Sunday, December 30, 2007

I want them!!

I want them! All of them! :)

Singing plush birds

Saturday, December 29, 2007

FeederWatch Dec 28-29

Weather and Effort: December 28, 2007
When did you watch your feeders?
Day 1: morning
Day 2: morning
Estimated cumulative time: 1 to 4 hours
Daylight temperature: -9 to 0° C (15 to 32° F) low
-9 to 0° C (15 to 32° F) high
Daylight precipitation: Snow 3 to 6 hours
Total depth of ice/snow cover: Under 5 cm (under 2")

Checklist for FeederWatch Illinois Birds

Mallard5 Confirmed
Sharp-shinned Hawk1
Mourning Dove12
European Starling12
American Tree Sparrow1
Dark-eyed Junco12
House Finch38 (2 with eye disease)
House Sparrow18

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Messenger Woods and ILBirds

Yesterday, I headed out to Messenger Woods with my new digiscope setup. It's a really nice forest and nature preserve. The trails are rustic (ie. not paved) but easy to navigate, even with the heavy leaf and mud/ice cover combo we've got going on around here. There are 2 main trails - a mile and a half south loop, and a half mile north loop on the north side of Spring Creek. I walked the entire south loop, and part of the north loop, though the trail didn't look as clearly visible past the creek, so I didn't venture up that way. I hear that there is a red shouldered hawk that nests on private property north of the preserve grounds. That would be a life bird sighting to check off on my list, should I ever find it.

The trails were quiet but there were other people at the park. A father and son sounded like they were identifying trees on the west side of the trail while I was on the east side. Several people were in the parking lot as well. I was almost through the south loop when I came across a man walking his dog, Buck. We chatted for a bit and he asked if I had seen the white deer. I said I hadn't, and he told me that there is an albino deer near the front/south part of the woods that has lived there for a few years. That definitely gives me reason to go back!

I didn't find many birds - only a few woodpeckers, and I was too slow getting my gear set up to get any photos. I've learned one thing very quickly with this digiscope: I should have followed the advice in all of my photography books and invested in a good tripod. My uncle said the same thing - one of the first things he suggested I invest in. Well, photography is an expensive hobby with a pretty high entry point as it is (in terms of initial investment required), so I skimped on the tripod and got the $35 variety. (An entry level "good" tripod is around $200). I'm having a very hard time locating birds in the scope with this tripod because the head is a 3-way pan head, not an any-way ball head. I can move left-right or up-down, or can tilt the camera sideways (which is useless if it's a scope on your tripod and not a camera). Following birds or even scanning a tree to find them is very difficult when you can't pan around the tree freestyle. I have to scan left to right, then move down a bit, and scan left to right again. Plus, the motion of this pan head is anything but fluid. It's jerky and resistant even with the tension completely disabled. Oh wise ones, you were very right about investing in a good tripod. I see the err of my ways.

I carried the digiscope setup mounted to the tripod over my shoulder, and had my camera backpack on my back and my binoculars around my neck. I should have had my camera around my neck too, though it's pretty heavy with the 300mm lens attached and likely would have been uncomfortable. I had my smaller camera attached to the spotting scope, but since my dSLR camera was in the backpack, I didn't use it either (not wanting to put the backpack down in the mud to get the camera out).

Learned some lessons... get the scope set up on the tripod BEFORE heading into the woods, lest ye miss a golden opportunity to catch a bird photo while noisily trying to set the gear up. Keep the camera handy, even if it is uncomfortable to carry around the neck.

It was a lovely afternoon, though - even if I didn't get any photos - 47 degrees and sunny. The sun was a bit annoying, as the one chance I had to get some woodpecker shots, I was looking into the direction of the sun - but we haven't seen the sun in a while so I couldn't find it in me to complain.

The bird feeders are still pretty quiet. A few finches and juncos are out there, and a couple mourning doves have stopped by, but nowhere near the mobs I've been used to with the rather early arrival of winter weather this year. Tomorrow, more snow is headed our way - up to 7 inches, early forecasts say - and the temperature is supposed to tumble to arctic lows for the new year before popping back up to more mild numbers. I'm already looking forward to the mild!

