Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Year for Birdwatching

Picture was taken January, 2012.
You've read about last year's birdwatching adventures in my own backyard. Today marks the beginning of a new saga. My super companion, Phoebe, passed away suddenly in late October.

Today, I noticed a little Carolina Wren drinking from the "rain barrel" (actually, it's an 8-gallon office wastebucket I leave under the eave of the house so that rainwater collects). I watched the wren flutter across the surface, barely getting her bottom wet as she safely perched on the far side. Afterwards, she moved to the cement porch and scraped her beak along the edge and preened herself. That gave me an idea:  I need a birdbath near the feeder!

The birdbath is actually just the cement bowl of a pedestal set. I learned quickly that squirrels will set the bowl off balance if I put it on the pedestal! Setting the bowl on the ground near the feeder allows me to keep an eye on it for maintenance needs without worrying about it crashing from a height. After rinsing it out with a scrub brush, I put about a quart or so of filtered water in the bowl. I added a cup of birdseed to the feeder and waited for my usual suspects to come scope it out.

It wasn't long before I saw my first visitor! A gorgeous red Northern Cardinal flew to the maple tree and patiently observed the feed and water stations. When he was sufficiently certain there was no trick,  he hopped down to drink water from the bowl! =D Flying back up to a branch, he spied the seed in the feeder. Waiting to see if some neighboring sparrows were on the prowl, he then nibbled some seed from the feeder. Awww! Cardinals are so smart! I just hope he gets the word out! =)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gold Digger :D

That's me grinning at my first pan... every pan's a winner!
(Photo by R.Way of Eureka Gold Panning)
How's this for a cheap hobby? Hook up with a local prospecting outfitter and ride out with them to a well-known gold producing creek and pan all day and keep what you find! That's what I did over the Labor Day holiday! I learned to improve my panning technique and even picked up some new ideas for coaxing gold out of the creek bed. There are more uses for a turkey baster than the original designer ever imagined! LOL
Here's a look at my first pan. Yes, we hit pay dirt on the first try!
(Photo by R.Way of Eureka Gold Panning)
The Sunday evening thunderstorms had scared away many would-be Monday morning prospectors. I am glad I do not scare too easily! The gold was practically jumping out of the creek into our pans! 

(Photo by R.Way of Eureka Gold Panning)
 Here is what the lead prospector coaxed out of the heavy concentrates after the excursion. One day, I will have my own extraction to get the microgold out for myself. For now, he gladly obliges himself to do it. Amazing what is not readily visible to the naked eye! He uses magnets to draw away the iron compounds and a microscope to see what he's working with. Not a grain gets by... :)

My "naked eye" picks are in the vial. Another panner's finds are in the top of the pan. See the gold chain in the corner of the pan? That is what we want! 
(Photo by R.Way of Eureka Gold Panning)

In addition to the gold in my little pill bottle (vial), this is what was recovered from my concentrates. Nice artistic expression he has! LOL
(Photo by R.Way of Eureka Gold Panning)

I shared all this on Facebook, and now my friends want to get in on it! There's plenty for everyone, but few will put in the work to get it.. I won't lie, it is work.. you have to find a sweet spot, dig under and around submerged rocks and shake that pan filled with mud and rock to get it down the the workable paydirt... you will get a backache, your legs will hurt from squatting for long periods of time... you will be nursing sore muscles the next day (or two)... and that doesn't cover the snake hazards, bears-deer-mountain lions-bobcats-foxes-coyotes that are meandering through the woods, the sudden downpours from summer thundershowers that leave you wetter than if you had gone swimming, falling in the mud, water filled boots, no phone reception, backpack & contents soaked from rain.....

BUT IT WAS ALL SOOOOOO WORTH IT! I am definitely going to do this again!

Many thanks to Eureka Gold Panning of Greensboro, NC, for an adventure I will remember and repeat!
(Website: or LIKE them on Facebook: )

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I'm sitting by the back door just watching the flurry of activities. I am amazed by the diversity of little birds! Okay, not so much the actual number of species I can count (five), but as I watch a squirrel carefully but quickly gather sticks and leaves and hustle them up to his nest in the maple tree, I am amazed. How do squirrels know how to make their nests? How do they know that a swallow-style nest or a rabit-style burrow doesn't suit them? For that matter, how do birds know how to place grasses and twigs to form a cozy home?

