Sunday, January 31, 2010

On robins and blueberries...

In the past couple of days, I've seen more and more robins showing up in our neighborhood and even at work. When I walked out of the office on Friday, the crabapple trees that line the drive were dripping with them. Hoping to lure a few in at home, I threw a pint of blueberries out on our deck. It didn't take long for a very puffy robin to spy the treat. American Robin puffed up and insulated against the frigid temperatures heard my camera click behind the glass of the kitchen door. She paused to investigate the sound then went back to eating her breakfast of yummy blueberries.

...a beautiful eye, and that rusty red breast looks sun-kissed warm!

...a robin can puff up like nobody's business. interesting study.

...blueberries lay frozen on the deck among patches of snow...irresistible to our berry-loving robins.

In the winter, our deck becomes one very large bird feeder it seems, but we rarely see robins on the deck because they pass the seeds by, but....put out a berry or two, and they will show up. This robin also hunted among the seeds for coconut shreds I had mixed in with oatmeal and breadcrumbs.

...and then the sun came out...and stayed out, and everyone lived happily ever after!! Yeah!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Don't forget about the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count, and be part of Cornell's Citizen Science program.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count is right around the corner. This year marks thirteen years in the program. Starting on Friday, February 12 and ending on Monday, February 15, 2010, the data you collect can help scientists learn more about how North American birds are doing and how to protect them. Last year, over 93,600 checklists were turned in online "creating the continent's largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded."

How do I participate?
From beginners to experts, anyone can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. You can count birds for as little as 15 minutes or as long as you'd like. You can count on all four days, or just one or two days, whatever works into your schedule. After you count your birds, just report your tallies online at:

I'll be counting!! I'm looking forward to the time I'll spend relaxing in front of the window as I watch and count the birds. You never know what will show up!

On February 18, 2007 at 3:55, this beautiful Fox Sparrow showed up for the Great Backyard Bird Count.
It was the first time a Fox Sparrow had ever visited our back yard. I was so happy.

...five minutes later, Red popped in for a seed. I can always count on Red. We had a large flock that year.
At least 15 were sometimes together at the feeders at a time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Scarlet and gray...

...always a perfect combination.

...and a little white thrown in doesn't hurt either!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Breadcrumbs under a tree...

...continued from the "...tough little birds of winter" post.
Some kind soul left a bounty of breadcrumbs under a pine tree at Pine Hill Lakes park. I don't know if they leave the crumbs there regularly for the birds, or if it was a one-time deal, but all the birds seemed to know about it and were flying in and out of that tree like it was an airport.

Chiggy spots a breadcrumb in the snow...

...he surveys the land to make sure the coast is clear...

...then dives in for the kill.

...quickly flying up to a branch higher in the tree to eat his frozen treat.

...this tree was a very happy place that afternoon with nonstop traffic from Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Chickadees.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Three English House Sparrows in a Paris Alley -- Painting #10

Three English House Sparrows in a Paris Alley

This painting is doing double-duty because it's part of my "Imaginary Trip to Paris" class I'm taking with Laure Ferlita. If you're looking for an online art class, check out Laure's Imaginary Trips series. It's a great way to meet other artists and have fun! The assignment started as a planter in a parisian alley behind a bakery. I added the little House Sparrows because they are common city dwellers and could easily be found in an alleyway. In my mind, I saw these little birds eating bread crusts thrown out for them by a soft-hearted baker--their little chips and bird chatter blending with soft music drifting out of the open back window of the bakery.

...and that brings me to this painting's second purpose--painting #10 in a 100 Painting Challenge. At the first of the year, I decided to take the painting challenge, but me being 100 paintings are bird-centric. By the end of this year, I hope to have completed 100 paintings of our sweet, sweet birds! If you'd like to take the challenge, check out the 100 Paintings Challenge blog. You can join at any time...and paint whatever you'd like!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Art Hearts for Haiti

My friend, Laure, over at Painted Thoughts Blog, is putting together an art project to help Haiti. Her project is called "Art Hearts for Haiti." If you're artistic and want to join in, create a heart and send it to her. Click here for details. Laure is going to Photoshop all the hearts together and create a design to sell to raise money for the people of Haiti.

A Carolina Wren Art Heart

Thanks for putting this together, Laure!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The beautiful grays of winter…

I normally go for color, and lots of it, but when the skies drain gray for days, weeks, and sometimes months on end, my pallete shifts and I see the calming beauty of winter grays...

Two Northern Shovelers add a pop of color with their bright orange legs and beautiful green heads while an icy gray fog hangs behind them.