I found a discussion group online of Illinois birders called ILBirds. I joined it and posted an introduction along with the photos of my common redpoll visitors, and have received a wonderful response! Many people have suggested places to go birding in the area, and I was invited to join the DuPage birding club on Jan 6th on a field trip, birding several locations starting in Bolingbrook. I'd like to go! Also, the Will County Audubon chapter meetings start up Jan 10th, and while I haven't received confirmation in the mail yet, I did send in dues to the IL Audubon Society to join their group. They do some local birding field trips, too, and I'm looking forward to that. The Will Co. group meets at the Pilcher Park Nature Center. I probably won't be able to make the meetings of the DuPage Co. group, but I might join them to take part in their field trips, which are mostly local to me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

House finch with an injured eye

Last week, I saw that one of the female house finches in my yard appeared to have an injured eye. I reported it as eye disease, but I was able to snap a photo of her today (through the digiscope) and I think it looks more injured than diseased. It appears healed, and she looks around with her one good eye, but she hasn't been hanging with her flock lately. She's been staying in the trees and brush in my back yard, coming out every so often to eat, and bouncing around with the dark eyed juncos. She can still fly, but I imagine she's at a great disadvantage with only one eye.

Her good side

Her good side

Her injured eye
Injured eye - house finch

It has been a quiet day at the feeders again today. The temperature isn't too bad - it's 36 degrees now with highs in the low 40's today, as was yesterday. I heard the birds chirping at the feeders early this morning, but by 8:30am they were gone. A few finches stopped by and I was able to try out the digiscope setup, but there are landscapers outside working on the bushes, and I think that has scared the birds away for now.

Female house finch
Female house finch

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

ONE Poofy Junco!

One bird stopped by my tree this morning... ONE poofy junco! Indeed, I can get much closer shots with the digiscope than with my 300mm lens alone. Of course, this guy chose to sit in the shade instead of the sun, so the shutter speed was pretty low (even with the high ISO I used - ISO800). Still, I'm happy that he posed long enough for me to try out my new rig!

One Poofy Junco!

I'm off to do the family thing... again, happy holidays to all!

Hawk Patrol

Would you believe that Santa brought me the digiscope setup I was hoping for, but that all morning the local hawk (sharp-shinned, I think) has been patrolling the area around my back yard? It's like being all dressed up with nowhere to go. The scope is set up with my camera, but no birds have stayed in the tree long enough for me to get a shot. :-/

At any rate, we've got sunshine here in Chicago for the first time in a week, and it's a lovely Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas! May your trees be full of happy, singing birds :)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and Happy Holidays to all!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cold and Windy

Hello, birds! How about a 30+ degree temperature drop and some 45mph wind gusts to get you into the holiday spirit?

Oy the poor birds! Yesterday, they hardly ate anything out of the feeders, having free range in the 50 degree temps and vanishing snow cover. Overnight, the temperature dropped into the teens and the wind picked up. Today, they've eaten me out of house and home and probably could have eaten more - but I didn't want to go out and scare them all away to refill the feeders, figuring they were still foraging on the ground and seemed to be doing alright. Daylight is just about gone, and only a few stragglers are left at the feeders. I don't know how they survive these cold winters!

They had a hard time with the wind today.

Check out this cardinal - the wind was blowing from the west, left to right as you look at this photo:
Turn off the wind machine!

No, he's not posing! That's the wind blowing him!

He had a much easier time on the platform feeder, but still you can see his crown feathers blowing left to right:
Northern Cardinal

I was really worried for the mourning doves. Three times, they took off to fly away and one ran into the house, blown off course by the wind. None were stunned - I don't think they hit head first as they were trying to fly away from the house but the wind gusts threw them backwards. They all continued flying away, but still - it can't be good for their poor little bodies to take that beating. They're the only ones left in the yard now, scrounging for the last of the seeds off the ground.

The most poofed out mourning dove EVER:

The most poofed out mourning dove EVER

It surprises me that only a few starlings visit per day. I've seen the whole flock a few times (I've counted 17 of them), but they rarely come en masse. More often, 2 or 3 show up, and they stick to either the nut/seed bell over in the tree, or the suet feeder. They really don't bother the smaller birds, contrary to their reputations. They do fight with each other a lot, though!

European Starling

I finally got a shot of the American Tree Sparrow. I was able to confirm the American Tree Sparrow ID today, as this one faced me a few times and I was able to see the dark spot on its chest through my binoculars. I think (s)he is a loner. I've never seen more than one here. It's nice to have some variety in the winter.

