Rub-a-dub-dub

What fun it is for us to enjoy morning coffee while being entertained by this communal bathing scene. It’s a great time of year for birding! Breeding season is over and the once territorial birds call a truce as they drink and bathe together. Bluebirds, sparrows, warblers, finches, chickadees, cardinals, and more… all are splashing together in the bird bath this fall. Birds like clean water and they find our birdbath to their liking. Each morning the water is emptied and the birdbath refilled for our feathered friends.

Why do birds bathe? No one knows the exact answer. I was taught it helped to rid themselves of parasites, but experts say it could be that AND it could be that clean feathers help them fly better. Following the bath, birds will land nearby to perform a ritualistic preen spreading protective oils over the feathers.

Many of the birds we see will soon be joining others for the trip to warmer climes. We’re happy to send them off with full stomachs and clean feathers!

 

 

“Just passing through….

….and thank you for the meal worms,” chirped a friendly pine warbler on his way through town.

pine warbler“And where are you heading, you handsome fellow?”

“I’m heading to the southeast to find others of my kind.”

“Farewell then. We’ll see you in April…”

pine warbler

Save

Save

Dark-eyed Junco

It’s bird migration time and things are happening in our little spit of land. According to Chris Bosak, Birds of New England, Labor Day weekend was a good time to fill the feeders again for the fall and winter birds. So I filled the feeder with hulled black oil sunflower seeds and the welcome mat was officially rolled out for the migratory songbirds.

Due to an invasion of breeding house sparrows this summer, I fed only the insect eaters, the robins, bluebirds, phoebes, and chipping sparrows nibbling on what fell beneath the feeder… no seeds at all, just meal worms.  Those pesky house sparrows turned their noses up at the meal worms and have exited the neighborhood, probably living inside Home Depot or around McDonalds for the winter. We are ready for the next wave!

Our first winter visitors arrived two mornings ago. The white-throated sparrow and their snowbird companions, the dark-eyed junco, are perhaps the best harbinger of winter. They arrived overnight and I spotted the newcomers at dawn cleaning up fallen seeds beneath the feeder.

junco (Junco hyemalis) female with sunflower kernel

Female junco with sunflower kernel

The junco is a fairly nondescript bird, gray above and a white belly. The female is generally paler with a mixture of brown in the plumage. Our flock should number 20 or more by the end of October.

Juncos are among my favorite little birds because they entertain me with their antics all winter. Their scientific name is hyemalis, Latin for ‘winter,’ an appropriate name for no snowstorm, blizzard, or arctic day can keep them away.  Their feisty interactions competing for seed under the feeder (and on the feeder) make me smile. They run, they hop, they flit, and they scratch as they battle each other for seed on the frozen ground or snow. Look for them to appear beneath your feeder around here very soon.

A Fine Balance

October can be an exciting month for birdwatching. We’ve watched wave after wave of migrating songbirds and shore/water birds pass through this area of southern New Hampshire. Many birdwatchers travel to migratory hot spots to watch the action but we believe we have a good seat right here on the 50-yard line to watch all the birding action we desire.

We’ve followed ducks, geese, vireos, sparrows, warblers, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, hawks and more, stop to rest and dine for a few days before taking off again. One new visitor I’ve especially enjoyed watching this week is the Northern Flicker, the Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus), a larger bird related to the woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Not an uncommon bird, but it’s fun to watch. It stands out on the horizon as it swoops and dips in flight, its large white rump visible only in the air. I admired his distinctive spotted plumage as it fed on ants and other insects on the ground beneath the white pines .

October is also great time to observe migrating hawks that land in the pines, perch on tree limbs, or circle the salt marsh looking for food. As in Virginia, a hawk we often see is the the Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii.) that scans the horizon from its favorite perch in nearby trees. What is the Cooper’s Hawk looking for? Birds. And what did the last Cooper’s Hawk find? Yep, that’s right. Our Northern Flicker nourished the hunter so it could continue its journey south.

It’s always a bit unsettling for me when I discover a fluff of a bird that was. But understanding nature in its fullest is understanding the delicate cycle and balance of the natural world.

Windy weather in New Hampshire yesterday ushers in a cold front today, perfect weather for spurring on bird migration. We’ll have our binoculars (and warm coats) ready.