Bird Atlas, Part 2016-02

April provided more opportunities for finding birds.  The weather was sometimes on the cool side, but we had some luck, rewarding our hours of effort.  Here’s a little sample.

Red-bellied Woodpecker.  No, that's not a typo.  It's NOT a Red-headed Woodpecker, although there is such a species.

Red-bellied Woodpecker. No, that’s not a typo. It’s NOT a Red-headed Woodpecker, although there is such a species.

We heard this Red-bellied Woodpecker for quite a while before locating him.  He was drumming on several trees and checking out various holes.  Finally we spotted him, and he nicely obliged by posing in the morning sunlight.  You may make a common error in thinking this is really a Red-headed Woodpecker, but it’s not.  That is a different species, with an entirely red head and a black back with large white patches in the wings.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

This little Tufted Titmouse is a year-round resident and a frequenter of bird feeders.  Starting in the spring you can hear his ringing “Peter-Peter, Peter-Peter” call throughout the forest.  They are cavity nesters, so check out holes you find, especially in Oak trees.

This White-breasted Nuthatch male was guarding the nest hole, right after he fed his mate, incubating the eggs inside.

This White-breasted Nuthatch male was guarding the nest hole, right after he fed his mate, incubating the eggs inside.

Speaking of cavity nesters, the White-breasted Nuthatch is another one.  This little fellow flew in, landed on the tree, worked his way down the trunk (nuthatches are the only birds that do that), and stuck his head in to feed his mate.  Of course that’s the shot I missed!  Then he posted guard, as shown here.

White-throated Sparrow, tan phase.

White-throated Sparrow, tan phase.

Sometimes photography is very useful in identifying the species to which a bird belongs.  That was the case with this White-throated Sparrow.  The white-throat, as it’s called, is primarily a winter visitor.  Sometimes you hear it’s “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada” call in early spring.  This one, seen in April, was a bit of a puzzle, as it is lighter than most individuals seen.  It is a tan morph of the species, a less common color form.  The trick to identification is the white throat and the yellow areas above the eyes, called lores.

This Yellow Warbler male was quite a show-off.

This Yellow Warbler male was quite a show-off.

Yellow, that’s the word for the Yellow Warbler.  This male was duking it out, song-wise, with another male.  Both had recently arrived (they were the first of the species we’d seen for the season), and may well simply be passing through to more northern territories.  Often the males arrive first, stake out territory, and wait for the females to arrive.  Yellow Warblers are easy to spot, as they frequently stay at lower elevations than other warblers.  My mother loved to hear their songs in the back yard: “Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet.”  This little guy hopped around in the bush for a bit before popping right out in the sun.  Then, of course, he departed.

Sometimes you're lucky to get even this much of a departing bird.

Sometimes you’re lucky to get even this much of a departing bird.

Bird Atlas, Part 2016-01

I haven’t posted recently because it’s busy, busy time for birding.  I’m participating in a new project, the Rhode Island Bird Atlas 2.0.  A little more than 30 years ago Rhode Island conducted a breeding bird atlas.  This consisted in surveying the state over several years to determine which species of birds were actually breeding in the state.  It’s now time to update that data, only now wintering birds will be included as well.  This current effort is a five year project.  It works like this.  The state is divided into 165 blocks, each 10 square miles.  For each block there is a volunteer coordinator and, in many cases, volunteer contributors.  I have assumed responsibility as the coordinator for seven blocks, a task made possible only because I am now retired and have a couple of very able contributors to assist me.

I will be posting photos from our ventures from time to time.  First, a disclaimer.  These photos are catch-as-catch-can.  They are here because of their informational content, not necessarily their photographic quality.  I’m using a Nikon D7100 camera body, which has a sensor that’s 24x16mm, approximately 2/3 the size of 35mm film.  This is commonly called a crop sensor, but it has the advantage of yielding 1.5x the focal length of the lens used on it.  I am using a Nikon 300mm f/4 PE lens.  With the crop effect, this is equivalent to having a 450mm lens.  Photos are taken hand-held, and of whatever view the bird may present.  Sometimes they will have branches or other interference impacting the image.  Occasionally they’ll be slightly out of focus.  I’m posting them for their informational content, and will provide some detail about the species or specifics of the situation involved.

Here are a few photos from April.  We were birding in Lonsdale Marsh, in Lincoln, RI this day.  This Mourning Dove was in a low shrub.  We suspected there was a nest nearby.

