major factor. Beginning to get the picture? It’s a balancing act. If one end is affected, so is the other. Tallamy said to think of plants and animals around you as “rivets” that hold your environment together.


Biodiversity, simply put, is the diversity of plant and animal life in a particular habitat. A healthy biodiversity is set up with its own checks and balances known in nature as redundancies among species. That is several species doing the same job to benefit nature. It sounds strange, but it’s a good thing. It’s like natures own backup system. If one species disappears another one steps up to fill in. The problem comes into play when all of a sudden there’s only one or two species available to do a specific job, and if one or both disappeared, that job doesn’t get done, leading to “ecosystem failure”. For instance, just think about what would happen if all our pollinators disappeared and the effect it would have on the food we eat, among other things. “Always remember that biodiversity is an essential non-renewable natural resource”, said Tallamy.

We have sacrificed biodiversity for our own needs by creating large, fancy lawns to fit in with our neighbors. We have cleared our native landscapes and replaced them with turf lawns and other non-native exotic species that don’t support the insects, caterpillars, and butterflies, causing birds and other creatures to work harder in search of food. This trend sounds concerning and not something that the everyday gardener would necessarily think about. However, Tallamy believes that we can reverse most of the damage thus far by creating natural areas and returning native plants back into our landscapes.

Plant diversity is the key to attracting birds and other wildlife back into our gardens, but unfortunately not all plants are created equal in their ability to provide food. Statistics show that native plants appeal more to our native insects and other animals more so than non-native (alien) plants. These are the plants that attract the native insects and caterpillars that in turn attract the birds and frogs that eat the caterpillars and insects; and so on.


Even among natives, plants aren’t equal in their ability to support food for wildlife; so why not plant the ones that are the best since, according to Tallamy, we’re playing catch-up. Tallamy offers several lists on his website that he recommends based on the plants ability to support various insect species. He offers lists for both woody and herbaceous plants; or download the complete Excel Spreadsheet that separates the list even further within the various tabs of the workbook. Did you know that the oak tree alone supports 534 butterfly/moth species? Who knew?

So, go ahead and begin to turn your landscape into “bird food factories”, as Tallamy put it, if you want birds in your yard that will feed and reproduce. Remember it is insects, not berries or seeds that most birds prefer, especially in the spring and summer months of the year.

I’m not judging anyone for having a nice lawn, or recommending anyone to pull out all their non-native plants. I just wanted to communicate Tallamy’s message and give gardeners something to think about moving forward. Maybe we can all evaluate our landscapes and make small adjustments here and there that would benefit the local wildlife and the environment.

Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to make a difference. In this case the “difference” will be the future of biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them (Tallamy, 2007).

To learn more, pick up a copy Doug Tallamy’s Book: Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.

This post was submitted to Jan's Gardeners Sustainable Living 2011 Project. Click on the link below to check out all the details:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mad Grackles and Kissing Finches–Counting Birds

 Have you been counting the birds? For those unaware, today is day #3 of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). It only takes a minimum of 15 minutes to note what birds you’ve seen. Why not consider taking a little time to help count a few of the winter birds in your yard. Check out the above web address for details.

I spent a couple hours off-and-on yesterday hanging out on my back deck counting birds. The best part for me however was having my 6 year old daughter sitting beside me for the first half-hour or so with her own tally sheet writing down and observing the birds she saw. I helped her with most of the identifications, but other than that she did the rest.

Here’s her tally sheet….isn't it cute?

MPs List 

The GBBC even has a special website for kids that offers puzzles, coloring pages and more…

We enjoyed watching a variety of birds visit the backyard feeder as well as a few birds that were just passing through.

When I wasn’t watching, my Wingscape Birdcam was doing the job for me. I had it pointed at my platform feeder for most of the day. Below are a few of my favorites.

No shortage of American Goldfinches in my backyard this winter…



Here’s one of my favorite visitors – the Pine Warbler:


Here’s a Common Grackle. Doesn’t he look ticked off?? Maybe he doesn’t like his photo being taken while eating…?


My favorite of the day was the kissing House Finches below.


Their not really kissing. The male (right) is passing a seed to the female (left). A lot of bird do this during their courtship.

Okay, lets not be greedy!


The Birdcam is still set up so hopefully I’ll capture a few more interesting photos today!

If you get any interesting photos during this years Great Backyard Bird Count be sure to submit them to the website photo gallery. You may just have a winner -

So, what kind of birds have you been seeing in your backyard?

