Archive for the 'Birding Thursday' Category

Feeding Two (or Twenty?) Birds with One Hand

Some twenty years ago, my friend Linda introduced me to the expression, “Feeding two birds with one hand.” I really like this expression. Not only is it kinder than “killing two birds with one stone,” but it’s more evocative. I can actually picture holding my hand out, full of bird seed, and having two birds land on it, whereas not only do I have no desire to imagine killing two birds with a stone, I really don’t know how you’d go about it if you wanted to.

So today’s post is about what I’ve been doing when I’m not here posting, and how this is an opportunity to bring diverse aspects of my life together and feed multiple birds — after all, I have two hands, so I should be able to feed at least four birds!

Many of my faithful readers know that over the last three months I have been working on a fundraiser for my Nonviolent Communication (NVC) teacher, Marlena. Marlena’s Teaching Fund takes the form of an online auction, which starts right this very instant coffee!

Bird 1 – Connection & Contribution

What’s great about this auction? It gives me an opportunity to give back and contribute in a meaningful way to someone who has made a huge difference in my life.

I’ve also gotten to “meet” a lot of wonderful people — friends of Marlena’s or friends of my NVC friends — who donated items to the auction. It feels good to be part of something where people are coming together in a spirit of generosity and love. Nothing to be sad about there!

Picture of a mourning dove on snowy, pebbly ground with lots of sunflower seed hulls around it.

It may be called a "mourning dove," but I was happy to get this picture of it looking at me.

Bird 2 – Increasing Access to Fragrance-Free & Nontoxic Products

Some of my most commented-upon posts here at After Gadget have been those in which I’ve discussed my MCS and/or how fragranced products affect me. Many of you, my beloved readers, have gone in search of nontoxic, fragrance-free products — for your own health, for the access and safety of those with chemical sensitivities around you, and in solidarity with me. This has been so surprising and touching for me!

I also know that many of you have limited budgets, maybe not much access to trying out different products, or live outside the US, which sometimes means different brands than I know about. I am pleased to announce that there are several small, family owned businesses (many of them owned and run by people with MCS) that make nontoxic, fragrance-free products who have donated products or gift certificates to Marlena’s auction! Some of them will ship outside the US! You can test out MCS-safer products while also helping out an MCSer! Check out these listings! (For those who want an inexpensive way to test out several fragrance-free products, I suggest the Magick Botanicals trial/travel kit.)

Hairy woodpecker pecking at suet in a suet feeder on  small tree.

Hunting and pecking for the safe products in the scented aisles of a store? That can get downright hairy!

Bird 3 – Simplifying & Digging Out

I have too much stuff. My house is full of stuff! Stuff collects dust and mold and dander, all of which I’m allergic to. It gets in the way and leaves less room to maneuver my chair. But some of this stuff is perfectly good stuff. Stuff I can’t use, but that someone else could enjoy — brand-new books I was given but can’t read because I can’t read print books. Snarky posters I got as freebies when the company I ordered from messed up my order. Unused nontoxic/natural lip balm with peppermint oil in it. Inkjet office supplies I bought, forgetting that I now have a laser printer. It will feel great if I can give this stuff a new home.

Male red-bellied woodpecker digs suet out of a feeder with his long open beak.

This red-bellied woodpecker is chipping away at the fat, digging out. Inspiring!

Bird 4 – Bird Feeder as Blog Fodder?

I’m never short on ideas for blogs. In fact, my “Posts” folder has almost as many drafts as published posts, and that doesn’t even include all the posts I have in my head that I want to write! Still, now that I’m doing something with a deadline (the auction is only up for ten days), something I’ve invested so much time and energy in, something that’s so important to me, it pushes me to crank out a post to share with the world.

This gives me opportunities, such as to use several of my recent winter bird photos without writing the perfect Birding Thursday post.

I can carry myself with pride . . .

Tote bag in black and yellow that says Pride in big yellow letters on a black background.

This snazzy tote bag is made from recycled bird seed bags!

in taking an old idea like a signal boost and creatively transforming it into something new and different.

Colorful tote bag made from bird seed bags, includes a bright red cardinal sitting on a branch, and a sunflower at the base of the bag.

This tote bag is also upcycled from bird seed bags.

To think outside the box as a blogger . . .

