The Hummingbird Journey

We’re eager for the arrival of our ruby-throated hummingbirds in New Hampshire and we are keeping a close eye on the hummingbird spring migration map online.  Each week citizen scientists log in to the site and record their sightings that are reflected with dates on the map each week in a different color. The little birds have a long way to go before they reach our home in New Hampshire. But we are ready. Our feeders are clean and ready to be hung outdoors. Nectar rich flowers will fill the gardens… plus a variety of insects (NO  pesticides in our gardens). Have you seen a hummingbird chase down and eat a mosquito? I have.

Hummingbird Journey North 2017

In New Hampshire we attract just 4-6 hummingbirds over the summer. I like that number. In Virginia, that number was much more impressive, so much so that it was more economical for me to buy sugar from Costco in 25-lb. bags. Was it a full-time job keeping feeders clean, making nectar and keeping them well-fed with 8 feeders?  Almost!  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat! They are the most entertaining little visitors in the garden.

Here is a feeding frenzy of females and young males (yes…with white throats!) on our nectar the morning after a hurricane passed through our Virginia property. It took a hurricane to bring them all to the feeders at one time. It was the end of August and most of the adult males with their red throats had migrated.

We do not add red dye to the nectar. It is not needed. The base of feeders are red enough and, besides, why mix in a chemical additive that may affect the tiny birds?

We wash our feeders regularly and make sure nectar is fresh… especially when temperatures are very hot or a feeder may be in the sun. It’s a bit work but the perks of enjoying these birds in the garden outweigh the small amount of energy it takes to maintain the almost perfect hummingbird habitat.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save

Great Backyard Bird Count 2017

Dove

We are blessed with a multitude and variety of birds that frequent the winter feeder but, alas… these unruly mourning doves, beautiful as they are, have overwhelmed the feeder during Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. There are only 6 on the feeder pictured here but sometimes there are six more standing on the backs of those feeding…. all jostling and shouldering their way to a little sunflower seed. The rest of the mob is on the ground pushing and shoving for spillage. They are fast eaters and can clean the feeder in record time, fill their crops, and fly off to digest their meal.

Not all doves migrate and the ones I see could be sticking it out for the winter or they may be the males arriving way too early for the best breeding territory. Although New Hampshire is one state that does not allow hunting of doves, it’s still a tough life for the birds that stick around all winter. I have seen frostbitten and missing toes… and feathers on the snow tell me they are a link in the food chain for birds of prey.

The diversity of birds in our weekend count will not be as great this year, but we will continue to welcome these gentle birds to our feeders.

I don’t feed the birds anymore…

…with seeds in the summer, that is. What I mean is I don’t invest in expensive sunflower seeds all summer as I’ve done for 100 years. But I do provide food. It’s more natural food in the garden. We don’t have the variety of birds that we had keeping suet and seeds year round but we are royally entertained by those that frequent the landscape for berries, caterpillars and other insects, seeds on sunflowers, and we are generous with water. In an extreme drought like we are experiencing, all the neighborhood birds frequent the birdbath. Some simply sit and soak.

goldfinch on sunflower

Alas, I haven’t gone cold turkey with birdfood though. Maybe someday but for now  we are supplying mealworms to keep bluebirds (and us) happy. They are waiting when I take the feeder outside in the morning to have my coffee. And they are waiting when we supply mealworms at the dinner hour. We dine on the deck every evening and share space with 5 or 6 bluebirds of different ages…. parents and this year’s offspring.

Shortly after moving here, mister gardener made a bluebird box. It was doubtful we’d attract the birds in our small yard.  But, yes, if you build it, they will come. Last year was the first year. The couple had one nesting and now they have just completed their third nesting. That’s it for this year.

bluebird

This morning I sipped my coffee and watched as the last youngster looked eager to take flight. I waited with a second cup of coffee.  And then it did…. with the parents there to protect and guide it to the big viburnum where the other fledglings waited. The parents and older siblings slowly urged the newest fledglings to the old oak tree at edge of the forest as they always do. We can hear lots of excited calls welcoming the youngest to the family. There they keep them safe, feed them from a variety of sources, and when they are older, we’ll see them coming for mealworms twice a day with the others.

