Posts Tagged ‘birdwatching’

Birds to See Now: Greater Prairie Chickens

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Birds to See Now: Greater Prairie Chickens
In spring, one of the US’s rare birds puts on a show, as

greater_prairie_chicken
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

Greater Prairie Chickens look for mates.  Males in the area gather on their traditional performing “leks” also known as “booming grounds” to display on the grasslands for seemingly uninterested females.  To impress them, the males fluff their feathers to create an appealing shape, stomp with fast tiny steps, fend off other potential suitors and make an unusual booming sound by inflating their cheeks.  It’s an amazing and ancient show which attracts birdwatchers from all over, and one which can still be seen in a few states like Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota. To see a video of this mating behavior, click here.

Greater Prairie Chickens are endangered in 15 states. As their name implies, they need prairies to survive, and these are in very short supply.  Most prairies have been converted to farmland and grazing, and none of these conversions work terribly well for this bird. These days, most prairie chickens have to make do with a combination of cropland or grazing areas mixed with some patchy pieces of prairie.  But in addition to the degraded habitat, birds have difficulty finding each other to mate since their territories are so fragmented and isolated.  These living conditions are not ideal, and in fact have contributed to the extinction of a couple of species of prairie chicken and caused a massive decline in the populations of others.
If you want to see an amazing annual event that still persists, make your way to a Greater Prairie Chicken booming ground and get ready for an amazing sight.  In many instances you will also be able to see other grouse-like birds mating in the area, as this is the season!  The best way to do this is to take a tour from a responsible operator, as local guides know when and where to find the birds, and how to see them displaying while having with the least impact on them.

Purple Martins Are Coming Your Way!

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Purple Martins are Coming – Be Ready!

purple_martins_house
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Purple Martins are on their way north and looking for nesting sites. With their enchanting song and effective insect removal efforts – especially when there are chicks in the summer – these birds are a delight to have around. And if you want to help birds, Purple Martins are a needy species.  These social birds nest in communities, and their natural nesting sites are in dead-wood tree and cacti cavities.  But these sites are becoming very difficult to find and now east of the Rockies, they are forced to rely entirely on human-provided housing.  Once the first birds arrive at their nesting sites, they will begin searching for the right spot, or return to last year’s good one, and begin nest building within a few weeks of arrival.

With Purple Martins, timing is everything.  It’s essential to put the house or gourds up just after the scouts arrive as they are looking for nesting sites.  Any earlier, and sparrows will move in.  Too late, and the martins will have moved on.

Purple Martins like the safety that human activity brings, so you can situate your martin house not too far from your own home, with about a 30 foot radius of open area at the base of the house so the birds can see predators easily.  To get a better sense of timing, checkout the Purple Martin Scout Arrival Study.  You can even see where Purple Martins have been reported near you or on their way.
For any info you might want about these fast flying insectivores, visit Purplemartin.org where you can find tips on hosting a successful Purple Martin colony.

Nestcams!

Monday, February 20th, 2017
NESTCAMS!

explore_hummingbird_nestcam
explore.org hummingbird nestcam
New nests to watch!

See updates on nests you saw last month and see some new nests we are watching now.  Have a favorite nest cam?  Let us know about it!

Laysan Albatross, Hawaii – who can resist these beautiful birds and their chicks?

Red-tailed Hawks, New York – watch them building the nest

Bermuda CahowBermuda – watch a rarely seen petrel nesting

Bald Eagle, Florida

Allens/Rufous hybird HummingbirdCalifornia



Family Fun: 3 Easy DIY Bird Feeders

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017
Winter is a time when birds need a lot of help finding food – especially later in the season when the available
bird_cookies_birdsleuth_heather_katsoulis
Photo Credit: Heather Katsoulis

native berries and seeds are long gone.  Keep your feeders up, but why not try some seriously simple new ways to feed birds in your yard? Take a look at these ideas from making your own treats to making your own feeders out of recycled plastic.  They are fun to do, have a low environmental impact, and so simple anyone can do them. So get the kids involved, and do your own thing for birds!

PINE CONE FEEDERS – The absolute easiest DIY feeder project is also one of the most rewarding. All you need are:

  • Pinecones
  • String
  • Peanut butter
  • Bird seed
  • Tray

Look under pine trees in your yard for pine cones. If you don’t have them there, you can get them at a local garden center. Then do this:

  1. Dust the dirt off each pine cone
  2. Tie a string around each cone near the top, but held in place by some of the pinecone petals, and make a loop so you can hang them.
  3. Give them to the kids to decorate. They will love painting their pine cones with peanut butter (smooth is easiest to work with). Let them go for it and apply it thickly if they want.
  4. Provide a pan of mixed seeds and let them roll their pine cones in it so that the seeds are sticking to the peanut butter.

Now they are ready to hang up and you can wait for the birds to find these very appealing treats!

RECYCLED SODA BOTTLE BIRD FEEDER
– What better way to start off the year than by taking something you are about to throw out and make it useful again! Plastic soda bottles and food containers are perfect candidates for recycling into a bird feeder.

