Wildlife Wednesday, January 2016: All About Birds

Welcome to a new year, with new beginnings, and new wildlife to observe and learn about.

How exciting!

In my gardens, this past month’s wildlife happenings have been all about the birds.

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Yes, I know that’s not a bird.  Nor are these.

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But this handsome devil is most definitely a bird!

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There are a number of native Blue Jay birdsCyanocitta cristata, who fly through my gardens, stopping on a regular basis to nosh,

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…and preen.

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Beautiful birds, Blue Jay males and females are difficult to tell apart.  Their feathers have the pigment melanin, which is brown, but the blue that we see and admire happens because of scattered light through specialized cells along the feathers.

Lots of folks don’t like Blue Jays because they are assertive and noisy, but I’m quite fond of them; their cheeky personalities and gorgeous good looks always cheer me.  I miss the flash of blue when I haven’t seen one swoop through the garden in a day or two, though their not being part of the landscape is rare.  Blue Jays are intelligent birds with complicated family structures and there’s still much that ornithologists don’t quite understand about their family habits and migration patterns.

Occupying a different spot of the color wheel is this lovely girl,

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…and her male counterpart.

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Northern Cardinal,  Cardinalis cardinalis, birds  are common throughout  North America and adapt well to the backyard wildlife habitat.  There are two nesting pairs in my part of the neighborhood. They nest nearby and visit my gardens and feeders daily.  During summer, I’m likely to see dad training up his youngins’ on the best places to eat in the neighborhood and how to avoid the neighborhood cats.

Last month, I attempted photos of the Black-crested Titmouse(s), Baeolophus atricristatus, who frequent my garden spaces. Their charming chirps allure, but their quick movements thwart photographic efforts–mine anyway.   Luckier this month, I captured some photos of some of these darling birds.  Resting between visits to a feeder,

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…and simply resting and looking adorable.

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This one refused to turn around, smile and say “seeds!”  for the camera.

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The birds I’m most excited about recently observing in my gardens are a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata.  This one is a male.

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Likely as not, I’ve seen this bird species before, because  it’s a common winter Texan.  As I’ve learned about birds, I’m becoming  aware that not all drab little birds are just more sparrows-of-some-sort.  I’m learning to discern their color patterns, size and beak differentiations, and vocalizations. The bird-learning curve is a steep one, to be sure.

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One must observe closely and (ahem) read a bit about birds to decipher the often subtle dissimilarities between the many species of warblers, finches, and sparrows.

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Most of the little “brown” birds sport colorful plumage here and there,

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…including on their bums.   Can you see the yellow rump in the above photo?

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I took a lots of photos before I finally got that yellow in action. There are at least two Yellow-rumps visiting my gardens regularly. This male I see most often,

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…and a female,  “myrtle” form.

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As it turns out, there are multiple sub-species related to this particular warbler and currently, I’m not nearly enough of a birder to adequately understand, much less explain, variations.  For the time being, I’m content to observe these shy little birds, all yellow rumped and sweet peeps, as they flit about my garden this winter.

While I secured a couple of decent butt shots of the female, I’m still working on a photo capture of the male’s cute yellow posterior. Heretofore, he’s been too busy showing  how pretty he is in other poses.

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A Red-bellied Woodpecker,  Melanerpes carolinus, is another daily visitor to my feeders and up and down the oak trees.

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I love it when he is feeding at the suet and a Blue Jay flies toward and in no uncertain terms, the woodpecker lets the Blue Jay know that it’s NOT HIS TURN!

There’s plenty where that came from, so wait until Red-belly is finished, Mr. Jay.

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At this feeder though, the Red-bellied Woodpecker doesn’t mind sharing the food bar with a House Sparrow, Passer domesticus.

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House Finches, Haemorhous mexicanus,   sit in the trees, on the ground, and at the feeders.  I love these chatty birds and I especially appreciate that they sit still, munching away contentedly for long enough to get good captures.  Usually, couples feed together, but at this particular moment, these two took turns–first him,

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…then her.

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In November I signed up to participate in  Project FeederWatch, a yearly, months-long look at bird population trends organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Mostly I did this because I felt the draw to participate in research on the status of North American birds, including migration and population  trends.  Also, I like the idea of being a citizen scientist.

