Monday, March 27, 2023

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Always Catches My Fancy


Public Domain photo provided by the National Park Service.

I saw and heard my first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of the season at a local nature preserve, Strawberry Hill. I've heard (and sometimes seen) her for many years during my short hikes with the dogs and, usually, in the same area near the woodland's edge and adjacent to a large pond. 

She's a tiny, slim bird with a long tail, so when I saw the silhouette of just such a bird on a small branch above me, I suspected the Blue-gray, though she was obscured in shadow. Then, when I heard her tell-tale song, "spee, spee, spee," I knew with confidence who had graced my path.
(I tried to catch a photo, but, alas, she would not wait. Trying to locate these active birds is difficult enough let alone photographing one.)

Only last year I somewhere read an apt description of this gnatcatcher as a tiny Mockingbird. At the time, I thought it related specifically to her plumage and tail. Now, I discover that the Blue-gray has two song types--the one I identify her or him by (spee, spee, spee) and another, more complex song, as described on the web site (sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology):

"More complex songs are sung from early morning to midday. These continuous jumbles of sharp chips, high-pitched whistles, and mewing notes are 10 seconds or more long and often include mimicked bits from the repertoires of jays, tanagers, towhees, vireos, warblers, sandpipers, and other species."

I didn't know . . . but now I do!

There's a world of wonderful information to learn about our world of wonderful birds. Here's wishing you  good fortune in birding and seeking!

Till next time . . . 

Friday, February 17, 2023

Great Backyard Bird Count: February 17 - 20

 Hello All! 

Once again the Great Backyard Bird Count (or GBBC) has sneaked up on me. I've two sisters with birthdays around these days, so I'm always distracted with birthday preparations. Luckily, to participate, you need offer no more than at least one bird watching event for 15-minute minutes or longer. Of course, participating every day during these four days would be great, too!

To learn more about it, check out the GBBC web site:

I just invested about 20 minutes recording the birds coming to my bird tray loaded with black-oil sunflower seeds. I won't both you with the specific counts on each, but here's a list of the visiting bird species. And here's a blurry photo (sorry) of a White-breasted Nuthatch and a male House Finch.

House Finch

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Downy Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Dark-eyed Junco

White-breasted Nuthatch

Northern Cardinal

Blue Jay

Tufted Titmouse

Black-capped Chickadee

Here's hoping you can join the GBBC of 2023! Until next time . . . .

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Red-tails Abound in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

I live in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where almost everyday I see Red-tailed Hawks, the most common of all hawks in North America.  I saw this one perched high in a tree behind the Bushman House, a historic farming property on the Gettysburg Battlefield. 

As the most prevalent hawk, red-tails should be your first guess when sighting a perched hawk or one soaring in the sky. If the hawk has a white chest, white belly, and a "belly band" of striped markings, as this one, then the identification is complete: Red-tailed Hawk. You can be confident of this identification everywhere in the eastern states. 

Of course, the mature adult can be accurately identified by its rufous or red tail which can be seen from below when the hawk soars overhead, especially when aglow with the sun. However, the tails of immature hawks are brown with darker bands. Therefore, using tail color alone is not the best option when identifying this hawk. Additionally, red-tails will always (whether juvenile or adult) display dark patagial strips on the leading edge of the wing. When seen against the light underbelly of the hawk, these markings from head to wrist are conspicuous and another determining feature for identification of the red-tailed hawk.

To my great delight, this hawk was quickly joined by another! These might well be a mated pair, though it's difficult to assess their sizes (females are larger than males) given their separate perches. 

Here's wishing you all a wonderful New Year in 2023 with many fortunate sightings of the Red-trailed Hawk!

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Birding with Dogs . . .

Birding with dogs is not easy unless, I guess, you're birding by ear.  But I'd argue that my two dogs, Rosie (the lab) and Henry (part border collie, part pointer) can even distract me from birdsong. You see, my dogs assume our outings are devoted to their exercise, exploration, and fun! Meanwhile, I delude myself into believing that I can also, on occasion, raise binoculars to a bird or--if the Fates allow--even snap a photo. What a joke. Try aiming your camera on a Great Blue Heron rising from pond or lake while leashed to 140 pounds of dog (combined weights). Inevitably, the critical shutter "click" gets preempted by an important canine message: "Let's go this way!"  And away I am swept.