This post was submitted to this weeks edition of Bird Photography Weekly (#130). Be sure to stop by and check it out.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

National Bird-Feeding Month

 For those unaware, February is National Bird-Feeding month. During this month, individuals are encouraged to provide food, water and shelter for the birds. As many already know, February is also one of the toughest months for our wild birds, and that’s why this month was chosen.

National Bird-Feeding month was originally introduced in 1994 by congressman John Porter (R-IL). The goal is to provide food, water and shelter for the wild birds, and as a result, promote backyard bird feeding as an entertaining and educational experience for both children and adults.

Bird feeding also provides a much needed break from today's stressful lifestyles. Below is a Carolina Chickadee enjoying a suet snack.


Each year, a new theme for National Bird-Feeding Month is selected by the National Bird-Feeding Society (NBFS). The theme for 2011 is "Most Wanted - America's Top Ten Backyard Birds" and features ten species from the east and west that are among the most popular to attract.

Here are the top ten backyard birds east of the Rockies: American Goldfinch, Chickadee (Black-capped/Carolina), Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch. With the exception of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, who feed on nectar, the top ten birds eat bird seed.

Be sure to check out their site for more information. Throughout the month, NBFS will be providing tips and techniques to help create a successful bird feeding/watching experience.


Northern Mockingbird (above) 

Whatever your reason may be for feeding birds, attracting America’s ‘Most Wanted’ backyard birds to your yard will be an enjoyable experience, it’s a pastime that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

And don’t forget about the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) coming up February 18 – 21. Anyone can participate, from beginning birdwatchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on any one day, or you can count birds for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun and easy – and it helps the birds to! For details check out the GBBC website -


It’s a great month to educate people about the hobby of  birdwatching and how much fun it is to feed the birds.

Have a great weekend and be sure to visit Birdfreak's Bird Photography Weekly (#129) to see more bird photos!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lousy Bird Walk

 On Saturday I headed out to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for a morning bird walk. The guided walks offered there in winter are referred to by the refuge staff as “Lousy Bird Walks” because most of the fall migrants have moved through and the remaining birds have moved into deeper cover. But don’t be deceived, there’s still lots of birds and other wildlife to see. Winter can be a great time to walk the trails because most the foliage has dropped, leaving the wildlife more exposed for better viewing – not to mention, NO mosquitos!

Despite the name and the chilly temps, Saturdays walk was anything but lousy. We saw quite a few birds including a lifer for me – the orange-crowned warbler.


This photo was taken from Cornell’s All About Birds webpage.

The orange-crown warbler winters on the refuge as well as a few other areas along the southern half of the Virginia coast line. It’s a small warbler with dull winter colors.

Other interesting birds spotted that morning were – yellow-rump warbler, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flicker, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina and winter wrens, brown creeper, American goldfinch, hermit thrush and robins.

In addition to the birds, we also walked up on four white-tail deer that stood about 30 feet from us. They stood their ground  for a few seconds before disappearing in the woods. Unfortunately,  I was so focused on not forgetting my binoculars that morning I forgot to bring my camera with me.

Leaving the refuge that morning also offered some interesting birding. Just a few miles up the road I spotted a barred owl, pileated woodpecker, American kestrel and a Northern Harrier. All in all not a bad day. If only I had not forgotten that dang camera!

Many parks and refuges offer organized bird walks routinely. Take the time and go if you get the chance. It’s a great opportunity to get out and observe the birds and other nature up close. The next one at the Dismal Swamp NWR will be February 5th.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Red-Shoulder Alert!

  Backyard birdwatching never gets boring. Just when things look peaceful and quiet all ‘you-know-what’ breaks out. I was watching a few birds at my feeder this morning when all of a sudden they panicked and quickly scattered to the nearest cover. In most cases that only means one thing – a raptor is nearby. Sure enough at that very moment I noticed a hawk flying low across the backyard, eventually landing on top of my unoccupied purple martin house. It was a red-shouldered hawk.


The red-shouldered hawk is a medium-sized hawk. They feed mostly on small mammals, but will hunt birds also. During winters, they sometimes habituate to preying on birds commonly found at bird feeders. Red-shoulders typically wait atop a perch and swoop down on their prey in a surprise attack method.

Look how his head turns 180 degrees to survey the yard behind him.



He eventually took off empty handed (or empty talon in this case) to hunt elsewhere.


Take a good look at the photo above and you can see its reddish "shoulder" on the top side of its right wing, hence the name red-shouldered hawk.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and be sure to stop by Birdfreak’s Blog for more great bird photos in this weeks edition of Bird Photography Weekly #124.