Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Moon & Venus

A New Year's Eve special - Crescent Moon and Venus shining brightly below it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

PFW - Week 8: First Hawk Sighting

There were plenty of Cooper's and Sharp-Shinned Hawks stalking the feeders at the house, but today was the first time I saw one here at the apartment. I saw a bird about the size of a large pigeon buzzing through the trees and recognized the striping on its breast and realized that it was a short-shinned hawk, confirmed by the straight tail (as opposed to a cooper's with a curved tail and generally larger.)

Lucy wanted to help me keep a record of bird sightings, but without opposable thumbs she was having a hard time handling the pencil.

Total count for the weekend:

  • Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
  • Mourning Dove 1
  • Downy Woodpecker 1
  • Carolina Chickadee 2
  • American Robin 1
  • Song Sparrow 1
  • White-throated Sparrow 2
  • Dark-eyed Junco 1
  • Northern Cardinal 2
  • House Finch 7 (0 with eye disease)
  • House Sparrow 9

My family is onto my love of birds and here is one of my Christmas gifts. Of course, it's also a Cardinal ..... as in the University of Louisville Cardinals, my favorite college sports team.

Happy New Year & best wishes for 2009.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas to ALL

I hope everyone enjoys the holiday season, spends time with family and loved ones, reflects upon good fortunes. May we all be blessed with rare birds, but never neglect the birds that are always with us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

PFW - Week 7: Cold, Windy & Finchy

Woke up this morning to 3*F temperatures this morning at 8:00, and windy to boot. Notice the thistle sock blowing sideways along with the feeder.

The weekend brought the normal house finches (10) plus a few house sparrows, a Northern Cardinal, and the last-minute Downy Woodpecker.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Late Night Birdwatching

I stepped out on the balcony to hear what sounded like more than one owl hooting it up. I thought they were in front of me in the trees, but looked up to see two figures flying through the air from behind. They landed on an antenna attached to the office building across the way. Put my bins on them and there were definitely two owls! They were out there for a while doing the mating ritual. The male is wooing the female, lifting his tail while hooting. She coquettishly turns away.

Too bad I can't get a good picture in the dark to ID them. But what a treat to see this in the middle of an urban area.

Last check, he's still there, but looks like she flew off.  Must have discovered his dark side.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

PFW - Week 6: Windy & Almost No Birds

It was so windy this weekend my feeder station with large metal base actually toppled over and feeders went flying everywhere. I wonder if that would explain the lack of birds. My count was a meager 6 House Finches. That's it. Even away from the feeder area there were only a few Cedar Waxwings, a Robin and one Chickadee.

The Downy Woodpecker has been excavating a hole in a small dead tree just below my unit the past month. Unfortunately, the winds took out the top half of the tree, probably further weakened by the excavation. Too bad. I was looking forward to seeing baby woodpeckers next Spring :(

Sunday, December 7, 2008

PFW - Week 5: More of the same

Just the typical birds for this weekend's PFW count. Yesterday's temps were somewhat moderate for this time of year, but extremely windy conditions which probably kept some of the birds away. Today it was much colder, 15 degrees at 7:00 a.m., and not much warmer throughout the day, but at least the winds were much calmer. The bird count was:

  • Downy Woodpecker 1
  • American Robin 2
  • Cedar Waxwing 8
  • Song Sparrow 1
  • Northern Cardinal 2
  • House Finch 8 (0 with eye disease)
  • House Sparrow 4
No bird pictures, but I have to post the latest of Lucy.

Early this morning as the sun was rising, I noticed the clouds reflecting in the office building windows across from me. I liked the way they were distorted and took a few photographs.

Have a great week!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

PFW - Week 4: Return of the Waxwings & Robins

There were dozens and dozens of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins flying around and through the trees and shrubs all morning and into the early afternoon. I am not sure what they are eating since it appeared that they had stripped all the berries a couple of weeks ago, but obviously there was something of interest to them out there.

I woke up to a light snow that continued on and off throughout the day. Temperatures never got above freezing. These must be favorable conditions for the birds as there were a total of nine bird species venturing into the count area and a total of 11 in the vicinity.

Project FeederWatch Count:
  • Downy Woodpecker 1
  • Carolina Chickadee 1
  • American Robin 6
  • European Starling 3
  • Cedar Waxwing 30
  • Song Sparrow 1
  • Northern Cardinal 1
  • House Finch 9 (1 with eye disease)
  • House Sparrow 9

American Robin

Cedar Waxwing

Northern Cardinal

American Crow
strutting along the office building roof across the way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

PFW - Week 3: Where'd they all go?

