Winter wonderland – the smaller and medium-sized birds

Oddly, during our January snowstorm, the brown-headed and white-breasted nuthatches did not visit my bird feeders – that was unexpected as they really do like the sunflower and other seeds, as well as the home-made suet. Other smaller birds did appear, however, and they filled up on the provided food since finding insects was almost impossible during those days.

The Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) were fans of the dried meal worms and at one point, I put out an extra tray of these treats on the dry front porch. Other birds are more reluctant to come onto the porch so they had a nice quiet feeding area, although they also spent time perched on the snowy bushes and feeders.

  

  

 

The Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) worked their way in between the other birds to reach the feeders, sometimes waiting patiently on a feeder pole for their turn.

The ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula), of which I have two visiting the feeders, were happy with the home-made suet. Occasionally, I smeared a bit of suet on dried flower stalks and they would perch there to snag a bite to eat. Other times, they just waited on a twig until the yellow-rumped warblers had vacated the area so they could eat in peace.

    

While the downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is slightly larger, they are like the small birds in being somewhat hesitant to approach feeders if there is a crowd. Once on a feeder, they will feed and then hang on to take a look around.

  

The dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), who have an understated quiet beauty, were looking for meal worms.

    

The similarly colored tufted titmouse (Baeoloophus bicolor) often zoomed in on its target of the fruit and nut feeder without taking time to perch first.

The American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) didn’t come round very much, only snacking on some sunflower seeds. Since they often feed on the crepe myrtle tree seeds, they were likely finding enough food there.

The Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) came in spurts of activity. They always look rather bedraggled when they get wet with snow or rain and perhaps prefer to stay drier under branches until there is a break in the falling moisture. Even wet, though, they are still attractive to me.

The smaller/medium bird group was rounded off by the house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus). The females were looking especially nice. The finches never have spats with anyone and are among the most peaceful feeder birds. Not everyone was like that, however, and the next blog looks at the rowdy ones.

 

 

“Nuts” for nuts!

A primary source of nutrition for many birds is nuts.This high-calorie food provides them with dietary fat, which can be especially welcome during the colder months. As nuts ripen, you can see the birds flying by, carrying acorns and beechnuts, as well as seeds of various kinds. Some birds are especially suited to eating nuts with their thicker, cone-shaped bills, which are shaped to help them crack open pods and seed cases. Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), sparrows, grosbeaks, finches and woodpeckers are seed and nut lovers.

I had been lax in providing my yard birds with these culinary treats except for sunflower seeds and the seed pods in my yard trees. So one day early last year, I purchased a nut and seed holder and proceeded to give them peanuts, which are not actually nuts but the seed of a legume (Arachis hypogaea). This makes no difference to the birds like the Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) of course.

I first tried peanuts in the shell and an occasional blue jay and tufted titmouse would stop by. However, they didn’t seem to want to put much time into removing the nuts from the shells and I didn’t really want the shells littering the ground either.

Then in the spring I put out some shelled peanuts from a container I’d bought for my own consumption and the avian visitors were delighted. Reading about peanut feeding informed me that I should avoid giving salted peanuts. I couldn’t readily find unsalted ones at the grocery store, so I began removing the salt, either by shaking the nuts in a paper bag or by washing off the salt.

   

Northern cardinal                                            Brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla)

Before they left for the summer, the yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) and ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) tried the peanuts, too. Sometimes I wondered if the kinglet was also not looking for insects around the peanut feeder.

   

My choice to provide nuts was a big hit; I was rewarded with a procession of individuals of varied species who came by to quickly gulp or carry off a tasty nut. Some are pictured below – they came at different times of the day.

 

White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)     Tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

    

Tufted titmouse                                                       Pine warbler (Setophaga pinus)

   

Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)      Northern cardinal

 

Gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)        Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)

       

Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina)         Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

The common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) will sometimes break down the nuts (and are quite messy about it, compared to the chickadees and titmice), but they will also swallow the treats whole.

  

Others are intent on breaking the peanuts into smaller pieces that are easier to get down; this seems especially true for the smaller birds like the Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) below. Here we also see Riley, my banded Carolina wren, enjoying a treat.

   

The blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) often gulp down some nuts quickly and then try to carry off several nuts at a time.

