Bird Feathers #9

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

 The ninth in a series of occasional rundowns of what’s happening in the world of birds, birding and bird blogging.

If you have a story that you would like to submit for inclusion, please contact John Briggs for consideration.


Ottawa boy’s invisible invention warns birds about deadly windows| Eighth grader Charlie Sobcov wants to stop birds from dying in collisions with windows, but he doesn’t want to ruin anybody’s view. For his latest school science fair project he has invented painted, plastic decals that can be placed — discreetly — right in the middle of a window pane. “This paint is a colour that birds can see but humans can’t,” he said Wednesday on CBC Radio’s All in a Day. “It’s like putting a big stop sign in the middle of the window.”

New species of babbler bird discovered in China |  A new species of the fist-sized babbler bird has been found in a network of underground caves in southwestern China, raising the prospect the country could become a hot spot for other discoveries, a conservation group said Thursday.

Woodpeckers in Rossmoor may soon end up in sharpshooter’s cross hairs| Woody Woodpecker was annoying, but real woodpeckers are incredible birds with complex social systems and an affinity for drilling holes in trees, in which they store food. So why would anyone want to kill them? In the upscale Bay Area retirement community of Rossmoor, it’s because acorn woodpeckers have been mistaking wooden homes, built within the birds’ natural habitat, as trees.

Cape Ann Birding Weekend
Cape Ann Birding Weekend

Cape Ann Chamber organizes weekend devoted to bird watching | In order to create an organized opportunity for bird lovers of all levels to further their birding knowledge, the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and Mass Audubon have collaborated in planning the first Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. The price of the weekend is $10 per adult and $50 per person at the Birders’ Dinner. Event homepage

Snowy Owls Safely Removed From Logan Airport | This winter, Snowy Owls have been spotted in our area in huge numbers. Their favorite destination–Logan Airport. Although it is a long journey from the high Arctic, the icy tundra of Logan Field looks like home, attracting more Snowy Owls than anywhere else in the Northeast.

Snowy owls swoop southward, delighting birders | Biologists say an increase in snowy owl sightings in the South suggests that the arctic species did so well in its northern breeding grounds last year that competition is driving the young ones to warmer climates.

N.J. Town Shocked As Dead Birds Fall From Sky | Residents in a New Jersey town were stunned when hundreds of birds started dropping out of the sky to their deaths, but after officials explained why, residents became fuming mad.

DNA Confirms Fastest Evolving Birds | Birds from the family Zosteropidae—also called “white eyes”—could be poster children for rapid evolution. They form new species faster than any other known bird, according to new research.

Happy birding!

Bird watching in a snowy landscape

Icicles | Click for larger view
Icicles | Click for larger view

In the middle of a brutally cold and snowy winter, bird watching has been done within the confines of a warm car and my home. Winter in Maine is so changeable. If it’s not snowing it’s cloudy, if it’s not cloudy it’s cold and windy with a windchill that pierces you to the bone.

This morning, we awoke to a temperature of -13° F. Thank God the wind was calm. Birds were making a run to the feeders well before the sun rose. Some of the birds were fluffed out to the point of looking nearly twice their size. When they do this, it makes an ambient air cushion within the fluffed out feathers and helps to keep them warm. This keeps the body heat trapped in.

Some of the poor souls just sit there, looking so cold, that it makes you want to invite them inside for a hot cup of coffee and a seat beside the fireplace.

Arctic sea smoke on the Kennebec River
Arctic sea smoke on the Kennebec River | Click for larger view

A view across the frozen cove here at Fiddler’s Reach this morning just after sunrise was breath taking. Arctic sea smoke rose above the open water of the Kennebec River, with an adult Bald Eagle disappearing into the mist.

Fresh footprints in the snow at the bottom of our yard confirmed the presence of deer overnite. Another overnite visitor, a Red Fox, visited the front yard and meandered through the side yard and down into the spruces where its trail disappeared from view.

Yet another set of tracks has me baffled. They are large and spaced a good foot and a half apart. Maybe Yeti was in the area last night looking for food and shelter.

After filling the feeders this morning and having my coffee, I watched from the picture window at the Blue Jays fighting over peanuts that we sat out for them.

Blue Jay taking off with a peanut | Click for larger view
Blue Jay taking off with a peanut | Click for larger view

One after the other, the Blue Jays would grab a peanut and fly to a tree in our neighbors yard. Not seeming to spend enough time in the tree to remove the shell and eat the peanut, I grabbed my binoculars and took a look. A hollow in the tree was evident and the Blue Jays were caching the nuts in this hole.

I figured this was fairly smart of them to be storing food, but what about the squirrels running off with the nuts? Do the Blue Jays have a guard for this cache, or better yet, an alarm system to keep intruders out? Maybe they have a barter system with the squirrels.

