Friday, December 16, 2011

The Bluebird of Hope and Happiness

The other day I was watching a mixed Eastern Bluebird/House Sparrow flock in the trees along the West River in Brattleboro, VT. They flew off in all directions just as I was getting my camera ready. I didn't get a good picture of a male Bluebird, just got a fleeting look at one in the thicket, but a female obligingly perched on a shrub along the road for a photo shoot. 

Compared to the modest attire of the female, the male looks over-the-top extravagant. I pulled these photos from my archive:

The Bluebird  is beloved by many because of its gentleness and sweet song. In many cultures it is thought of as a symbol of hope and happiness. Some Native American tribes considered it sacred. It is often featured in songs and tales. So, it's an appropriate symbol for the Christmas season when we are reminded to be charitable to the neediest and lowliest among us. Looking at the bird world I would include the lowly and despised House Sparrow (HOSP), but how wrong I was! The HOSP is an aggressive and deadly competitor for nesting sites. It probably contributed to the decline of the Eastern Bluebird population after its introduction in 1851. 

"don't know any Bluebird hosts who enjoy killing anything, including HOSP, but the two species are on a head on collision course and there is so much proof that the HOSP will win (and by that I mean kill) your Bluebirds eventually."
- Dave Kinneer, Bluebirding Forum, 2008

"Q: I came out to check my babies, and found several of them dead and strewn out on the ground. Others were still in the box, but looked like they had been battered on the head and eyes. HELP!"

A: House Sparrows, which are exotic pest species, will enter a box and peck the occupants to death. Clean out the box and either take steps to either eliminate the sparrows or move the box to a more suitable location. House Sparrows are found only around human dwellings, in cities and around farm buildings. To minimize competition from this aggressive predator and competitor, place your boxes where sparrows are not likely to be a problem. Please see our House Sparrow Control page for more sparrow management techniques"

So the Bluebird may well consider the House Sparrow a devilish competitor.

We are reminded this time of the year to give generously to charitable organisations. Along with mail order catalogs our mail box is stuffed with requests for money. It seems whenever we donate to an organization it soon comes back asking for more.  And this is not just my impression. Here is a link to an article in the NY Times.  Bill and I make a list every year and in general stick to it. The Charity Navigator is an invaluable source to help with the selection.

Good news on the home front: 
According to an article in the NY Times Vermont is rebounding quickly from Hurricane Irene. Now all we need is lots and lots of top soil to replace what the flood has washed away and we also badly need snow to attract skiers to support our local economy.

And Happy Birding in 2012!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Juvenile Common Mergansers are a flamboyant lot. According to Pete Dunne they look like "overly made-up dowagers"  * but to me these here look more like bright-eyed punksters. 

The other day I saw three Common Mergansers in an inlet off the CT River. Of course they saw me too and paddled off. So all I got is this parting glance. I had to dive into my archive to come up with the above summer beauties. 

Merry Birding and Happy Holidays!

* Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

First of Season Hoodies, and Liebster Blog Award

For the past couple of days a pair of Hooded Mergansers, Hoodies in short, have settled on a inactive beaver pond not for from where I live. They are very skittish and usually head back to  the shore opposite  the dirt road if notice any movement, even a car creeping ever so slowly along that road. These are the first of the season for me.

A female Wood Duck was skulking through the weeds at the water's edge.

Thank you so much, Ken Schneider of Rosy Finch Ramblng, for nominating me for the Liebster Blog Award! The photographs, stories and reports on your blog are always an inspiration for me, as you seem to be living your life on a larger scale than the rest of us. 

What does Liebster Blog mean? The origin of this award is obscure, but it's probably German as the phrase "Liebster Blog" translates into "most favorite blog". The award is given to blogs that have less than 200 followers and deserve more recognition and encouragement.There are some guidelines that have to be followed while giving or receiving the Award.
The rules for receiving the award:
  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
  2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  4. Hope that the people you’ve sent the award to forward it to their five favorite bloggers and keep it going!

Good Birding! 

Thanks for your visit and let me know what you think. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

A SNOWY OWL in Brattleboro!

