Monday, January 1, 2018

Canada Geese and Great Blue Herons on the Pond

My chocolate lab and I daily visit a large, shallow pond created decades ago as the central feature of a country club golf course. That establishment has long since gone “bust” and nature has reclaimed the golf course. (Yippee!) The pond remains though choked by algae in the warm months. But when cold weather arrives, the algae goes dormant and the water becomes a reflecting pool of sky. A couple weeks ago, on a sunny December day, it was to a sapphire blue pond that Rosie and I headed, though we were not alone.

Overhead we heard the honking calls of Canada Geese, about two or more dozen, banking for a water landing. Another smaller flock (whether stragglers or a different team entirely) also approached with the same intention. Rosie and I stopped to watch while yet a third group, half a dozen individuals hailing from an entirely separate quadrant of the sky, likewise began their descent. What a show!

Off leash, Rosie could not wait on me to visit with so many noisy newcomers and raced ahead to plunge with the geese into the water. They seemingly took her effrontery in stride, secure perhaps in their multitudes. After dashing up and down within the shoreline, Rosie returned to me and dry land to continue our trek around the pond. What a pleasant time we spent with our attractive and talkative guests upon the glittering water. In fact, we were so engaged that a pair of Great Blue Herons took us totally by surprise. Poised like a double image, they stood in the water, both heads turned in scrutiny of us.  We abruptly stopped, which apparently was their cue to start—and up they hurriedly yet gracefully flew.

When out within the natural world, you’ll no doubt have the good luck to meet and greet her animal citizens. Rosie and I always do.  Here’s wishing you a Happy New Year in 2018!

Always remember to keep birds in your heart!

Georgia Anne

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Primeval Pileated Woodpecker

Though I haven't posted for weeks, I have been regularly visiting my local nature preserve (Strawberry Hill) to see  and hear the birds of spring migration. To be honest, my warbler identification skills are weak. While living in Clearfield County, before moving to Adams County,  Pennsylvania, I learned a handful of warblers who came  each spring to breed in the forested mountains around my property.  Among these were the Black-throated Green Warbler, Black and White Warbler, and the Common Yellowthroat. Thus far this spring, I have heard two of my old friends and am yet waiting to hear the buzzy yet musical melody of the Black-throated Green.

However, today I intend to write not about warblers but woodpeckers, that is, the Pileated. You see, I never fail to hear . . . and recently on several occasions have seen . . . the magnificent Pileated Woodpecker. (Public Domain Photo by Mark Musselman, USFWS)

The Pileated is the largest woodpecker in North America, nearly the size of a crow, though much showier. (I will give credit to the crow for being more vocal, but not by much.) To see a Pileated flying through the trees of a hardwood forest is to feel a primeval  thrill, as if witness to a world long vanished.  You likely first catch glimpse of the flashing white and black wings. Your eyes lock on the moving target just in time to see the vibrant red of his or her crest. If the Fates are kind, you might be given a moment to ogle the bird through binoculars while it investigates an ant hole in a tree trunk. If so, you determine whether you peep upon a male or female--the red crest of the male covers more area and he sports red malar stripes (the female's are black). All this you might see if you're lucky.

More likely, you are graced to hear the Pileated drumming out some message to his mate or some territorial competitor, for woodpeckers use drumming to communicate much like songbirds use song. But if you don't hear the Pileated drumming, no doubt you'll hear one calling. Though he has a variety of calls, the one I like best reminds me of hooting monkeys--ha! At least, that's what comes to mind. I guess I'm thinking of old movies and chimpanzees. You can judge for yourself. Take a listen to the "wuk" call provided on Cornell Lab of Ornithology's web site, All About Birds:

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

Georgia Anne

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Female Belted Kingfisher

(Photo by Teddy Llovet, 2010)

In my last entry, I announced intentions to begin my own downsized version of what is known in the birding world as a "Big Year." (See last post for more info.)  True to promise, last weekend I went on my favorite 2.5 mile hike with the family dog, Rosie, to see what birds I could identify. Though a quiet birding day, at the outset of our walk, I was happily surprised by the unmistakable "rattle" call of the Belted Kingfisher. I caught a mere glimpse of the bird flying low over the sizable pond. Even so, I knew it was a Kingfisher by the sound--reminiscent of an old-fashioned tin noisemaker.  A proper sighting, however, eluded me, so Rosie and I continued onto the trail. 

Along the way, we heard the drumming of a Pileated Woodpecker  and the kwirr call of a Red-bellied Woodpecker. But the most active birds about that day were Tufted Titmice, everywhere singing Peter, Peter, Peter. When our hike was done, we returned to the pond for a quick swim (for Rosie, that is). But I too got a refreshment, for whom do you think made my acquaintance? 

Yes, the Belted Kingfisher. 

Unlike the Canada Geese, who took loud, honking exception to our intrusions, this female kingfisher seemed only slightly distracted. She flew twice over the pond before perching atop a bush growing from its bank. And there she sat, allowing me as much time as wanted to gaze upon her glory.  Viewing her from a considerable distance on a sunless day, I could just make out the chestnut band that distinguishes her from the male, who has but one blue-gray band.  The female has two bands across her white breast, a parfait of colors both blue-gray and chestnut.  

It's always a delight to see and/or hear the Belted Kingfisher. My only photograph was of a male, taken at my own pond (See this posting of April 25, 2011). Sadly, I no longer live there. Happily, I can visit the pond at Strawberry Hill whenever I like, and I like to often.  Until then, please enjoy the image of a female Belted Kingfisher with a fish provided by photographer Teddy Llovet, who contributed her photo for use by the public to WikiCommons in July 2010.

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

Georgia Anne Butler 

Photo by 

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

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