I am back to where I thought I would be when I first set up the feeder station here at the apartment -- almost no birds. My count this weekend was 7 House Sparrows, 5 House Finches, and 1 Downy Woodpecker that came to the suet feeder at the last moment to be counted. That's it! Even the bird numbers outside the feeder area (those not counted for Project FeederWatch) were way down. Yesterday morning about 60 Cedar Waxwings flew in briefly, but haven't been seen since. It looks like the berries have been stripped so the Waxwings, Robins and Starlings have probably moved on in their nomadic way to greener pastures (or berrier locales.)

So if there are no birds, I'll just have to show pictures of my favorite birdwatching partner, Lucy.

I am learning that she has talents other than birdwatching, sleeping and eating. She obviously has a green thumb and is helping me maintain my houseplants.

She has no problem jumping right in to pull the dead leaves.

I shouldn't laugh. Houseplants can be very dangerous for cats. But honestly, I cracked up when she did this. Of course, it wouldn't have been so funny if she had knocked it over or tracked dirt through the apartment.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cedar Waxwings Galore

I've been noticing the Cedar Waxwings on occasion during my PFW count days, but I came home for lunch this afternoon and was simply overwhelmed by the number of Waxwings outside my apartment! They were in the trees, perched on roofs, foraging berries in the many shrubs, and calling their very high pitched "bzeee" notes. It's one thing to hear a dozen Waxwings calling, but at times there must have been about 200 of these beauties in sight. It was an amazing experience.

The Cedar Waxwing gets its name from the "red, waxlike tips on the secondary flight-feathers of adult birds." But as I looked at all the photos I took, a few shown below, none of the Waxwings had the red tips, meaning none were adults. I wonder if only the juvies were bold enough to come within range of my camera? It's hard to believe that in the entire flock there were no adults. The last picture below shows a Waxwing I photographed a couple of years ago. Notice the red wing tips indicating that it is an adult.

Here's the picture of an adult Cedar Waxwing
(notice the red wing tips)
taken in April of 2007 at "the house."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

PFW - Week 2: Fewer Birds, but is that a blessing?

Lucy is resting after a hard weekend of birdwatching. She single-pawedly ran off a dozen house sparrows, but still gets no respect from the squirrels. I'll have to teach her to look more menacing. I only had eight species this weekend, down from eleven last week. Still topping the list were the dozen house sparrows and seven house finches. The Cedar Waxwings are still foraging on berries in the periphery of the feeder area, but once again one showed some curiosity in the feeder area and came by to be counted. Other curiosity seekers were an American Robin and Northern Mockingbird.

I suppose I should look on the bright side of having fewer birds than when I was at the house. I don't have to buy seed very often. While birdwatchers and feeders across the US and Canada are complaining about the increasing seed prices, it looks like I might be able to get by on only 20 lbs of hulled Black-Oil Sunflower Seed (BOSS) this winter. In the past, it wouldn't be unusual to go through 20 lbs (unhulled) every two weeks or less.

Like everything else right now, bird seed prices have rapidly escalated over the past year or so. By some reports, the price has increased anywhere from 40% to 100% (depending on type) since the beginning of 2007. Naturally, rising fuel costs (until recently) play a part in the increase since the seed has to be transported from the midwest growing areas to the rest of the continent. (Can you believe gas is below $2.00 a gallon now? Never thought I'd see that again, but how long will it last?)

However, fuel costs are not the primary reason, at least not directly. The primary reason is corn. More of it is going into ethanol production as an alternative fuel. Because there is greater demand for corn and the price has gone up, less acreage is being planted with other ag products such as sunflower, millet and safflower ..... all seeds fed to the birds. With less product, price goes up. And this is further compounded by Frito-Lays decision to switch to sunflower oil. Therefore, even less BOSS is available for the birds in order to make our snack foods "healthier". (I say that tongue in cheek.)

So I'll just be happy with my few birds and hope the hoards of starlings that hang out continue to stay away from the feeders.

House Finch (I know, another house finch. What can I say, they are always here!)

Northern Cardinal - male
(The female also showed up this weekend, but I couldn't get a decent picture.)

(Another) Downy Woodpecker

Song Sparrow! Something new.
Do you think he's a bit wary of having his picture taken?

