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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Another Big Year for Snowy Owls? Stay Tuned!

Snowy Owl sightings so far in November 2017, ebird map. Will this be another big year for Snowy Owls to come down into the U.S. possibly in big or record numbers? In some years Snowy Owls leave their far northern areas and come into this country in search of food, possibly because food is scarce in their usual area but also in years when there is a population boom. Some are saying there was a high population of owls on their nesting grounds this year, so possibly many may leave. Stay tuned and report your sightings to ebird. And keep your distance when photographing them so as not to disturb the owls!! My blog post below was done in December 2013 when a historic irruption was underway.





Snowy Owls can come down into the U.S. in possibly historic numbers in some years (note, all photos on this post taken with long telephotos lenses from a distance, mainly from a car, so as not to disturb the owl.)
We saw 9 Sat. on the NH and MA coasts. This one was sitting in a parking lot.
I love the soft feathers around the bill, all the better to keep it warm.
This owl preened
and sat in the wind.
 Grassy flat areas, dunes, marshes, and anything like its tundra home are the habitats these Snowy Owls seek out.

Here it is in front of a New Hampshire Parks vehicle.
There are actually two of then on this breakwater way out there.
Here's a closer view taken with the powerful telephoto lens (up to 4800mm) of the Canon SX 50.
There is a mega irruption of Snowy Owls coming down from their tundra areas taking place now, with reports flooding birding listserves across the northern parts of the U.S., southern Canada, and there has even been a Snowy Owl reported in Bermuda. Birders in St. John's, Newfoundland are seeing 150 Snowy Owls in a day. There more owls on the way and this could be a historic event. You can see a map of Snowy Owl sightings on ebird.

Saturday we saw 9 on the NH and MA Coasts, with birders reporting many more owls from those areas. Owls are showing up more in coastal areas but also some from inland. They are attracted to flat or rolling, grassy or marshy tundra-like habitats. We saw our owls in coastal dunes and marshes, but they can be in other places. There are Snowy Owls showing up at airports, and one was seen hunting the grounds of the Budweiser plant in Merrimack, NH. They can perch on buildings, rocks, houses and lamp posts overlooking favorable habitat. Keep your eyes open, they could be anywhere!

If you do see a Snowy Owl do several things:
* Report your sightings to ebird, the national database that tracks birds, so this event can be well documented.
* Do not get close to the owl to view or photograph it so as not to scare it away or harass it. These are birds that have left the far north because there is not enough food there. They are hungry and may be starving and need to conserve energy to hunt for food.
*Enjoy watching and appreciating these, usually rare, Snowy Owls for this is a special event. Some of these birds, unfortunately, may not make it if they do not find enough food.

Snowy Owls breed in the far north and in winter some come down into Canada and the northern half of the U.S. Sometimes when there is a food shortage in their usual areas, they may irrupt in large numbers and move south as they are doing now. They are diurnal hunters and eat lemmings and other small mammals and rodents, sometimes ducks and seabirds.
Male Snowy Owls are generally white overall with a suggestion of grayish barring. Females are heavily barred overall and young birds are the darkest of their sex with first year females being the darkest.

To learn more about Snowy Owls, and how to identify other birds (including all those you photograph!!) see our new field guides:


The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America contains over 3,400 bird photos (many of them from me and other top bird photographers) and is the most complete photographic guide to those birds ever done.


It is also available as eastern or western regional editions,


If you want to learn more about how to take photos with the Canon SX 50 Camera, go to my blog post here, where you can find out about my extensive tips.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Snowbirds Have Arrived!! Welcome Them At Your Feeder

Dark-eyed Junco

Yesterday we noticed large flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos coming through on their migration. We had some birder friends from AZ visiting and everywhere we looked clouds of juncos were fluttering up. Another friend of ours asked, "since the snowbirds are here does that mean its going to snow??"
Oh no, not yet, not the "s" word. It will snow this winter. Just because the "snowbirds," (another name for juncos), are here, doesn't mean it's going to snow now.
Dark-eyed Juncos are named snowbirds because of their plumage colors of gray and white. They have "gray skies above and snow below." In other areas of the country juncos may look slightly different.
Some juncos may stay and winter with us here, in NH. Others will continue their migration and may show up at your feeders, so start looking. Juncos like to feed on the ground or from low platform feeders and come to millet and mixed seed.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Short-eared Owls are Migrating Now!



Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owls are migrating now and one was recently seen on the NH coast. Interesting that in the past just about this time (Oct. 27th 2013) we were at our nearby hawk watch site, Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory in southwest NH, and saw a Short-eared Owl migrating, a first record for that site. It was migrating during the day and popped up above the mountain in the midst of some ravens. Much excitement at seeing the first one there and it was a thrill. Recently on NH birds list serve, a Short-eared Owl was reported from migrating on the NH coast, a more common place to see this uncommon owl.

Little is known about Short-eared Owl migration according to the authoritative source on bird behavior, The Birds of North America online.

The Short-eared Owl is one of my favorite owls. This medium-sized owl lives in open habitats, such as tundra, grasslands, fields, marshes, prairies and savannas, where it hunts small mammals. It breeds mostly in the far North and parts of the West and can be seen in winter in many parts of the country.

All the photos above, except the small bottom photo which is of the owl over Pack Monadnock, are of a Short-eared Owl I saw on Christmas several years ago in the marshes of Salisbury Beach, MA. This owl mostly hunts at night, sometimes during the day. I was lucky it was out and gave me photo ops. This owl flies erratically, like a moth, and courses low over the ground. 

So keep your eye and ears open for Short-eared Owls and you may add to the information on its migration.

NO Birds At the Feeder?? Here's Why!

Dark-eyed Junco

Many people have been reporting a lack of birds at their feeders and right now we are not going through the bird seed as we were in later summer when the baby goldfinches were gobbling all.

The main reason for birds not being as abundant right now at feeders here in New England is because this has been wet year and mild fall and there seems to be a superabundance of wild food available, including pine cones, other cones, seeds, fruits, berries. The birds just don't need the feeders, plus since it has been warm their calorie requirements are lower. As you know, birds in the wild do not ever get all their food entirely from feeders. They go around their winter ranges each foraging in their own species way. Chickadees stay in a small fixed flock in a winter range of about 20 acres and glean insects and larvae from bark, as well as eat nuts and seeds. They visit feeders in their winter territory. In extremely severe weather however, when wild food has been depleted and or is covered with ice, then chickadees will visit feeders more and sometimes it can be life-saving.
For those of you, including us, that are addicted to seeing birds at our feeders, there are some birds coming to feeders now and here's how to entice them.
Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the most common feeder birds in the country. These northen breeders come down into the U.S. in winter. By us, some stay the winter, some migrate farther south. Juncos are a type of sparrow and love eating at or near the ground.

We built this brush pile and placed it about 15 feet from our bird feeder. It is about 4 feet high and 12 feet wide, made of saplings and even seed heads from our perennials. We sprinkle millet on the ground in front of it and in it. The Juncos and White-throated Sparrows just love it and visit often. These species naturally feed on the ground in the wild, and this set-up simulates their wild feeding situation plus gives then the cover of the brush pile to hide from predators. Millet is a tiny white seed enjoyed by sparrow species. It is not the favorite food of chickadees (black oil sunflower is). Even though we sprinkle it on the ground we monitor it and clean up any old seed. Mostly all our seed is in feeders and seed cleanliness is very important to the birds. We also put millet in platform feeders, and sometimes the juncos and other ground feeding species feed there. The brush pile also offers protection from predators to all the other birds who visit the feeders.

Blue Jay

Blue Jays also are coming to feeders now big time. You'll also see them flying across highways as you drive around. Jays have a habit of carrying off seeds and acorns in fall to cache (hide) them for later use. Jays have a mixed reputation; they can eat birds eggs, but they are also great alarmists, warning of hawks, and other birds may benefit from that. We enjoy their beautiful colors against the late fall landscape.
Meanwhile, have patience and keep feeders clean and filled, you want the winter feeder regulars to know you're there when they need you. Once the weather turns cold your feeder regulars will be back.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

How to Help Bluebirds Survive Winter!

We have Eastern Bluebirds visit us occasionally in late fall and even check out some of their nesting boxes from the past breeding season. They even grab a snack of the dried mealworms. They usually move on when the weather gets really bad.