Top of treasure box has head and shoulders of a brown hawk with red wings. There are feathers on teh side of the box.

This is quite some outside of a box!

can give me several different perspectives on something, depending on how I look at it.

A fabric-covered box. The top shows a blue jay in a green leafy tree with a blue feather attached to it, and the side shows a gorgeous white ibis about to take off over stormy waters.

Or how it looks at me....

It’s true that the tone of this post has been tongue-in-cheek and my objective transparent. Nonetheless, I am still appreciative of the seed Linda planted all those years ago of this kinder, gentler way to speak and act, which is part of the work of NVC, for me.

Especially because Linda remains one of my nearest and dearest friends. She’s the one who told me about Marlena’s NVC classes. Taking them together has deepened and strengthened our friendship. Maybe one of you will get to meet her, too?

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and a bored and demanding Barnum, SD/SDiT/hindrance dog

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Birding Thursday: Barred Owl (Audio Edition!)

I remember after I first moved to the country, in 1998, being awoken at dawn by an unearthly sound.

“My god!” I thought. “What the hell is that? And will it ever shut up so I can go back to sleep?”

The answers turned out to be

  1. A pair of barred owls, calling back and forth to each other, and
  2. No, they will keep you awake for hours.

Eventually I discerned, amongst the sometimes chimpanzee-like shrieking, a hooting suggestive of an owl, and I looked up their call in my bird books and discovered it was a pair (or more) of barred owls. Over time, I became used to them. Even though they still sometimes woke me up, I was able to go back to sleep, despite the screeching and calling and hooting.

People think the country is so peaceful. Yes, sometimes it is. And sometimes you are trying to help make a documentary in your driveway and a pileated woodpecker keeps hammering during what is supposed to be your deeply meaningful parting line. But that’s a story for another time. Rather, it’s two posts for the future: one on pileated woodpeckers, and one about participating in a video to educate the public about health care access for people with disabilities.

Back to barred owls!

So, I was familiar with their calls. In fact, about three years ago, we even had a barred owl living near our house. We saw her during the day, because barred owls are sometimes active during the day, as well as night. She’d be in a tree nearby, or sitting on the bird-feeder pole, just hanging out, presumably waiting for some rodents to come looking for the seed spilled on the ground. (Barred owls don’t eat other birds, according to my bird books. Yet, the song birds stayed away while she was around.) We called her “Hedwig.” We were very fond of her.

We didn’t see her after that year, but at night I often hear barred owls calling to each other when I take Barnum out to toilet. The calls seem to be coming from my neighbors’ yard across the street. Indeed, my neighbor recently sent me this photo, saying, “We’ve been seeing this pair all summer.”

(Yes, they are as big as they look. As you’ll read in the Audubon description of them, they are almost two feet tall, with a wing span close to four feet!)

Night-time picture of two barred owls sitting right next to each other on a large, horizontal tree limb. Around them are leaves. They are highlighted in the center in light, and all around them is increasing darkness. One is looking down. The other is looking slightly down and to the side. They are clearly "a couple."

Aren't they adorable?

For the description, I’ll turn to my Audubon guide: “Length, 21 inches. Wingspan, three-feet-eight inches. Dark brownish gray with black spots above; heavily striped underparts; dark bars on upper chest; facial disk gray, ringed in black. Eyes brown; no ear tufts.”

The description my Audubon guide gives of their calls is pathetically inadequate. Here are some calls (and also some images) of adult barred owls from a youtube video. (I’m not providing a transcript or closed captioning because it’s really not possible to get across the sound.)

Okay, so I’m used to that.

Then, several weeks ago, I started to hear a strange, repetitive, loud, annoying animal call at night, all night. I could mimic it when I heard it, but by the next morning, I’d forgotten how it sounded, and couldn’t reproduce it. Finally, I posted to my town’s list-serv, describing it as sounding sort of like a slide-whistle, or someone sucking in an incredibly deep, long breath until they were about to gasp. I said it was repeated all night.

Someone on the list suggested that it was the call of one or more baby barred owls. Someone else in town called me to play me a recording of a barred owl pup juvenile, and yes, ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! They win the prize! That’s what it was.

Apparently, the baby owls call very persistently whenever the parents fly off to hunt, to let them know, “Hey! I’m over here! And I’m hungry! . . . Hey! I’m over here! I’m hungry! . . . Hey! . . .”