American Tree Sparrow

The American Tree Sparrow nests in northern Canada, but unlike those Common Redpolls, these sparrows do migrate south to the US every winter. It's hard to imagine flying south into Chicago and stopping. I just want to say to these guys, "Keep flying! Just a little longer! It's warmer down there!" I know it's all relative, but the current 18 degrees F can't feel warm to too many people (or birds!) I'm already chilled to the bone thinking of filling the feeders tonight. I think I'll go out a bit early, as soon as night falls and the birds are gone.

The winds are really howling out there. Tomorrow's high is 27F and hopefully the winds will die down a bit.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

FeederWatch Dec 21-22

Here's my Project FeederWatch report for Dec 21-22, 2007. I got to report my first Rare Bird - the Common Redpoll! :)

Weather and Effort: December 21, 2007
When did you watch your feeders?
Day 1: morning
Day 2: morning
Estimated cumulative time: 1 to 4 hours
Daylight temperature: -9 to 0° C (15 to 32° F) low
1 to 10° C (33 to 50° F) high
Daylight precipitation: None - -
Total depth of ice/snow cover: Under 5 cm (under 2")
Snow cover is patchy (less than 50% cover).

Checklist for FeederWatch Illinois Birds

Sharp-shinned Hawk1
Mourning Dove5
European Starling2
American Tree Sparrow1
Dark-eyed Junco8
House Finch39 (1 with eye disease)
Common Redpoll3 Confirmed
House Sparrow18

My Most Exciting Bird Yet!

Today, my most exciting bird yet visited my back yard feeders. 3 common redpolls stopped by! OK - so their name says they are "common" but they aren't the most common thing here in Chicago! They're an "irruptive" species - birds who nest up north (as in, Canada) but come south in the winter when their food supplies are low. I've read that it's a bad year for nuts and seeds up north, which explains why I had a visit from 3 common redpolls "down south" here in Chicago!

Thanks to zach.millen on Flickr for the ID help. These birds weren't listed in my Chicago or Illinois field guides, and the giant Sibley guide takes me a while to dig through.

(My apologies for all of the exclamation points - I'm pretty excited!)

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Black Capped Chickadees

There was a neat little article on eNature about black capped chickadees - "Cold Weather Machines." I'll admit, it's the title that got me!

“Black-capped Chickadees have a wonderful assortment of adaptations for the winter,” said biologist Susan M. Smith, who has studied the black-capped chickadee as long as anyone. “Carefully hidden food items, dense winter coats, specially selected winter roost cavities, and perhaps most remarkable of all, the ability to go into nightly hypothermia, thus conserving large amounts of energy, greatly increases the chances of survival,” she said.

I can't wait to see my first chickadee. I've never seen one. I bet they are adorable!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

FeederWatch Dec 14-15

Here's my Project FeederWatch report for this week:

Right at home

Weather and Effort: December 14, 2007
When did you watch your feeders?
Day 1: morning
Day 2: morning afternoon
Estimated cumulative time: 4+ to 8 hours
Daylight temperature: -18 to -10° C (0 to 14° F) low
-9 to 0° C (15 to 32° F) high
Daylight precipitation: Snow 3 to 6 hours
Total depth of ice/snow cover: 5 cm to 15 cm (2" to 6")

Checklist for FeederWatch Illinois Birds

Mourning Dove10
European Starling17
Song Sparrow1
White-crowned Sparrow2
Dark-eyed Junco9
Northern Cardinal1
Brown-headed Cowbird1
House Finch24 (0 with eye disease)
American Goldfinch1 (0 with eye disease)
House Sparrow24

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A for Effort

The Northern Cardinal was back today, and he was quite a bit more bold than in previous visits. He hung out in the yard for most of the afternoon, spending most of his time working on the hanging fruit/nut/seed bell in the tree. He likes to hide deeper in the tree and down in the brush, but I was able to snap a few shots of his acrobatic attempts to grab seeds off of what's left of the bell.

The forecast is calling for 6+ inches of snow tonight, and I can tell it's coming by the hordes of birds that have been at the feeders all day. Dusk will be upon us soon, so I hope the birds got enough to eat for the night.

Got a bite


I'm an acrobatic one!


Hanging out, having some seed

I think I can! I think I can!

