Posts Tagged ‘songbirds’

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.

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.

    Your Summer Backyard

    Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
    Your Summer Backyard
    Your backyard in summer is different from the rest of the year. In each rose-breasted_grosbeak season,
    birds have different needs, and summer can be extreme – both because of the heat and the additional pressure of feeding baby and juvenile birds. You may be providing a lot of food for birds – in feeders as well as from the native plants and flowers you planted earlier this year. You should also be providing regular access to clean fresh water to keep birds cool, maintain their feathers for flight and keep them hydrated.  But some of the birds you want to attract to your yard may be different during summer, as migratory birds like grosbeaks and hummingbirds may take up summer residence in your area. Here are some ideas to keep your summer backyard a busy and popular spot for birds.
    During summer, fruit-eaters like orioles migrate in. You can put out orange halves, dark colored fruits like red grapes and cherries, and grape jelly for these birds who may then make your backyard a prime feeding spot and possible nesting area. Nothing beats a beautiful male Baltimore Oriole feeding on oranges for some great summer viewing!oriole_feeder
    Hummingbirds also make an appearance. Check out our story in our last newsletter on making your yard attractive to hummingbirds.
    Water is essential for any bird during the summer, so don’t skimp on clean water. You can buy attachments for your bird bath like a mister which will provide a fine spray that birds love in summer. There are many economical kinds, but if you want to make it a backyard feature, here’s a suggestion.
    If goldfinches frequent your area, niger or thistle seed is essential for them to raise their families in July and August. Many other birds will find these small nutritious seeds attractive as well, so keeping niger seeds available will help attract and feed a variety of species.
    Keep in mind that during summer you need to make sure the seed is kept dry so there is no chance of mould. So unless the birds empty your feeders every day, you may want to only fill them half way. And suet is difficult to keep fresh during summer, so you may want to hold off until cooler weather before putting it out.

    There are lots of things you can do in summer to attract birds, and we always recommend to make sure you landscape with native plants to ensure your birds have food choices year round.  Couple native plantings with fresh water, and you have the basis for an ideal haven for wildlife.

    Making That First Migration

    Saturday, July 25th, 2015

    Making That First Migration

    Young birds are leaving the nest, and many of them are getting ready for their first trip south. Migration is a hard and risky business for any bird, but the first marathon voyage for many species of birds takes place shortly after they have fledged. How do they do it?

    rose_breasted_grosbeak_juvenile

    Songbirds such as American Robins and this young Rose-breasted Grosbeak are born nearly naked and completely helpless. They remain in the nest while their parents work overtime to provide protein-rich insects and other food for their babies. When the chicks fledge, they have strong instincts that will guide them to their wintering grounds. They don’t need to follow their parents, although they often fly together on their first migration.

    Crane chicks are born with fluffy down feathers and are precocial – meaning they are ready to go right away. They leave the nest and bravely follow their parents across marshes, fields and river banks, learning everything from them – from how to find food and avoid predators, to when and to where they are supposed to migrate. Unlike most birds that migrate, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes don’t instinctively know where to go on migration, and if they are not shown the way, captive bred birds remain where they were born.

    Shorebirds are an extreme example of instinctive behavior. Similar to cranes, shorebirds are born with fluffy down feathers and are precocial. But, unlike cranes, they get very little help from their parents. After fledging, young shorebirds must fend entirely for themselves, and their parents usually leave for migration before their chicks. First-year shorebirds make incredibly long, sometimes multi-day, flights entirely on their own or with a few other first-year birds – none of whom have flown the route previously.

    Radar Birding: What It’s All About

    Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

    Radar Birding:  What’s It All About

    Stay on the cutting edge of birding with RADAR data! birding_radar_map Meterologists have being using RADAR stations throughout the country to track and predict weather patterns for decades. But recently, birders have been using RADAR technology to track and understand bird movements! Here is a brief guide to getting started on the fascinating tool of RADAR birding to help you get the most out of your birding excursions.


    During the spring and fall migration seasons, migrating passerines (songbirds) stopover to feed and rest during the day, then take off at sunset to migrate. Millions of birds take off for these nightly flights at almost the same time. So many are flying up into the atmosphere that radio waves from RADAR stations bounce off the large flocks, creating a distinct signature.

    Follow this link to see a looping animation of a NEXRAD RADAR map from May 7th, 2013. At first you will see clouds moving, but wait for a large surge of blue and green moving from east to west across the country — those are birds taking off at sunset! Note the very large concentration along the Gulf Coast-there’s a reason High Island and other Gulf Coast birding sites are so famous for their spring migration.

