Archive for Birds

Hummer Feeder Mystery

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Drained dry!  No bee guards!

We had a recent theft in Maine.  I awoke to find that some creature had raided the hummer feeders, draining them and removing every bee guard.  Nothing like this has ever happened during our 38 years of feeding the hummingbirds at this location.  The typical scenario is that we arrive and one of my first tasks is to fill the feeders and put them out.  The hummers (who must see the car) arrive within 20 minutes of my putting out the feeders and the feeders are in constant use for the duration of our stay.

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Damaged bee guards

I noticed the drained feeders and missing bee guards quite soon after I woke up at 4:30 a.m. so I think it was a night time marauder but it is possible that the damage happened just as it got light.  We managed to find six of the eight bee guards, two of which had tooth marks.  The culprit also bit holes in a bag of fertilizer I had left on the deck and the teeth marks were an inch apart, probably ruling out the one I thought to be the likely perpetrator; a red squirrel. I suppose it could be a fisher, porcupine or  raccoon with a sweet tooth, but all of those are quite large and getting to the feeders might be difficult without waking us up.  I refilled them and put them out (I have extra bee guards) and I took them in at night.  Maybe I’ll get a game camera and set it up. We’ll see what happens next time we are in Maine.  Grrrr!

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Cooper’s Hawk goes to Rehab

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My husband was driving on a nearby road and saw a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the yellow line, apparently injured.  He jumped out of the car, stopped traffic, tucked the bird under his arm and drove home.  He found an appropriate box and put the bird in, closing it up in hopes it was just stunned.  I returned from the store a few minutes later and he wanted to show it to me.  When he opened the box Ms. Coop burst out and ran across the lawn but couldn’t get any lift to fly off.  Suddenly a Red-tailed Hawk swooped down on the Coop in an attack.  The Red-tail must have seen us as it abandoned the attempt and flew off without touching the Coop.  After a prolonged chase my husband recaptured the Coop (we think female due to the size) and we took her to Wildlife in Crisis, the nearest wildlife rehabilitation center.  We hoped it was just a soft tissue injury as the wings were not displaced and a preliminary exam found no obvious break, but an x-ray showed a break that would require a three month rest and recuperation.  The prognosis is good.  She is a stunningly beautiful bird but a stone cold killer of our feeder birds.  They may have a three month rest as well. (photos by George Van Der Aue)

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Bridled Tern: A Rare Connecticut Visitor

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Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus) Photo courtesy of Valerie Gebert

Yesterday we had the opportunity to see this rare visitor from southern waters in Connecticut, only the second record sighting of a Bridled Tern here.  The bird was sighted about 10 days ago on Falkner Island which is under conservation as a portion of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.

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Falkner Island a/k/a Faulkner’s Island.  The island has been drastically reduced in size by erosion, reducing the size of the Roseate Tern nesting area available.  It was estimated at 8 acres in 1639 and reduced to 2.87 acres by 1987.  Hurricane Sandy and other storms have done even more damage and the Army Corps of Engineers have reinforced the eastern boundary in an attempt to slow the damage.

Andy Griswold took a day off from work to take his boat out to try and see it and we were lucky enough to get seats.  We waited 2.5 hours before the bird made its appearance.  It was a life bird for all of us.  During the wait we constantly scanned the rocks, enjoying the interactions between the parents and chicks of the many terns that nest there.  Most were Common Terns, a few the endangered Roseate terns (the island hosts the largest breeding colony in the State) and a couple of Black Terns were sighted as well.

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Just a few of the thousands of terns coming and going around us.  What a cacophony!

Finally Andy spotted it and we watched delighted for 16 minutes as it perched, flew and was chased by the Common Terns.

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Pete’s Tree: Native Plant Success

 

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This Catbird is one of the several species enjoying the early season fruit from the Pagoda Dogwood

I have championed native plants here previously, especially deer resistant bird friendly ones and I now have another success.  My sister-in-law wanted to do something as a memorial to our son Pete after his death from cancer in 2013 and we decided on a Pagoda Dogwood.  In only three years it has borne a bumper crop of fruit and is covered with birds each morning, especially Gray Catbirds, Northern Mocking Birds, American Robins and Cedar Waxwings.  This tree has early season fruit, a much sought after food source for birds.  We planted it near the bird bath where it would have the moist soil it enjoys.  It has so much going for it; early fruit, deer resistance, spring flowers, fall color and it’s native to this area.  I know Pete is enjoying the bird show.