Humans have learned to build and repair structures over thousands of years of trial and error, so why am I surprised that animals can build homes? Because: every single one of them can! Consider again the human: only a few are builders, but every bird and squirrel is a builder (at least in my yard). I have read that the cuckoo bird leaves its eggs in a stranger's nest, to be hatched and raised by surrogate parents. How does the cuckoo chick know to carry on this peculiar habit? Who teaches this behavior to the bird? Does it find older cuckoos in the wild that orally pass on the traditions of their kind? I digress....

In some human cultures, it is customary for the whole village to help build a home for a newly wedded couple. Can you imagine if sparrows or cardinals flocked to build nests for the newly mated yearlings? No! Each adult bird is capable of selecting a suitable site and building a nest for himself! I am oversimplifying things, of course. Birds are generally regarded as having identical properties within a species, such as the common house sparrow (Passer domesticus). They each can identify safe food sources, have very similar eyesight and hearing (do they?), and can all fly with equal ability (altitude, velocity, distance, etc). Or do they?

Humans show much variation in skills: some are eloquent speakers or writers, while others are clumsy with words. Some humans have developed fine motor skills and can perform the most delicate tasks with ease, while others are "all thumbs." Some can run faster, jump higher, or lift heavier objects than others of the same age. Homo sapiens shows much diversity in height, weight, fat distribution, lean muscle mass, foot length, hand size, finger length... Do birds also show this variation? Can some Northern Cardinals fly higher than others? Do they train themselves to be able to do so? Do birds brag about the cat they chased away last week or how they barely missed being struck by a vehicle? Do they share information about a new food source, or does each bird have to find it for himself?

I am just amazed at Earth's biodiversity and how it all works together, when we let it. Humans seem to be the anomaly... we do more to disrupt and destroy the natural balance of the Earth than we do to restore it... but, again, I digress.... Watching the cardinals, doves, finches, jays and sparrows flock around the feeder together with two squirrels busily rummaging around for nest materials... I just smile with wonderment!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

This is my precious walking buddy... She is enviously watching me take pictures of various birds and roosts on the property. Taking pictures is difficult when I let her outside with me. There is the obvious, that she might chase the birds, but most importantly, she will jump the fence! I have to keep her on a leash, and can't aim the camera with her tugging on my arm! So, she watches from the door.

I let the feeder run empty yesterday, which caused quite a stir this morning! I am sharing some of the reactions I captured from the visitors:
"Can you believe it? She let us run out of food!"
"Hey! How about a little service here!"
"Aw! Look at this! Not even the big red seeds left in here!"

"I see her in there! YOO_HOO!! ... I don't think she can
hear me?"
  You'll notice that big cardinal was staying close in case a secret trove was uncovered!

A nuthatch came by to check out the
disturbance and see if there were any
tasty critters in the wooden feeder.

On a different note, I thought you might be interested in seeing the Honeysuckle Downs nesting site: 

"Honeysuckle Downs"... where the White Throated Sparrows live
(or at least hang out a lot!)
I saw my first American Goldfinch this morning at the feeder! I tossed around a few roasted peanuts (in the shell, but cracked) and quartered an orange on the patio table. I also tossed a couple of lemon-poppy seed muffins around the feed station. Hopefully, I will attract a few more new types of birds before the Great Backyard Bird Count starts in a couple of weeks!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gossip travels fast!

Ha ha! You've heard "a little bird told me?" Apparently, gossip travels at lightning speeds even in the avian world! Yesterday's post included a fictitious script about a chickadee who will have to rebuild his nest or move to a new location, "Honeysuckle Downs," which is based on an actual rosebush and honeysuckle bramble in my backyard. (yesterday's post here:

Today, as I escorted my dog around the backyard, "Honeysuckle Downs" was all a flutter with activity! More than two dozen sparrows were crowded into the brush, and immediately began chirping and tweeting upon my arrival! So, I acknowledged them (because I talk to animals), and their tweeting became even MORE animated and they were all chirping at once!

I have no idea what they were saying! I said I talk to them, I did not claim I to understand them. I can only surmise the sparrows were upset about the rumor that a chickadee was planning to build his nest among theirs. What else could it be? I filled the feeder this morning and the flat pans, and even put a few peanuts on the table.   Nothing out of the ordinary... so, what else got the sparrows all stirred up?