    Of course, we can’t tell which species exactly are migrating, or exactly which habitat patches they are using, but we can get a really good general idea of the intensity of migration through observing RADAR maps. You can use RADAR data to help with your own birding. Knowing a bit about what time of year certain birds migrate will help. For example, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Warblers tend to be early season migrants, while Wood Thrushes tend to come through a little bit later. If you combine RADAR data with historical data on the timing of migration for certain bird species, you can predict pretty well what you might see on a morning of birding.

    There are a few websites dedicated to birding with RADAR data. Woodcreeper.com is a blog that summarizes RADAR data for the Upper Midwest states. The United States Geological Survey also provides a good primer on RADAR birding (or “aerofauna”, as they call it), with links to many other useful websites here.

    Scientists continue to study RADAR data and are using computers to automate detection of bird flocks. They are comparing weather data, landscape data and data from other sources to learn more about how birds migrate. Use RADAR data to aid in your own birding excursions, and let us know about what you are finding out!

    Gale Force Migration

    Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
    Gale Force Migration

    Bird migration is heavily linked to weather patterns and systems as they move across the country.  In the fall, fast

    migrating_cormorants
    Cormorants migrating

    moving northwest winds, especially ahead of a front, help speed migrating birds ahead of tempestuous weather.  But fall migration coincides with another huge event in North America —  hurricane season — and this seems to be an especially big challenge for migrating birds.  As people prepare and hunker down for these major storms that sweep the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast, some birds may have already been forewarned by their own natural instincts.  Feeling the shifts in barometric pressure lets birds know that a storm is brewing.  But it doesn’t mean they are out of harm’s way.

    With this advanced warning, birds have a few options.  They can try to outpace the storm by flying ahead of the outermost winds of the hurricane.  Birds tend to move after a low-pressure system has passed, so if the storm passes to the east, favorable northwest winds will allow the birds to take off in time.  Some birds, especially pelagic species may choose to enter the storm and find the calm eye or center of the storm.  This may be a dangerous decision as birds could be forced to fly hundreds of miles without being able to land.

    Some birds get the natural signal too late, and are caught in

    Machias_seal_island_lighthouse_fallout
    Fallout at Machias Sea Island Lighthouse

    winds that come up quickly.  In these instances, they will look for any place to put down.  If they are over water —  to avoid drowning — tankers, oil rigs and anything floating serves as a safer haven than battling gale force winds which would surely be a losing battle.  Seamen on the Gulf during hurricanes have tales of fallouts of sometimes hundreds of songbirds landing on their boats. And lighthouse keepers off the coast find they are often the only port in a storm, like this image above from the Machias Seal Island Lighthouse, Gulf of Maine.


    But, many birds decide to stay put during these storms and often we wonder what exactly they do in those high winds and drenching downpours.  They don’t have a lot of choices, so they hunker down, cling to perches and bide their time as best they with the rest of us.  Although little energy is spent perching, birds still have to keep their bodies warm and their bellies full.  There are undoubtedly high mortality rates amongst birds during hurricanes who get blown out to sea or are drenched and unable to keep their body warm enough to survive.

    The after effects of the storm can cause serious problems for birds as well.  Habitat changes are a major problem birds face after the storm has passed.  Most birds will be heading south during hurricane season, but the habitat they may come back to in the spring could be changed forever.  Sometimes habitat change is can be good for a particular species, but bad for another.

    After weathering the storm, birds may find themselves displaced in obscure places. It may take them a few hours to red_billed_tropicbird get oriented, but they quickly try to make their way back to where they came from.  In 2011 Hurricane Irene swept up the eastern seaboard and left white-tailed tropicbirds, which are typically only seen in the Caribbean, cruising the New York and New Jersey coastlines.  Birders across the country are always interested to see what birds may be blown in after a hurricane.  If you do find these vagrants, respect what the bird has had to go through to get where it is, and don’t cause the bird additional stress.

    Birds small and large find ways to weather these storms.  A radio-tagged whimbrel was tracked migrating right through Hurricane Irene as the bird made its way from Canada to Brazil on its annual migration.  Birds are resilient creatures and continue to impress researchers with new discoveries on a frequent basis.  Hurricanes hit hard and when they do we can only hope that most of the birds have left ahead of the storm.

    Sitting Quietly….Seeing More

    Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
    FAMILY FUN: Sitting Quietly…Seeing More
    Want to see more birds and tune into nature? This summer, why not see the natural areas you usually visit a little differently?  Go to a favorite field, forest, marsh, or beach.  Rather than do what you might normally do there…this time piping_plover , take some time to sit quietly and listen.  Tune out the day to day stuff and fairly quickly,  you will start to hear and see a new kind of activity — the local kind you can be part of only if you are a silent observer.
    If you are still enough, your presence will eventually go unnoticed by the birds and animals nearby and they may get very close to you — like this Piping plover who came so close he was within reach.  It’s moments like this that touch the soul and inspire the mind.  And when a wild bird or animal gets very close, it’s a pretty remarkable thing — something you and your kids will remember for a very long time.

