Monday, June 30, 2014

Eastern Towhee: First Sighting

A few days ago this juvenile bird was hanging out in the tree near our front porch.  It became spooked when I moved a little and flew to a tree on the other side of our fence.  Since it was still within a fairly good range, I took a few more photos of him (or her) while he preened.  

Initially I thought it was a Brown Thrasher because of its colors, but then I noticed the bill- this bird has a somewhat short, stout bill while a Brown Thrasher has a longer, curved bill.  I browsed through photos of birds that are commonly seen in our state but couldn't find a close enough match.  I had never paid notice to this species of birds before and wondered what it was.  

I posted a pic of it on the Birdluvrs Birding and Bird ID Group (on Facebook) and asked if anyone could identify it.  I received a reply this morning from a group member who identified it as an Eastern Towhee.  

When comparing my photos of this bird to photos of juvenile Eastern Towhees online, there are some definitive features which lead me to believe that this bird is indeed an Eastern Towhee.  

There is a reasonable explanation of why I haven't seen this bird before.  According to information listed on several birding sites, the Eastern Towhee is a year round resident of the south and eastern U.S., but they are ground foragers and spend most of their feeding time concealed beneath thick underbrush. Additionally, many of them migrate north to their breeding grounds during summer.  This bird is more often heard than seen because it is known to sing from the branches of low trees or shrubs.  

The adult male Towhee (photo on right from Cornell Lab of Ornithology) are sooty black above and on the breast, with warm rufous sides and white on the belly. Females have the same pattern, but are rich brown where the males are black.

This bird is a large sparrow- identified by the thick, triangular, seed-cracking bill and the chunky body and long, rounded tail.  Eastern Towhees spend most of their time on the ground, scratching at leaves using both feet at the same time, in a kind of backwards hop.

Eastern Towhees are common victims of the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird. Female cowbirds lay eggs in towhee nests, then leave the birds to raise their cowbird young. In some areas cowbirds lay eggs in more than half of all towhee nests. Towhees, unlike some other birds, show no ability to recognize or remove the imposter’s eggs. Female cowbirds typically take out a towhee egg when laying their own, making the swap still harder to notice.

Perhaps I'll spot an adult Towhee sooner or later, foraging in the leaves along the nearby forest edges.  I just got lucky to see this juvenile make a rare appearance at our feeder.  A stroke of good luck comes around every now and then :) 

Papa Cardinal Feeds Fledgling

I was entertained while watching this female fledgling hop from branch to branch in our front tree, flapping her wings and begging Papa for food. She was so impatient, like most babies are, "Feed me NOW". Papa Cardinal accommodated her a few times. Sweet moments :)

The Spring season has brought an abundance of baby birds to our area... Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Titmice, Chickadees, Orchard Orioles, House Finches and Woodpeckers have successfully produced young.  Most couples will produce another brood or two before Summer is over.  They've had a busy season!  More to come...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sweet Family of House Finches

Lately I've been entertained while watching this precious little House Finch family from my front porch.  The juveniles stir up a heap of noise while perching in the tree or at the feeders.  They flap their wings rapidly and chirp loudly until the parents feed them. Imagine trying to feed three hungry little babies at one time while they're all whining- sheesh!  I've noticed that they seem to stay closer to Dad- sometimes the little ones are right on his tail when he approaches the tree.  He spends a great deal of time feeding them, more so than Mama.  Such a sweet family of birds and fun to watch ;)  

Below are photos of an adult male House Finch. I love the blend of brown and rosy red plumage.  He is beautiful...

The juvenile male House Finch is beginning to develop his red plumage- within a couple of months he should be in full dress. 

Nice HD video of House Finches that is posted on YouTube:

More to come :)))

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Downy Woodpeckers: Maggie's Family

On May 10th, my blog post was about Maggie, the precious little Downy Woodpecker who visits our feeders frequently.  She always came alone to dine and I wondered if she had a family.  

On June 16th, I heard Maggie calling out in the tree from which the feeders hang.  I scanned the tree, searching for a sign of her.  There she was- hopping along a branch high in the tree, nearly hidden behind the leaves.  Suddenly I heard the high-pitched screech of a baby bird and I saw fluttering wings just below Maggie.  With my eyes focused on Maggie, I watched as she scooted closer to the baby bird.  I then scooped up my camera and tried to zoom in closer, using my lens like binoculars to watch. 

I smiled when I realized that Maggie was indeed feeding a baby downy.  She has a family :) Moments later, a male downy appeared from behind the leaves and I was able to see a fairly clear image of him- the red markings on his nape confirmed his gender.  As he edged along the branch, the fledgling downy followed and I got a brief view of the cutie.  I'm uncertain of the gender of the fledgling because it is too young to presently confirm (bottom right photo above). Imagine my excitement upon seeing this sweet little family together!