August 22 - Last Bluebird Fledgling

 

 

 

 

For the birds…

It has been an extreme few weeks in New England that has brought us over 40″ of snow in our area of New Hampshire. Today the snow is coming down steady again… enough that the snowplows have cleared our drive 4 times! We always feed the birds but during severe weather we step up our support as natural food supplies are difficult to find. We have trenches and we shovel out to refill feeders twice a day. The snow is as light as ivory flakes so the shoveling isn’t strenuous. And, amazingly, it’s full of tunnels where the squirrels are searching for wayward birdseed. They pop up here and there like Whac-A-Mole game.

trenchThe familiar backyard avian crew frequents our feeders… just in greater numbers in this weather. The black-capped chickadees, the white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, and tons of American goldfinch, pine siskins, and purple finches dine on the tube feeder and the covered bluebird feeder. The noisy finches that number in the twenties also monopolize the nyjer seed feeder.

finches on nyjer sock

American Goldfinches

Northern cardinals, mourning doves, a handful of blue jays, white-throated sparrows and a few other sparrows, a large number of dark-eyed juncos, a common redpoll or two, American finches and pine siskins hop around atop the snow for the seeds we scatter.

.
Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

junco..

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpeckers, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, the chickadees and titmice go through the suet in no time.

.
chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

 

Female P. Finch

Female Purple Finches

 

Pine Siskin

 

The avian activity provides a lot of excitement and entertainment at our house. Breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime at our table are hives of activity at the window feeder. We enjoy watching the shy, the gregarious, the bullies, the bold, the eat-and-run birds, the noisy, and the birds that like to watch us watching them.

.
At least it’s a leisurely hobby that you can enjoy from the comfort and warmth of your home… unlike some of our neighbors who must wait for the snowplow to clear enough snow so their animal friends can have a little recreation. Brrrr….
.
Cindy and pup

On the move

Fall migration is in full swing in New England and I’ve seen some spectacular birding sights along this coastal region of New Hampshire. Many of these migratory birds I see when I’m out and about but if I was not a gardener, I’d miss some of my favorite little friends right in my own back yard.

Yesterday, while adding a new border and path beneath the crab apple tree, I heard a familiar jit-jit-jit-jit and knew I was being visited by the tiniest of birds, the kinglet. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) was flitting from branch to branch totally ignoring the fact that I was working just feet away. This bold little friend foraged beneath the bark nonstop for insects making it almost impossible for this gardener to drop all and photograph it.

KingletI’ve always enjoyed watching the kinglet, both the Ruby-crowned and the tiny Golden-crowned as they migrate in the spring and fall. This one is on its way from breeding grounds of northern New England, Canada, and Alaska to southern United States and Mexico and beyond.

A bit blurry but this shows the distinct eye ring and bold wing bars that help identify a Ruby-crowned Kinglet from the Golden-crowned. The scarlet crown patch was not visible so either it was concealed by feathers, as it often is, or this 4″ bird is a female that does not have the patch of red.

kinglet 2kinglet3One last flit of the tail and it was off to warmer climes.

What the garden center didn’t tell me….

Being responsible caretakers of our environment, we removed a 12-ft. tall invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) from our foundation after buying our home a year ago. It is illegal to sell them in New Hampshire. The seeds are scattered by birds and the plant is out competing native plants in the wild.

The burning bush was replaced with a native arrowwood viburnum, one of which grew in my Virginia gardens. It produces lacy white flowers in the spring and berries for the birds in the fall. I thought I tackled the right questions about this beautiful shrub at the nursery but we already knew a bit about their versatility. The shrub is tolerant of sun or shade, all soil types, wet or dry areas, and is pest resistant. It sounded like a perfect addition to our shrub border…. that is, until this week.

Japanese BeetlesIt seems the shrub isn’t so resistant to insects. Japanese beetles love this species of viburnum!  Never in Virginia, but here each morning, it’s a mating and dining Japanese beetle playground. And there’s evidence of a more sinister insect at work, the Viburnum Leaf Beetle. This is a beetle that I have not encountered before. Now I’ve spotted a couple of the insects and witnessed their telltale pattern of holes in the leaves.

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

I’m watching and speculating what our next step should be. Sadly, this beautiful shrub may need to be removed in the fall and replaced with a more insect resistant variety of viburnum.  Sigh….

 

Love is in the air

Spring is upon us and suddenly the woods are alive with avian romance. White-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos that have kept us company throughout the winter have have migrated north and we welcome back songbirds that spend half their lives elsewhere. Seeds and suet, rich in protein, were ready for their arrival to provide the energy they need.