    A Cozy Warm Bed

    Thursday, January 7th, 2010

    Do you ever wonder where birds sleep? On a cold winter night, when the wind is blowing the snow sideways across the light of your street lamps, the chickadees that visited your feeder in the morning are huddling close together. Hopefully they have found a decent cavity to roost in. If your neighborhood is like mine, a dead tree is considered a hazard and is quickly removed to prevent damage to houses. The valuable cavities in a dead tree are eliminated in most urban and suburban areas where dead trees are not allowed to stand.

    What can you do for the local birds that are looking for a place out of the frigid cold? Consider a roost box. While a nest box is flat inside and provides room for a nest, a roost box has a series of pegs that serve as perches with a roof overhead. Roost boxes are designed to provide a simple shelter for birds where they can sleep together with some relief from the cold and use their collective body heat to keep warm. Roost boxes often look very similar to nest boxes. Different size entrance holes provide shelter for different types of birds. A smaller hole invites smaller birds, such as sparrows, nuthatches and titmice, while a larger hold can accommodate flickers and small hawks. Smaller birds loose body heat very fast, but in a roost they can keep each other warm by staying close together.

    Owls can use the same box they nested in as a roost box in winter. Other birds, such as chickadees, can roost in a PVC pipe roost that you can easily make yourself. Click on the picture for simple instructions on how to build a chickadee roost.

    Here is a great website from Audubon Society of Omaha that provides instructions for those of you who would really like to build your own roost boxes, and nest boxes too.

    While a bird feeder may provide the wintering birds with food, they also need shelter to make it through the winter. Roost boxes can help attract more birds to your area, and can keep them warm and safe through the cold nights.

    A White-crowned Sparrow could find shelter in your roost box

    Photo credit: Stan Tekiela

    Where’s the Water?

    Monday, January 4th, 2010

    Right now the northern states are blanketed in snow, and stepping outside can be hazardous. Winter temperatures can dip below zero degrees Farenheit, and the wind chill pushes far below that. We can throw on layers or stay inside, but what do the birds do? How can we help birds brave the winter onslaught of freezing temperatures and battering snow?

    Birds can make it through the winter without our help, but many people provide their bird visitors with a heated bird bath.  Open water is hard to find in winter, and by providing birds with a constant source of water you will attract more birds to your yard. Some birds (not all) will eat snow, but the amount of energy it takes to process this snow into water is high.

    So, you can make life easier for your backyard visitors with a watering dish that does not freeze over. You don’t need to buy a brand new bird bath – you can buy a small heater that you leave inside your current bird bath with an extension cord. But, it is a good idea to use some caution when using a heated bird bath as well. When temperatures drop too far, a bird’s feathers can freeze after taking a bath or even from the steam that comes up from the birdbath. This can be dangerous for the bird, even resulting in death.

    Laura Erickson of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some good recommendations on how to deal with this problem. Here is a link to an article on her new book, “The Bird Watching Answer Book, Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Birds in Your Backyard and Beyond“.

    Here is the paragraph specifically regarding heated bird baths:

    In a section titled “Birds Don’t Need Hot Tubs,” Erickson states: “I would never use a heated bath when temperatures were below about 20 degrees to prevent steam from coating feathers.” She recommends placing a grill made of wooden dowel rods over a heated bath to prevent bathing while allowing access for drinking. If the bird bath is frozen, Laura sets out a small plastic container of water near the bird food in the morning and brings it in when it freezes.

    So, while a heated bird bath can make your backyard a winter birding bonanza, you also must keep the safety of your feathered friends in mind. Cornell has some suggestions on setting up a birdbath which can help both you and make the winter a better time for year for your backyard visitors.

    A Cardinal Moment

    Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

    With the changing seasons our New York City backyard garden has different birds passing through, but among our constant companions are our cardinal family. This beautifully masked male cardinal is the epitome of grace and elegance. In the summer his gorgeous coloring is eclipsed by no other bird in our garden; in the fall, even with a color change he is still quite the beauty. This morning he has been frequenting the wisteria behind our home and he looks so great mixed in with the changing leaves. Known to us as Senor Cardinal for his haughty elegance, his female companion possesses none of the patience nor self-confidence he does. She flits from branch to branch in a constant state of chirping frenzy – even with their baby having fledged long ago and no longer needing constant care. Her agitated state has ratcheted down from when the baby was fledging, but she still is one of the most excitable birds in the garden – and very difficult to get a photo of as she is a moving target. So, here is an early December homage to Senor Cardinal – sporting his ever-so-slightly diminished fall coloring. In the snow he is a standout….can’t wait!

     

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