Talking about a possible Snowy Owl irruption in the Northeast, great news this morning on VTBird: Hector Galbraith had sighted a Snowy Owl on the cornfield behind the Marina Restaurant on the West River in Brattleboro, just about 3 miles from my house. I dropped everything, jumped into my car and joined several birders who were already there.The owl was perched about 50 yards from the kayak shed and parking lot.

Uncropped view, about 10 AM

The owl didn't stay there. 

Half hour later it flew to the opposite corner of the field and, when I returned at about 3PM, it was sitting in a tree on a slope bordering the wetland at the far edge. I took this photo from behind the stores on the Aubuchon Plaza above the field. 

Shortly after the owl took off and flew to perch on a log in the West River. Just as I got there it took off again and seemed to disappear into the woods above the Retreat on the other side of the river near  Rte 30. On a hunch  I decided to drive to the parking lot in back of Retreat to look down on the water from above and found it again perching on some brush in the water. 

it was about 4 PM. The light was fading.  Maybe it will still be in the general area in morning. I will do a check and leave a message on VTBird  one way or the other.

Good Birding!

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tender Gestures

The meaning of this photo is unmistakable although we know nothing about the context except that the birds are members of the same flock. It's clear that the lives of these birds are not just of struggle and strife, revolve not just around competition for food, for mates, for nest sites and territory....  but also allow unselfish tenderness.

Among Black-legged Kittiwakes trustful companionship

A featheris being passed like a gift between these two adult gannets, presumably the parents of the chick. Since it's not something edible and not used for lining a nest, does it have a symbolic meaning? Or am I perhaps overreaching? ----  Maybe he is just saying to her, "get rid of this feather" but the next photo seems to put the lie to that. Such tenderness and solicitude... 

These were among a large number of photos I took during a trip in June '09 to Helgoland, a North Sea island off the coast of Germany. It was a rare opportunity to observe the communal lives of Northern Gannets, Common Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes. 

I recommend these books: "The Private Lives of Birds" by Bridget Stutchbury
                                       "The Exultant Ark - A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure" 
                                        by Jonathan Balcombe

I am thankful for having so many online birding friends. Thank you for stopping by. Please leave a comment. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Waterfowl on Plum Island

My trip to Plum Island last Saturday was somewhat marred by a cold wind, sweeping down the beach and swirling up clouds of fine sand, which kept me from walking to Sandy Point, or anywhere else on the beach. In addition I had arrived at  low tide, as high tide occurred too early for me, around 5 AM, and again 12 hours later in the afternoon.

Sanderlings and Dunlins were down on the beach close to the water's edge too far for my camera and lens to get a good shot. I asked a birder with a scope whether he had seen any Red Knots "No, just Sanderlings and Dunlins'' and pointing to a boat not far off shore:,"some scoters there", but since the men in the boat were hunters, I suspect those ducks scattered about the boat were most likely decoys. 

The sheltered ponds and marshes behind the dunes were fairly calm. 

American Coot 

Green-winged Teal

Northern Pintails

Male Gadwall above, female below

The majority of ducks that I saw were American Wigeons, also call "Baldpate" for obvious reasons, or "Poacher" because, not being strong divers, they pilfer plants and roots dragged up from the bottom by other ducks. They have strong beaks which allows them also to graze on dry land like geese. 

Male Wigeon

Three males and one female Wigeon

Male Wigeon

A pair of male and female Wigeons

American  Wigeon summer and winter distribution  (Birds of North America)

I had a quick lunch in my car while watching two American Crows and a Ring-billed Gull squabble over food.

November days are short and before you know it the afternoon light is waning. Time to drive home. A five hour round trip and $50 in gas, was it worth it? I wished I could have timed my visit for high tide, and maybe a little less wind would have been nice. But I got two lifers that made it worth it: the Wigeon and a Barnacle Goose (see previous post)

Cheers! Good Birding.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Thanks for your visit and come by again!

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Barnacle Goose in West Newbury, MA

With few local birds available, and in imminent danger of acute birding withdrawal, I decided to drive to Plum Island yesterday to check on shorebirds and waterfowl and, while there. also check out the Barnacle Goose reported to be on a dairy farm in West Newbury.  