Mourning Dove, possibly near nest

Mourning Dove, possibly near nest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Mourning Dove was on a branch.  I happened to capture the image just as the bird blinked.

Mourning Dove Blink

Mourning Dove Blink

 

Here’s a pair of Mourning Doves.

Mourning Dove Pair

Mourning Dove Pair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These final two images are of a Swamp Sparrow.  We puzzled over the identification because all the field guides we consulted showed a different pattern on the side of the head.  But, a Swamp Sparrow it is.  Often there is some variability from bird to bird.  Some birders prefer guides with photographs.  The advantage of photos is that the guide presents actual birds, as observed in the field.  The limitation, however, is that the photos only show a point in time for a specific bird.  Other birders prefer guides with illustrations.  The advantage of this approach is that the artist can generalize from study of several specimens.  The limitation is that no actual bird may look exactly like the representation.  It’s a matter of taste, although most birders have at least one guide of each sort.

Swamp Sparrow, front view

Swamp Sparrow, front view

Swamp Sparrow, side view

Swamp Sparrow, side view

Gray Fox Pair?

Help me out, folks.  Do I have a pair of gray fox?  About a week ago my yard was visited by gray fox.  First one came Wednesday, February 24.  Then another the next night, followed by a third the following night.  Here’s three very bad photo taken by my trail cam:

Feb 24

Feb 24

Feb 26

Feb 26

 

Feb 25

Feb 25

So, assuming the February 24 and 26 visitors are the same–and they definitely are gray fox–what about the February 25 visitor?  It appears to have a black tip on the tail.  No black stockings, as well, definitely rules out red fox.  It’s too small to be a coyote.  But, the longer legs make me wonder.  Male gray fox are slightly larger than females.  Also, March is the height of mating season.  So, if I’m really lucky, I might have a mated pair as my visitors!  Gray fox are hard to locate because they are nocturnal and secretive.  I’ll keep a keen outlook, though, and keep you posted with any further developments.

Bird Banding

Raise Banding Nets

Raise Banding Nets

Through the Audubon Society of Rhode Island (ASRI) I enrolled this spring in a course about birds, taught by Charles Clarkson.  We were treated to a wealth of information from evolution to behavior, and song to identification.  This past Saturday (May 9) we were treated to a bird banding demonstration.  Charlie raised the nets in Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, RI.  Although the morning was relatively cool and foggy, we did have some interesting finds.

Once a bird flies into the net it must be released with care.  The rest position for a songbird’s foot is to have the toes closed, so that’s the first thing to do–free the feet.  Then, ever so gently, Charlie works the bird out of the net, one hole at a time.  Once freed, the bird is banded, with a careful notation of the species and the band number.  Then several measurements are taken–the length of the tarsus, the culmen, the wing, and the tail.  Finally, the bird is weighed, sexed, and aged, and then released.  Care must be taken with territorial birds to release them in the same location where they were netted.  Nothing worse for a male house wren defending a territory than to be released into another male’s territory!

Measuring Catbird Culmen

Measuring Catbird Culmen

I stayed for about three hours.  We netted several gray catbirds, a few American robins, a male house wren, a male eastern towhee, and a black-capped chickadee.  The chickadee had been banded by Charlie last fall, so it managed to survive the wicked winter RI experienced this year.  Robins seem to be a magnet for bird diseases, such as avian flu.  Although the ones we netted seemed to be healthy, Charlie did not want to risk contaminating the bags used for weighing the birds, so he released them without banding them.  No shortage of robins in RI anyhow, so no concern about data loss.

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A Touch of Spring

Gleaner Gardens

Gleaner Gardens

Here in Rhode Island we got two feet of snow last week, another foot this week, and are expecting yet another foot next week.  While I like snow, I thought you might enjoy a little touch of spring.

Last year a friend took me to a private garden named Gleaner Gardens.  The owners have an extensive collection of rhododendron plants, most of which are quite well established.  You are invited at every turn to wander through the paths and admire the remarkably diverse forms this plant can take.  You will find purple, pink, red, and white, as well as orange and one variety that seems nearly translucent.

Nearly Translucent Rhody

Nearly Translucent Rhody

Should you wish to stay awhile, an inviting reading bench is tucked away in one corner.  You may even be escorted by Rio, the resident German shepherd.  This quiet floral escape even boasts a meditation garden, where you will find both Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi.

Reading Bench

Reading Bench

Enjoy this little touch of spring rhodies from Rhody!