You get the idea.

One night, recently, it occurred to me to take my camera outside when I took Barnum out to pee to try to get a recording of the call. It is below. There’s no video — you just see black. I was only trying to capture the sound.

I believe I made the young owl nervous, rumbling toward it on the ramp, so it only called four times in these 37 seconds, which is not as frequent as usual. Also, I know it doesn’t sound that loud  and annoying on this recording, but this is a pretty old, crappy camera, not an audio recording device. In real life, they are much more piercing! (Crank up the volume to listen to it.)

Now, if you ever hear these calls, you will know who you are enjoying . . . as you lie awake past dawn. (Because,  yes, they continue hooting and caterwauling past sunrise!)

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I never even noticed the owl calls), and Barnum (who doesn’t pay the owls much mind in real life, but when I played the youtube video one night, started barking in alarm!)

Birding Thursday: Tufted Titmouse

This week’s bird is the Tufted Titmouse, and I have several fun pictures. The first one, with the seed in its beak, is the best bird photo I’ve ever taken.

The tufted titmouse is a member of the chickadee family, which is more obvious from their similarly friendly, even bold, behavior than from their appearance. If you have a seed feeder, chances are you’ll have titmice and chickadees come calling.

Titmice are super cute and expressive. They’ve always been one of my favorites (although I can’t actually think of a bird I don’t like, so maybe that’s not saying much).

I’m too tired to try to come up with description myself, so I’ll just copy the relevant parts from my Audubon field guide’s description:

“6 inches. Upperparts, pointed crest, and tail gray; underparts dull white; sides washed rusty; forehead black; white ara around beady black eye. Cheerful, active.”

Tufted titmouse, side view, in window feeder, holds seed in beak

Probably my best bird photo yet!

Image description: Background of spring green trees. Foreground, a tufted titmouse stands in Plexiglas window feeder mounted to the glass with three clear suction cups. The titmouse is holding a sunflower seed in its hull in its beak.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a picture with his crest up. In fact, his cheerful hippety-hoppity tendencies often meant I got some pretty silly shots:

A titmouse with its rear facing me, its tail off to the left as it turns its head to the left with its head tucked down and toward its flank, its one eye barely visible, outlined by its a crescent of white face.

Not a view you usually see on nature cards.

Nor this one. . . .

Titmouse hind end

Ah, yes, the much-sought-after Titmouse ass shot.

Lots of good Barnum-related news, but I haven’t been well enough to blog lately (or reply to the many queries in the comments). I appreciate your patience. Please stay tuned. . . .

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum the bouncy

Birding Thursday: Downy Woodpecker

Our bird of the week  is the downy woodpecker. They are so cute! They frequent my suet feeder, as the photos below attest. I seem to have caught images of just the female downy, which is too bad, because it doesn’t provide a comparison to the male (who, as is typical of the bird world, is a bit more colorful). The male has a red spot on the nape of his head, which this gal lacks.

Be that as it shouldn’t be, here’s a female downy, on two different days in May, enjoying herself some suet:

Front  view of downy woodpecker partially obscured by a square-shaped green wire suet feeder, which she is holding on to vertically, with her head near the top and her tail pointing at the bottom.. She is about 6 inches long, with a white belly, and a black and white striped head. You can just see the base of her long black bill. The rest is hidden in the suet.

Front view, enjoying a nice big brick of suet.

You’ll notice in the photo below, about three-quarters of the suet is gone. No, she didn’t eat all of that. The squirrels eat most of the suet (it has seeds in it, too), which is fine with me, because so far it has kept them from feeling the need to jump into the window feeder and devour all the sunflower seed.

The back of a female downy woodpecker, eating from a wire mesh suet feeder. Her back is white, which is mostly obscured by her long wings, which are blck with white bars, creating a sort of ladder-like effect. Her tail is long and black on the back and white underneath.

The downys seem less flighty and nervous than most other woodpeckers, so I am usually able to get some decent pictures.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who cares about birds?), and Barnum, SDiT (I still enjoy The Bird Channel)

Some Snaps of a Turtle

Last Wednesday, Betsy told me there was a turtle in our yard, so of course I grabbed the camera and zoomed out to snap some pictures.

This is a painted turtle, a member of the box turtle family.