Friday, December 14, 2007

I Am Guilty

I am guilty of bird misidentification, and the non-birder claim that "all the little brown birds look the same" has played true in my error.

I was watching the house sparrows at my feeders this morning. (Today and tomorrow are my Project FeederWatch count days). A week or so ago, I found myself wondering if some of the birds in my yard that I've been counting as female house sparrows might in fact be some other kind of sparrow. I read through the various sparrows in my field guides, but couldn't get any good photos of "sparrow variety" in my yard to compare to the guides.

Today, one of the mystery sparrows perched alone at the tip top of my gree, which allowed me to get a good shot of it.

Sure enough, it's not a female house sparrow. It's a Song Sparrow!
Song sparrow

The stripes on the head are similar to the pictures of the juvenile white crowned sparrow, and since I have an adult white crowned sparrow visitor, I thought maybe this was a juvenile. Today, though, I noted the streaking on the chest, and the white crowned sparrow does not have the streaking. I don't see any dark spot on this guy's chest (like the books say for song sparrows), but he's also not facing completely forward, so it might be there.

I loved this little tidbit about song sparrows:

Laboratory studies have shown that the female Song Sparrow is attracted not just to the song itself, but to how well it reflects the ability of the male to learn. Males that used more learned components in their songs and that better matched their song tutors (the adult bird they learned their songs from) were preferred.

Smart chicks! :)

Now, I'm left to wonder how many I've mis-counted so far...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pucker Face

The more I watch my backyard birds, the more I'm seeing their personalities come out.

This morning, I woke up a little earlier than usual to the sound of chirping outside my window. (Yes, 8:30am is early for me!) I've been meaning to wake up earlier to see if the crowd at the feeders is any different than the late morning crowd. Sure enough, I got to see a male and female American Goldfinch in the mix!

Here's the male, making himself right at home amongst the house finches:
Right at home

He even posed briefly for a shot, the dapper little guy:
American Goldfinch

The crowd gave me a laugh this morning. Last night when I refilled the feeders, I tossed half an apple out in the yard along with some bread scraps. There is a bunny that comes by every night, and I figured, maybe he'd like the apple since the starlings didn't eat much of it. The bunny didn't eat it, but when the starlings found it on the ground this morning instead of in the tray feeder, they went nuts! Wings were flappin' and beaks were squawkin'!

A couple of house sparrows, who had previously ignored the apple, saw the commotion and were suddenly interested. One crept up close to the starlings to see what all the fuss was about. In the frenzy to devour the apple, a tiny piece of apple flesh flew off of the apple and landed right in front of the sparrow. He cautiously bent down and pecked it up... and almost instantaneously, I swear I could see his little face pucker up as if he'd licked a lemon! He turned to his friend and seemed to shake his head no, and the two hopped away.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hawk: Where's Waldo Edition

Hawk: Where's Waldo Edition

Hint: Check the reflection...

Hawk: Where's Waldo Edition

Took this one today before work. Maybe the hawks were hanging out around the pond like this. That would explain the overly quiet feeders this morning.

Natural Selection

Ever since I saw my first hawk tear through my back yard and catch one of my little feeder birds, I've been wrestling with what I will call a moral dilemma over the whole thing.

I know that it is Nature working her course for the hawk to eat the smaller birds, but is it wrong for me to knowingly lure birds to an area where they might be preyed upon?

I cried for probably an hour after witnessing my first hawk strike. The next time, I didn't cry. My neighborhood hawk wouldn't starve that day, and there's something good to be said for that. Still, I wrestled with the right and wrong of it all.

I read something today on the blog Bill of the Birds that looks at the issue from an angle I hadn't thought of. A hawk has been visiting his feeders, and here is his take on it:

I love having this bird around. He's keeping our birds on their toes and keeping their populations healthy by weeding out the slow, sick, and weak.

I guess it's like Darwinism, in real life. Natural selection always made sense to me, so why would it not apply here?

Still, it's hard to see a cute little bird die in such gruesome fashion. I think I'd like for the whole process of natural selection to continue on its way, but not while I'm watching.

Something Strange

Something strange is going on with the birds this morning. Early in the morning as I slept, I could hear them chattering at the feeders outside my window. When I woke up around 9am, though, there was not a bird in sight. I figured there must have been a recent hawk fly-by.