This one is also pretty simple. You will need:

  • 1 or 2 litre clean and dry plastic soda bottle
  • String
  • 2 wooden cooking spoons
  • Utility knife
  • Drill (optional)

Take a look at this video to see how easy this is to do!

BIRD SEED COOKIES – Really? Bake cookies for birds? It seems birds love a good cookie just as much as the rest of us, as long as seeds are the major ingredient. This project is going to require a little more supervision if you are working with kids, but you can make these cookies to be used as ornaments on your outside trees….taking the holidays even later into the season. What you wind up with is really just limited by the shapes of the molds you choose, so get creative!

To do this, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin, such as Knox
  • 4 cups birdseed

For the full recipe and step by step instructions with pictures, check out this link.

Duck Mating Behavior

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Duck Mating Behavior

When you are watching ducks and other waterfowl this winter, get ready for a lot of action, because it’s also mating season!

red_breasted_mergansers_mating_display
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

Waterfowl mating behaviors can be pretty weird – ranging from the slightly unusual to the outrageous. We found a few videos you might enjoy for a little insider info on what you might expect to see.

Cornell Lab or Ornithology has this great video and aticle about how to recognize different courtship displays of some of the more common waterfowl you will see.
Another nice video of Cinnamon Teal displaying from Arkive.

Travel: Easy Birding in Panama

Friday, December 16th, 2016
TRAVEL: Easy Birding in Panama
If you are looking for a birding adventure a parrot_panama little farther from home, winter is an exceptionally good time to visit the Caribbean, Central and South America.  If you have been wanting to visit a tropical forest with loads of fabulous birds, one of the best and easiest countries to visit to see birds in winter is Panama.
Raul Arias de Para is a birder, conservationist and owner of the well-known and very popular Panama Canopy Tower, not far from Panama City.  He also owns several other
socially responsible eco-lodges focused on birding in Panama including Canopy Lodge in El Vallee in the interior and the luxurious permanent tented camp in the Darien near the Colombian border, Canopy Camp.  If this is your first trip to Panama, Canopy Tower is a great place to land.  It’s simple to get to, embedded in the forest, has excellent
canopy_towers_panama
CanopyTower
and knowledgeable guides and a bird list of over 250 species. If you have more than a few days, you can split your time between the various lodges in the Canopy Family to get the widest range of birds.  And if you are traveling with others who aren’t really interested in birding, then there are many other things to keep them busy – from wildlife and hikes to numerous tourist attractions which can be easily visited.

At Canopy Tower you can spend hours just watching the hummingbirds at the feeders, see many birds sitting on top of the canopy from the radar perch level, or watch sloths, monkeys, coatamundi and butterflies from the veranda or your room.  Canopy Tower is a creative conversion of a former US military radar tower.  Originally designed to pierce the forest canopy to see activity from a 360 degree viewpoint for security purposes, Raul converted this military tower into the perfect bird spotting roost.  On the top level, you can watch toucans, parrots and tanagers sitting on top of the canopy — birds which would be otherwise difficult to see from the ground. In winter most of our commonly found warblers are overwintering in this area and you can see many of them at the Tower.   Plus, sloths, monkeys, butterflies and other wildlife abound.

You can go to the lodge on your own and take daily bird walks with the lodge guides who are fabulous, or you can go with an organized group.  However you decide to visit Panama, make Canopy Tower or any of Raul’s lodges part of your birding expedition.  I’m a big fan of his hospitality and attention to detail, and have had great experiences at both Canopy Tower and Canopy Camp.  Each of his lodges has exactly what every birder needs, and enough non-birding activities so that everyone in your group will be satisfied. Maybe it’s time to flee the winter chill and chill out in the tropical beauty of Panama for a wonderful birding experience.

Fall Backyard: Start Your Native Plant Meadow

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
Fall Backyard: Start Your Native Plant Meadow

If you have even a little bit of a yard, don’t wait goldfinch_thistle_native_plant

to plant a native plant meadow.
I planted a small meadow in the fall as an experiment a few years ago, and if I hadn’t seen for myself the magnetic attraction it has for birds and butterflies, I would not have believed it. Planting even a small meadow could quite possibly be the most beneficial thing you can do in your yard for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. And, it will reap great rewards for you too, as native wildflowers turn into an ocean of blooms, waving texture and color which you can enjoy while watching birds – residents and migrants – diving into the meadow, eating seeds, insects and finding a safe haven.

Planting the meadow takes some work, but patience is often the biggest challenge.  If you plant plugs or plants, the birds and butterflies may be on the plants as you put them in the ground!  But meadows rely on seed too, and this takes a few years to mature.  But once it is mature, it is low maintenance and pretty amazing.

