Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Big Year . . . or Birders Seeking Birds

Recently I watched a movie about three birders each pursuing his  "Big Year," a phrase in the birding world that refers to a calendar-year effort to see and/or hear as many species of birds possible in a given geographical area, in this case, North America. A highly personal quest, a "Big Year" is also an informal competition among birding enthusiasts the world over to see who can identify the most birds.

I enjoyed the movie. But perhaps that's a given because I, too, am a birder. 

I say this somewhat sheepishly because I've not been a good one for several years. The excuses are many, but I'll spare you a listing. Instead, I'm writing to say that to turn things around I'm beginning my own smaller version of a "Big Year."  I'm beginning now and am targeting a local nature preserve where I walk my dog on weekends--not technically my dog, a family member's dog who I watch on weekends.  Long ago I printed out a bird species list of this preserve, and as spring is the absolute best time to go birding--birding I will go! 

Keep posted to see what birds I add to this list.  As to photographs, I'll take them when possible (I'm not a professional photographer, far, far from it!), but it's not too easy with a dog in tow. More than likely I'll showcase selected species in my post with public domain photos taken by professionals.

Well until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart!

Georgia Anne

Friday, October 21, 2016

Three for Dinner: Downy, Cardinal, and Chickadee

Throughout the day, my backyard feeder (filled with black-oil sunflower seeds) gets heavy traffic. Those visiting  most frequently include the Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, and the Northern Cardinal, though the list of daily diners is much longer (more on these in upcoming posts). Watching these birds come and go is always enjoyable but never so much as when two or more birds converge. You never know who you might see! Birds come and go in an instant before you can even snap the photo. There are occasions when I snap a photo expecting to capture two birds that I discover a third--someone who fills the empty space between my intention and my act. Such was the case with this photo. 

I framed my lens on the male Northern Cardinal and female Downy Woodpecker never expecting the bonus capture of a Black-capped Chickadee. Thus are the little delights of life.

Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart.

Georgia Anne Butler

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The "Cha" Call of the Red-bellied Woodpecker

While enjoying some quiet time within the woodland behind my house, I had the good luck to hear and then see a red-bellied woodpecker.  (This is a recent photo of one at my feeder.) Through the years, I've posted on seeing and hearing the red-bellied woodpecker on numerous occasions, but that's because I learn something new with each encounter. This time, I learned that the red-belly's "Cha" call reminds me of a scolding squirrel.

The fact is that in prior posts, when discussing this woodpecker's sounds, I've discussed his "Kwirrr" call--a quite distinctive sound that once heard and recognized you don't forget. But today while reclining under some tall white pines, I listened for some time to a noisy avian inhabitant who I could not see, only hear. He appeared to be widely circling within the trees beneath which I lay.  Since I could not see him, I focused on his sounds, testing my memory that offered only one suggestion--which I knew to be wrong--a scolding squirrel.  So I thought: What bird do I know that sounds something like a scolding squirrel? As in answer to my question, the mystery bird landed high above me on the slim bole of a white pine, only briefly, but long enough for me to identify him as a woodpecker. 

Even so, I wasn't sure which woodpecker because the sighting was too brief. That didn't matter since I needed only to listen to the calls of woodpeckers (provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on its Allaboutbirds web site) and the answer would be mine. And so I listened to those woodpeckers specific to this region of the country and voila--I found my woodpecker: my own dear red-bellied woodpecker seen by me on so many occasions and yet revealed anew to me this day.

Check the link below for the various sounds of this red-bellied woodpecker, most likely a close neighbor to you.


Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart!

Georgia Anne Butler

Thursday, May 7, 2015

An American Redstart "Starts" My Birding Fever

As is evident, I've been long absent from this blog or  birding, generally.  Oh, I'm always conscious of the birds in my backyard and woodland behind the house, but I haven't been actively birding or posting on birds I see and hear.  Well that's stops now.

Yesterday, I went on a short woodland hike through a local nature preserve and had the immense pleasure of hearing and then seeing an American Redstart.  It's amazing how quickly I can forget the songs of a given bird when I'm not mindful. For instance, I recognized the shrill sweet notes but thought they belonged to a Black and White Warbler.  So I searched and searched for the singer--high, high up in the canopy of immensely tall hardwoods and could never catch sight.  Yet the woods were alive with this same song and so I was hopeful I would eventually catch a glimpse of the songster.