One good thing about the peanuts is that thankfully the starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) don’t appear fond of them (they gulp down the dried mealworms, however, as if that food is going out of style). One will occasionally sample a nut, but they never seem to want a second.

As time passed, I realized that the peanut feeding strategy was rewarding me with frequent avian visitors, but was also rather costly. In the autumn, I began putting out a less expensive fruit and nut mix. This has also proved very popular and various species of birds are willing to share space at the feeders. The chickadees especially will feed alongside others, like the house finches and Northern cardinal below.

Species that usually forage on the ground, like the white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis), also make occasional forays to the nut feeder.

When the nut feeders are empty, it’s not uncommon to see birds sitting atop them; when they see me, some will call out, as if saying, “Hey, fill up that feeder, please!” And I usually accommodate them, especially when it is very cold, as has been the case the first days of 2018 – we have had a record-breaking stretch of days in which the temperature did not rise above freezing, an unusual occurrence for our southern state of North Carolina.

 

Yellow-rumped warbler  (Setophaga coronata)  House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

The nut feeders have also been very attractive to the resident Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), one of whom has been VERY persistent in devising ways to get onto the feeders. Each time s/he succeeds, I change the position of the feeders or stumps and branches nearby. Currently, that clever rodent hasn’t been able to get up there. In compensation, I occasionally throw a handful of nuts on the ground.

             

So, not all the birds are “nuts” for nuts, but plenty of species think they’re mighty fine! They are definitely a worthwhile addition to the birders’ array of feeder offerings.

American goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

 

 

 

Birds and blooms at Sandy Creek Park – more of the “good ones”

moon I77A9993© Maria de Bruyn res

Birds are a favorite photographic subject of mine, even though catching them in late spring and summer is challenging when the lush foliage offers them many places to hide. Their songs and calls and warbles tell me that they are there, but often I need to wait quite a while until I finally catch a flutter of movement out of the corner of my eye to locate them.

 

white-eyed vireo I77A0007©Maria de Bruyn

One early morning, when the moon was still in the sky, I was fortunate enough to see a lot of fluttering in trees near the park’s parking lot – and I discovered an immature white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus) with a parent who looked as if she or he was really practicing forbearance.

white-eyed vireo I77A0010©Maria de Bruyn      white-eyed vireo I77A0006©Maria de Bruyn

Carolina wren I77A0188©Maria de Bruyn res

Nearby, a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) was singing loudly; these little avians have an outsized voice so that you can hardly miss them even when they are hidden behind leaves.

A handsome male goldfinch (Spinus tristis) was in a field, while a female was visiting the coneflowers (Echinacea), of which there were various species in the cultivated butterfly garden.

 

 

American goldfinch I77A0382©Maria de Bruyn res American goldfinch I77A0177©Maria de Bruyn res

coneflower I77A7325© Maria de Bruyn res      coneflower I77A6365© Maria de Bruyn res   coneflower I77A6250© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A6188© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Other birds were busy finding insect meals, like the male, female and immature Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis).

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern bluebird I77A6022© Maria de Bruyn res    Eastern bluebird I77A5558© Maria de Bruyn res

Common grackle I77A6377© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) scored a meal, while the pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) and blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) were busy in the trees searching for caterpillars and insects.

Other birds (and mammals, I think) had been getting crayfish from the ponds but I guess there were so many that they only ate the tastiest parts.

Pine warbler I77A5605© Maria de Bruyn res   Pine warbler I77A5598© Maria de Bruyn

 

blue-gray gnatcatcher I77A0302©Maria de Bruyn res     crayfish IMG_4926©Maria de Bruyn res

The American robins (Turdus migratorius) were looking for earthworms on the ground, and the song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) alternated between the ground and shrubs in their search for food.