While many people plant only in spring, fall is a terrific time to plant your meadow.  Planting before winter helps some of the seeds when they freeze, and you can take advantage of early germination.  This is, after all going to be a multi-year project, and any jump on the season you can get is going to help you!
The tiny meadow I planted a couple of years ago is still maturing, but in a random 30 minute period in October, I counted over 20 species of migratory birds diving in and out of the plantings. They included some really interesting warblers I hadn’t seen before here, and lots of sparrows and kinglets, flycatchers and yes, a hawk. Plus there are so many butterflies —  many which my more butterfly-savvy neighbors tell me they have never seen in the area before.
To get the low-down on how to start your own meadow, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlflower Center. You can also find a list of plants designed just for the birds in your area at the Audubon Native Plant Database. What could be easier?

Your Fall Backyard Tuneup

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Your Fall Backyard Tuneup
In fall, birds’ needs start changing. The bird houses you setjuvenile_cardinal up in spring and which saw a lot of activity are now vacant. Pressure to secure food for hungry mouths in the nest has subsided, and now many birds are bulking up for migration. To create a friendly backyard for migrators and help your year-round residents, here are a few things you can do now.

  • Once all your nestboxes are vacant, clean them out. Remove the nests, and clean the houses with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts of water — making sure you rinse them thoroughly afterwards, and let them dry completely open in the sun. For more info on cleaning out houses, click here.  You can store them once they are dry, but if you live in a place which gets cold in winter, unless you are putting up roost boxes later, some birds may find the nest boxes to be a needed refuge during the coldest times.
    • Clean your birdfeeders! These need to be cleaned often to keep bacteria from spreading to the birds. You can use the same 1:9 /bleach:water solution as for the houses, then rinse them thoroughly and leave to dry outside. Do not put seed in them until they are totally dry and have had time for the bleach to evaporate.
    • Now fill those feeders! Migrating birds need the energy from fresh seeds.  So, keep your feeders filled and leave them in the same spot for the winter for local residents to easily find food when they need it.
    • If you have native wildflowers, you can collect the seeds now and store them in a cool place in a paper bag over the winter to be planted in the spring. If you prefer, many of them can be scattered in your native plant meadow in late fall to take advantage of  freezing in winter and the opportunity for an early sprouting.
    • Now is a great time to get native trees and some shrubs in place so they can establish before winter. Native trees, plants and shrubs are essential to making your backyard a haven for birds and other wildlife as they attract the right insects and provide the right natural food for wild birds and butterflies in the area. Don’t miss the opportunity to add a few more fruiting shrubs the birds can enjoy all winter.

    Late Season Nestcams

    Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
    Late Season Nestcams!

    Many of the birds from the nest cams we have previously been watching are growing up or have successfully fledged.  Now we have a new Guillemot nest, as well as chicks and juvenile laysan_albatros_juv_nestcam birds from some of the nests we have been following. We especially love watching the juvenile Layasan Albatross pictured here.

    A Day at the Beach

    Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
    A Day at the Beach

    What could be more summer-like than a day at the beach? Who doesn’t love having fun in the water and on the sand? And the beach is a popular spot for wildlife as well. Terrapins cross busy streets to get from the marsh to

    piping_plover_chick
    Piping Plover chick

    the sandy shores to lay their eggs, then return home across those same busy streets; horseshoe crabs lay their thousands of eggs along the shoreline, and eating the eggs gives long-distance flying shorebirds the energy they need to complete their migration; Osprey and terns ply the waters close to shore, diving for food; beach nesting birds lay their perfectly camouflaged eggs in the sand

    and raise their equally camouflaged young there.  On beaches, there’s a lot going on! And it might not be a surprise to know that birds that use our shores face some big challenges.

    Next time you’re at the beach, take a careful look around. All beach nesting birds, like the oystercatchers below,  lay eggs directly on a little shallow in the sand. For their protection from predators, these eggs all blend in perfectly with the sand, as do the teeny chicks who when hatched, are extremely difficult to see. Many areas where birds nest on the beach are roped off so they can enjoy a zone away from the rest of us enjoying the same real estate.

    Want to help beach-nesting birds?  Here are some things you can do:
    If you see a nesting area that has been roped off, don’t enter it for any reason.  The eggs or chicks, if they have hatched, could be anywhere.  Plus, the adults have a difficult time herding their precocial chicks, and see everything that moves as a potential predator — including pets.  Even if your dog is on a lead and outside the nesting area, his presence can distract the adults who may
    oystercatcher and chick at beach
    American Oystercatcher and chick on beach

    feel they need to leave their chicks to defend against a passing dog. This might lead to an opening a gull or crow has been waiting for to grab an unattended  chick.  Plus some birds, like Piping Plovers, need to safely escort their chicks to the water’s edge multiple times each day to feed them. A busy beach is a challenging place for a beach nesting bird! If you are respectful, they will stand a much better chance of successfully raising their young.


    The beach is a great place to spend hot summer days, and its also a terrific place to see wildlife.  Enjoy the beach and be respectful of the wild birds and other animals with which we share it.  This is the best way to ensure they will be there in the future for all of us to continue to enjoy.
     

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