It has been almost 2 hours, and 3 times the finches have come to the tree (and one time, the mourning doves). They flew in and sat at the very top of the tree, scanning the skies. Only one or two came near the feeders. Within a few minutes, they all flew away each time, most not bothering to eat.

I've scanned the yard and don't see any cats or hawks. There's one neighborhood cat that sometimes comes by, but even when he does, he hangs out in the brush and I've never seen him bother the birds. (I've seen them blatantly ignore the cat and go about their business). I see no signs of a hawk strike, so what is scaring the birds away?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Splashes of Red

The cardinal was back again briefly this morning. Here I caught him checking out the new nut/fruit/seed bell with a house finch. It's nice to see some splashes of red in the tree.

Cardinal and House Finch

We had some freezing rain last night, so the tree is coated in ice and the birds are out in earnest taking advantage of the feeders. Even as I've watched for the past half hour or so, the ice seems to be melting off the tree. Traffic maps show "green" so hopefully getting to work today won't be too bad.

And because I think they're cute, here are male and female white crowned sparrows:

Male White Crowned Sparrow

Female White Crowned Sparrow

Monday, December 10, 2007

My First Cardinal!

I had my first visit from a cardinal today - a male Northern Cardinal. I slept in this morning and woke up late. As I pulled myself upright and swung my legs over the side of the bed to look out the window at the birds, imagine my surprise as a cardinal flew into the tree at that very moment! I jumped up, and I believe my exact words were, "Holy sh*t! My first cardinal!" I ran to my office to grab the camera, which of course had the wrong lens attached. I swapped out the lens in a frantic foggy excitement and ran back to my bedroom.

The cardinal was very hesitant about checking things out. The feeders were bustling with finches, house sparrows, juncos, and mourning doves, so he was sort of bobbing and weaving to stay out of the way of the other birds (who hardly seemed to notice him). I surely noticed him!

Can you say, sore thumb? (As in, sticks out like a...)
Can you say, sore thumb

The cardinal flew back and forth to the tree a lot, seeming a bit nervous. It was hard to snap any photos of him, as he kept dropping down into the brush.

I never did see his female companion, but I will keep looking! Cardinals (our state bird here in Illinois) are very close with their mates. According to the book, Birds of Chicago (U.S. City Bird Guides), "This species pair bond is one of the most faithful of Chicago's resident birds. Never far from one another, male and female cardinals softly vocalize to one another not only through the breeding season, but year round, as if sharing sweet nothings. The ritualized beak-to-beak feeding reinforces the romantic appeal of these easily identifiable birds," (p139). Oh, how sweet!

Finally, a cardinal has found me!

Watching all of those crazy juncos down there
Cardinal, watching those crazy juncos down there

Scoping out the scene
Cardinal, looking left

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Bird Giggles

Funniest. (Birding) T-Shirt. Ever. has some of the cutest birdie stuff! The birdies featured here, of course, are Tufted Titmice. (Get it?) :)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Saturday Birding

Saturday's Back Yard Birding

By golly, I do believe that I've got BOTH a sharp shinned hawk AND a Cooper's hawk visiting my yard! All this time, I thought they were all the same hawk. Earlier this summer, I had a hawk ID'd as a juvenile Coop. Then, this fall/winter, I've had a hawk visitor ID'd as a very young adult Sharp shinned hawk.

Today, I had a visit from this guy, and I think it's an adult Coop! (red eye)
Cooper's Hawk

I'm going with Cooper's because his crown is dark but the back of his neck is more pale, giving him a more capped appearance. The Sharpie has more of a dark neck on the back for a more hooded appearance. This one also has a rounded tail, whereas Sharpies have a more square tail.

So, I think I have multiple hawk visitors!

The white crowned sparrow was back:
Sparrows sharing the fruit and nut log

White crowned sparrow, Takeoff!

And I think he may have a female with him today!
Juvenile White Crowned Sparrow?

And of course, I couldn't resist snapping a shot of the poofy mourning dove:
Mourning doves

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Two Mystery Birds in a Row!

Indeed, two days in a row I've been presented with a new Mystery Bird in my back yard. Hoorah!

I think I might have this one figured out:
White Crowned Sparrow?
Mystery bird! A white crowned sparrow?

A White Crowned Sparrow, maybe?

A few European Starlings stopped by for a snack, but didn't stay long. They didn't bother the smaller birds and moved along after a few minutes. Their reputation has me nervous, but I enjoyed their visit today.