Bluebirds may sometimes remain in some northern areas in winter, much to people's surprise. Here's some tips for bluebird enthusiasts, on how to help bluebirds survive in winter.

1. Bluebirds can roost together in bird houses to keep warm. Insulate your bird houses by closing off all cracks, drainage holes, etc., with some sort of insulating material so less drafts and cold get into the bird house. Just leave the entrance hole open. Remove insulation in spring before breeding. Face bird houses away from prevailing winter winds.

2. Bluebirds mainly eat fruit and berries in winter. Plant your property with an abundance of crabapples and native, berry-producing shrubs such as viburnums, dogwoods and hollies (like winterberry holly). Place these berry plantings in sunny, protected areas, blocked from winter winds. The bluebirds will have a warm place to eat and use less precious energy.

3. Some bluebirds will come to food such as, hulled sunflower, suet, dried mealworms, and some of the many "bluebird meal mixtures" or nuggets. Generally most bluebirds do not learn to do this. You can certainly try putting out these foods, but your best bet is to have lots of berries planted in your yard.

4. Bluebirds like water (may help with processing the berries) and will visit bird baths and heated bird baths. In general, when it is very severely cold, some people think it is a risk for birds to bathe. Holding off on the water, or placing sticks over the bird bath to only allow birds to drink, not bathe, may be a good idea in this situation. Many birds will eat snow in winter to get water.

Most bluebirds move out of the northernmost areas of their range in winter. Even ones that may linger eventually move on, once their berry sources are depleted or ice-covered. For bluebirds, and many birds, there is a trade-off of staying more north in order to be first to claim prime breeding territories, yet risking survival due to bad weather. Some of these tips may help them survive and you feel you're helping them. Bluebirds are truly beloved.
For more complete information see our best-selling Stokes Bluebird Book.

For the very latest identification information and range maps on all three species of North American Bluebirds; Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird and Western Bluebird, see our best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the most complete photo guide to birds of NA, and the new regional editions, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Regions

Monday, October 30, 2017

Real Halloween Bats!!

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Just in time for Halloween, a bat appeared in our yard several years ago. I just photographed this migrating Eastern Red Bat in flight as it foraged over our house. We watched it for about 10 minutes as it swooped over the trees and fields, catching insects. So cool!! But what is even more fun is looking at the photos. In the middle photo you can see the ear, lit by the sun. In the bottom photo you can see the outline of the bones.

These bats live in trees in wooded areas and roost up in the foliage curled up in their furry tail membrane. They are mainly solitary, just getting together to mate and during migration. They eat lots of moths as well as other insects. They live throughout the eastern half of the country. In fall the more northern ones migrate to southern areas, often using the same migratory routes along the eastern seaboard as some birds do.
We were so lucky to see it!

To learn more about bat conservation go here



and see out Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats, written by Rob Mies and Kim Williams.

To learn more about birds see our best-sellers, the most comprehensive photo guides,


The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to ID and Attract Sparrows at Your Bird Feeder Now!

White-throated Sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, come in two morphs. One morph has brown head stripes, as here;

the other morph has black-and-white head stripes, as here. There is much individual variation. They all have white throats and are very common at many feeders in winter.

White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, in their first winter have rufous brown head stripes

and no white throat. We just saw one of these in our NH yard.


The dramatic adult White-crowned Sparrow has beautiful black head stripes and a white central crown stripe.

Sparrows are migrating big time. White-throated Sparrows are coming to bird feeders across much of the country now. Somewhat less common here in NH, White-crowned Sparrows are also migrating and coming to feeders. Both these species winter across much of the country and you may have them at your bird feeders all winter. We recently had first-winter White-crowned Sparrows at our feeder amongst the many, many White-throated Sparrows.

These sparrows love to feed on the ground on millet or seed mixes containing millet. We make a special sparrow feeder by building a big brush pile and sprinkling the seed in front and under the pile. It's a sparrow magnet and provides perching spots and cover from predators. The big bonus for us is that we get to see lots of fall sparrows.

If you live in the far western part of the country, you will get lovely Golden-crowned Sparrows visiting your bird feeders. They have a golden forecrown, surrounded on the front and sides by black or brown.

