Saturday, March 26, 2011

Birds in Review Part XXXI 'A Bird Parade' Thrilling Thrushes

The word thrilling is not exaggerated in relation to the thrushes I encounter here at Flower Hill Farm during each spring, summer and fall. With every new days beginning and later its ending, I go outside or stand by the doors and windows and listen for the songs of the Veery . . .  along with the trills of the Hermit and Wood Thrushes.  Their otherworldly songs reach up from deep within the forest and along its edges, filling the time around daybreak and twilight with enchanting allurement. 
Allow me to introduce one of our resident Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus.) Listen to his song and let me know if you agree that it is truly beautiful. All About Birds describes it as ". . .  a melodious, fluty warble . . . " and I would add that it seems to capture the magical essence of a fluid, ethereal dream.

The young Hermit Thrushes have more tawny spots about their chests, where as the mature birds will sport darker black marks. This youngster is posing quite nicely, displaying his slight, white eyering and brownish head.

Hermit Thrushes overwinter in much of the United States and into Central America. Some choose to remain throughout the year in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, California and even as far north as Pennsylvania and Virginia. They dine on insects and spiders during the summer months, then during the winter they supplement their diet with small fruit.

What luck the Hermit Thrush finds something of interest in the Crabapple, affording a greater view of his brown back and reddish tail. It is not the fruit of the tree that holds his interest but most likely some insect within the leaves.

This stance with his tail held up, assures with certainty this fellow is indeed the beloved Hermit Thrush, for this is uniquely characteristic of their behavior. 

Earlier in the year I eyed this adult Hermit Thrush foraging for food . . . perhaps for the immature thrush in my first photographs, who would have been a wee nestling back then.

Notice the darker spots on this Adult Hermit Thrush, who finds the ground suitable for foraging, as well as the preferred placement for her nest.

Another ground foraging and ground nesting thrush that delights this listener, particularly at dawn and dusk, is the Veery (Catharus fuscescens.) Before I knew what the bird was, I thought his song was like a computerized melody or phrase vibrating and repeating itself. Have a listen to his unearthly song. The Veery is an orange-brown above . . .  the color of dried pine needles, with buff underparts dotted in fuzzy, rufous spots. Veerys  have less spots than both the Hermit and Wood Thrushes, which helps in identifying them. 

A Veery looks over at me from the northern edge of the Crabapple Orchard near a large White Pine. These birds share a common diet with the Hermit Thrush and Wood Thrush. I will add here that I have seen a Veery eating blueberries in July, so I would guess that all thrushes will eat fruit, if it is plentiful, anytime of the year. All three passerines choose different ranges for summer breeding and overwintering. The Veery may be sighted during migration by many from the eastern United States across the deep south and up into the midwestern states. Veerys breed along the Canadian border and the northern states with some choosing to raise their young as far south as Colorado in the west, while in the east a thin breeding line is drawn down into parts of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Veerys winter in Brazil . . . sounds like a good idea to me.

I do not have a photograph of the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), for they choose to stay hidden deeper in the forest and rarely come out.  They look similar to the Hermit Thrush but are larger, browner (no red tail) and have more spots on their white underparts. I hear their unique calls and moving songs but never see them. Wood Thrushes are more on the decline due to Cowbird predation, acid rain and deforestation. They build their nests in a tree and may raise two broods during the summer breeding season all over the eastern half of the United States. They are off to Central America for the winter months. I urge you to go to visit the link to see a photograph, read more interesting facts  and listen to this birds incredible song - All About Birds .

Meanwhile . . . March is nearing its end with colder than normal temperatures, that are causing the White-tailed Deer and humans here to wonder . . .  when we will ever see spring?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Birds in Review Part XXX 'A Bird Parade' Sprightly Sparrows

White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) are one of the most striking of sparrows. 

The White-throated sparrow has a boldly patterned head, with a wide white throat and yellow bands above the eyes. Black lines add a bit of drama outlining the crown, throat marks and through the eyes. They are often singing throughout the day in a series of whistles lasting about four seconds "Oh-sweet-canada-canada" Songs and calls can be heard at  All About Birds.

US residents might often see White-throated Sparrows at their feeders, especially in the winter months, for they over winter in much of the United States. They are at home on the forest floor and along the woodland edges foraging for insects and seeds. White-throated Sparrows will sometimes mate with the Dark-eyed Junco creating an unusual breed. They choose some of the northern tips of the US and much of Canada as their summer breeding range.

White-throated Sparrows typically build their nests right on the ground. They choose a secure place in a densely vegetated clearing, such as a lovely wildflower meadow.

Another pretty sparrow is the Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina.) A russet crown, white eyebrow and prominent eye-line make it easy to identify. These smaller sparrows are often seen in trees and shrubs gleaning for insects favoring open woodlands and meadows for a diversity of wildflower seeds. They live and breed in parks and backyards over most all of the United States and Canada, where you will often see them at or below bird feeders. 

Chipping Sparrows are also constantly foraging on the ground. They are so well camouflaged that often it appears the early spring leafy ground is in movement itself until suddenly their shapes become obvious.

A Chipping Sparrow a bit out of character. This shot reminds me of Harpo Marx.

Chipping Sparrows choose the tops of trees and shrubs to sing out there numerous high trills. Their songs are not particularly melodious with a great many chips repeated in equal time and space over and again.

The Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) is widely seen throughout the United States and Canada and may have a variety of appearances depending on the area. Here at Flower Hill Farm we mostly see a very freely streaked reddish-brown and gray medium sized sparrow with pronounced white pattern beneath the beak. There is often a dark spot located on the breast which becomes very visible when the little bird reaches up to sing his heart out. 

The songs and calls of the Song Sparrow vary as their plumage and patterns do, again depending on the area. Here their trills are grouped in lovely phrases and may be improvised. Sometimes it does sound like there is a sudden broken ending to their songs. 

Song Sparrows are akin to the other sparrows feature in this post by their preference for open fields and forest edges. They mostly move about through fields or most any low vegetation and the lower branches of shrubs and trees. Often their nests are hidden within meadow grasses, in a flower border or sometimes built up higher in shrubs or trees. I have covered three kinds of sprightly and well behaved sparrows in this post. There are numerous more including the infamous House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), who luckily Does Not take up residence here at my farm.

Back in real time . . . Spring seemed to be coming along and warmer temperatures were melting the snow so that Robins could enjoy stealthily surveying the open land. 

March is a tease, however, and its fickleness can be tiresome. Winter is still with us here in New England. I can dream of warmer days and wildflowers carpeting the open fields. For now I can join Gail over at Clay and Limestone to celebrate our native wildflowers. Like spring I am a bit late. I will also make this my early contribution to Blooming Friday. Join Katarina at Roses and Stuff to see other gardens around the world.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Birds in Review Part XXIX 'A Bird Parade' Eastern Phoebe Perigee Moon

The Vernal Equinox arrives for the Northern Hemisphere, bringing a perigee full moon and the Eastern Phoebes return to our gardens and wildlife habitat. Back in 1804 the Eastern Phoebe was the very first North American bird to have ever been banded and the threads were wrapped by the great naturalist and artist John James Audubon himself. 

The Eastern Phoebe is a delightful flycatcher who can be seen often bobbing his tail and darting about harvesting insects on the fly. Just now there are not many insects flying about so the Phoebe may supplement his diet with a few smaller fruits.

Eastern Phoebes are widely known for singing persistent "phee-bee, phee-bee" phrases. These small songbirds will build their mud and moss nests right over a door or window indicating their tolerance for the comings and goings of people. This behavior gives people a great opportunity to observe them close-up.

Eastern Phoebes prefer woodlands and forest edges with some water nearby. Their breeding range extends throughout the northeast and midwestern United States into Canada. They then choose to overwinter in Florida, along the Gulf Coast into Texas and Central America. Some Phoebes will become year round residents in parts of the southern United States. 

They are very solitary birds and even within a coupled pair the individuals are not very sociable. Perhaps Phoebes spend time alone nurturing their poetic perspectives. Females seem to have little tolerance for the males company.

There are no eye rings or discernible wingbars on the Eastern Phoebes brownish gray coat. The underbody is mostly all buff with some pale yellowish tints earlier in the season. The male and female are very hard for me to ascertain.

I will include my one photograph of an Eastern Kingbird with the Phoebe contingent, for often at first glance one might be fooled into thinking this medium-sized songbird is an Eastern Phoebe. Besides being larger and darker in color, the Eastern Kingbird is a flycatcher that has evident white tips to his tail. His manner and voice are quite different as well. The Kingbird is very defensive and will attack nest predators such as Blue Jays, Crows and Hawks with great determination. Their song is a titillating treble of trills "Ti-t-t-t-ti-zeer"  that the songbird will repeat up to seven times. The Eastern Kingbirds breeding range reaches farther than their name implies, covering much of the United States and Canada. They migrate to South America for the colder winter months. 
Thanks to All About Birds 

 Looking out from my barn studio door two days ago, I enjoyed an early spring sunset casting a lovely lavender veil over Mount Tom and the Pioneer Valley. 

A segment of the Mount Holyoke Range wears a purple hue.

Perigee Moon rising while the sun sails away. This is actually the night before the full moon. Our moon is closer to us than it has been in eighteen years and did seem brighter to me. You can learn more about this special moon here .  

Yesterday was the actual day that would usher in the full moon.

Lovely light was scattered across the cloud filled sky. I was afraid it would be too cloudy to see the moon. 

Long after sunset it rose like a fiery globe from the clutches of hemlock along Carey Hill into the dark black night. Soon the mirroring moon lit up the garden floor and tossed charcoal shadows across the remaining snowy carpet.

Wishing all a Happy Spring! The snow is melting ice crystal by ice crystal . . . day by day. 
May the worlds suffering melt with it. 
Oh, that it could. 

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