Small turtle from the front and above. Dark olive shiny shell with thin yellow lines making squares, yellow-orange inner shell visible under its head, which is mostly drawn in is dark olive with yellow stripes. Front feet are out, dark olive with bright red stripes. It does not look happy.

Our visitor.

Most of the turtles we see around here are big snappers. I would never have gotten so close to a snapper — they are vicious. When approached by people, a snapper will generally choose “fight” over “flight” or “freeze.”

Painted turtles mostly go with “freeze,” which is what this lady did. When Betsy first saw her, she was next to my ramp, digging in the wet sand with her hind legs.

When I came out to take pictures, she just struck this pose and held it, pretending to be a shiny, slightly colorful rock.

I say “she,” because most probably what she was doing was preparing to lay eggs: dig in the mud with back feet, lay eggs, cover them up, head back for the swamps.

Side view of the turtle, showing her hind feet, which are leathery-looking and sort of flat with long claws, and a long, pointy tail. From this angle you can also see more clearly the yellow of her inner shell at her front, and the pattern of red squares all around the rim of the upper shell, which is quite lovely.

She's really digging our yard. (Nyerk.)

The problem with this plan is that the location she picked is inside the fenced yard where Barnum runs loose. Barnum’s favorite food is egg. As far as I know, he has only sampled chicken eggs, but I feel confident that if he came across a delicious clutch of turtle eggs, he would be eager to diversify his diet.

Thus, I planned to pick up Ms. Turtle and carry her to a safer location, which Betsy would photograph (for this blog, of course). Before proceeding, we decided to call our local reptile and amphibian advocate (Hi, Mary!) to find out where the best place to put her was. Once I got that information, Betsy and I went outside, prepared to rescue our guest — and discovered the turtle had disappeared!

Clearly this turtle was not aware of the stereotype that turtles move slowly. We didn’t find her.

My theory as to why she took off so fast was that she was offended by my rude, intrusive behavior. Here’s what I imagine her saying.

“Hey! I did not give you permission to take my picture!

Who said you could get all up in my shell when I’m digging my nest? Oh, man, there she goes, clicking away.

Hey! Those pictures better not end up on the internet!”

Every turtle’s worst nightmare come true.

Actually, I think a worse nightmare would be having an 85-pound high prey-drive bouvier charge you down, flip you with his snout, stomp on you, bat you around with his paws, chew through your shell and maul you — leading to your slow, painful death — which would be followed by the devouring of your young.

So, I think she made a wise decision.

This was supposed to be a “Birding Thursday” post, but I think if an occasional, inspiring, non-avian siting occurs, I will include those, too.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT(?)  (denied a new raw food experience)

Through My Window: A World of Birds

This post is mostly about birds. Now that I’ve admitted that, I can just hear the eyelids drooping, the yawns starting. Sigh.

Birds are fascinating! How come every kind of geek is now cool, but not bird geeks?

I learned bird watching growing up, with my family, and they have usually been the only people in my life who have shared this interest with me. Often, a friend would visit, and I’d say, “Ooh! A rose-breasted grosbeak!” and point toward the feeder. Instead of being delighted by the beauty and striking variety of colors on this bird (the fat yellow beak, the splash of raspberry red on the chest, the contrast of white on the belly and black on the back), they’d be like, “Yes, it’s a bird.”

I haven’t had one come to my window (nor has Melissa Etheridge) this year yet, but here’s a photo of one (taken by, and copyright of, Terry Sohl, used with her kind permission):

Male Rose Breasted Grosbeak sitting on a branch. As described above, with two white wing bars.

How can you not get excited seeing this bird at your feeder?

The one wonderful exception to my anti-birding friends is my friend and former roommate, Laurel, who took an ornithology class at Mt. Holydyke Holyoke, which got her into bird watching, too. That was fun, because we could get excited about birds together, in the same household, and call each other over if one of us spotted something neat outside.

Except, now there is a member of my household, for the first time since Laurel, who is just as fascinated by birds as I am: Barnum. I have a window feeder up, as well as a suet feeder in a lovely flowering ornamental tree outside my window, and a decorative bird bath, and it’s just a parade of birds all day.

Gray carved stone birdbath, the trunk resembling a tree trunk, with 3 little statues of birds and chipmunks around the basin's edge. It seems among old brown leaves and new green shoots coming out of the ground, overhung by a small ornamental tree with pale pink flowers that is just beginning to get green leaves and buds. one green vine is snaking up the bird bath's near side.

