The Great Backyard Bird Count

I’m gearing up for the Great Backyard Bird Count, which takes place on February 12-15, 2010. I am an ambassador this year and will give a presentation about the GBBC at the Moon Township library on February 6.
If you would like to participate please visit to learn more about it, how to count the birds, and how to submit checklists. It is important that you submit the highest number of birds seen at any given time; e.g. if you see seven cardinals at a time and an hour later you see five, put seven in your checklist, not 12. It is quite possible that you are counting the same birds twice.
Most importantly, have fun! The GBBC is a great way to get acquainted with birds. Perhaps you will find a new interest. I did.

Adventures of Bird Feeding

Our backyard has been covered with snow the entire year now. That means that the birds are busy visiting our feeders. Nature being what it is, occasionally songbirds look like a tasty meal themselves. My husband spotted a hawk in our yard and the cardinals disappeared; all but one, who was sitting in the neighbor’s pear tree unaware of the danger. When he noticed the hawk he took off between our house and the neighbor’s with the hawk in pursuit. We don’t know what happened to the poor cardinal but haven’t seen any feathers around. I guess hawks need to eat too, and with the snowcovered ground they can’t find any rodents to eat.
When I stepped into our garage today I saw a creature fluttering around. It was a bird who must have flown into the garage and then the door was closed. I let the poor guy out because he must have been hungry. That happens when birds become too curious!

A Stranger at the Feeder

The frigid weather – and the fact that the ground is covered with snow – brings lots of birds to our feeders. Unfortunately, many of them are starlings. The other day, however, I noticed a red-brown speckled bird on the ground I did not immediately recognize. I consulted my new book, “Lives of North American Birds” by Kenn Kaufman, and feel pretty confident that the new guy is a fox sparrow. The book says that it makes forward jumps and then scratches back with both feet at once. That’s exactly what struck me as odd about this sparrow. We have never seen a fox sparrow before, but since we are just north of its usual winter grounds it’s entirely possible that a fox sparrow is visiting our yard.
I would love to get a photo of this stranger, but my fingers are already ice cold inside the house. I therefore need to find a good pair of gloves/mitts with removable finger tips to operate camera controls. Don’t worry, I would not expose my bare fingers but instead wear liners underneath the gloves. Liners give me the necessary dexterity to turn buttons and focus the lens. It will be a while, though, until the weather is decent enough for me venture outside for more than filling our feeders. Until then, I keep watching the birds from our kitchen window–and try to figure out how to get rid of starlings.

Winter Feeding

We’re busy filling our feeders since the arrival of arctic temperatures. The other day, I observed a flock of red-winged blackbirds and some starlings in our trees. Sure enough, I had to fill our feeder twice during the day. I also made some homemade suet because the birds loved it so much last winter. However, today I realized that the birds weren’t eating it. Finally, it occurred to me that the suet holder on our new bird feeder is bigger than the slice of suet I put in. I added another piece of suet and, sure enough, the birds attacked it right away.
Last weekend, we headed to the trail in search of exercise and fresh air. However, the trail was still covered with icy snow and walking was treacherous. We therefore didn’t get very far before turning around. When we stopped and looked up we observed a cardinal, a red-bellied woodpecker, a mockingbird, a chickadee, and a tufted titmouse. I have to go back with my camera when the weather is more favorable.

Feeder Watch

Saturday’s snow fall really brings the birds to our feeders. I counted 12 cardinals at one time. Also in abundance are house sparrows, mourning doves, and squirrels (not birds, but a steady presence around our feeders). A Carolina wren also visits the feeders quite often, and three crows search for the peanuts my husband throws outside every morning. As if to compensate for other birds, we seem to have fewer dark-eyed juncos than during other winters.
A new addition to our bird/squirrel offerings is a log that hangs from a bungee cord. It is pressed out of corn kernels, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. It is a huge hit with squirrels, titmice, chickadees, and wrens. Of course, we have our usual offerings of black-oil sunflower seeds, safflower, corn kernels, nyger, and suet. Something for everybody!

