Monday, October 30, 2023

Red-wing Serenade

Just back from a walk with my dog Henry to the Emmanuel Harmon Farm (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) where we were serenaded by two separate flocks of red-winged blackbirds. As you likely know, blackbirds congregate in the fall to feed together in wet fields and woods and along riparian corridors. And that's exactly where found our flocks today.

A large flock of red-wings were singing and calling from the trees along Willoughby's Run. This is where Henry and Rosie (who could not join us today because of her achy joints) like to take refreshing dips in the water. And this is where Henry and I enjoyed their sunny sounds on this cloudy day. (By the way, here's an image I took of a red-wing some dozen years ago.)

 Red-wings are known for their exuberant song  of conk-la-ree!  It's highly recognizable and joyful with hundreds of birds all whistling, sputtering, and trilling. Wow!

I look forward to their next musical engagement.  

Till then, keep birds in your heart! And check out my chapter book and middle-grade series of fiction that all celebrate birds!

Sunday, August 6, 2023

A Long Wait for the Great Egret

The last time I saw a Great Egret on Marsh Creek was in October of 2021. Since then, I've been waiting to see one. Well, finally, one week ago I did though this egret took flight and I had no camera. (On a prior outing, I lost my footing in the creek and got a good soaking along with my binoculars and camera. I still need to buy a new camera). The photo provided here is one I took in 2021, also on Marsh Creek.  (See additional photos in my post of  August 1, 2021.)

Based on my sightings in 2021, my sense is that these egrets are/were breeding here despite the fact that the Pennsylvania Society of Ornithology's range map doesn't include Adams County as one in which the Great Egret breeds but rather migrates through. That said, three counties directly north of Adams are indicated as breeding locations as well as several due west of York County, our neighboring county to the west.  For this reason, I suspect that egrets are breeding here, too. And isn't that a nice thought?

Of course, by the end of October, the egrets will have flown south to their wintering grounds, but while they're here, I hope to enjoy their company.  And today seems as good as any to seek one or more out! 

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Common Yellowthroats Are Hardly "Common"


Today I saw (and heard) the distinctive looking and singing wood warbler, the Common Yellowthroat.  (Here's another grainy photo of mine taken no less than a dozen years ago--ha!) I was walking downstream with my two large dogs Rosie and Henry on Marsh Creek, here in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

I first heard the song of the male, which is easily identifiable. It sounds something like witchity, witchity, witchity. But birds don't always sing their songs loudly and fully. For instance, sometimes, when they're feeling a bit tired or uninspired, a bird might sing a partial phrase, like "ity, ity" . . . as in the case of this particular yellowthroat. 

I kept hearing phrases, like scattered puzzle pieces not "snapped into place."  You can imagine my delight when a bird flew from the bushy undergrowth by the creek bank onto a lower, dead branch of a tree to perch long enough for me to get a good look at him! Thank you, Dear Yellowthroat. You are an exceptionally attractive bird with your bright yellow breast and black mask bordered with a white head band. Don't ever believe that you're "common"! Far from it!

If you love birds and enjoy reading fiction that highlights them, then visit my web site for information on my middle-grade trilogy Of the Wing.  By the way, many an adult likes them, too!  Here's hoping to see you there!

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

My May Day Meadowlark (known otherwise as the Eastern Meadowlark)

Today is May 3, and I'm still tickled by a rare sighting of the Eastern Meadowlark on the first of May known by some (like me) as May Day.  May Day is a big deal to me as I associate it with the time of spring warblers filling the woodlands. Warblers are wonderful, as you well know, but if you've ever heard the song of an Eastern Meadowlark, you know that warblers have serious competition.

The habitat of the Eastern Meadowlark is field and pasture, and when I lived in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, I saw them regularly every spring and summer.  My house sat in a hollow, which was surrounded on three sides by forest and one side by a 30 plus acre of pasture. The last and only time I ever got photos of this beautiful songster was in the summer of 2011, my last year of life in that birder's paradise. 

As always, I must apologize for the quality of my photos. I wasn't a photographer then and I'm still not--ha!

If you want to see the Eastern Meadowlark in its full glory, just pop the name into your search engine. 

This once common bird is in steep, steep decline, so much so that to see or hear one is a lucky event especially if you don't live in a rural location. I currently live in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, home of the Gettysburg Military Park, and so field and pasture abound. And every spring and summer, I've imagined that when driving along Emmitsburg Road, I've heard Eastern Meadowlarks. Unfortunately, I could never spot one.

Then on May Day, while driving on South Confederate Avenue, I heard an Eastern Meadowlark. I

pulled into the lane of the Bushman House (a historic home and property of the Battle of Gettysburg), and, with my two dogs, walked (they ran) through the pasture and orchard to locate the source. And then I found him! He was sitting within a peach tree calling out for mates.  The Eastern Meadowlark (who in truth is not a "lark" but a blackbird) is a busy guy who mates with two, maybe three ladies! And given their population decline, I say "Bravo" to that!

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

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!