…winters in Cincy can get downright bland midwinter. Endless gray days descend with cloud covers so thick you sometimes can't tell the difference between morning, noon and early evening. Add in icy cold fogs--gray and creeping, stealing color wherever they roam, and you really start to long for the greens of spring. But Mother Nature never really abandons us during the gray and leaves subtle loveliness for us to find…

...a dark gray background highlights the creamy beiges and whites in these ripe seeds.

A weathered fence seems to hold back a flurry of faded stalks, beautiful in the silence of a gray winter's day.

...a lone American Coot skims the ice, casting a soft gray shadow, quiet as he fades across the surface of the lake.

American Coots splash and dive in icy water…gray on gray.

Alley-oop! A coot completes that spectacular hop and plunge into the water, diving deep under the surface to nab the green water plants below. He resurfaces with beads of water dripping from his head, neck and back…not sparkling in the sun, but glowing white like tiny polished quartz crystals. (Does his little tail remind you a bit of a much fiercer creature's dorsal fin?)

If the sky were shining blue and sparkling fairydust covered the lake, would I have noticed the tiny seeds and folded beauty in this dead flower head?

Monday was the murkiest of gray days, and it was cold and damp too. A gray fog lingered everywhere, but it carried it's own beauty as well. The kids were off school to celebrate Martin Luther King day, and Matty had a hockey game early in the morning at the Indian Hill Winter Club (which borders the old, abandoned Camp Dennison gravel pits). This made me very happy, because during the hour before the game and during part of the first period, I was able to us my new spotting scope to study the American Coots and Northern Shovelers that always hang out at the open area of ice down the hill from the parking lot.


...seeing those coots up close, close, close diving and resurfacing in the icy water was renewing. (I hate to admit it, but I had grown sort of blase toward the plump little dark gray birds, but not anymore.) I loved studying that hop and plunge that they do, and when they would resurface with a bill full of green water plants, shaking their heads back and forth to swallow their meal down, I was mesmerized. I didn't realize how many tiny details I was missing by not using a spotting scope. Now to learn how to take photographs through it....and videos....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Return of the American Tree Sparrow

Every winter I wait for the arrival of these little brown birds. They have such cute faces, and I love their two-toned yellow and black bills. I never know when they will arrive, but usually they seem to fly in on the night winds of a cold arctic blast, peppering the white snow around the feeders outside the kitchen window early the next morning. Nearly 2000 miles from their Arctic homes, these little birds bring a welcome surprise to our cold, gray winter days.

American Tree Sparrows Outside my Kitchen Window

Our little flock numbers seven right now. Last year, we started with three and moved up to 20 by mid-February. I hope we get another big winter storm soon to up our American Tree Sparrow numbers!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"...more mealworms, please!" said the Carolina Wren.

The first time I opened a big container of mealworms, I have to admit I was a bit "unnerved" through fear! There were hundreds and hundreds of these amber-colored segmented wormy things with tiny little legs at the front of their bodies and creepy, squiggly looking mouth parts at their tip, but I got over that soon enough, and now they don't phase me--especially because I know our resident Carolina Wren loves them, loves them, can't live without them. She has made them her favorite, so now they are mine too.

I almost put a closeup of the crunchy freeze-dried delights right here, but refrained in case any of the uninitiated were still a bit squeamish a the sight of hundreds of their wormy little bodies. As you can see, our little Carolina Wren is not one bit squeamish...

...demonstrating the proper way to eat a mealworm--shake it into submission and gobble it down!

"...I just adore the heads and save them for last."

"...hmmm....mealworm or blueberry, mealworm or blueberry..." (The mealworm won.)

"...more mealworms, please...and could you put a move on--it's cold out here!"

p.s. Mealworms are the larva form of the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor, which is a type of darkling beetle. Apparently you can grow these things on your own fairly easily so you can always have fresh on hand (oh about unnerving!). I might have to look into that this summer...can you imagine?? Click here for a link on raising mealworms on your own.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

...tough little birds of winter, continued!

...continued from Sunday's Chickadee post.
Deeper in the woods, a male Northern Cardinal puffed his feathers up to gargantuan excess, forming a warm barrier between him and the freezing air around him and allowing him to keep his internal body temperature at a snuggly warm 105 to 108 degrees F.

...the bright, fiery red of a male Northern Cardinal against drifting, spinning, soft-white snowflakes.

Tucked away in a dense tangle of branches, I didn't think I had a chance of capturing his startling shock of color or the overall peacefulness of the bird resting in the cold, but the small branches blocking the view blurred to softness as I focused past them and on him, framing him in what looks like a wintery fog.