In other news, I need to buy more peanuts and black sunflower seeds. I read that I can entice even more species with pieces of fruit. My friend gave me larger pine cones to make feeders.  That's my weekend project for this week...the weather here is scheduled as rainy and nasty all weekend.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bird Gossip?

Do birds gossip? I'll bet they do! Here are just a few pics I took this week at the feed station. I like to think of it as the avian counterpart to the human watercooler.
Sparrow  (to Chickadee): "Hey, Charlie! How's it going?"

Chickadee (Charlie): " Not too bad. Wife's having a tough time. The wind blew the nest down again yesterday."

Sparrow: "Oh, that's too bad. Y'all should come live in our neighborhood."

Chickadee: "Honeysuckle Downs? Gee, I don't know...."

Sparrow: "It's a great place. Those big cats hardly come around anymore! Besides, it's low-lying and good cover against hawk attacks."

Chickadee: "I'll think about it. I gotta go. Good seeing you."   
                                                     Sparrow: "Okay, Charlie! See you around! Tell the Misses I said 'hello'!"

Tufted Titmouse: "Honeysuckle Downs, eh? Hmph! It's right next to that dump pile!"
That's true. My compost pile is less than ten feet (3 meters) from the honeysuckle mess.

Cardinal (to White-throated Sparrow): "Did you hear, Willie? Charlie is moving to Honeysuckle Downs!"

Willie: "Are you kidding me? There's been no one but sparrows in that neighborhood for years! That's really gonna shake up some folks!"

Cardinal: "Yep. Yep. It's true! A little bird told me!"
"...Hey, don't worry about it! Every couple has some rough times. Especially during the winter when you're at the nest more often! When Spring comes, she'll be singing your tune again! Just wait and see!"

"... What does he know?... Nah, maybe he's right. I just need to loosen up and not take everything so personally. She needs to get out more and stretch her wings... maybe we can go look at a new nest site. Charlie's moving to Honeysuckle Downs..."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to attract birds to your birdfeeder...

I found out how to attract birds to my feeder.... I have to sit outside about 50 feet away with a camera. Most birds are shy and will stay hidden in the brush or visit a different feeder area. After half an hour (or when I get cold), I should go back indoors and look out the window. Dozens of birds who were patiently waiting for me to abandon my stalking will be flocking to the feeder! Many photos today were taken through the window screen or storm door. My apologies if they don't do the birds justice.
Carolina Wren keeps a watchful eye on me while he inspects the buffet table!

I did have a little house sparrow come to inquire why I was up in the treehouse, and posed for a photo-shoot. The treehouse turned out to be a disappointing viewing platform due to the wiry limbs blocking clear views. Here are a few pics I did get from the treehouse yesterday:

A mourning dove pretends she is camouflaged ... keep believing, little bird!

Uh-oh! I think I've been spotted! Blue Jays aren't as common in my yard as I expected them to be.

I believe this little bird is hoping to be "discovered!" Perhaps my photos will end up on the cover of a birding magazine! LOL

 Hello, little Sparrow! Nice to see you! May I take some photos of you? Nice smile! Wonderful! ........................ How about a right profile?....  great!

And now the left profile?... can you show me a sideview? Awesome! And one more before you move on, how about a nice shot of your wing markings? Terrific! Thank you so much! We're done here!  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cold and Blustery Day at the Birdfeeder!

"What? No more sunflower seeds?"

Hello, all! I hope you are enjoying my happy chatter about my birdfeeder. It ain't much to look at, but the birds seem to be happy. My father has taken a slight interest in our daily visitors, and he has loaned me a better camera for stalking them. It's a Canon Rebel XT (EOS) with a six-inch zoom lens. A little different than my Canon Powershot A720 IS, but I think I can figure it out.

Last night we had a lot of wind come through. I had to reset the pan under the pine tree! Good thing the hanging feeder didn't blow down! The cold wind persisted through the day today, but I did sneak a few pictures this afternoon. Northern cardinal, Carolina chickadee, and an American robin. I hope to meet the "Breakfast Club" in the morning. :)

American Robin
Cardinal watches a little bird rummage under a seed-filled log 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It wasn't a chickadee!

Aha! That little bird I saw head-on yesterday with the black and gray throat and chest was not a chickadee! It was a common House Sparrow! The little fat chick that studied me on the porch was the female of the pair. So, How about that?!