All these sparrow species are in the genus Zonotrichia. We discussed the characteristics of the sparrows in the Melospiza genus as stated in our The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the most complete photographic guide available. In our guide, p. 656, we discuss the Zonotrichia genus and say these are "large deep-bellied, broad-necked sparrows with a fairly small conical bill, rounded crown and fairly long, slightly notched tail." In addition to White-throated, Golden and White-crowned Sparrows, the Zonotrichia genus includes Harris's Sparrows.

Tip: Look at these sparrows through your binoculars at your bird feeder and learn the characteristics of the shape of each genus. You will get better at ID-ing them and it will set you up to learn the sparrows in other genera.


Sparrow ID, Melospiza Sparrows



Lincoln's Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii. Saw one recently here in our NH yard.

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodyLots are at our bird feeders and bird bath now.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana. Hang out in swampy areas not usually at feeders.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Sparrow ID can be challenging, to say the least. We often see Swamp Sparrows, hanging out appropriately, in swampy areas at the edge of the water. Birds are often habitat dependent and thus the Swamp Sparrow's name.

This is a subtly beautiful sparrow with a strongly marked face, russet wash along flanks and reddish-brown on crown, wings and tail.

Swamp Sparrows are in the genus Melospiza, along with Song and Lincoln's Sparrows. In our The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, in addition to individual thorough species accounts with multiple photos per species, we have colored boxes where we give helpful Identification Tips and an overview for many of the bird families. Look for these in our field guide.

For Sparrows, in the new Stokes guide p. 656, we say,

"Sparrows are small birds with short conical bills and varied-length tails. They are birds of primarily grasslands, fields, and open edges, where they feed mostly on seeds and some insects. Most are brownish with streaked backs, and they can look quite similar. Fortunately there are several large genera that have subtle but distinctive shapes. Becoming familiar with these shapes can help you place an individual sparrow into one of these groups, or genera; then you can look for plumage clues to complete your identification.

Species ID: There are 12 genera of sparrows in North America. Only 5 have 3 or more species, and these are the ones that are most useful to know to use in this generic approach.

* Melospiza: Medium-sized to large sparows with rather average proportions: they are slightly deep-bellied and have a medium-sized bill, rounded crown, and fairly long rounded tail. These sparrows are easily seen in brushy areas and marshes; when flused or curious they tend to fly up to higher perches for long periods and give short alarm calls. Some (Song Sparrow) come regularly to bird feeders. Includes Song, Lincoln's, and Swamp.

Chipping Sparrow, Spizella  passerina, adult summer. Chipping Sparrows come to feeders.

In winter Chipping Sparrows change and look like this. Chipping Sparrows are in the Spizella genus.

* Spizella: Small to medium-sized sparrows with high rounded crown, short conical bill and fairy long notched tail. These are fairly conspicuous sparrows that often feed in flocks on the ground. When disturbed they tend to fly up to higher vegetation and look around. They include Chipping, American Tree, Clay-colored, Brewer's, Field, and Black-chinned Sparrows.

In addition to the above, look for this different sparrow at your feeders,
Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca. These are large beautiful sparrows that can be seen in fall and winter at feeders.

Our big national book, The Stokes Field Guide to The Birds Of North America is now available for your convenience in two regional guides that are lighter and more portable. The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions recently came out and can be bought at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your local bookseller. Get them for they contain multiple photos of each species of sparrow and will help you with identifying and and enjoying your sparrows more.
Our brand new guide for beginning and intermediate bird watchers is The Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America, contains over 580 stunning photos, covers 250 species, and can fit in your pocket!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Yellow-rumped Warblers are Migrating Now!

This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler in winter plumage with the tell-tale yellow rump. They're migrating  now so watch for them in your garden. Get to know this bird since it is one of the most common fall migrating warblers. Photo is from our new The Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to Birds of North America, which was recently published!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hummingbird Migration now

Young Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hummingbird migration is happening now! Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating all across the eastern half of the country on their way across the Gulf of Mexico to Central America. Help them fuel up by keeping your hummingbird feeders clean and full and by planting LOTS of red tubular flowers such as this red salvia. They will return next spring. Bye-bye.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

When to Take Down Hummingbird Feeders, plus Rare Hummers

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Salvia "Black and Blue" flowers


Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Salvia "Lady in Red" flowers.