 Snort.

Despite that trumped-up term, the information gleaned by the 200,000 participating volunteers throughout North America, is vital for research on how bird populations are trending up or down and, over time, whether native birds are declining, which, unfortunately, the project has documented.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology is all about the science of birds and through education, the conservation of our beloved and beleaguered native birds.  Cornell encourages concerned citizens to participate in this necessary research.

There are some rules and the counting method is specific and precise, though not difficult to understand or implement, even for novice bird watchers. Project FeederWatch spans November through April, book-ending the autumn and spring migration seasons, as well as the stable wintering population of your particular site. Ideally, observance is weekly, though there’s no penalty for skipping your count from time-to-time.  Cornell ornithologists are happy to get what information they can, when they can, to better understand how North American birds are faring.  Volunteers choose the same two consecutive days each week to observe and record what and how many birds are in the chosen area and for what length of time the area is observed.  Whether for one hour or many–it’s up to the volunteer–weather conditions are noted, and Cornell asks that particular rules of counting be followed to ensure no multiple counts of birds.  The process is well-tuned and the fine folks at Cornell Lab have done their utmost to make the activity easy to use and  educational. Data is either mailed in  hard copy form or entered directly into a user-friendly site; that’s my preferred method. Cornell requests an $18 participation donation for the starter kit, but  I think it’s well-worth that small amount to be part of a long-term scientific study and, like most scientific and educational organizations,  Cornell Lab of Ornithology can use all the moolah they can get.

It’s not too late to participate for this season; check out Project FeederWatch for more information.

Any excuse to watch the backyard birdies!

Oh dear.  I’m becoming one of them. Yeah, that’s right, my binoculars are on the shelf by the back door, ready and waiting.  Ready and waiting for that little female Downy Woodpecker who’s too quick in the oak trees for me to get much of a look, much less a decent photograph.

Oh well, there’s always preparation and photographs for  next month’s Wildlife Wednesday!

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for January Wildlife Wednesday–share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy wildlife gardening!

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33 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday, January 2016: All About Birds

    • Happy New Year to you, as well. Well, I don’t spend ALL day watching the birds, but they are entertaining. This birding thing has been quite educational. Like with so many other things, the more one learns, the more one realizes there is to learn.

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    • Thanks, Deborah. Sometimes I think to myself: :”Wow, that was a pretty good shot!” Then, I look at some of the Cornell Lab volunteers and the photos submitted on a weekly basis and I realize that there’s a ways to go….
      Looking forward to your post!

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  1. love your birds Tina, it can be difficult identifying the many little brown birds but as you say they do all have different markings and some quite colourful, though not compared to your cardinals and blue jays, interesting what you shared about why we see the jays as blue,
    my wildlife post is posted:
    https://islandthreads.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/wildlife-wednesday-january/

    thanks for hosting this meme and wishing you a happy new year and lots of visiting wildlife in 2016, Frances

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    • The birds have been quite active, but I am feeding them more intentionally this year. During our short, but gray and dull winter, it’s lovely to see the cardinals and jays in the garden. They really brighten things up!

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. Happy New Year and to many new birds! Lovely shots, and you’re right not all that look like sparrows are actually sparrows 🙂 I took some pictures but not ready for this month, I’ll be better prepared for the next one 🙂

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    • They are really cute. I am tickled that these two are in my garden, but I’m on the Master Naturalist FB group and on a hike this past weekend, they saw 20 in NW Austin. So, yeah, the yellow-rumps are around in numbers, just not in my garden.

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  4. Happy New Year Tina! My goodness you get such a wonderful variety of birds. I am seeing the usual birds especially woodpeckers, but even others are coming around the suet feeders like the blue jays which we see every so often. Other neighbors have feeders and I have suet. Seems like the birds are happy with the arrangement. And we had a few surprise visitors over the holidays which you can read about in my post:

    http://www.livingfromhappiness.com/wildlife-lesson-surprise-seasonal-miracles/

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  5. Happy New Year to you too, Donna! Mostly, it’s the same crew of birds, but a decent variety–at least enough to keep me interested. 🙂 Thanks for joining in with WW this month!