I visited Plum Island first and then drove to the farm. I found one birder already there  who told me the Barnacle Goose had moved to the back over a ridge and out of sight. So all we could see on the meadow were a flock of Canada Geese. The meadow was bordered by a private residence with a lawn stretching down to a pond, right along side the meadow and past the ridge. After waiting for about a half hour and determining that there was nobody at home who I could ask for permission,  I decided to walk down the lawn toward the pond.  About half way down the geese became aware of me and apparently alarmed started moving uphill over the ridge toward the road, the Barnacle Goose among them.  

This rather handsome goose breeds in the arctic north, Greenland and northern Eurasia, and winters in northern Europe and the British Isles. Occasionally a bird shows up in North America; this may be a vagrant, or possibly an escapee since the breed is popular with collectors.

Mixed in with the flock of Canada Geese were several Snow Geese, among them two adult white morphs and a juvenile, distinguished by a dark beak, and an intermediate morph, intermediate that is between a white and a dark morph.

I'll report on my visit to Plum Island in my next post. Thanks for visiting.

Happy Birding!

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Old World Sparrows

It's a hard time of the year for birding. The woods, fields and meadows are mostly quiet except for the occasional cawing of crows. The other day walking along the CT River I heard the bright calls of a Winter Wren coming from a dense leafless thicket by the shore I searched for it and saw it suddenly pop out on a branch looking right at me as if to say "Well here I am. Where is your camera?" It was a life bird for me but stupidly I had left my  camera at home. 

Having just returned from Germany I decided to do a post on two species of old world sparrows, the lowly and despised House Sparrow, and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. .

Most of you may be familiar with the misguided introduction into this country of the House Sparrow  by European settlers in the 19th century. Here is a nice summary:  

Only at the insistence of man did the House Sparrow make its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. In 1850, green inch-worms were destroying trees in New York City's Central Park. Many people thought that the House Sparrow's main diet back in England consisted of these same green worms and that if sparrows were brought to New York City they would solve the worm problem in Central Park. Others thought the House Sparrow would eliminate crop pests. While others theorized that the House Sparrow would eat grain out of horse manure (which was becoming a bigger problem as the city grew and the number of horses on the city's streets increased), which would help the manure decompose more rapidly. In addition, the new wave of immigrants who were forced out of Europe in the late 1850's because of economic and agricultural failures, missed the little birds they were accustomed to seeing in their native Europe. Steve Eno (Blue Birds across Nebraska)

A quick look at the bird's beak would convince any birder that its main diet is grains and seeds, not worms or other insect, which it feeds only to its young.  Due to its ubiquitous presence you'd think that the House Sparrow is the most common bird in Europe. Not true. In Great Britain it's in 4th place behind wren, chaffinch, robin and black bird.  Also it has actually been declining by 60% in urban environments,  such as London's city center where now it's almost absent. It's been placed on the red list

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow was less successful after its 19th century introduction in St Louis to enhance the local avifauna. Today it's mostly found in extreme eastern Missouri, west-central Illinois, and southeastern Iowa

I took these photos in the back of my grandfather's farm (now run by my cousin) in northern Germany. There the two species were strictly divided: House Sparrows in the ivy on the gable-side of the house and Tree Sparrows in the trees in back of the farm yard. 

Here is a side view of the old farm. My dad, age five or six,  is sitting on the horse. It's the same type of horse I learned to ride on when vacationing there in the summer. It is sad to think the people in this photo are all gone, my grandfather holding the horse that my father is sitting on, and my grandmother with my aunts, as well as a couple of other relatives that I don't recognize. That window over the door opened to a tiny guest room with two beds and a dresser, my room during my vacation. The thatched roof has been replaced with corrugated metal and the building turned into a stable and barn.

Back then....


I was just reading that John Vanderpoel of BigYear2011 started his search for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow from the Super 8 motel in Coralville, Iowa. I know that area well having spent ten years as student in Iowa City which lies directly on the other side of the Iowa River. But that was long before I did anything more than casual birdwatching.

I am ending this post on a nostalgic note. Tempus fugit. Memento mori. Time flies. Remember we must die.

Thanks for visiting and please leave a comment. Cheers!