Thursday, February 22, 2018

Vermont’s Winter Birds – Part One

Vermont’s Winter Birds – Part One
       text by Maeve, photos by Bernie

Not everyone deserts Vermont when it gets frigid and windy and downright dangerous. Lots of birds stick around, including several big beauties to delight us on winter walks and rides.

Members of the corvid family - crows, jays and ravens – are loyal to the north country no matter what the weather. 

Corvids are considered the smartest avian creatures and among the most intelligent of any animal. 

Crows have been seen dragging dead animals from the sides of the road to the middle so that cars will break open the roadkill for them. Even with their big beaks, crows can’t get to the meat through skin and fur!

Because they eat anything and everything, corvids have more free time than birds that must spend every minute of daylight hunting for specific kinds of caterpillars or particular kinds of seeds. And corvids fill that extra time with thinking and inventing and playing. One crow studied a piece of trash – the lid of a quart-sized yogurt container – for a few seconds, picked it up, carried it to the peak of a steep-roofed shed, stood on it, and used it as a sled all the way down the roof. It was so much fun that the crow did it again and again and again.
Most Vermonters are familiar with Blue Jays. The state’s other jay is found only in the Northeast Kingdom. 

Gray Jays don’t see many of us two-legged creatures, but they all recognize humans as food sources and will come to take food right out of a person’s hand.

When lumbering was big in the NEK, Gray Jays were called Camp Robbers because they’d steal food from the tables while the loggers were eating. The handsome birds were also called Whiskeyjacks, a mispronunciation of an Algonquian word for a mischievous prankster.

Several pairs of Bald Eagles now breed in Vermont, and many more show up throughout the Champlain Valley in wintertime. They prey on ducks and sometimes hang out near ice fishermen waiting for tossed fish.

 Other big winter birds include several kinds of hawks. Red-tailed Hawks patrol the edges of the interstate, their sharp eyes seeking rabbits, squirrels, voles and moles. Rough-legged Hawks hover like giant butterflies over farm fields, while Northern Harriers dance and float nearby. Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper's Hawks visit backyard feeders with the enthusiasm of a hungry human at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Ahhhh. All this yummy food in one location!!
      Cooper's Hawk watching our feeders ...

Every now and then the larger cousin of Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks decides to leave its regular home in Canada and spend the winter in Vermont: Northern Goshawk. This is a fierce bird! Attila the Hun wore an image of a goshawk on his helmet. The name comes from the Old English words for goose and hawk. It’s our only hawk that can actually take a goose as prey, although it’s more likely to take ducks, pigeons, grouse, crows and gulls, hares and various rodents.
And then there are the owls! Wonderful, mysterious, elusive, gorgeous, exciting owls. More about these winter beauties soon.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bird Spot Fever - Immovable birding

Bird Spot Fever
Bernie Paquette

Quiet now listen
Don't go
Stop, Look, Listen
for a little longer

Be the tree
that sways
but does not walk away

Stay rooted
like the grass, ferns, flowers

Let yourself be one of nature's elements
no longer an intruder
soon you will have visitors
otherwise missed.

Get a sense of this place
you occupy now.
Take in what you see, hear, smell, touch
without judgement
Move from your inner self
to the outer world

Then observe actively
beyond an ID
what is unique about the bird you see,
its behavior and plumage.

Singling out individual differences
unusual features
can be more challenging and fun than
simply ID'g a species.

Ask why.
Why does this bird...
How is this Robin...different
then those your mind knows?

Record enough
that you can tell the story
of your experience.

The birth and burst of active observation
will make even a common seen bird
a new experience.

Bird Spot Fever
gets hotter
as you observe and concentrate 
on the smallest details
in one spot
-for an extended period
allowing them to stimulate your senses.

When birds and other of nature's creatures

behave around you as if

you do not exist -

a greater depth of birding

will offer itself.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Dark-eyed Junco Morph? Jericho VT Backyard Birds

One of the pleasures of backyard birding comes from observing the variations of a given species. This Dark-eyed Junco looks as though it has a mix of Junco and Sparrow genes! 

Looks to be Leucistic.

~KP McFarland (Founder and biologist @vtecostudies, cohost of VPRnet Outdoor Radio, photographer, naturalist, writer, firefighter. Rooted in Green Mountains.)

Read more about unusual birds at Cornell Labs Feeder Watch


                     American Goldfinch with considerable yellow given this is winter plumage.

Young male and female as well as more mature Cardinals brighten even a cloudy day, especially when viewed against a snow white background.

                                        And Blue Jays seem to bring out blue skies with their cries and screeches.

                        For a black bird the Starling does a good job of mimicking the palette of a rainbow.

            Ounce for ounce the Chickadee must be the bravest bird about, with as much energy to match any of its peers.



              Mourning Doves need mascara to gain that elegant look or as much elegance as a pigeon like bird can attain.

   Mourning Dove all a fluff. 

   White-breasted Nuthatches are the most talented in obtaining peanuts from our peanut feeder. Their acrobat like behaviors create a circus event nearly each time we see them. Occasionally a Red-breasted Nuthatch visits us as well.

                                                            Titmouse with large deep dark eyes of mystery.

          House Finches and an occasional Purple Finch remind us of Valentine's Day, sweet raspberries, cherries and strawberries of spring.

                        Speaking of spring, Chickadees seem to sing of spring eternal.

                                        Dark-eyed Junco above and below. Different coats for different folks I guess.

                                                                                                 Baby it's cold outside!

  Note the similarities between the Dark-eyed Junco above and the American Tree Sparrow below. Perhaps they both utilize the same tailor. 

                                             Downy Woodpeckers enjoy our homemade suet.

Ditto for the Hairy Woodpeckers - suet and peanuts draw them close for our viewing pleasure.

        Are you observing birds in your backyard? Send us your backyard bird photos and tell us about your backyard birding experience(s). We will gladly create a guest post of your birds and words! Send to