Other birds that visited the feeders this morning included a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers. For the first time since living here, the male and female shared the suet feeder instead of running each other off. With the male on one side and the female on the other, they ate in harmony.

White-throated Sparrow | Click for larger view
White-throated Sparrow | Click for larger view

An adult male White-throated Sparrow made a visit under one of our feeding stations. (photo taken from a window) This little fellow was shy. The slightest movement from inside our house and he would scurry under the Christmas tree we put outside for a bird shelter.

Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Junco’s and Northern Cardinals round out the birds that visited our frigid yard this morning.

I leave you with a few more photos of the activity this morning. As always, comments and criticisms are greatly appreciated.

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon 100-400mm IS L

Blue Jay with peanut | Click for larger view
Blue Jay with peanut | Click for larger view


White-throated Sparrow | Click for larger view
White-throated Sparrow | Click for larger view


Happy birding!

A new design

Some of you who have been here before are probably wondering, “Am I on the right site?”. Yes, you are on the right web site. Birding In Maine has had a makeover. After having the same look and feel for almost one year, I was ready for a change.

This design has a clean and fresh look to it. The theme is called Thesis, and customization couldn’t be easier. The framework is SEO friendly and the price is just right.

No matter which layout you select for your site, the core Thesis framework will remain the same, and that means you still get all the ultimate site-building and SEO benefits that Thesis offers. Best of all, you now have a true foundation for your Website—a core code framework that can accommodate any design or layout customization you might wish to make in the future.

It will be nice when an update for WordPress comes out and I won’t have to go into the code and make changes for all the extras I have added. With the use of hooks, this problem will be a thing of the past.

I hope you like the new design. There are a few tweaks that I will be working on over the next week or two. In the mean time, I was contacted by WGME TV-13 for a possible interview next week. Stay tuned and happy birding!

If you are having problems with the site, something is broken or you don’t like a specific feature, please let us know by clicking on the “Comments” link and leave us a message. We all know that Internet Explorer has its problems. If you have trouble viewing this site, try a good browser such as Mozilla Firefox. (I tested my site with IE 7 and had no problems, but bugginess in IE can sometimes render a site completely useless).

Snowy Sunday Birds

Snowy Bird Feeders
Snowy Bird Feeders | Click for full size

Another snowstorm is making travel treacherous on Maine roads this Sunday afternoon. What a day to stay inside and watch the activity around the bird feeders. And active they are! With 8″ to 14″ of snow forecasted for Mid-Coast Maine , Sharon and I made sure the feeders were full and we shoveled paths to the feeders.

Chickadees, Pine Siskins, Bohemian Waxwings and more are flocking to the bird feeders. It’s hard to keep up with the rate that the snow is falling, so the covered feeders are the best bet for the birds today. (The feeder pictured at left is leaning thanks to a wind storm before the ground froze solid. It’s safe, I will straighten it in the spring when the ground thaws.)

We made a fresh batch of cranberry bagels today to place on the recycled Christmas tree in the back yard. (Bagel halves smeared with peanut butter and then dipped into bird seed.)With the peanut butter salmonella problem that’s been in the news lately, we made sure we did not purchase what was made in Georgia. A White-winged Crossbill even tried out one of the bagels. It was comical watching him check out the strange treat, before finally having a taste.

An adult Bald Eagle perched on top of our spruce and watched out over the frozen cove for the longest time this morning. That is until the Crows found out it was there and harassed it until it left.

Black-capped Chickadee | Click for larger view
Black-capped Chickadee | Click for larger view

The following list shows birds we observed during a two hour period this morning. Since then, many more birds have come and gone.

Location: Home (Fiddler’s Reach | 4 miles SE of Bath, Maine
Observation date: 1/18/09
Notes: Temp. 16 F., Winds NNE @ 10 m.p.h. Moderate Snow
Number of species: 22

Bald Eagle 1
Mourning Dove 11
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Blue Jay 8
Black-capped Chickadee 8
Tufted Titmouse 6
Red-breasted Nuthatch 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
American Robin 16
Bohemian Waxwing 10
Cedar Waxwing 90
American Tree Sparrow 16
Song Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 21
Northern Cardinal 3
Pine Grosbeak 2
White-winged Crossbill 9
Pine Siskin 14
American Goldfinch 30

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

As I close, the snow is still falling heavily. The temperature has dropped to 13° F., and the wind is picking up causing the snow to drift. A lot of the birds have resorted to parking themselves in the covered feeders and eating constantly. Keep warm little ones, spring will be here (in Maine) in about four months.

Happy birding!

Atkins Bay Bald Eagles

With another snow storm coming Sunday, Sharon and I decided to drive to Atkins Bay this morning for some bird watching. With temperatures a little warmer than the last few mornings (-11° F. at 6:45 a.m. here at home) we arrived at Fort Popham at 7:15 a.m. and immediately spotted two adult Bald Eagles working over a fish carcass.