American robin IMG_0550© Maria de Bruyn res     song sparrow I77A6195© Maria de Bruyn

The male red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were calling and flying from shrub to shrub, showing off their handsome black plumage with a red highlight.

red-winged blackbird I77A6090© Maria de Bruyn res  red-winged blackbird I77A6126© Maria de Bruyn res

Over at a nearby pond, the Northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) were swooping over the water and then sharing space on a snag; meanwhile, a mother wood duck (Aix sponsa) led her brood along the shoreline.

rough-winged swallow I77A0234© Maria de Bruyn res    wood duck I77A7225© Maria de Bruyn

In a tree beside another pond, the immature great blue herons (Ardea herodias) were still at their nest at the start of June; later in the month, they were no longer hanging out there.

great blue heron IMG_0430© Maria de Bruyn res   great blue heron IMG_0402© Maria de Bruyn res

milkweed I77A0079©Maria de Bruyn res

 

Botanists can have a great time at Sandy Creek, too. The milkweed plants in the butterfly garden attract both butterflies and bees.

Carolina horsenettles (Solanum carolinense) are common but pretty little plants, while the orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) enjoys a good reputation as having stem juice that relieves the pain caused by poison ivy for many people.

Carolina horsenettle I77A5581© Maria de Bruyn res      orange jewelweed I77A0511© Maria de Bruyn res

The fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum) grows profusely on the edges of Sandy Creek ponds and the swamp rose (Rosa palustris) sprouts near them as well.

fairywand I77A7293© Maria de Bruyn res      swamp rose Rosa palustris I77A5621© Maria de Bruyn res

Japanese honeysuckle I77A5711© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), an invasive plant, attracts pollinators but so does the more vibrant and native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens L.).

 

 

 

coral honeysuckle I77A0159© Maria de Bruyn res      coral honeysuckle I77A0127© Maria de Bruyn 2 res

In the fields, you can see lovely brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and coreopsis.

Brown-eyed Susan IMG_0504© Maria de Bruyn res  brown-eyed Susan IMG_0497© Maria de Bruyn res

 

coreopsis flower IMG_0494© Maria de Bruyn res   coreopsis flower IMG_0486© Maria de Bruyn res

Stoke's aster I77A6353© Maria de Bruyn resThe cultivated garden in the park gets plenty of color from the Stoke’s asters (Stokesia laevis) and red bee balm (Monarda didyma), which is a real magnet for hummingbirds. I recently bought a couple for my home garden and was rewarded with seeing the hummers visit them within 2 days.

 

 

red bee balm I77A7307© Maria de Bruyn res    red bee balm I77A6390© Maria de Bruyn res

What makes my walks so interesting is discovering new species. A native grass (Bromus) was lovely; helpful facebook group members gave me suggestions for possible species but we couldn’t narrow it down. The group also helped me identify a plant that I hadn’t seen before, a Germander (Teucrium canadense).

grass Bromus IMG_4811© Maria de Bruyn res   Germander Teucrium canadense I77A0544© Maria de Bruyn res

I managed to find an ID myself for a common flower that seems to grow all over the place – the Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis). It is considered an invasive plant and is on the watch list for North Carolina, but I have to say that I find it quite attractive. Each flower blooms for only one day and to me they look like little faces and make me smile. And so I continue learning as each new walk invariably ends up teaching me something new. Enjoy your day!

Asiatic dayflower Commelina communis I77A0667© Maria de Bruyn res    Asiatic dayflower I77A0677© Maria de Bruyn res

Birds, berries, nuts and seeds – enjoyment of nature’s bounty

So this wasn’t my last blog of 2015 after all. An unexpected hospital admission on 30 December brought about quite a delay in my blogging efforts. But I managed to complete this in instalments over the past days and hope you enjoy the final version, which I am happily able to post on my second day at home in 2016!

During late summer, when various plants have or start developing fruit, the birds begin to enjoy nature’s bounty. Here in North Carolina, they will eat the berries of native plants such as American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), winged sumac (Rhus copallinum), American holly (Ilex opaca), possumhaw (deciduous holly, Ilex decidua), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and wild blackberries (Rubus).

American beautyberry IMG_7637© Maria de Bruyn resWinged sumac IMG_5377©Maria de Bruyn res

American holly I77A3150© Maria de Bruyn resDeciduous holly IMG_4428© Maria de Bruyn res

Flowering dogwood DK7A7731© Maria de Bruyn reswild blackberryIMG_2588©Maria de Bruyn res

 

This year, the juniper berries were a real crowd pleaser. The American robins (Turdus migratorius) went for them first, soon followed by Northern cardinals (cardinalis cardinalis), Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis), Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos polyglottos) and Northern flickers (Colaptes auratus).

