Through the Window: December feeder birds

We had a new visitor this month, and I’ll tell you who right after the monthly list of birds.  A light-weight month, perhaps for weather, but more likely for the season.

Birds

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker
Photo ©2008 E. Talmage,
Huntington, Vermont

  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Wild Turkey
  • Blue Jay
  • Dark-eyed Junco (12/7; about 18 inches of snow fell in the night of 12/6 and the morning of 12/7)
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Cardinal
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Mourning Dove
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow (12/10, a warmish, wet and windy day)
  • American Goldfinch (12/17)
  • Common Redpolls (4 of them on 12/17)

Mammals

  • Red Squirrel (of course)
  • and an Eastern Cottontail

Coincidentally, today (posting day) is  the Hinesburg/Huntington Christmas Bird Count. It’s rather foggy, actually, so not too much observed yet, I’m told. But the day is still young! (In fact, I just saw a wild turkey, because it was chuckling to itself and I looked up from typing this.)

Through the Window: November Feeder Birds – and Others

What a lovely month! We started this winter’s Feeder Watch, and had a few notable visitors. Here’s the month’s list, more or less in the order spotted.

Black-capped Chickadee Carving
Black-capped Chickadee
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay
  • Fox Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Mourning Dove
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • American Goldfinch
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • Wild Turkey
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Rusty Blackbird
  • American Tree Sparrow

And of course, both the Gray and Red squirrels “assisted” with the corn and seed on the ground…

Identify the bird: Rusty Blackbird? Common Grackle?

possible a Rusty Blackbird (but not in fall plumage?) or Common Grackle (but that tail is too short)
Possibly a Rusty Blackbird (but not in fall plumage?) or Common Grackle (but that tail is too short?)

Can you help with this bird? It has features of a Rusty Blackbird and of a Common Grackle according to our research in Sibley’s and the National Geographic field guides, and our experienced birders Bob Spear and Gale Lawrence.

The photos were taken on a rainy day (October 29) through our viewing window, so they are a bit low-light and there are occasional water drops.

You can click on the images in the slideshow below to see five different pictures (including a bigger version of the one to the left).

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Through the Window: October Birds at the Feeders

If you’ve been to see us, you know that we record these birds on a whiteboard by the viewing window. The handwriting on the board is varied, as staff, volunteers, and even visitors will jot down the common name of birds they see. This month, against the final changes in foliage, we noted:

Brown Creeper, carved by Robert N. Spear, Jr.
Brown Creeper, wood carving by Robert N. Spear, Jr.
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Blue Jay
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • American Goldfinch
  • White-crowned sparrow
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Purple Finch (male)
  • American Crow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Brown Creeper
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Song Sparrow
  • Rusty Blackbirds (unless they were Common Grackles?)

the Big Sit! 2010 Results

On Sunday,  October 10, the Museum hosted the Loonatics and their Big Sit! circle.  Thanks to Jim O. for coordinating the event and to all the volunteers who joined in. It was a beautiful day, and several people contributed excellent food to keep us warm.

We identified 27 species. The time sheet:

Time Common Name
0626 White-throated Sparrow
0633 Mourning Dove
0633 Northern Cardinal
0634 Dark-eyed Junco
0646 American Crow
0648 Blue Jay
0648 American Goldfinch
0650 Black-capped Chickadee
0656 White-breasted Nuthatch
0659 Red-breated Nuthatch
0703 Hairy Woodpecker
0709 Downy Woodpecker
0712 Common Raven
0721 Evening Grosbeak
0740 Tufted Titmouse
0759 American Robin
0832 Yellow-rumped Warbler
0836 Canada Goose
0920 Blue-headed Vireo
1104 Turkey Vulture
1154 Purple Finch
1307 Sharp-shinned Hawk (Female)
1348 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1359 Northern Harrier
1413 Red-tailed Hawk
1416 Cooper’s Hawk
1748 Barred Owl

Through the Window: September Feeder Birds

Against the shifting foliage, we’ve seen many birds (some the last of the year, as they migrate southwards).  Nearby, we also observed a mammal of some note!

Birds:

  • Blue Jay
  • Grackle
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird (last male on 9/7/2010; last female on 9/14/2010)
  • Purple Finch
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • American Goldfinch
  • Mourning Dove
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (still here 9/11/2010)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • White-throated Sparrow (9/17/2010, 9/29/2010)
  • Easter Phoebe
  • Pileated Woodpecker — swooping over and museum
  • Song Sparrow
  • Bluebird (9/28, 11:30 a.m.)