Isn't this lovely?

I put a stool next to the window so Barnum can watch the birds without having to jump on my bed or on the windowsills. He used to try to eat them — snapping at the birds in the window feeder — but he has learned that is a pointless endeavor, so he just watches, and yearns. Oh, how he yearns.

One of my favorite moments this spring, when the feeder was newly out, and Barnum and the birds had not yet completely gotten used to each other, was when there was a tufted titmouse at the window feeder. Barnum was looking at the titmouse, up and to the left, his snout pointing at it, with his head titled in that way he does, like when a dog is really trying to grok something.

And then the titmouse — I know, it sounds unbelievable, but it really happened — saw Barnum, and hopped over to the edge of the feeder and looked down at him, tilting its head to the side, with his beak pointing down. So, they were like mirror images of each other. They just looked at each other in fascination. One of my PCAs witnessed it with me, and it was hilarious and magical and adorable all in one.

I wish I could show you a picture of it, but alas, I did not have my camera at hand. Here is a reenactment that totally does not do justice to that marvelous moment:

Barnum standing on my bed, looking at a female purple finch in the window feeder on a large picture window.

"Mom! Look! Isn't this a female purple finch, distinguishable from the female house finch by the white eyebrow stripe. Can I eat her?"

Anyway, I’m all atwitter (pun totally intended), because I just saw and identified a bird I’ve never identified before — in my life! That’s saying something, as I’ve been bird watching as long as I can remember, and I’m fortymumble years old. It’s not a rare bird. I’ve just never seen it before and gotten a good look and then found it in my bird book. Probably because it’s a ground feeder, and I’m usually looking out my window into the trees.

It is . . .

The Eastern towhee!

An eight-inch long bird, black on head, chest, and long tail. Sides rufous (rusty red), belly white. Red eye. In this picture, perched on tree branch.

Male Eastern towhee, photo copyright Terry Sohl, used with permission.

How many different birds have I seen out my window this spring (not counting birds I saw last year or down the street or birds I’ve identified by call, such as the barred owls, which are unbelievably loud, or the drilling of the pileated woodpecker, also very loud!)? I’m glad you asked!

Here’s the list of birds I’ve seen in May 2011, all from my bedroom window (with the exception of a couple from the backyard):

  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Tufted titmouse
  • Chipping sparrow
  • Pine siskin
  • Eastern towhee
  • Junco
  • Goldfinch
  • House finch
  • Purple finch
  • Cardinal
  • Mourning dove
  • Blue jay
  • Cowbird
  • Raven
  • Crow
  • Robin
  • Phoebe
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • Sharp-shinned hawk
  • Magnolia warbler

The last one, the magnolia warbler, was also a really exciting find. I’ve never seen one before. It was hopping along on the ramp railing one day, and I had to try to memorize its distinctive features so I could look it up. I knew it was some sort of warbler, and not a yellow-rumped warbler, which I used to see quite often at my previous home, but almost all the warblers have yellow on them, so they can be hard to identify. Fortunately, I was able to memorize “two white wing-bars on black wings” and that turned out to be unusual among the warblers. Here’s what one looks like (again, this photo is courtesy of the kind and generous nature photographer, Terry Sohl, used with permission):

Five inch bird with long, pointy, narrow beak. Black mask across eyes, white eyebrow, bright yellow throat and belly, black back with white wing bars. Sitting on narrow tree branch.

Adorable and gorgeous little male magnolia warbler.

I’ve also seen red squirrels, gray squirrels, a rabbit, and a red fox, although I don’t think we can count these as birds, can we?

I’m hoping to do a regular “Birding Thursday” post where I post a photo of a bird from outside my window. It’s all part of my diabolical plan to convert some of you mammal snobs. Heh heh.

Here is the first of my Birding Thursday photos. A male yellow goldfinch in my window feeder:

Closeup side view of male goldfinch. He is bright y ellow, with black wings, except for two narrow white wing bars, a black cap on his head, and a whiite rump and tail feathers. He has an orange beak. He's bent down, grabbing a sunflower seed.

Please ignore the schmutz on the plexiglas.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (dreaming of wild turkeys), and Barnum (bird watcher more than bird chaser anymore)


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