...with that tiny sound of snowflakes falling all around, Red looks on, not knowing his beauty is the focus of my lens.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Snow, sledding and the tough little birds of winter...

Friday afternoon, with snowflakes falling and spirits soaring, Matty, Ashley (our fun neighbor), and I headed over to Pine Hill Lakes Park in Mason for sledding and snowboarding. The snow was fluffy and our "secret" slope was empty...hooray!

Matty tearing down the hillside on the snowboard.
I stuck to the sled (I already had one reconstructed ankle, I didn't need another!).

Ashley with her snowboard and Patrick, the snowball. Patrick met an untimely death. It wasn't pretty...

Matty demoing the latest in hockey attire--the fake fur tundra hat!

Deep brush and woods bordered the sled run, and a small flock of Carolina Chickadees flew in to forage among the dormant honeysuckle. It was really cold. The little birds flitted from branch to branch like it was a summer's day, seemingly without a care, but I knew better and marveled at their ability to stay warm. To live through freezing weather, chickadees have to become eating machines, gaining enough fat during the day to fuel them through the long night. What's enough fat? At least 10 percent of their body weight!




...a tough little winter chickadee is a metabolic fireball...

...and he's darn cute too!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What a face…what a face…(or beauty "in" the beast)

Our winter starlings have started visiting our feeders. (Oh, boy...right?) Actually, it's quite exciting when a flock descends on the yard. Hundreds and hundreds of birds swirl about squawking, scolding, and fighting...tree branches drip with the little feathered beasts, and I can hear them tapping across the gutters and on the roof. They bring in a lot of energy. Unfortunately, they eat up a lot of sunflower seeds, and they wreak havoc on the less rowdy birds that usually hang out. We have starlings year round, but they only become a nuisance during the winter when the ground is frozen. During the spring, summer and fall they keep to the ground, using their sharp bills to dig in the yard and root out grubs. They only get a little "beastly" during the winter...

...a starling looks a bit beastly in this head-on close-up shot!
I'm back, so you better get used to me!

When you step back from the “ucky stuff” they do, European Starlings are striking. Up close you can see their beauty, and they actually do a lot of good on the insect front. Invertebrates are their primary food source, and when bugs are available, European Starlings really do prefer Japanese Beetles to sunflower seeds...

Close-up of the beautiful colors in a starling's feathers
Don't hate me because I'm beautiful...
Three starlings sit together in the snow...not happy looking at all!
Grumpy, Grumpier...and Grumpiest
There are no Japanese Beetles in winter, and the June Bug grubs have burrowed beneath the frost line, so what's a starling to do? Be grumpy...and eat all of the sunflower seeds!

When the sun highlights their iridescent colors, they really are eye catching, but unless you look closely, you might not see it. Additionally, in the winter, their feathers are fresh and new, which adds a beautiful speckled pattern. By summer the speckling has worn off... 

Close-up of the beautiful colors in a starling's feathers

Close-up of the beautiful colors in a starling's feathers

Close-up of the beautiful colors in a starling's feathers

...another bit of beauty starlings add to the world is their incredible winged ballet. A huge night-time starling roost is about a mile from our house, so in the early evenings of winter, we get to witness this spectacle…swirls and turns, a giant black cloud that moves at incredible angles quickly and without makes me stop and stare every time I see it. Click here for a video from England that shows an example of this incredible sight. Click here for a post titled "How do Starling Flocks Create Those Mesmerizing Murmurations?" on Cornell's Round Robin blog by Andrea Alfano detailing these murmurations.

...starlings sitting in a tree. while the ground remains frozen and covered with snow, we will probably always be a daytime roost for one of the flocks of starlings from our neighborhood night-time roost. 

I always try to remember that with the bad comes the good. We don't use pesticides on our lawn, so in the summer, starlings go to work for us. They are great at aerating the soil by digging up White Grubs (the larval stage of "June Bugs"), Sod Webworms, and other juicy invertebrates, which helps keep our lawn healthy.  The US Department of Agriculture's Farmer's Bulletin (1928) No1571 reports, "The starling is one of the most effective bird enemies of terrestrial insect pests in this country. More than half (57 percent) of the annual food of the adult starling consists of animal matter, including insects, millipedes, spiders, mollusks, a few crustaceans, and bits of suet and carrion." For more on the diet of the European Starling, click here. To learn more about night-time roosts and starling behavior, click here.

Happy Birding!