Birding Friday

This morning my husband and I finally spotted the first ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder. Usually they arrive here around May 1 and I was getting worried they may not show up.
On a whim I decided to participate in a guided bird walk today at Sewickley Heights park. I was hoping to get some tips on where to find birds. Highlights of our (very long) walk were: Blackburnian warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, hooded warbler, Kentucky warbler, American redstart, red-eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, bluebird, and a Cooper’s hawk. Not bad for a couple of hours of birding. I also learned that the best way to see warblers is to search for them in sun-lit tall trees. All in all it was an enjoyable outing and I took away some great advice about the habitats of different species.

Bird of the Day

The other day my husband spotted the first rose-breasted grosbeak in our backyard. I didn’t see it, but set up my camera yesterday hoping it would show up. Instead, I photographed a blue jay with a piece of corn in its beak. Wind and clouds finally convinced me it was time to go inside. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I took my camera off the tripod a turkey showed up in the yard. If only I had stayed in my blind a minute longer… Such is often the case with photography. The moment I pack everything up an exciting bird shows up. That’s why I’m hesitant to quit.

I haven’t seen a ruby-throated hummingbird yet, but keep cleaning our feeder and expect to report a first sighting soon.

Turkey Hill

The “wild” turkeys in our neighborhood are getting pretty bold. The other day my husband observed a turkey in the front yard of a house down the street from us. It is pretty common for them to stroll through our backyard, but now they’re crossing the street?
Then on Sunday we spotted a male and a female turkey under our feeder for a short while. A little later my husband noticed a turkey taking a dust bath in our neighbor’s dirt. Perhaps there is some truth to the advice to give birds a place to take a dirt bath. After all, their feathers need to be in ship shape to take off when a predator is nearby. We never run out of new things to see in our backyard.

An Unusual Visitor

On Wednesday I set up my blind to photograph the birds in our backyard. I took several photos of what I thought was a sparrow. But when I looked at the LCD monitor of my camera I noticed that it had a crossbill; its upper bill was longer than the lower bill and its tail was very long. We consulted our birding guides and websites and came to the conclusion that it was probably a juvenile white-winged crossbill, a very rare visitor in our parts. I’m now waiting to have my sighting confirmed. During spring migration we often see birds that we don’t observe for the rest of the year. But this bird is truly a life list bird.

Planting for Birds – Serviceberry

Last year, we planted a Smooth Serviceberry – Amelanchier laevis – in our backyard. It is also known as a shadbush or juneberry. When in doubt, always check the Latin name on a tag.
This particular serviceberry is a shrub and ideal for small yards. Its white flowers are blooming right now. The berries are popular with birds and the coppery red leaves add great color to any fall yard.

Birding Update

Two days ago we saw the first Eastern Towhee in your yard. It has been a regular early-morning visitor ever since then.
Yesterday, I headed to Boyce-Mayview Park to photograph birds. The morning air was resonating with the call of Red-winged Blackbirds who flitted about the shrubs and tall trees. The Bluebirds were more quiet, taking in the morning sun from tall trees. I did not have much success photographing either since they were too far away. Perhaps when the vegetation grows and I can easier hide I will be more successful. In the meantime, I am putting up my blind in our backyard. Unfortunately, the blind is very noisy in the slightest wind and yesterday I had to take it down again, as it spooked the birds away.

Still, it is great to be outdoors again after a long winter. Yesterday, the temperature reached 81 degrees. It seems unreal that the trees are still bare and the juncos are still here.

A New Plant in our Yard

The nurseries are finally open and we made a trip to Reilly’s Summer Seat Farm to see what native plants we could find. We bought a spicebush, which had been on our wish list for several reasons: birds like to eat their red berries in the fall; they attract spicebush swallowtails; they are compact; and their yellow flowers add a new color to our yard in mid-spring. What’s not to like?
I plan on photographing this shrub in several seasons and will keep you posted how the birds and insects take to the spicebush.

At the Rookery

It wouldn’t be spring without a visit to a great blue heron rookery. So, when I learned that there is a rookery at Boyce-Mayview Park in Upper St. Clair I had to investigate it. It was a beautiful spring morning when we headed out to the park where we were greeted by red-winged blackbirds and the first bluebirds of the season.
Finally, after making a wrong turn and having to climb up a hill, we saw the rookery across the creek. It was quiet time and the only action we saw was a heron who kept flying to an abandoned nest across the creek. Was it a nest from last year? Who knows, but the heron seemed to think it was a convenient way to build a new nest. While we observed the herons we saw a red-tailed hawk from above.
All in all, it was a successful day of birding, especially once we found an almost level trail that took us back to our car.

It Works!

After the snow receded I could finally test my new birdcam. I first put it on the ground to catch birds that don’t visit our feeders but rather forage among the spoils from above.
It is only appropriate that the first two photos the camera took were of a turkey (and the tail of another one). If it seems as if I’m blogging about turkeys a lot lately that’s because they are around so often. The camera also captured a mourning dove, a cardinal, and a song sparrow.

Backyard Brawl

We are experiencing exceptionally sunny weather and the snow in our yard is slowly melting. The snow-free area under our feeder is getting a bit larger every day, thus exposing all the sunflower seeds that fell to the ground over the past few weeks. Visits from our “resident” turkeys are becoming less frequent. One time over the weekend, however, we witnessed three turkeys approaching said area, only to find a squirrel canvassing the ground. When one of the turkeys got a bit too close to the squirrel the squirrel defended its riches and the turkey hopped into the air. This occurred at least twice. It was quite hilarious to watch the squirrel stand up–so to speak–to the much larger turkey.