Mammal:

  • Bobcat sighted by a cyclist on 9/20/2010 at 1:33 p.m., just north of museum parking lot on Sherman Hollow Road

And something you can’t actually see from the window, but must get up and walk to:

Autumn Flowers at the Birds of Vermont Museum
Autumn Flowers at the Birds of Vermont Museum. Photo taken in September 2005 in the field between the road and the pond.

Feeding hummingbirds in fall

I received a call today from a woman wondering what to do about hummingbirds. Two juvenile birds still come to her feeder, but she hasn’t seen the parents in some time. Should she take in the feeder? Is the food she provides keeping those young birds from migrating? Will they migrate without the parents? Are the parents still around, just not coming to her feeder?

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Female (woodcarving)
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Female (carved by Bob Spear)

I asked Bob Spear, since he’s got considerably more experience as a naturalist than I do–decades more.

“Leave it up,” he says. In fact, our hummingbird feeders are still up at the Museum and we saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird on Tuesday the 14th of September.  He tells us the males head south earlier than females and young ones, and he suspects that the female parent of the two juveniles is still nearby. Furthermore, migrating individuals from further north may stop at feeders on their way south (and in this week’s chilly rain, every bit helps). “It’s a myth,” he says, “that our feeders will keep them from migrating when it’s time for them to go.”

So enjoy your last glimpses of these little birds, glinting against the autumn leaves.

A beginner’s notes from the Annual Butterfly Walk

post by Kir Talmage, Museum Program Coordinator

I’ve just come back from the Annual VES Butterfly Walk.  Thank you so much to Bryan Pfeiffer, Trish Hanson and many others for sharing their knowledge! We had about 35 guests or so on the walk, ranging from young kids to grandparents, new explorers to professional (and retired) entomologists.  I’m a new explorer, practically a rank beginner with bugs.  I love it.

You’ll no doubt get much more by coming on a walk, going outside, and paging through field guides. I went out with my  just my notebook and camera, though. So, from my notes:

Grandfather and grandchild exploring for butterflies
Grandfather and grandchild exploring for butterflies on today's VES Butterfly Walk

About observing tools: Water nets and butterfly nets are not the same. A butterfly net (for field insects, etc.) is longer, cone-shaped, and of a very fine soft mesh. The longer shape (compared a vaguely trapezoidal water net) allows one to “flip” the net closed, so the insect won’t escape while you are examining it. That’s less of an issue with a water net; water beetles and dragonfly nymphs aren’t so likely to fly off.

About Butterflies: Lepidoptera — the order that contains butterflies — means “scale(d) wing”, for the thousands of tiny, often iridescent scales that cover the wings.  We found a clouded sulphur female (Colias philodice). One way (of  several) to tell this was a female was because she had spots in the dark margin of her upper wing.

Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis) on child's hand
Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis) on child's hand. This one is an "old lady" -- about a month or so!

About Dragonflies and Damselflies: When identifying them, look at where the color is on which segments of the abdomen — look very closely! Also look at the profile of the claspers at the end of the abdomen. The different shapes (hook, c-clamp, straight, knobby, etc.) helped in identification.

About Daddy-long-legs:  I had never noticed how the mouth parts fold so neatly, making such a even oval profile of their bodies. Lovely.

Here’s a cool online resource I just found too, for comparing multiple pictures of butterflies (and others): http://www.discoverlife.org/20/q?guide=Butterflies What are your favorite online resources for Insects and Arachnids?

Young Entomologist
Young Entomologist on the VES Annual Butterfly Walk

A Meditation on a Child and Birding

Guest post from Dr. Stewart Kirkaldy, Museum Volunteer

Every once in a while one has an experience that is profoundly moving. This happened to me recently on International Migratory Bird Day at the Birds of Vermont Museum where I was working at the viewing window. A young couple came in with three children, the eldest of whom was a serious birder. She was 10 years old or less but had a “life list” of fifty-eight on arrival. Very soon she saw her first Hummingbird to which she responded with incredible vocal enthusiasm, jumping up and down and rushing across the room to give her father the news. (She added two new species to her list that afternoon.) Her interest and enthusiasm was evident all day. She was an inspiration and rejuvenated hope in my heart for the future of humanity.

The realization dawned on me that she is at one end of the spectrum of human activity and, sadly, too many are at the other end as exemplified by Big Oil Company Executives whose actions and indifference led to the recent catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But what she left me with was the hope well expressed in a hymn that ends “… when man’s crude acts deface no more / the handiwork of God.”

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male), carved by Robert Spear, Jr.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male), carved by Robert Spear, Jr.