European Starling, snacking
Snackin' Starling

Heck, the Starlings might even make some friends around here. This male cozied up with a Mourning Dove.

My favorite shot of the day:
Napping Mourning Dove
Napping Mourning Dove

The dove had his nap AFTER the visits from the hawk! There is still debate on what kind of hawk this is. One of these days, I'm going to get a good enough shot of it that there will be a definitive identification! I still tend to think it's a Cooper's Hawk, but others have suggested that he's a Sharp Shinned Hawk or a Northern Goshawk. I'm pretty sure it's between Cooper's and Sharpie, but even when I read that page describing the two side by side, I still come away conflicted!

Still debating what kind of hawk this is.
Dear Hawk, Who are you?!

The feeders are busy and the tree is hoppin' as I get ready to head out to work. I swear I could watch birds all day!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

European Starlings

Well! It appears that the cool looking but somewhat aggressive/rambunctious birds in my yard this morning were European Starlings - an invasive species that has grown from 100 birds to over 200 million, likely at the expense of many of our native birds that compete with the starling for nest holes.


100 European Starlings were introduced to North America in Central Park (New York City) in the early 1890's by a group dedicated to introducing America to all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works.

They were beautiful to watch - though we'll see what I'm saying if they eat me out of house and home and drive away my little birds!

Who needs sleep?

Sleep was neither lengthy nor restful last night. I have no idea why. If all had gone according to plan, my alarm clock would have gone off a minute ago, and I'd be snoozing right now. Instead, I've been up for 3 1/2 hours after sleeping for less than 4.

I'm not one to give up on trying to sleep. Damn it, I'll force myself to sleep if need be! Unfortunately for me (since today is the second of my "long days" at work), I had so much work I needed to get done before noon today that I couldn't stop thinking about it once I woke up.

Couple that with the fact that the hawk was back for another meal today, and ate the damn junco right beneath my bedroom window; there was no going back to sleep for me.

Why the juncos? Why not the house sparrows? Not that I dislike the sparrows, but there are like 5 house sparrows for every one junco at my feeders. And the juncos are SO adorable! Cute little white bellies.


We got our first measurable snow last night, and the birds have been INSANE at the feeders this morning.

The mystery bird was back again today, and again I couldn't get a photo of him before he left, but he was pecking on a tree when I saw him... clues... I think he's a Northern Flicker woodpecker. I can't say with certainty until I get a pic of him or see him a couple more times so I can figure out his beak shape and check out the colors of his crown and rump (ha! I said rump!) But I suspected that's what he might be when I first saw him, and now that he did some tree pecking, I think I was right. The Downy hasn't been back. He'd better hurry. The finches and juncos have figured out how to peck at the woodpecker fruit/nut seed block.

/edit - GOT A PIC of the mystery bird! Holy cow, I do NOT think this is a Flicker and I have NO clue what it is! I can't find it in any of my books. I've asked the Flickr bird ID group again...

Mystery Bird


The red winged blackbird visited briefly this morning, and the trees have been full of house sparrows, finches, and mourning doves all day.

I guess I'd better go to work now that I've spent an hour birding! I love my avian friends!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Here Come the Juncos!

I had my largest junco visit this morning - 9! There are usually 3-4 visiting, and I think that became 3 last week when the hawk made a catch. But today, there are 9 little ones out there hopping around.

Dark eyed junco (slate)

I added a block of nut and fruit (a "woodpecker block") to the tree in the back yard, and I've got a new octagonal tray feeder hanging on the deck. I haven't seen the downy woodpecker around today to try the block, but a couple female finches are giving it their best go! A couple finches ate out of the new cedar feeder today, but nobody seems to be trying the suet yet.

We're expecting 2-4 inches of snow tonight, so hopefully the restocking I did last night will give the birds enough fuel to get through the snow storm.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Kill the cat that kills the bird?

Here's a very well done article on the Jim Stevenson case - the guy who shot a feral cat because it was hunting an endangered species of bird.

Kill the cat that kills the bird?

The trial ended in a deadlock.

I'm both a cat lover AND a bird lover. I think I have to side with protection of the health of the overall ecosystem over the individual animal's welfare, though my opinion would turn on a dime if we were talking about somebody's pet cat and not a wild animal.