Have a great week!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

PFW - Week 1: Yard to Apartment, any success???

My birdwatching and Project FeederWatch counting started in a nice backyard with lots of trees that attracted so many birds. I didn't know how successful I would be in an apartment with only a small balcony, and surrounded by office buildings and parking garages. The one thing going for my unit is that there are lots of trees and shrubs with berries separating the apartments from the office buildings. Evidently, that clinched it for the birds. And perhaps the cold spell that came through this weekend.

The mornings between 7:00 and 9 or 10 have been a bird frenzy, particularly the Robins and Starlings foraging for the berries. But the feeder birds also came out in numbers. My biggest dilemna is establishing the boundaries of my feeder area so as not to expand it to include everything I see. That was a real challenge when the flock of Cedar Waxwings arrived and I desperately wanted to count them, but couldn't. My restraint paid off however. One of them came over to investigate the bird bath before I scared it off unintentionally. Maybe I couldn't count all 15, but I got the one!

All total, I had 11 species for PFW and 13 total. The two that couldn't be enticed into the feeder area were a couple of American Crows and a single Blue Jay (even though I do have peanuts!) That's not bad. I looked up first week counts from years past and twice I had only 12 species.

And now, my favorite part ..... photographs! I did my best despite having at times to shoot through a double paned glass door and screen. There are a few photos here, but please keep going to the last one. You'll see my birdwatching partner trying her part to keep the squirrels away. Yes, there are squirrels even here. Put up a bird feeder and they will come.

House Finch

Carolina Chickadee

European Starling
(I only took this picture because of his unusual head coloring)
[NOTE:  Cornell wonders if this bird is actually lacking feathers on its head.]

American Robin

Northern Cardinal

Dark-eyed Junco

Northern Flicker
(one of the biggest surprises of the weekend)

Downy Woodpecker

Lucy & the Squirrel seeing eye-to-eye (not really)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hope Revived

It was a beautiful October day and I had time this morning to watch the birds at the feeders, and a couple of new ones [for this location, anyway] showed up. Of course, the usual suspects - House Sparrows & House Finches - were around.

Later, a pair of Carolina Chickadees came around, sharing the feeder if need be with the House Finch.

They would grab a sunflower seed and take off to the shrubs across the parking lot. Return for another, and repeat over and over again, chattering all the way back.

This male Downy Woodpecker didn't actually feed from the feeder, but hung around for a short while to check it out. Now that he knows what's here, maybe he'll come back for the suet this winter.

I've been wondering why there have been so few birds. Do you think my bird-watching partner could have something to do with it?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Project FeederWatch - Preseason

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each species they see at their feeders from November through early April. FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Project FeederWatch is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.

This season will be my 4th [correction -- 5th] and it starts November 8th. I put up the feeders after I moved here hoping that the birds would find them and start flocking around them on a regular basis. But if last weekend is any indication, bird activity will be sparse. My count would have been:

House Sparrow - 3
House Finch - 2

These aren't difficult birds to attract to a feeder. Where are the Downy Woodpeckers that stopped by briefly a couple of weeks ago? The Northern Cardinals that were the first visitors? Nope, HOSPs and HOFIs.

This poor fellow is suffering from conjunctivitis, and respiratory disease that is common in House Finches. It causes the eyes to become inflamed and a crust to form on them; making it difficult to see, forage, and avoid predators. He comes around several times a day for the easy pickings.

The poor eyesight also makes it difficult for him to even find the feeder. He'll make several passes at it before he finds the platform.

The only other interesting visitor over the weekend was this praying mantis that found something good (to him) to eat.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Birdscapes sans Garden

The native garden is on its own and I won't be able to have one with apartment living, but at least I can feed and watch the birds for Project FeederWatch. This is a view of my minimalistic feeder area as seen reflected in the office building across the parking lot of the apartment complex. Right now I have thistle, sunflower hearts and a bird bath.

The house finches found the feeding station in no time flat.

After a week, the cardinals showed up today. This juvenile was the first to investigate.

He finally figured out how to get to the food. Later this afternoon, the adult female and male cardinals came by as well.

This molting Blue Jay perched on the wires, but didn't stop by the feeders. I may have to add peanuts to the menu.

Not birds, but I saw some interesting flying machines up in the sky. The MetLife blimp was in town for the PGA tournament at Bellerive Country Club this weekend. Looks like this balloonist thought he would enjoy the view as well. I wonder how close to each other they really were?