Archive for July, 2013

My birding expedition for Owls and Herons

birding heron the bird shedHaving a friend point out a Great Horned Owl nesting site is truly a gift.  When Jack told me about a local nest, I loaded my car with kids and adults and a good telescope and we were off.  This birding trip is a “two-fer” jaw dropper for anyone.  The owls are nesting in the middle of a busy and possibly the largest Heron rookery in Eastern Massachusetts.

No need to worry about making noise.  We shambled around the back of an esker talking and hollering.  We turned a bend and for some it was the first time seeing an active Heron rookery.  Wow.  Dead pines standing tall in a small lake all sporting one or two heron nests and each occupied by adult Great Blue Herons either sitting or standing and with their wispy breeding plumage waving in the wind.

My notes from Jack said the owls were in the sixth or seventh heron nest from the left and within 2 seconds I was on it.  There was an adult lying low with her tufts standing incongruously against the horizontal twigs and there, next to the crouching adult was a nestling covered in white down, standing tall and wobbly and peering over the lip.

Everyone had turns at the scope, with some more junior members having to be lifted up to the eyepiece.  Having taken a quick look, they were off to find anything they could satisfy their curiosity.  This left the adults with plenty of time to scope the nest and check out the herons, the swallows and the blackbirds.  Three flickers swooped by and landed in a variety of positions atop a dead pine (see Audubon print for a timeless depiction).

Parenting is a common bond in nature, with adults keeping a watchful on their surroundings and respecting each other’s distance and the young endangering themselves with reckless abandon and curiosity.

Lastly, the term “rookery” is really a misnomer.  In Europe, a rookery is the mass nesting site of rooks, and a heronry is the same but for herons.

Looking for a way to attract the beautiful Evening Grosbeak?


Looking for a way how to attract the beautiful Evening Grosbeaks? Here are few simple steps in bringing these joys of nature up close and personal.

  • Make the area as natural to evening grosbeaks by giving it what it really likes. Use a location inside or on the outskirts of a forest in the Northeastern portion of the United States.
  • Use sunflower seeds, removed from the flower, throughout your yard or nature area. Position the seeds far enough away from any heavily used human areas so as not to disturb the birds while they eat. We recommend you start doing this 1-2 weeks before you could even expect to see one.
  • Install bird feeders around the area to further attract the birds. Use a general wild bird seed mix, plus add extra sunflower seeds, to the food. Did we say sunflowers again? Evening grosbeaks love to eat sunflower seeds, so throw plenty of the seeds out there.
  • Hang suet around the area as an additional way of attracting these birds. Add some additional foods such as safflower and or maple seeds for a scrumptious feast for them.
  • Keep bird feeders, feeding tubes and platform feeders filled with ample amounts of sunflowers! Once the Evening Grosbeaks figure out your area is filled with beak delicious morsels, many will flock to your area and be happy and loyal customers. That is until you run out of sunflower seeds. We said sunflower seeds again… go get some!

Happy Birding!

Evening Grosbeak tips to attract

Birding by ear – A good birding method for new or experienced birders

birding listening by earBirding by Ear is an activity many people do unintentionally.  Whether it is awakening to the dawn chorus or noticing the calls of birds in the backyard while fixing a car or raking a lawn, most people have sudden moments of unexpected appreciation for bird calls and songs.  There are those though who go to what I call the next level, which is being able to identify the bird based on its call.  Perhaps there are a few birds that they recognize with ease, such as the raucous screeching of the Blue Jays, or the harsh barking of an American Crow, or the more delicate name calling of the Black Capped Chickadee.  Each backyard hosts a variety of birds and each species is readily identifiable.

From this elementary level, it is possible to elevate in several directions of mastery.  For example, in the spring, hordes of young birdwatchers from Europe spend thousands of dollars to descend upon the New Jersey shore.  These foreign birders eagerly anticipate lying on the ground at night and listening to the calls and identifying the migrating warblers passing overhead.

Another direction for bird listeners is taking a scientific approach to breeding patterns.  By listening carefully to the composition of individual bird song, the bird listener can identify repeated patterns, patterns that may also be repeated by other birds of the same species.  By matching the patterns, the scientist can draw conclusions about nesting behavior, territory, and distances traveled by fledglings in search of new territories.

Similarly, each spring, the truly talented bird listeners with remarkably sensitive hearing will take part in the Breeding Bird Atlas studies.  These birders have mastered the myriad of calls sung by birds that breed in their regions.  They stand on pre-assigned spots early in the morning and wait to hear the calls.  By noting the species and the number of birds in each species they can report back on the breeding populations of each species.

Me – I am taking great satisfaction in hearing my 8 year old son responding with his “Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea” when he hears the Carolina Wren outside his bedroom window and watching him and his little friends calling back and forth “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.”