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Here’s what it looks like in the spring.

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The Panama Hawk Migration

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Panama City from atop the Canopy Tower.  It reminded me of the Emerald City of Oz.

We traveled to Panama in early October mainly for the hawk migration, but there were many other fascinating sights such as the Three-toed Tree Sloths munching on the Cecropia leaves outside our window.

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We stayed at Canopy Tower an old converted US Military radar installation.  The food was excellent with menus prepared by the owner’s Mother (?) who was a well known chef.  We came back from one day’s outing to find the remnants of that cuisine being sampled by seven juvenile Coatis.  They didn’t mind in the least if we watched them and they were relatively respectful of each other, unlike their cousins the Raccoons..

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It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip bird-wise as well with my eBird total of 195 species.  There were beautiful insects with Blue Morpho butterflies fluttering everywhere.  I also encountered a creature completely new to me, a Helicopter Damselfly (Megaloprepus caerulatus).  It was lovely at rest but absolutely mesmerizing in flight, twirling delicately down the path (click on the name for a link to a short video)

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Here is the Helicopter Damselfly at rest.  It is huge, about 7″ long and with a similar wingspan.  (Photo courtesy of Christine Howe, all rights reserved)

But of course the hawk migration was the primary reason for our visit.  We drove to Ancon Hill where the official Panama hawk watch is held.  We were told that almost no hawks had come through on the previous day but they had heard from Veracruz, Mexico that they should expect large influx were due this day.  We saw very few at first but then they started rising from the canopy and flying in from the west.  They gathered and rose swirling (kettling) until they reached the top of the thermal and then slid off to the east.  We were told that in one half-hour period we had seen approximately 18,000 hawks, mostly Swainson’s Hawks and that every Swainson’s Hawk in North America passes over the Panama Canal on its way to its wintering grounds in Argentina.  I found the experience very calming, watching them floating in, up and on their way, hundreds at a time.

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There are a few Turkey Vultures  and Broadwings but most of these birds are Swainson’s Hawks, a tiny fraction of the spectacle.

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Svalbard 5: Dovekies

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This was the brave one.  I could hear the mate down in the burrow.  The rest kept their distance (sitting maybe 30′ away) and flying close over our heads to investigate.

I know, the trip was in June and it’s now November but I want to share this one last adventure with you.  On our last day there my friend Frank and I decided to climb up a steep scree slope to sit among the nesting Dovekies.  It was thrilling to sit high on the slope with Dovekies calling as they whirled around my head.  I had close looks at them.

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The slope may not look steep but it was.

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The only way I could get down was the “5 point” way, sliding on my butt!  (Photo courtesy of Frank Mantlik)

For me this was the highlight of our trip.  One of my goals was to see nesting Dovkies and we did that in spades.  Thanks, Frank.

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Svalbard 1: Oslo Environs

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We planned our trip to Svalbard by setting aside time on either end for birding on our own.  We hired a local bird guide from the Oslo area to take us to his favorite spots for a day and it was well worth the effort.  He took us to the outskirts of the city where there is a large lake (the Nordre Oyeren Naturreservat) and then to other several other hot spots.  By the time we finished we had compiled a list of about 65 species, including 28 life birds.  While these birds were all interesting one bird stood out.  We were hiking near the lake and a beautiful chicken started to follow us.  With its striking plumage and white rump patch, it looked to me exactly like the  Red Jungle Fowl, ancestor of domestic chickens that we have occasionally  encountered in our travels, living wild in the jungle.  I finally have had a chance to research it and have decided that it must have been a Sicilian Buttercup.  This bird was very vocal and followed us for some distance.  He was probably an escape from someone’s chicken collection.  He gets the name Buttercup because of the shape of his comb, which is cup shaped.

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The next morning we left Oslo and most vegetation behind and headed to the arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

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