The obvious solution is to untether myself from the dogs. And, I do, but the general public does not look favorably upon a free-roaming pack of dogs . . . okay, two dogs do not a "pack" make . . . but you understand. Even then, my radar must be scanning for unsuspecting walkers, bicyclists, or Heaven forbid--other dog walkers!   While human strangers usually know protocols for passing one another on trail or path, the same cannot be said of canines.  Merge unleashed dogs willy nilly and mayhem will result.

So what to do?

Go birding without the dogs. Ahhh! That's it! I'll leave the dogs at home, but . . .  I'm not sure they'll let me.

Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart even if you can't photograph them. 

p.s. The image to your right is not a seal. It's a happy, wet dog.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Amazing Encounter with a Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

(Image is one taken by me a couple years ago of a Red-tailed Hawk.) 

At around 11:00 am a juvenile red-tailed hawk slammed into my living room window. I rushed out of the house to find it stunned, lying on the ground, with my cat Ursula warily approaching. I scooped up the raptor whose one claw grasped a twig and carried it alongside the deep yard, repeatedly saying to myself, Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!  I had never held a raptor, let alone the species of Red-tailed Hawk who is a main character in my trilogy Of the Wing. To be given this experience was humbling, especially since the hawk appeared only to be stunned and not severely injured. His subdued condition lasted about two minutes before he flew from my hands and across the yard into a black locust tree.


As I write this 30 minutes later, I am still overwhelmed and feeling so blessed by the experience. I see it as a message from Spirit. The specific message is of my private concern, but the larger message is one I must share: Look not only to other people for answers to life’s questions but also to Nature and her children, for we are all one community.

Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart and wonderful things can happen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Eastern Kingbird Reigns Over my Yard

I enjoy sitting far out in the backyard to watch the birds fly in and out of my neighbor's dying Ash tree.  Don't get me wrong, I don't enjoy seeing the ash tree die, but lots of birds appreciate dying trees, especially woodpeckers.  Other birds like flycatchers enjoy the clear line of sight of provided by high, dead branches. In recent weeks, I've watched Eastern Phoebes and Wood Pee Wee's fly out from these perches to catch an insect "on the wing" and then return again to their post. Even Red-headed Woodpeckers, who also catch insects in mid-air, have visited this tree time and again. 

But this entry is about an Eastern Kingbird, one I saw on August 2 (yes, I'm late to post). I don't typically see the Kingbird, not in my backyard, so I took note as he flew from the popular ash toward dead limbs poking above some cedar trees. He sat there just long enough to let me catch this one image.  

Kingbirds have a reputation for being aggressive with other Kingbirds and birds, generally, during the breeding season, which I can definitely vouch for having seen two Kingbirds "slug it out." I'm inserting here an excerpt from my July 2011 post on the topic (yes, I said 2011 . . . I've been posting here for a long time):

"Then an intrusive shrieking filled the air as I watched two kingbirds, descending from above, wrestle in the air before me, about twenty feet away. A duo of furious flapping wings, they spun, descending through the air like a tiny tornado until one dropped, falling six or seven feet into the tall, thick bank grasses. Mesmerized I watched as the fallen kingbird flopped and flapped within the grass while my black lab Bridget rushed to investigate. “No, Bridget!” I demanded, my tone giving her reason to pause as the kingbird found its bearings and lifted into the air, flying toward a towering Norway Spruce. "

No wonder, they're called "Kingbirds" because they're in control! And, of course, they're regal in appearance with a white underside, a dark backside, and a neat white trim to their tail.  Oddly enough, these insect-eating combatants become quite friendly with one another once they return to their wintering grounds in South America, where they enjoy socializing in large flocks and supping on succulent fruits. I guess it's hard to be "hard-headed" on vacation. 

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

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Red-headed Woodpeckers: My Summer Guests

On July 1, 2022, I had the good fortune to watch four Red-headed Woodpeckers (three adults and one juvenile) feeding in the sky above my backyard. Like most woodpeckers, red-heads hammer tree trunks for insects but can also catch them midair or “on the wing.” 

My visitors mostly perched on the high and exposed dead limbs of two black locust trees. From here they alternately swept into the air, catching this or that unsuspecting insect and promptly returning to the same or a new perch. I watched their aerial exploits for about twenty minutes before the group decided to move on—but not before I was witness to one adult feeding the juvenile. I did get a photo of the pair though not of the food exchange.  

Then, on July 4, two red-headed adults returned to my yard. Again, I grabbed my binoculars and sat down on the deck to enjoy the show. Today is July 10 . . . and I’m wondering if any or all will come back soon!


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