I had an early class this morning so I didn't get to see the "Breakfast Club" at the feeder today. However, an Eastern Towhee came by this afternoon for an early dinner and hung out with the cardinals. Lots of Carolina Chickadees and Northern Cardinals around today! Didn't see the little Tufted Titmouse that's been coming up, but maybe it's a morning bird. The Carolina Wren came by for a few minutes but didn't stay long.

It appears that some sparrows are trying to restore an old dilapidated nest in the honeysuckle-rosebush bramble. The day I brought the feeder in to clean it and refill it (right before my bird blogs start) we had a blustery day. I found a bird's nest in the yard downwind of the rose/honeysuckle mess. I wonder if it is the main part of the one the sparrows are working on? I made some notes on that dilapidated one for NestWatch, but I don't remember it being partially intact? There is (was?) another nest in a sapling just behind the one in question. The part that blew down into the yard could be from that nesting spot.

Tomorrow I will have a little leisure time to watch the "Breakfast Club." Perhaps there will be another purple finch I can get a picture of!
Tufted Titmouse

House Sparrow (male, winter)
Here are a couple of frequent visitors. The purple finch comes by before 9am, so I have to be ready with the camera....

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bird list keeps getting longer!

I can certainly see why the Northern Cardinal is the State Bird of North Carolina! It is so far the most popular bird at the feeder, followed closely by the Carolina Chickadee. The cardinal is pictured here with a White-throated Sparrow (LOL at the beady little eyes!). My apologies for my slow-action camera... it needs fresh batteries.
So, to recap, let's review the birds I've seen so far:
      Northern Cardinal  (very common)     Blue Jay (c -vc)
      Carolina Chickadee  (vc)                       Tufted Titmouse  (common)  
      Mourning Dove  (vc)                             Northern Flicker  (c)
      White-throated Sparrow (vc)                Downy Woodpecker (c)
      Mockingbird (vc)
(did I remember them all?)

On Friday, I saw a big rufous (cinnamon brown) bird I believe to be a Brown Thrasher, and although my bird was a little shorter than the book says (Birds of Eastern North America, a photographic guide, P. Sterry and Brian E. Small, 2009) I didn't find a better match. American Robins joined the feeder-area list on Friday, January 06.

This morning, before I left for school, I put a cup of birdseed in the feeder and scattered some roasted peanuts under the pine tree. It had rained during the night, and I didn't take the time to dry out the dish on the ground there so I didn't put seed in the wet dish. Within minutes, an Eastern Towhee came to check out what the Cardinals were all excited about! I counted three pairs of Cardinals around the feeder, and two more pairs were in the front yard! Before I left, I saw a Purple Finch on top of the hanging feeder! HOORAY! I added two new birds to my list today!... and saw two more that I didn't have time to look up, although one was likely the female to the purple finch, and the other was a nose-to-beak view of a Carolina Chickadee and I was focusing on the black and dark gray throat and chest plumage instead of the distinctive head.

Oh! While I am writing this, a Carolina Wren has dropped by and is scouting around the edge of the workshed! How awesome is that!

American Robin (vc)          Purple Finch (c)          Eastern Towhee (c)
Brown Thrasher (c)           Carolina Wren (vc)          
and this little chick came close to me on the porch during the photo shoot before joining a Cardinal on the feeder:

That's all for now! I'm off to get fresh batteries and start on the pine cones! Happiness is in the little things! (whew! 14 species so far! and I'll bet there's a couple more brown speckled birds I didn't get a good look at yet that will be "new" for me!) Love it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Visitors to the Birdfeeder!

What do you know?! Those birdbrains might really have been fooled by the ugly faded water hose! Since I moved it away from the feeder area, I have had several birds visit the hanging feeder. Yesterday, only a cardinal came to lunch. Early this morning I spotted a Northern Flicker under the tree! He started to climb up while I was watching, but something spooked him. A few Carolina Chickadees played musical chairs with a Tufted Titmouse for a seat at the feeder! A Downy Woodpecker dropped in for a bit of hammering before 10am. Yay! Happiness! FOUR (yes, 4) "new" birds at the feeder! I am hopeful for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Birds are getting the word out that I've got a little bistro going.

I saw two different Mourning Doves this morning sitting on the power lines and a Mockingbird was watching the activity at the feeder. Later on in the morning, a big cat wandered through the yard! I yelled at it from my kitchen window, and it ran away.