Conventional wisdom says hummingbirds will not be detained by feeders, they know when to go. A hummingbird's migration urge is triggered by hormonal changes that respond to decreasing day length. But you still need to determine when to stop filling the feeders and take them down.

When and if you remove feeders depends on where you live in the country. If you live on the West Coast, Anna's Hummingbird can be found all year. There are places in the Southwest and along the Mexican border where a few species of hummers can be found in winter.  If you live in the northern part of the country, such as here in NH, the vast majority of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are gone by the middle of Oct. If you live in some of the states in the middle section of the country, such as Kentucky, most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have gone through by the end of Oct. If you live in the Southeast in a place like Florida you could possibly have overwintering Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. In addition a number of western species of hummingbirds such as Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Calliope Hummingbirds might show up.

Interestingly there seems to be an increasing trend in western hummingbird species, such as Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds and others, showing up outside of their normal range in fall in eastern states. NH has had a Rufous Hummingbird in 2007, 2009 and Oct. 2015 and a Calliope Hummingbird in 2013. They came to feeders but disappeared in the winter.

One of the issues of attempting to host an unusual hummingbird in areas that experience cold and harsh winters is the commitment it takes and the uncertain outcome. A standard hummingbird nectar solution of one part sugar to 4 parts water will freeze below 27 degrees. People go to lengths to warm the nectar such as attaching a flood lamp in a clamp-on reflector a few feet from the feeder, or hanging a low watt heat lamp rigged in an outdoor hanging fixture, but that will only keep the nectar unfrozen to near zero degrees. Last winter NH saw weather below zero. Remember to always keep your hummingbird feeders clean and fresh, mold can grow easily in them if you do not clean them every several days.

Our answer as to when we take the hummingbird feeders down here in NH is that we take our feeders down at the first hard frost. At that point our many hummingbird attractant flowers, such as red Salvia, succumb to the cold, and the hummingbirds are essentially gone from here.

A great place to see which and when hummingbird species are seen in your area, and to report your sightings, is the ebird website. Look under "explore data.

Here are a few photos of rare hummingbirds that have shown up in our state of NH.

This celebrity bird is a a little Calliope Hummingbird, male, a bird from the Northwest who strayed far from his usual range and migration route in Nov. 2013. He came to a feeder in Manchester, NH at the home of some very gracious birders who allowed many birders to view this hummingbird, a lifer for many! This was not the first time a Calliope Hummingbird had shown up in New England and there are records from other eastern states also. Calliopes also been reported from MA and NJ. It seems like more and more out-of-range hummingbirds are showing up in the East in fall at feeders. No one knows exactly why this occurs. Some birds' internal compasses may just direct them east instead of south. Over time that species may have a range expansion if those individuals survive and have offspring. Other people think that having more hummingbird feeders available and hardy plants in a human altered landscape may make it possible for some of these hummingbirds to be in the East in fall and winter.

The above photo is a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorous rufous) visiting a feeder in Hollis, NH in Oct. 2009. This is a very unusual hummingbird for here. One was last reported in NH in 2007. The Rufous Hummingbird is a western species whose breeding range goes as far up as Alaska. Increasingly, Rufous Hummingbirds are showing up in fall in the eastern half of the country. This hummingbird was banded over the weekend and the bander reported it as a hatching year Rufous Hummingbird, sex could not be determined. Identification of female and immature hummingbirds can be tricky, especially telling Rufous from Allen's Hummingbirds. Sometimes only banders, holding them in hand, can tell them apart by subtle differences in the shape of the tail feathers and even then sometimes it is not possible to definitively tell their sex. The above photo shows the extensive rufous on the sides and rufous on the tail feathers.

The throat has lines of small marks, with a number of larger marks (looking dark because the sun is not hitting them) concentrated in the center and going out to the sides of the throat. Usually the immature female rufous has smaller and fewer throat marks, occasionally with a few larger iridescent marks confined to the center of throat.

The back shows little rufous coloring on this bird. Some immature male Rufous Hummingbirds can show more rufous back coloring, especially later in winter. Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds often have extensive rufous on their backs and their throats.

Good luck with your hummingbirds.