I parked the car in the shade with the sun behind us and got out of the car preparing to get some photos of the pair. I got into position and pulled the camera up to begin shooting, but I could not gain focus. I fiddled with the focus/shutter button on my BushHawk figuring the cold weather was causing it to fail. In the mean time, one of the Eagles departed after being harassed by several crows. (I later checked the soundings for Popham Beach for the time we were there and the temp was -2° F.)

Beginning to lose my patience, I finally got the camera to focus and photographed the remaining Eagle. It too was harassed by crows and took off and landed several times before finally giving up and flying off toward the Sequin Island lighthouse.

While at Fort Popham, we saw a flock of 200+ Cedar Waxwings with 25 Bohemian Waxwings and 11 American Robins mixed in. Just off the pier, 16 Long-tailed Ducks and 6 Buffleheads were feeding. A lone Harbor Seal was making it’s way toward the mouth of the Kennebec.

Click thumbnails for larger view

Bald Eagle - Atkins Bay - Phippsburg, Maine. Bald Eagle - Atkins Bay - Phippsburg, Maine.

When we returned home, I watched the feeders after filling them. A Black-capped Chickadee seemed to have a black-oil sunflower seed stuck on top of its beak. (See photo below) Four Red-breasted Nuthatches are now frequenting the feeders, along with 12 plus American Tree Sparrows. And for the first time since moving here nearly one year ago, we had four European Starlings visit the feeders. A rap on the window sent them across to the other side of the bay.

Click thumbnails for larger view

Black-capped Chickadee - Bath, Maine. Black-capped Chickadee - Bath, Maine.
Male Downy Woodpecker - Bath, Maine.

Happy birding!

Rare species and birding ethics

Northern Hawk Owl | Copyright Lloyd Alexander
Northern Hawk Owl | Copyright Lloyd Alexander

Recently, a Northern Hawk Owl was sighted near the mid coast of Maine. I cringe when I see a report of a rare species on the list serv.

Case in point is the Great Gray Owl fiasco in Jackson, Maine just about one year ago. The owl was severely emaciated and after a week of uninterrupted viewing that interfered with its hunting and feeding habits, including being “chased” by birders and photographers, a wildlife rehabilitator was called to rescue the owl. The owl died shortly afterward.
The reported Northern Hawk Owl has not yet met this fate, but could have and still might. Yesterday, someone was releasing mice and rats bought from a pet store for the owl to eat. This in turn led to birders and photographers setting up for better views of the owl. The owl crossed the road several times, low enough that if any traffic was present it would have been hit.
This is unethical and totally wrong. Who is to say that the mice and rats aren’t harboring some kind of disease? What about the safety of the owl, needlessly exposing the creature to traffic and predators who would love to have the owl as a meal. What if the owl begins to associate humans and cars with food? I am sure the owl watched people get out of their cars and in turn saw the humans release the mice. This association could lead to the death of the bird.

Some people just don’t get it. I found this while reading a forum post about the ethics of baiting birds for photography. Here is this knuckleheads response to the post:

The reality is that these birds are tame simply because where they come from there are no people, so they have developed no fear. This is very common in northern owls, like the Great Gray, Snowy, Boreal and Hawk Owls. I have seen them in their native haunts in northern Canada, where no one was feeding them mice–and they are very tame. I was able to touch a Boreal Owl sitting in a tree, and all it did was open one eye and glare at me.

Touching a wild owl? Tame? Give me a break!

What about the ethics of releasing a pet store rodent into the wild? What about the law? Is it illegal to release a mammal, wild or exotic? When a live mouse is released, what about the possibility that it will escape and hide and now it’s in an environment that it was not raised for, now you run the risk of introducing harmful diseases or parasites.

When you trespass, bait, and otherwise annoy an animal to get a good view or shot, you’re no longer a birder or nature photographer; at that point you’ve become a nature exploiter. Animals get spooked, but then they just fly or run away, they’re afraid of you, that’s natural. When you bait an animal, you stress it because it doesn’t want to get any closer to you than it has to. But, it’s putting that natural fear aside to get food. It’s like putting a briefcase full of cash in the middle of a 4 lane highway – it just gets messy!

There is a heated debate about the baiting of the Northern Hawk Owl on the list serv today. Feeding yard birds with bird feeders versus feeding Owls from the far north. One of the responses on the list was from Amy in Rockport, Maine. I have recieved her permission to post it here.  She makes some very valid points. Thank you Amy!