Failures of the gardening year

The biggest “failure” of our gardening year was our inability to find a two-tiered bird fountain. It was supposed to be the focal point of our second native garden. We looked locally and online and came up “empty.” Everything we saw was either too small or the water would be too deep for birds to stand in. A bird bath should not be deeper than two inches and nothing passed the test. We finally bought a pretty bird bath and a water wiggler. It was not very popular, though, until we hung up our bird feeders. I guess water alone was not enough of a magnet for birds.
We also purchased an arbor and placed it at the entrance to our native garden. We had images of trumpet honeysuckle climbing up the sides and luring hummingbirds with their sweet smell. Alas, we could not find trumpet honeysuckle anywhere. We hope to have better luck next year.
We also expanded our vegetable area and planted tomatoes and paprika. That proved to be too much temptation for our resident groundhog (actually, he resides under our neighbor’s barn, but finds more food in our backyard). Our plan for next year is therefore to put up a fence to protect tender plants from wildlife since we spend a small fortune on repellants.
Fences are on our list for next year, but overall we’re happy with the way our backyard has turned out this year. Considering that we haven’t had much rain this summer and fall we’re lucky that we only had to water our new serviceberry and the annuals, of course.

Successes of the gardening year

The gardening year is winding down and it’s time to take stock of the successes of our native garden. After removing our huge silver maple, we had enough space in our backyard to finally buy a serviceberry. It is now the centerpiece of our second native garden. Its bloom was very short this year (I didn’t even get to photograph it because it was over so quickly) but I hope it will bloom longer in its second year. I missed the berries because I was out of town at the time. Its autumn color was beautiful–a russett red that added a beautiful shade to our fall garden.
We also purchased a Joe-pye weed that was a bee and butterfly magnet. I have the photos to prove it. Its blooms attracted bumble bees into October. Luckily, we got a dwarf variety. They can get taller than a man in the wild.
Our zinnias recovered after the first shoots were eaten by rabbits. With a later bloom, they provided color until the first frost killed them.
Next time I will blog about the failures of our gardening year. Luckily, there weren’t many.

Birds & Blooms

I am excited to announce that my photo of an airborne Tufted Titmouse is a finalist in Birds & Blooms magazine’s backyard photo contest. People can now vote online by logging on to
After winning First Place in WildBird magazine’s photo contest in 2005 and an Honorable Mention in Pennsylvania Magazine’s photo contest 2006, this is the third time my little friend is up for an award. It even landed me on TV when Dave Crawley from KDKA Country filmed me in 2005. Now, the titmouse graces my business card and the homepage of my website, enchanting everyone who sees it. Will three be a charm? I’ll keep you posted on the results.

The Wood Duck

The wood duck is one of a few ducks in North America that nests in trees near water. Many people consider it to be the most beautiful of all waterfowl. You can count me among them now. I think they look like swimming paintings.
Wood ducks readily nest in boxes, and that’s how they were introduced to North Chagrin Reservation. As you can see on this photo, the head of a wood duck drake is iridescent. While the females look more drab, they also have a crest and beautiful plumage. Most remarkable is their white eye ring.
They feed off seeds, acorn, fruits, and invertebrates. At North Chagrin, they often picked up pieces of wood out of the pond.
Wood ducks pair up in January and are usually paired by the time they reach their breeding grounds. They are probably gone by now, but they’ll be back in Ohio next year, ready to enchant us again with their beauty.

North Chagrin – Part 3

Photographers should always be open for new subjects. Such was the case on the morning of the first workshop day when a buck appeared on the other side of the small pond. Undisturbed by leaf-peepers and photographers, it made its way along the paved trail while we photographers fired away. It was the first time that I actually photographed a deer. The only other time I encountered a deer while carrying my camera the deer was way too close. I figured that I could maybe photograph its nose and not much else. And the nose would have probably been out of focus.
I am still editing the hundreds of shots I took at North Chagrin and find that I have many favorites. Considering the bad weather we have had during the past few weekends I had great luck. I still can’t get over how tame the birds were. Last week, I went to Beechwood. There were three mallards on the pond but they always swam to the other side of the pond when they noticed me. They must have been passers-through since Beechwood is a popular destination with hikers and school groups.
All in all, I couldn’t be happier with my results.