Black Tern, adult summer plumage, 6/25/05 photo taken at a distance
Black Tern, adult winter plumage, 8/23/07 photo taken at a distance
Common Nighthawks were feeding with the Black Terns last night
Last night, here in NH, we had not one, but two Black Terns visit our pond. Black Terns are not very common here in SW NH so this was an exciting event. We posted it to our listserve and two of our friends came to see them. There was a very low could ceiling, with moist conditions and thunderstorms coming in later that night, so the terns were stopping to feed during their migration. This is only the third time in 12 years we have seen them here, the other two times were in spring, 6/25/05 and in late summer, 8/23/07. The terns circled and circled and there were also Common Nighthawks and Tree and Bank Swallows feeding out with them. Sometimes in birding you just stand there and soak up the magic of the moment. This was one of those times.
Monarch Butterfly. They lay their eggs on milkweed and their caterpillars feed on this plant.
Great Spangled Frittillary on Purple Coneflower
Close-up of Great Spangled Fritillary
American Lady Butterfly, told by the two eye spots on underside of the hindwing
Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies are unmistakable
Spicebush Swallowtails can be told from other big, dark swallowtails by their single row of prominent white dots inside the margin of their forewings.
The larvae of Spicebush Swallowtails feed on spicebush and sassafrass.
Pearl Crescent butterfly. Scores are feeding on white clover on our path so we keep the path mowed high to preserve the clover flowers for them.
Mourning Cloaks are widespread across much of North America. They are one of the few butterflies who overwinter as adults, finding protected places in log piles, nooks, or under loose bark, and when they emerge in the spring they look worn, as this butterfly does. They are one of the longest lived butterflies and some may live as long as 10 months. Mourning Cloaks feed on sap and fruit.
Our butterfly bushes will bloom soon and they're magnets for the butterflies. Here's a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on one of them.
We've written two books to help you attract and identify butterflies.Stokes Beginner's Guide To Butterflies, has an easy ID key to help you quickly identify the butterflies you see by size and shape.
Stokes Butterfly Book gives you plans for a butterfly garden, lists and photos of butterfly plants, and chapters, with color photos, on the identification, behavior and caterpillars of common butterflies. Both are available at amazon.com and stores.
When the birding is slow, and it's the middle of the day, a wonderful thing for birders to do is look for butterflies. Butterflies are colorful flying creatures, just like birds. The identification skills birders already have can be transferred to identifying butterflies.
Look at butterflies through your binoculars, no need to catch them in a net.
The hot weather favors butterflies as they need to warm their bodies to fly. They need to get their body temperature up to 85 to 100 degrees Farenheit in order to fly well. Adult butterflies come to flowers for nectar, lay their eggs on special host plants, which can be unique to each species of butterfly. The eggs hatch, larva feed on the plant then turn into a pupa or crysalis from which the adult butterfly will emerge. A complete cycle or generation is called a brood, and butterfly species can go through from just one to as many as four broods per year, depending on the species and the number of warm months. Different butterflies are on the wing at different times during the summer, so you will continue to see new species.
There are about 17,000 species of butterflies in the world. In North America there are about 700 species but only a small fraction are common and likely to be seen by the average person.
When you see a butterfly watch it closely for several minutes. Observe how it flies, its size, shape, and the colors and patterns on its wings, both above and below.
Start by knowing the major families of butterflies that are distinctive. Below are some:
Swallowtails - are our largest butterflies and most have long tails coming off their hind wings.
Whites and Sulfurs - these are all medium-sized butterflies that are predominantly white or yellow.
Gossamer Wings - this group is easy to identify since it includes all of our smallest butterflies, such as the blues, coppers and hairstreaks, and metalmarks. The blues tend to be iridescent blue, coppers are often copper, hairstreaks often have hairlike tails on their hind wings, and metalmarks often have metallic spots on their wings.
Brush-footed Butterflies - this is a large and varied group of medium-sized, generally dark-colored butterflies with such strong and rapid flight they are hard to follow. Their is no one field characteristic, besides their flight, that makes them easy to identify as a group.
Satyrs - these are medium-sized butterflies that are almost all brown, often with darker eye-spots on their wings. They have a weak and bobbing flight and are often seen at woods edges or among grasses.
Skippers - are small butterflies whose flight is extremely rapid and erratic. They are mostly rich brown or orange-brown
It's that time of year, when birds are breeding everywhere. We get lots of questions about nesting birds, especially nesting bluebirds. People cherish their bluebirds and worry about the things they see their bluebirds do. For example, here's part of a recent question to us about bluebirds — "There have been 3 eggs in the box now for going on 2 weeks. I’m guess the eggs are not viable but momma is still in the box laying on them???? What to do?? Do I remove the eggs? Remove the whole nest? Just leave things alone? I think they’ve been there too long now to hatch – yes/no/maybe so?? Please advise."
The answer is that this is normal and her eggs will hatch soon. In most cases there is no cause for concern.