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  6. Happy New Year! Thanks for sharing your great collection of things with wings. Seeing birds just never gets boring. Today I happened to see a yellow rumped warbler for the first time. What a nice coincidence to see it at My Gardener Says, too. I feel much more confident about my ID now. As you say it is supposed to be a common winter visitor but it was new for me. Thrilling.

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    • Happy New Year to you, Debra! I agree that birds are never boring. I’m glad you were able to see a Yellow-rumped Warbler. I’ve so enjoyed my little visitors. I hope you get the chance to hear their peeps–very sweet and soft.

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  8. Happy New Year Tina! It looks as if you have a lot of sunshine to enjoy your wonderful assortment of visiting birds with. We have lots of birds visiting currently and a forthcoming RSPB bird watch, a similar version to your project. Citizen Science is really encouraged over here for all sorts of natural world activities. Apologies but I haven’t got a post to contribute this month but hopefully next.

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    • Happy 2016 to you too, Julie! Yes, it’s been a mild winter thus far, though we’ve had some gloomy days–I guess I just take photos on the sunny ones. 🙂 I’m aware that there is a huge citizen scientist movement in the UK–that’s so great. I think, for the most part, you guys are a bit ahead of us here for that type of thing. No worries about not posting, but I do miss your blogging and gorgeous photos….:)

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  9. I have a heated bird bath that I set up for the birds in the winter. It’s close to the back door and kitchen windows so I can bird watch up close. But I never manage any good pics in the winter or summer, for that matter. I do better with things that don’t move, like rocks. Love all these great pics!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awe, thanks! Birds are tremendously hard to photograph. I’ve come to really admire a great bird photo. I get the weekly Cornell Project FeederWatch photo contest winners and am constantly amazed at the photos people take of birds. I’m thrilled if my photo even resembles the actual bird. I’m with you–rocks, shrubs, flowers with no puff of breeze!

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  10. Wonderful post, Hostess Blogger! I barely have the discipline to be a citizen, much less a citizen scientist. That said, do you get to use a clipboard? If there are clipboards involved, I’ve already got a white coat…somewhere…

    Initially I was startled to see those yellow patches thinking “Have I always misunderstood the “Cheek” reference for warblers!?”. I was relived to see these are actually other delightful patchy types. I have a growing case of bird envy in the most specific way about these little lovelies. I’m heading back outside to look some more, but I’m pretty certain we are not on their Sites-to-Feed list. Fist to sky:Next year! Is there one particular seed that seems to be drawing them in? I’m not above bribing.

    Every time I approach some half decent level of photo-grooviness I find a site where everything is better. Clearer shots with more detail, taken from further away, with motion, in full sun…it is always something. If I look at a photo and it makes me happy to recall taking it – that is my new gold standard. Any photo you get of a bird that you can say for certain IS a bird is good enough. If you can make a good ID from the photo or that photo in combination with others, then well shot, and it most certainly is something I’ll look forward to seeing here next time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No clipboard comes with the assignment, just some loose papers with bird information that I left on the kitchen table and then inadvertently tossed out with the recycling. So much for being an organized scientist.

      However, it’s been a great exercise in thorough observation and record keeping, not to mention actually learning what birds are out there in the garden. As for the yellow “cheek”–he he! It’s funny, because since identifying this yellow-rumped cutie, I see them everywhere! I was in San Diego last week and saw them everywhere–not to mention lots of other birds. And, guess what? I took the time to id the birds I saw and learn about them!! Who knew that was a thing?!

      As for bird photos, well that’s tricky to say the least. I’ll think I’ve got a good shot and then see something on Cornell’s site, or some other blog and I think….okay, a ways to go. But thanks and I’m enjoying all of the above!

      Liked by 1 person

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    • Thanks! Isn’t the Yellow-rumped Warbler darling? According to something that I read on the Cornell site, a common, affectionate name for these little cuties is “butter-butts”, which, if anything, is even more charming. I took a look at your Jay–very different from ours. In North America there are several different Jay species–all all blue to green, fairly large, and very noisy. I love their calls and chatter.

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