I can identify White-Throated Sparrows with certainty now. They hang out near the tray at the rosebush with a matched pair of Northern Cardinals. I haven't seen any other birds by the pine tree yet. I plan to hang pine-cone feeders there (you know, the ones coated in peanut butter and rolled in birdseed). These little critters are up early, scarce in early afternoon and then come back around 5pm just before sundown. Interesting...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Birdwatching teaches patience

Happiness! I have had a Northern Cardinal visit the hanging feeder at least twice today! I admit, I moved the tangled water hose away from the tree. I do not see how that 30 ft tangled mess of seafoam green and yellow could have fooled a bird to think it was a snake, but I cannot think of another reason birds were not flocking to my feeder. Voila! Moved the "snake" and a cardinal enjoyed a long lunch!

At the pine tree, I had a pair of cardinals (one male and one female) dine at the seed tray this morning. I then added some plumped raisins and baked pie crust with pecan pieces (from a pecan pie) on a nearby napkin. A white-throated sparrow came to check it out!

This bird, as common as it is, was tough for me to get an ID on! They are little brown birds about 6-ish inches long with speckled breasts (some individuals more than others). I had to keep looking... oh! It has a white "beard" under its head (the correct term is "throat") and looks like it has a long dark mustache that contrasts against the white throat. But... am I sure that's a white throat or just a pale buff? It makes a difference! Could I see a yellow spot of plumage just above the eye at what would be the bridge of its nose? hmm... go back and see if you see the bird again!

 Good grief! This is tougher than I thought! Good thing I didn't wait until the day of the Great Backyard Bird Count to start looking at birds! I'm also glad I got a headstart on FeederWatch. It's important to not only count the birds I observe, but also to list which birds I have observed. Descriptions like "and 6 more little brown birds with speckled breasts" doesn't help CornellLab know which birds are hanging out in my little piece of the world.  :P

Am I having fun yet? Of COURSE!! School starts back on Monday, though, so I need to figure out my observing schedule.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Hobby! Birdwatching

So now, for 2012, I have started birdwatching! ...because I needed another hobby? Actually, I decided to start because I can practice my scientific observation and data recording skills while providing valuable information to CornellLab of Orinthology at Cornell University. (Project FeederWatch). I found the  Project FeederWatch  while I was looking into "Nest Watching" and "The Great Backyard Bird Count. " All three projects are sponsored by CornellLab of Orinthology. Click the links to find out more (opens in a new window).

Okay, so I get ready to alert the neighborhood chirpers that I will be feeding and observing them for the next few months (at least). I pick up a wild bird food mix (that may not be their most favorite, but the squirrels will eat what the birds don't). Most suburban birds prefer black-oil sunflower seeds, and peanuts (of all things!). CornellLab says the striped sunflower seeds you and I eat are tougher hulled and harder to remove the meat than the little black ones. So I supplement the hanging hopper-style feeder with some crumbled leftover baked stuffing and a bite of pecan pie crumbled on a napkin on a nearby table.

Hours go by... no visitors. Oh, wait! The squirrel that lives in the maple where I've hung the feeder has come down to check out the stuffing. I have not seen a bird since 8:30 this morning when I was out to walk the dog and saw one robin and one titmouse! ... I went for another walk around the block at 2:30 in the afternoon. I did not see nor hear a single bird... as I'm thinking that the birds must know something I don't, like maybe the weather would be warmer tomorrow, or a big snow is coming, and they are hunkering down in their nests, I hear the caws of a huge American Crow (a BIG blackbird). Alone today, but I was hoping my walk would not be completely void of feathered encounters! As I rounded my last corner on my way back to my house, I saw the most likely reason for the solitude... two hawks were circling the block! Actually, their flight pattern encircled two blocks! I tried to take pictures, but with the dog yanking the leash, and the height of the birds, the images really are not impressive.

So I get to the house and see .... no one. Sniff! Wait! There's a Northern Cardinal sitting in the brush over my compost pile (where I had tossed some moldy cupcakes a few days ago and covered them over last night). I moved the tray of seed and stuffing from the table and placed it nearer the compost pile. There is a rose bush and honeysuckle bramble there and the grapevine/honeysuckle mess where the cardinal was perched. Maybe the maple is too open for hawk attacks? It is today, anyway! What I believe to be a finch was seen pecking in the compost pile within minutes of my leave! Maybe the word will get out there's food at my house, and by the time the GBBC comes, there will be lots of birds to count!