Here's some basic information about bluebirds to calm worries.
- Eastern Bluebird females build the nest out of fine grasses or pine needles and it can take as little as 2 days, but 4-5 days is the average. During courtship the male can feed the female and he may continue to occasionally bring her food during incubation.
- Once the nest is built, egg-laying can begin in a day or two' but may not begin until a week later or so. So don't panic if you see a built nest and no eggs right away, it does not mean the bluebirds have abandoned it.
- Females lay one egg per day in the morning and spend very little time at the box during egg-laying. The eggs can remain there at air temperature with no harm to them. So just because you see a nest and several eggs and no female, does not mean the nest and eggs are abandoned. She can lay 1-6 eggs in a clutch. If one or some of the eggs are infertile, but not the others, she may leave the infertile egg unhatched in the nest, or the parents may try and remove it. Bluebird eggs are blue but in 9% of the cases they have been found to be white.
- Only after the last egg is laid does the female do full-time incubation. She takes breaks every once in a while to go feed, preen, take a bath, take a break, etc. In warmer weather, she may leave the nest for longer periods of time. Incubation can last 12-18 days.
- After the eggs hatch both parents feed the young and remove the fecal sacs (little white diaper like sacs) from the nest. The parents feed each young about two times an hour, regardless of how big the brood.
- The length of time the young are in the nest for the Eastern Bluebird varies from 16-21 days. It is OK to look into the box once or twice a week to check on the progress of the bluebirds. Your scent on the box will not cause the birds to leave (most bird species have very little sense of smell). Do not look in the box once the young are 12 days or older as this may cause them to premature leave the box before they are ready.
After they fledge they will continue to be fed by the parents for another 3-4 weeks and by 5 weeks the fledglings have learned how to feed on their own well enough to be independent. The bluebird pair may start another nesting while they are still feeding young from the first brood. Bluebirds may have 1 to 3 broods per year depending on the area of the country they live in and other factors.
For more complete information see our bluebird guide,
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have arrived in many of the northern areas of the country. Migration is now in full swing or beyond with hummingbirds, warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers, orioles and more all arriving on their breeding grounds. Enjoy the birds.
Magee Marsh has a boardwalk that goes through a woodland area that is important stopover habitat for migrating warblers, many of whom are headed to their breeding grounds in the Canadian boreal forest. The boardwalk can get crowded with birders and photographers, but everyone is so nice and they all share space to view the warblers.
Large numbers of photographers were there with big cameras and long lenses, many standing at the woodland edge of the parking lot, before the entrance to the boardwalk.
We just got back from one of the best ever "The Biggest Week in American Birding" Festivals at Magee Marsh, OH, with fantastic looks at warblers. When we were asked by Kim Kaufman (who is directer of Black Swamp Bird Observatory, which sponsors the event, along with other important organizations) and Kenn Kaufman (super-famous, esteemed birder and field guide author) to be keynote speakers and to lead a fundraiser celebrity bird walk with them and do a keynote talk and book signing, we jumped at the chance.
We were at the festival from last Thursday to Sunday and could not have been happier. In addition to an incredible number of events like guided walks, bus trips, workshops, keynote speakers, evening socials, vendor marts, Optics Alley, chances to meet many wonderful birders and more, the real attraction was the large number of warblers and other birds who use Magee Marsh woodlands on the shore of Lake Erie as an important stop-over habitat. The Biggest Week Festival spotlights the importance of this valuable habitat and its role in bird conservation.
Kim and Kenn and the entire group of volunteers and sponsoring organizations did a fantastic job of putting on what is one of the premier birding festivals in North America. It brings together so many wonderful people, all there to celebrate and enjoy the birds. Most importantly, the birds are the real stars and their story of survival and arduous migration journeys is writ large as thousands of birders' eyeballs drink in the eye candy and appreciate these avian jewels. Thanks to all who contributed to the festival and a special thanks to Kim and Kenn as the dedicated conservationists and guiding spirits behind the festival.
Bay-breasted Warbler is just one of the many eye-candy avian treats waiting for you at The Biggest Week in American Birding which is going on now from May 3rd to 12th at Magee Marsh, OH, the warbler capital of the world. We will see you there! We are giving the keynote address on Friday, May 10th. The Biggest Week is a mega-birding happening with lots of birders, guided walks, evening socials, lectures, workshops, events, field trips, birding celebrities like Kenn and Kim Kaufman, and tons of fun.
Magee is just an awesome place to see and photograph warblers because the birds are so close. Birders stand on the boardwalk that goes through the wooded area at the edge of Lake Erie, where all the warblers congregate. It seems like warblers are just dripping from the trees.
Magnolia Warbler is one of my favorites
Here's an American Redstart, male,
and a Black-throated Green Warbler
If you are anywhere near northwest Ohio this week, then get yourself over to Magee Marsh and the festival. They are still accepting walk-in registrations at Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center and Black Swamp Bird Observatory. We hope to see some of you there!