Thursday, April 30, 2020

April on Skidaway Island - in spite of the Coronavirus

No doubt spring is the time to get out with a camera and search out colorful migrants.  I did the same, but mostly with a sound recorder since this is also the time of year when they are most vocal.  The month's highlight for me was recording a rare visitor, the Blackburnian Warbler.  While I was at it I did manage to identify 107 species on the island for this month, a little better than my average over the past 10 years.

At the same time I am a strong advocate for creating your own bird garden, right in your backyard.  There are only a few migrating song birds attracted to feeders.  If they are going to stop by your place it is usually for water.  Water and cover are the magnets for migratory birds.  Cover provides shelter, and bugs for the protein they need to continue their long trips. Water for drinking and bathing.

Of course, new photo opportunities abound with strategically placed shrubs, trees and water features.  Here are some of my results from my garden during the month of April,  including some local birds which do come to the feeders, and even a real ordinary bird like a Common Grackle. 

Black-and-white Warbler.
For a bird with only two colors this male is pretty spectacular. 

Brown-headed Nuthatches don't often pause long enough for a picture.  You take what you can get.

Gray Catbird. A frequent winter visitor, but more commonly seen as a migrant. 
A voracious eater of suet and peanuts for protein and fat to make the rest of the haul.

A female Northern Parula.  This one and her mate often come to the water feature for a bath.

The poorly named Worm-eating Warbler can sneak right by you
without your knowing it was even there. This was shot from inside the house.

Yellow-rumped Warbler.  We have them all winter, but they never dress up until spring, like this male. 
The last have gone through by the end of April. If you see them out west they will have a yellow throat. 
Many still refer to them by their original names, Myrtle Warbler in the east and Audubon's Warbler out west.

A female Yellow-throated Warbler. They are not considered migratory.
This breeding species is particularly fond of suet.
And year-round it is a pleasure to look at.
Common Grackle can look like a pretty ho-hum blackbird,
but look closely as the purple/bronze hues in it body feathers. In fact,
until the early 1980's this species was universally known as Bronzed Grackle. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Chatham County Common Backyard Birds

Common Backyard Birds of Chatham County, Georgia

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common breeders in
Chatham County and increasingly seen in winter.

Eastern Screech-owls are becoming hard to find. 
Please report any observations to me.

Barred Owls are adaptable and locally common.

Red-headed Woodpecker likes dead trees.
It is scarce in winter. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker with its ladder-back. 
The red belly is hard to see.

Downy Woodpecker is the smallest
member of that family.

Northern Flicker is a resident,
but more often seen in winter months.

Pileated Woodpecker is our largest member of that family.

Carolina Chickadee is found in every backyard with a feeder.

Tufted Titmouse is another very common backyard feeder bird.

White-breasted Nuthatch comes easily to backyard feeders.
It's call is a nasal horn sound.

Brown-headed Nuthatch sounds like a rubber ducky.

Carolina Wren is one of the most common backyard species, 
often seen close to the ground.

The Eastern Bluebird can often be found nesting in 
man-made boxes. It relishes dried mealworms to eat.

American Robin is a resident, but more abundant 
during winter months.

Northern Mockingbird is a member of the family of 
mimic thrushes for its ability to copy other birds' songs.

Brown Thrasher is the state bird of Georgia and a mimic thrush.

Blue Jays are often the neighborhood noisy bad boys; 
they are related to crows.

American Crows are among the smartest 
and most resourceful birds on the planet.

Eastern Towhees are actually sparrows. 
The female is brown rather than glossy black.

Northern Cardinal female is brown with a striking large red bill.

Northern Cardinal may be the most common bird in your garden.
  Their brilliant red plumage is at its best in early spring.

Painted Buntings are a signature bird on our coast.
The female and young Painted Buntings are green.

Winter Visitors to Chatham County

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a member
of the woodpecker family.

Eastern Phoebe is common in winter.  
It is a flycatcher.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The ruby crown on this little bird
is only seen when it is alarmed.
Gray Catbird sounds like a cat. 
They will come to water features.
Hermit Thrush will easily come to a water feature. 
Otherwise it likes to stay hidden.

Chipping Sparrows will easily come to bird feeders.

White-throated Sparrows feed on seeds on the ground.  
They are seen more often in late winter. 
American Goldfinch in winter plumage.

American Goldfinch in breeding plumage just before 
they migrate back north. 

Yellow-rumped Warblers are among the 
most common birds we see in fall and winter.

The yellow rump.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A List of Breeding Birds of Skidaway Island, Chatham County, Georgia

The following is a list of birds which currently breed on Skidaway Island, have bred in the recent past, there is evidence, or there are reasonable expectations of nesting because adult birds were found on the island during the appropriate nesting nesting season. The species list is in taxonomic order.

Wood Duck
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Clapper Rail
Common Gallinule
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-heron
Yellow-crowned Night-heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Mississippi Kite
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
House Finch
Chipping Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Orchard Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Parula
Pine Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Painted Bunting          72
Least Bittern
Cooper's Hawk
Red-eyed Vireo
European Starling
Indigo Bunting             5


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Sunbathing Barred Owl

In the past few weeks two young Barred Owls have been regularly showing at my feeders and water feature during dry days.  More recently it has been only one.  This afternoon, alerted by a ferocious bark from the dog, we found the one had returned.  In fact earlier it had been overhead in the trees above the driveway where the song birds were equally as excited as the dog.  The owl does a lot of sitting, so it is hardly mesmerizing to watch, but today it jumped down from the bird bath and spread its wings on the ground to sunbath(?). 

More likely it was using the opportunity to rid itself of mites and otherwise keep its feathers in good condition. As you probably know already, owls' eyes are fixed in their sockets, so the only way owls can see what is taking place around them is by twisting their heads.  It looks odd, but it works, and along with an incredible sense of hearing and remarkable eyesight, they can easily locate their prey.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Nature's Waste Management

Several years ago on a hot summer day walk I came upon a young lady approaching from the opposite direction, peering at the vultures circling above with a look of fear and repulsion on her face.  She said in passing"I cannot stand those big birds".  I restrained my impulse to launch a pedantic lecture and responded that she really didn't want to live here in summer without them; they were critical to the well-being of this community.

This Turkey Vulture found something stinky in the 
rushes next to a salt marsh

True, they are no match as eye candy for Painted Buntings and Prothonotary Warblers, but they do the job keeping our warm and humid air clean enough for us to breath without gagging. The Turkey Vulture, with the bare red head and neck, is the larger of the two species, but strangely enough it feeds on small roadkill such as squirrels.  The smaller Black Vulture, the one with the white wing-tips, sometimes feeds in large flocks on the side of the road, and a gang can make quick work of something as large as a deer. 

However, the choice of foraging is related to how both species find food. Turkey Vultures have a much better developed sense of smell which may account for why they frequently find smaller carrion that Black Vultures miss. Turkey Vultures will arrive at a foraging site first, and the Blacks follow by observing the feeding behavior of early arrivals. 

The naked heads also serve a purpose. Since both birds can frequently be observed eating from the inside out (gross!), it prevents contamination of their feathers, and the potential spread of disease. In fact their very scavenger role in the ecosystem helps prevent the spread of disease to other animals as well as humans. So, while this treatise is about neither pretty bird nor pretty subject, woe unto our island without a healthy population of both species.
A sinister looking Turkey Vulture 
roosts for the night

Vultures, often incorrectly called buzzards, are widely spread across much of North and South America, and are closely related to the endangered California Condor.  In fact it wasn't too many years ago that the American Ornithological Union grouped our majestic Bald Eagles with vultures. 

They are masters of the air as they hunt for prey.  
A soaring Turkey Vulture from below
Turkey Vultures in particular are not often seen flapping their wings, but both species hunt for rising columns of warm air called thermals.  Those currents keep the birds effortlessly aloft for long periods of time while looking for the next meal.

Unlike other raptors, the hawks and eagles, vultures feet are adapted for walking.  They have no sharp talons and depend entirely on the bill to tear into their prey. 
Interestingly, in  spite of their homeliness the Turkey vulture's scientific name Cathartes aura is often interpreted as 'purifying breeze'.  Indeed.

A Black Vulture with its exposed head and neck.  You can listen to the Black Vulture's lovely song right here.