As I drank coffee while sitting on my front porch yesterday morning, I watched the male Downy Woodpecker feeding his offspring. He went completely around the branch, picking at insects and bringing them to the mouth of his little one. During this process, the fledgling was learning how to hunt food for itself. So darn cute!!! I had to blur the borders of the photos so the birds could be seen was difficult to see them clearly in all the leaves and tiny branches. I'm still uncertain of the gender of this fledgling- is it the same one in the photos above?  Is there more than one fledgling? I'm presently uncertain.  I should know more in weeks to come, in future visits to our feeders and nearby trees. 

I'm absolutely captured by all the beautiful bird families that visit my front them!  

Bluebirds in Our Nesting Box!

In my blog post dated May 18th, I wrote about the Eastern Bluebird pair I had been seeing in our front yard. I suspected they would take up residence near by and bring up a brood of baby bluebirds.  I was right! I took these photos of the pair on June 9th- the female bluebird was engrossed with gathering materials for her nest while the male remained close by, guarding her precious handiwork.  They decided to use our only nesting box for their sweet little offspring :)   

She returned from her short trips with a beak full of nesting materials
While the lady of the house was out gathering materials, the male was checking things out
She worked for hours, going back and forth, back and forth...
While he stood guard nearby

It usually takes 4 to 6 days for the female bluebird to complete her nest.  Shortly thereafter, she will begin to lay her eggs, usually only one per day for a total of 4 to 7 eggs.  

The female bluebird was often seen in the nesting box for a few days.   It appeared the male came and went, bringing her food and checking on her.  She occasionally left the box for brief periods.  After a few days, I saw much less of her.  For the past two days, I haven't seen either of them.  I am worried.  I hope nothing bad has befallen my feathered friends.  I kept watch for the appearance of the bluebird pair for several hours this morning.  No show.  I had to know if eggs were in the nest, so I carefully opened the box and spotted possibly 4 eggs.  Definitely 3.  I wondered where the Mama Bluebird is- shouldn't she be incubating the eggs?  Will the eggs hatch without incubation?  

After some online reading about bluebirds and their nesting habits, I feel somewhat better about this pair's absence from the nest.  Since the outdoor temperatures have been hot (in the 90's), the eggs are warm enough.  Full time incubation doesn't start until after all eggs have been laid.  It's not uncommon for the female to wait several days after eggs are laid before she begins incubation.  Much depends on the weather.  

Therefore, all I can do is wait and hope the parents will make their appearance soon.  If everything goes right, I'll be posting photos of bluebird fledglings in a few weeks :)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Advice from a Hummingbird

If Hummingbirds really could talk, what would they say to us?

Sip the sweet moments

Let your true colors glow

Don't get your feathers ruffled over little things

Just wing it

Take yourself lightly

Good things come in small packages!

These are some of my favorite Hummingbird photos thus far. I'm looking forward to taking more shots during summer/fall migration when, hopefully, they will gather around the feeders in higher numbers ;)))

Friday, June 6, 2014

Juvenile Mockingbird on Our Wooden Fence

I spotted one of the Mockingbird juveniles in our back yard, perching atop the wooden fence, chirping away.  This cutie was from the olive tree nest and he or she is approximately 3 weeks old now.

Both parents remain near by.  One or the other is usually perched upon the light pole, close to the wooden fence.  They can be heard when a potential predator enters the back yard- they loudly yell out their warning calls and begin flying from tree to tree.  

These Mockingbird parents will probably have another brood or two before summer comes to a close.  I'll keep my eyes open for more fledglings in the near future.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds: Photos From First Arrivals

In a blog post on April 2nd, I wrote about how many hummingbirds were showing up at our feeders in just a matter of days.  There were a dozen or so of these tiny feathered creatures humming about for a few days. Then...gone.  They disappeared all of a sudden, except for Mr. Bully.  He hung around to have all these food sources to himself- the feeders and nectar from various flowers.  I waited for the return of the others.  For days I wondered where they had gone.

After reading about their migration habits, I knew where the hummingbirds had gone...further north.  Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds will venture as far as Canada during breeding season.  By the end of May, their population in the northeastern U.S. and Canada are at peak.  Some hummers remain in the southeastern half of the U.S., particularly the young and the old.  

I have a few dozen photos from the brief time the others visited.  I'm just now getting around to processing most of them.  It's definitely a challenge to capture good quality images of hummingbirds because they're constantly on the move.  The best images are captured with extra flash lights, which I do not own.  I do have a few really good shots, however.  

I'm looking forward to the return of migrating hummers.  They are expected to return sometime in August or early September and they'll remain until at least October.  When the days become shorter and the cool winds begin to settle in, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds will binge on sugar water and nectar.  They'll need the extra weight to cross over the Gulf and return to their wintering grounds.  

A friend told me that in August of each year, he has a few dozen visitors at his feeders. He lives only a few miles from me, so hopefully I'll have a few tiny visitors as well.  I remember Mom's hummingbird feeders and how there was constant traffic at many as a couple dozen at one time.  Will I be so lucky this year? I hope so  :))))

By the way, lately there have been a couple more little hummers that come to the feeders only to be chased off by Mr. Bully.  Sometimes, however, they manage to sneak in when he's occupied elsewhere.