And so I did.  At first I saw a bird actively flying from one branch to another.  Chasing after this moving target, I finally "caught" him within the lenses of my binoculars: Wow!  A male American Redstart  (public domain image above provided by the National Park Service).  

Read more about the Redstart at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (where you can also listen to audio of his song!)


Seeing a male redstart is a real delight. More delightful  is when you can catch a mated pair together. You see, where the male has "orange patches on the sides, wings, and tail," the female has sunny yellow.  Seeing them together is like sunrise and sunset--Hey! Where did I read that? Oh, yes, I wrote this same description ages ago within this same blog!  I'll check to see when and post that date for a comparison.

Till then  . . . Keep birds in your heart!

Georgia Anne Butler

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ireland's Hen Harrier

Writing book three in my developing trilogy, Of the Wing, I am currently researching fact's about Ireland's Hen Harrier (the same species known here in the States as the Northern Harrier).  This fourteen-minute video provides amazing views both of the mating Sky Dance and the aerial food pass between male and female when raising young.

Watch and enjoy!

Until next time, remember to . . .  Keep birds in your heart!

Georgia Anne

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Day Is Here! Are Your Ready for the Hummers?

May Day is my day for putting out the hummingbird feeder. In years past, I could mark my calendar for arrival of my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird: May 1.  Living now in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I can't yet accurately predict the arrival date of my first guests.  UPDATE: (Am posting this on May 2.) Yesterday, only a couple hours after I hung the feeder, the first hummer arrived: a female. Minutes later, a male arrived. Since then, they (or others) have returned numerous times.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are a joy to see and hear. I love to see the flash of the male's ruby red throat, when he turns it to the sun. I love to listen to the buzz of super fast wings as they hover in the air, or watch their high arcing flight--up and down, up and down, up and down--as if crazy with the joy of life.  And if you want to enjoy sensory overload, try putting out more than one feeder.  You can't imagine the riotous energy and fun of a dozen or more hummers sharing your backyard.

If you're new to feeding humming birds, here are  some helpful tips:

1) You don't need to buy "nectar" sold at stores.   Simply  dissolve four heaping teaspoons of sugar to one cup of water. However, do purchase a colorful red feeder to attract attention to your feeder.  Keep your sugar water fresh, especially in hot weather.  Hummingbirds can get a fungus on their tongues from sipping "slimy" days-old sugar water.  I make a point to wash my feeder and supply fresh sugar water every three days (more often if the weather is hot).

Some people mistakenly think that hummers subsist entirely on sugar water. In fact, hummers eat small insects for their protein and rely on sugar for their energy.

2) Ants also like sugar water, so you need to discourage them. I recently learned that talc (Johnson's Baby Powder) contains crystals that are too sharp for ants to cross.  Sprinkle baby powder (it must contain TALC and NOT cornstarch, which cheaper products may use) at the base of your feeder and ants can't climb up.  Of course, when it rains, you need to re-sprinkle the base, but I find the effort and cost well worth it. Otherwise you'll find drowned and drowning ant clogging your feeder.

Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart (and backyard with feeders!).

Georgia Anne

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Birds of Pennsylvania: Natural History and Conservation

Pennsylvania birders will love this hardback edition (published in 1983 by the Pennsylvania Game Commission), which by anyone's standards is a collector's items. Each time I peruse its pages, I'm reminded of my good fortune in having obtained this book with its beautiful full-color images of birds as well as the numerous sketches (and some black and white photos).

I especially appreciate the classification of birds (for identification purposes) within six habitats: Waterfowl; Marsh and Water Birds; Birds of Prey; Winter Birds; Birds of Field and Garden; Birds of the Forest. What's more, each group is accompanied by a two-page colored-print (example above) including each species within that group. Each bird is labeled with a number so that you can test your identification skills. 

Beyond the beautiful graphics, Birds of Pennsylvania is an interesting read, covering the natural history of birds and of course instructions on bird identification. Newcomers to birding will fast become enthusiasts with this book as their guide. I LOVE IT.

Until next time, keep birds in your heart!

Georgia Anne