Two mated pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks recently arrived from their winter in Panama and northern South America and are being well-fed at separate feeders.

Two male ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived a week ago and each claimed a different feeder as his own. They fuss across the branches but no fights yet… and, sigh, no lady loves either. It may take a week or two before the females arrive. Instead of hovering and guarding their food, they spend time staking out the best territory for breeding and sit high in the treetops as if scouting for the arrival of the first female. Then the fights may begin.

One male is very approachable and will hover inches from me each time I drag out the hose to water the baby grass or fill the birdbath. All he wants is a nice mist shower. I follow him to a branch where he flaps his wings and washes every feather for at least 5 minutes.

Male Ruby Throated HummingbirdOne of my favorite bird species, the gray catbird, is now frequenting the feeding area, flitting here and there, in a shrub, on a limb, running across the ground, on the suet, and then the feeder. The pair is vocal, mewing and repeating the calls of a number of other birds, as they forage for insects and enjoy sunflower seeds. I added a ground water bath that they especially love.

gray catbird in the ground bathFour varieties of woodpeckers, all paired off, visit the suet along with pairs of nuthatches, titmouse, bluejays, and chickadees.

Whether watching plump mourning doves, two by two, pad quietly beneath the feeders looking for spilled seeds or the sweet affection of a male cardinal feeding his mate, we both agree that birdwatching is an amazing experience in the spring.

 

A Backyard Whodunit….

We have six hummingbirds at the feeder now. They eat a lot less than the dozens of hummers at my Virginia feeders so only one feeder is needed. All hummingbird feeders have small bee guards on the openings to prevent insects from crawling into the nectar. A few mornings ago I noticed two of the bee guards were missing. The next morning, another of the guards was gone. The birds were left with three gaping holes from which to feed and one bee guard. This is an obvious sabotage from some creature. But who or what could do this? Hmmm…..

The number one suspect is the squirrel. He’d been caught with his hands in the cookie jar many times.

So I moved the hummingbird feeder to the squirrel proof pole with the rest of the feeders. The hummingbirds didn’t seem to mind mingling with the larger birds and Mister Squirrel seems to be mystified by the baffle. In and out of the pole’s squirrel baffle he goes but has not yet found a way to the feeders. (He hasn’t given up so stay tuned for new tricks)

All was well for a day until I noticed the fourth bee guard missing. Jeepers! It wasn’t the squirrel after all! I quickly bought a second hummingbird feeder and organized a round-the-clock stakeout with camera in hand for the other. The hummers migrated to the new feeder and I watched the old feeder. It didn’t take long before the culprit appeared. Click…click…click….click.

A beautiful Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) has claimed this nectar as his own. He’s the one who pulled off the bee guards, quite common I read, and he drains a feeder in a day and a half. We are delighted. Oranges and a new oriole feeder go up today. We believe Mister Oriole arrived on June 1, ahead of female orioles, to stake out the best territory for his lady. We are waiting and watching for her.

The Icterids are a group of birds, mostly black, often with splashes of yellow, orange or red. This group includes the bobalink, meadowlawks, and red-wing blackbirds that we see breeding and nesting across the meadow surrounding this property. Matter of fact, we have seen these two ‘cousins’ coming face to face atop the feeding station, each going to different feeders. Birdwatching sure is fun and full of surprises!

Baltimore Oriole and Red-Wing Blackbird

It’s a Grey Fox… not a Red

I’m not venturing out to garden, weed, or prune in our new frozen tundra this winter. The only outdoor activity I’m fully engaged in so far is feeding the songbirds. We have no trees near this house so instead of hanging feeders from limbs as I did in Virginia, I discovered a great Advanced Pole System at Wild Birds Unlimited to bring the birds closer.

The pole with attached auger is simply twisted into the ground about 24″ and additional poles are snapped onto this pole. The top of the pole is where you can get fancy or stay simple. This is what you could do:

I chose to stay simple with one squirrel baffle tube feeder until I saw how many birds would be tempted to dine with us. The small chickadee was the first to discover the feeder, followed by the tufted titmouse, hairy woodpecker, goldfinches, nuthatches, and the ground feeders, the juncos and other sparrows.