/edit - That's not to say I condone the guy shooting the cat. I do NOT think people should take things into their own hands. I think the appropriate authorities need to address this issue for the welfare of all involved.

It's a sticky situation.

House Arrest

I'm quarantined to the house today, as an ice storm has begun and they say that a difference of 1-2 degrees will determine whether we get a quarter inch of ice cover or just snow. It is currently falling as freezing rain, which does not bode well for the worst case scenario!

As I paused at the end of typing that sentence, I caught a bird out of the corner of my eye that looked unusual. I grabbed the binoculars, and... OMG! NEW BIRD!

This time, I had the long lens on the camera and all I had to do was pop off the lens cap and fire away. I grabbed some through-the-screen crappy shots, just to make sure I got something for identification purposes. Then I ran to my bedroom, where it's easier to get higher up to shoot through the non-screened glass. (My desk is in front of my office window). I should put a step stool in my bedroom - then I'd have it made! (Or, I should just figure out how to remove the stupid screens - *still* can't figure it out).

Downy woodpecker?

I think he's a Downy Woodpecker. At first I thought Hairy woodpecker, but apparently Downy's have much smaller bills. I didn't get a good profile shot of this guy, but his bill seems pretty small. The Hairy's bill is as long as its head, and this guy's bill doesn't look that long. So I'm going with Downy. I've submitted the photo to Flickr's Bird ID group to see if I can't get some help from the experts.

I was excitedly editing that photo when I heard the tell-tale swoosh of birds departing en masse, which only means one thing: a hawk is nearby. I stood to get a better view out the window, and sure enough, a hawk was weaving in and out of the brush, chasing a bird. "Fly away, guys, fly away!" The hawk swooped down to the ground and... yup. He caught one. I think he caught a junco. I watch in horror as he came out from the brush to the lawn. He stood there for a few minutes (probably squeezing the bird to death - I read that's what they do). I was frozen, staring. He didn't seem to be going anywhere, and I figured I should probably grab my camera. This is all part of it, right?

I grabbed the camera from my desk and ran back to my bedroom. I snapped a few shots, and as the hawk started eating the bird, I broke into tears. I've never been very good at the whole food chain/circle of life thing. When I was little, I loved watching nature shows on TV, but inevitably, there was always a scene where the featured animal became prey to a larger animal, and I'd burst into tears and run to my room. My dad would try to explain that it's just nature, but I couldn't help but sympathize with the poor victim, the underdog. Eventually my mom said, "You have GOT to stop watching those shows!" after one show had me practically hyperventilating in tears. I did stop watching them for a long time. I'd flip past a show on TV with some cute animal and think, keep flipping... he's just going to die anyway.

Then, I went to see March of the Penguins at the movie theater. All of the previews were adorable and funny! I didn't realize it was an actual documentary. Poor Randy. By the end, after seeing the baby eggs freeze and the predator birds attacking the baby penguins, I was a running snot faucet, nearly sobbing as we left at the end of the movie.

I realize that it's probably a good life lesson to come to terms with the food chain. Even as I watched the hawk eating a bird that was here because I lured him to my feeders, I was thinking in the back of my head that the hawk was having a meal, too, and he wouldn't starve today.

Still, I cried through the whole affair, snapping a couple pictures then watching through the binoculars. I apologized to my feeder birds as I watched.

Hawk - Cooper's?

The hawk was taking forever, plucking the bird and eating it, so I decided to try to go outside to get a photo. A couple weeks ago when the hawk was in the tree, it didn't fly away when I went outside, and this time the hawk was much farther away. So I went outside onto the deck and lined up a shot. Right then, the hawk saw me and flew away. I hope he was done eating, but at the same time, I'd like him to think that this isn't the safest place to find a meal.

Every time I see a hawk around here, I think that my feeder birds will never come back. Why would they keep coming to a dangerous place? Well, by the time I got upstairs from trying to take a picture of the hawk outside, the juncos were already hopping around on the ground, out from their hiding places. Within a couple minutes, the finches returned, and within 10 minutes or so, the place was hopping again with house sparrows and mourning doves. That made me feel a lot better. I may lose a bird to a hawk every so often, but I am helping SO many more birds than I lose. And even in losing a bird, I'm helping another - all part of Mother Nature's plan.

Here's a cute shot of a male and female house sparrow, to end this post on a happy note:
Mr. and Mrs. House Sparrow