I was afraid someone might compare typical back yard bird feeding to
what I feel is a totally different situation. Here are my thoughts,
maybe more murky than clear:

1. Setting up the “feeding station” on the opposite side of a busy
road from what seems to be the usual perching area has a built-in
risk. I watched the hawk owl on Friday swooping low enough over Rt.
130 to have been hit by a tall car or truck. I don’t care how careful
the Dad was. This is a risky set-up.

2. Who knows what extra exposure to disease (brought up by Don
Reimer’s post) the bird might have from the mice that were being fed.
Potentially another stress for the bird.

3. We have no way of knowing why this bird is here. Was it starving
in its home range? What happened that it is here? How rare are these
birds to this area in the winter? We can’t appreciate the stresses
that it is under. Doesn’t it seem logical that the less interference,
the less interface it has with humans the better off it might be? Did
you notice the chicken coop? What if the property owners who have the
chicken coop are troubled with rodents in their garage or house?
What if they poison-bait the mice? It seems likely to me that there
is good rodent hunting there because of the chickens and their
scattering feed around. Perhaps the hawk owl lucked into something
good. Or perhaps dangerous. I have read that the hawk owl can see
prey a half a mile away! Don’t you wonder what it senses when is sees
people moving around? What does that do to its stress level? We have
no clue what it does, do we? I hope the hawk owl moves on and away
from any possible further contact with humans soon.

4. I am well aware of how setting up a bird feeder can influence bird
life. To me, there is something different about one feeder feeding a
panoply of birds that are common winter or year round residents. Yes,
opportunistic hawks may profit. So will feral cats. Back yards have
become less able to provide wintertime food for birds. There are less
native plants that harbor either the frozen insects that birds forage
on and less fruit and seed bearing plants. Gardeners seem to prefer
to cut down the stalks of potential food plants and to clean up
underneath the plants for the sake of neatness and getting a jump on
the season in the spring. In doing so, they remove these sources of
food and hiding places for prey. So, in a way, bird feeders are an
insurance policy that might get a few birds through the night or
winter that might not make it otherwise. But this is one rarely seen
bird. It is rare on its home turf. It is way outnumbered by the
people paying attention to it. It just seems that that isn’t a good
thing. People can do crazy things. I remember an incident of saw-whet
owls being killed by thugs who found about them through the Rare Bird
Alert, for example.

5. I don’t agree that a Dad feeding the mice so his children can have
an wildlife experience is a good thing. This is not wildlife
watching. It is faking a drama. It is causing something to happen in
a rapid time course, something that is not teaching those children to
be patient and to watch quietly. It is fostering the lack of an
attention span, which is a problem with way too many people. It is
giving those children the wrong idea of how to interact with nature;
the Dad here is not being a good role model. It is also appropriating
and manipulating the scene for all bystanders.

I have bird feeders in my yard, and I also have a blind so I can photograph the birds. I am not stressing the birds. But I do not have 15 people standing around talking, clicking away on ipods, etc. Also, no one is releasing tame mammals in the yard either.

This debate is far from over. This type of activity will continue far after I am gone from the face of the earth. In the meantime, refresh yourself with the ABA Birding Ethics.

I would like to hear what you think. As always, comments are more than welcomed.

I would like to thank Lloyd Alexander for use of the beautiful photo he took of the Northern Hawk Owl. Also, many thanks to Amy for providing us with her insight.

Happy birding!

Fighting the flu and watching birds

Did you ever get the cold/flu bug and it just seemed like it did not want to go away? Welcome to my world, I’ve had it for almost a week. Fever, coughing, congestion, head ache…. blah! Drink plenty of fluids, eat chicken soup, keep warm. Watch birds!

I have the comfort of sitting in my recliner wrapped in a blanket beside a picture window. One of my bird feeding stations is only 3 feet away. I can sit here sipping hot tea and watch the activity. My wife has been keeping the feeders full, allowing me to enjoy the bird show.

Instead of placing our Christmas tree out for pick up, we placed it upright near one of the feeding stations. We decorated it with bagel halves, smeared with peanut butter and dipped into bird seed. The birds love it! Birds use the tree as shelter during snowy weather.

I am awaiting the day to feel better and have sunny weather so I can use my Christmas gift from my wife. A camouflaged blind, with a “snow tangle” cover to use during the winter months. It has plenty of room for a swivel chair, my tripod and camera. For now, I occasionally pop open a window and take a few pictures of the birds visiting our feeders. The following photos were taken over the last several days while I recuperate.

Simply click a thumbnail for a larger view.

Tasty bagel bird treat - Bath, Maine. Blue Jay - Bath, Maine.
Mourning Dove - Bath, Maine. Red-Breasted Nuthatch - Bath, Maine.
American Tree Sparrow - Bath, Maine. American Tree Sparrow - Bath, Maine.
Fresh Snow - Fiddlers Reach - Bath, Maine. Hairy Woodpecker - Bath, Maine.


Happy birding!!