I’ve had the system for one week and the food is disappearing fast. Now I’m waiting for those birds I rarely or never see in the south, like the redpolls, the grosbeaks, the crossbills. I’m gearing up the the Great Backyard Bird Count of 2012 on February 17-20. I’ll count the birds around the feeder and the birds I see in the distance or simply flying over. With an extensive salt marsh vista, hawks are numerous, busy scouting for food over the grasses, gulls soar from the nearby rivers, and noisy Canada geese fill the skies.

With the noise at the feeder today, we attracted a new visitor.  What I thought was a Red Fox is really a Grey Fox. I’m sure his acute hearing alerted this visitor to see what all the ruckus was in his neighborhood. He stood very still on a sunny hillside where the snow has melted and just observed the bird activity at the feeder. After a moment, he turned tail and quietly disappeared over the hill into the white pines. There were no dining opportunities at our feeder on open ground.

Grey Fox

However…. should the fox be interested, there is a meal or two available if he is patient and quick. You see, not only the birds have found the feeder. We have one or two uninvited guest who are eating more than their fair share of my costly bird food. And, boy, are they FAT.

Holiday Tradition: Christmas Bird Count

If you love being in the great out-of-doors and if you love birding and being with like-minded friends, then the Christmas Bird Count is the perfect wintertime activity for you. This National Audubon Society sponsored event, begun on Christmas Day in 1900, collects data for a study of the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. Our local team of a dozen volunteers walked and drove within the 15-mile radius of our assigned area of the count circle in Mathews and Gloucester Counties on Sunday (no hunters!), January 2. The combined information is available on a CBC database on the Audubon website where you can view historical counts, track a species, check maps or make a graph.

Fog and drizzle over the Ware River

Yesterday’s weather forecast was favorable: a high of 57 degrees, morning showers predicted to end when a front pushed through in the afternoon. This seemed to be an improvement over a year ago when 19 degrees and howling winds caused my camera to freeze after the first few shots. However we were disappointed to awake in the wee hours to drizzle and heavy fog on this year’s 110th Christmas Bird Count. Most of our counting takes place over rivers and creeks and marshes where it was difficult to see much at all early in the day.

Fog rolled in the pre-dawn light, then lifted for brief moments, allowing us to count and estimate thousands of birds on the waterways of Gloucester.

Belleville Creek, normally a haven for ducks, geese, kingfisher, woodpeckers

Heavy fog on low lands obscured most of the water and shore.

We hear them. We just can't see them.

Hampered by high tides, volunteers traverse makeshift bridges

A glimmer of hope past the noon hour....

...then early afternoon clearing provided anticipation and good cheer....

..and clear counts on the water...

... only to be dashed with the arrival of the front and heavy rains.

Yet, here we counted numerous small birds seeking protection from the rain just like us!

Late afternoon on Davis Creek

Although afternoon temperatures dropped 10 degrees with gusting winds and intermittent rains all afternoon, we covered much ground in Ware Neck with good results. Drying out that evening while tallying our counts we were satisfied with the final bird census of the day. Despite not seeing some familiar birds like vultures and some songbirds, we were pleased with the variety and number of birds that we reported this season.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

 

Early Morning Cycle

Today is a great day for anything… as long as it takes place outside in this glorious weather. The high humidity of last week has disappeared, leaving us with sunny skies, a low 51% humidity and gentle southeasterly breezes of 10 mph. This afternoon I will dive into neglected sections of the gardens but this perfect morning was meant for biking.

Waking at dawn, the morning still in shadows, I could not pass up a few photographs of  a fiery sunrise over the North River.   Next, a little breakfast for Jack and Maggie who were obviously more interested in catnapping than food at this early hour.

Then it was bike time.

Water, check. Binoculars, check. Six of us met while the dew was still on the grass to bike & bird through Ware Neck.  And we were off, taking to the paved roads and the side roads and the private lanes and shortcuts and long cuts where we knew the birds may be. Our birding aficionado, Read McGehee, led the way, pointing left and right and stopping the group to hear distant calls. A few of the special birds identified this morning, were:

ovenbird (New World warbler)

kingbird (a flycatcher)

red headed woodpecker

white-eyed vireo

red-eyed vireo

wood thrush

red-tailed hawk

brown-headed nuthatch

plus all the regular birds we see every day.

I arrived home close to the lunch hour and opened the front door to bacon aromas wafting from the kitchen. There I found mister gardener preparing a mouthwatering déjeuner to welcome me home, a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with the first juicy red tomato from the garden. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester