As promised, here is another post on the horned larks I saw the other day. This post will be more photo-heavy. One quick word on horned larks: They get their name from the horn-like feathers that sometimes stick up from their heads. They aren’t visible on the photos I took, unfortunately.
Horned larks are sparrow-sized birds that live year-round in parts of New England, but are mostly seen in the winter. They prefer open, barren areas, so you’re not likely to see them in the woods. Check open areas with short grass or no grass (a beach for instance) for your best chance at finding them. I found these birds in a snow-covered field at Hamonasset State Park in southern Connecticut last week during my trip to see the crossbills. More horned lark posts coming soon.
As promised, here are some more red crossbill photos. Here’s the backstory in case you missed it.
I’m not much of a “chaser,” which is a birder who will travel great lengths to see a rare bird that has been spotted. But … I’ve always been fascinated by crossbills and a flock of them has been seen regularly about an hour away — at Hammonasset State Park. I was up early today and decided to make the trip. It was worth it as the birds put on a show for many birdwatchers and photographers. The red crossbills flitted from one evergreen to the next, pausing to find seeds among the cones. Crossbills get their name for their crossed bills (makes sense, right), an adaptation that allows them to dig out and crack seeds from pine and spruce cones.
More to come …
Here’s one more, just because. In case you missed it, here’s the original post with more photos.
We don’t usually think of eastern bluebirds as a winter bird in New England, but many bluebirds tough out our cold months. Visits from or sightings of bluebirds brighten the short winter days, for sure. Here’s a collection of photos of bluebirds in the snow.
The junco sat perfectly still in the bush as snow collected on his back. The snow came down hard and the wind whipped it around.
It was the wind that kept the junco motionless in the bush. When the wind offered a rare break, the junco darted to the nearby bird feeder to grab a few sunflower seeds.
He would fly back to his spot in the bush, having shaken off the snow that had collected on him. It didn’t take long for new snow to accumulate on his dark gray feathers.
Snowy days are among the best times to watch the feeders. It is interesting to see how little the elements affect the birds. Tiny birds such as chickadees can withstand extremely cold and windy conditions. They have a variety of mechanisms to protect them from the harsh elements. I have written about those in previous columns and may revisit that topic in the future.
But for now, I’m going to focus on this past storm that hit New England and recall the many birds that visited. The junco I mentioned before was one of more than a dozen juncos that were around that day. Other sparrows included white-throated, song and house. Many people don’t think of juncos as being a sparrow because of their different coloration, but they are indeed members of the sparrow family.
Both nuthatches came and went throughout the day. It is such a thrill to see the red-breasted nuthatches daily this winter. Not that I don’t appreciate the white-breasted nuthatches, but they are much more common and year-round birds where I am. The red-breasted nuthatch shows up only in random years.
Of course, chickadees and titmice were regular visitors. A pair of Carolina wrens entertained me as well. I always like watching their antics in the yard, especially when they make their unique chatter calls outside the window.
It was a heck of a snowstorm — the worst in several years where I am anyway. Will there be more opportunities this winter to watch the birds at the feeder in the snow? That remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. In fact, I would be very surprised if we didn’t have more snowfalls. This is New England, after all, and winter is a way of life here.
Here’s a quiz for which there is no prize other than that good feeling you’ll get from knowing you got it right (if you can guess the answer.)
The question is: Why am I posting photos of these particular birds today? Leave a comment or send me an email with your guess. Have a Super day.
It’s time to help the birds again.
As usual, New Hampshire Audubon’s Backyard Winter Bird Survey and the Great Backyard Bird Count take place on the weekend so you can kill two birds with … oh wait, bad expression. You can help two birds (really all of them) with one walk in the woods. New Hampshire Audubon’s Backyard Winter Bird Survey takes place Saturday, Feb. 13, and Sunday, Feb. 14. Your job is to count birds on those days and submit your results (species and number of individual birds) to the organization to help biologists better understand what is going on with our winter birds. These annual snapshots of data give biologists a broader picture of bird populations and behavior. It helps ornithologists better understand and perhaps find patterns in the winter irruptions of finches and other northern birds. Irruptions are when food scarcity up north drives birds down to New Hampshire and farther south.
This fall and winter have been particularly strong for red-breasted nuthatches. I have two of them visiting every day, and many readers have emailed me to say these cute little birds are visiting them as well. Real data on these birds will be critical to get when submitted by participants of the survey.
Other irruptive species include pine siskin, common redpoll, purple finch, evening grosbeak, pine grosbeak, red-winged crossbill, white-winged crossbill and snowy owl. Are these birds visiting your backyard or favorite place to walk in the woods? Let the New Hampshire Audubon biologists know. Count the common birds as well, of course. That data is just as valuable to have.
The survey is open to everyone, regardless of skill level. Spend an hour or 30 hours counting the birds that weekend and submit your results online at the New Hampshire Audubon website. You may also receive a hard copy of the reporting form and instructions by emailing your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 224-9909.
While you’re out there (or in there if you’re watching backyard feeders) counting birds, you may as well submit your results to the Great Backyard Bird Count, too. The GBBC started in 1998 as a relatively small initiative to get a snapshot of winter bird populations across the country. It has mushroomed into a global phenomenon with more than 160,000 checklists turned in online worldwide last year. According to GBBC officials, it created the “largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.”
The GBBC runs from Friday, Feb. 12, to Monday, Feb. 15. Again, all skill levels are welcome, participation is free and no set time commitment is required. Visit www.birdcount.org for more information and instructions on how to submit results.
What will show up on New Hampshire checklists? It’s hard to say. It’s been a strange winter with a sage thrasher being seen regularly in Hinsdale, boreal chickadees being found on Mount Monadnock far from their northern range, a red-headed woodpecker frequenting Keene and evening grosbeaks showing up everywhere in the Granite State. Have your say and participate in the NH Audubon Winter Bird Survey and GBBC.
I heard from some readers this week who will have some interesting sightings to submit if the birds stick around for a few more weeks. Mimi from Troy reported seeing double-digit numbers of blue jays, chickadees and juncos, as well as several white-breasted nuthatches, red-breasted nuthatches, cardinals, mourning doves, hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, evening grosbeaks and three eastern bluebirds. The bluebirds have been eating mealworms and suet.
Brian from Keene sent some great photos not related to the winter surveys, but as a follow up to last week’s column about the importance of saving native insects. I had mentioned that fish feed on insects and birds such as herons feed on the fish, hence the important, but sometimes indirect, role insects play in helping birds. Brian sent some photos he took a few years ago of a great blue heron eating grasshoppers. It reminded me of when I watched a green heron eating dragonflies near a pond several years ago. Mark your calendars for next weekend, and let me know what you find out there.
Of course I’m posting a few more snowy bird photos. I hope everyone is safe and enjoying the scenery.