American robin IMG_6567© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern cardinal IMG_3653© Maria de BruynAmerican robin I77A0801©Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A0913©Maria de Bruyn resNorthern mockingbird 2 IMG_6308© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern flicker IMG_5853© Maria de Bruyn res

The beautiful cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) enjoyed the cedar berries, too.

cedar waxwing I77A4266© Maria de Bruyn res

cedar waxwing I77A4293© Maria de Bruyn res

Birds like thbuckthorn I77A2455© Maria de Bruyn signed rese Northern mockingbird and white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) also enjoy the berries of invasive plants such as privet (Ligustrum), common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica. left), Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) and autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata).

Northern mockingbird I77A2924© Maria de Bruyn res
white-throated sparrow I77A8188© Maria de Bruyn 2 reswhite-throated sparrow I77A4714© Maria de Bruyn signed

Watching our avian friends enjoy snapping up berries from vines can create enjoyment for the birdwatcher, too!

Northern cardinal DK7A8841© Maria de Bruyn signed res

ruby-crowned kinglet I77A5319© Maria de Bruyn reshermit thrush I77A5816© Maria de Bruyn signed res

Ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula)

Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)

 

In some cases, they may also be seeking insects along with the berries, as this yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) and tiny golden-crowned kinglet (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) may have been doing.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker I77A9133© Maria de Bruyngolden-crowned kinglet I77A1918© Maria de Bruyn

American goldfinch DK7A4411© Maria de Bruyn signed

 

It’s not only the fruit that draws them away from the bird feeders in the autumn though. Sunflower seeds (Helianthus) are a big hit with the American goldfinches (Spinus tristis), who also seek out different kinds of seed pods.

 

American goldfinch I77A2510© Maria de Bruyn res American goldfinch IMG_7947© Maria de Bruyn signed res

Pods on trees, like the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia fauriei), and on vines such as the trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) offer attractive meals, too.

goldfinch I77A2097© Maria de Bruyn resNorthern cardinal DK7A1206© Maria de Bruyn signed res

American goldfinch and Northern cardinal both eating crepe myrtle

Trumpet vine DK7A9266© Maria de Bruyn signed restrumpet vine I77A1487© Maria de Bruyn ressycamore IMG_2339©Maria de Bruyn res

Trumpet vine                                         American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

milkweed I77A7144© Maria de Bruyn signed resCarolina wren I77A8006©Maria de Bruyn res

Milkweed (Asclepius) and Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

American goldfinch DK7A1355© Maria de Bruyn SIGNED RESamerican goldfinch DK7A7127© Maria de Bruyn signed res

American goldfinches

Indigo bunting DK7A7525© Maria de Bruyn signed res

Indigo bunting ( Passerina cyanea)

Scarlet tanager IMG_7415© Maria de Bruyn signed

Some trees like maples have samara seed pods, in which a single seed is surrounded by a paper-like tissue that is dispersed by the wind. Ash trees have samaras that grow in clusters. Here a young scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea) is dining. Below are an American goldfinch, house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) and Northern cardinal, all of them males.

 

American goldfinch DK7A5026© Maria de Bruyn signedHouse finch IMG_7718© Maria de Bruyn signed

 

Northern cardinal I77A8006© Maria de Bruyn res

 

cedar waxwing I77A6594© Maria de Bruyn signed res

Cedar waxwing (left) with samara of the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

 

blue jay IMG_7806© Maria de Bruyn signed

 

 

 

 

 

Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata, above) like nuts a great deal and can often be seen flying away with a prize.

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_5780© Maria de Bruyn (2)

 

The red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) and red-headed woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) don’t turn away from nuts either.

 

 

Red-headed woodpecker I77A7844© Maria de Bruyn signed       red-headed woodpecker I77A5149© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern cardinal I77A2153© Maria de Bruyn res

It may feel a bit sad when activity dies down at the feeders for a time, but if you can manage to have nut-, seed- and fruit-bearing vegetation around your home, you can still enjoy watching your avian friends forage – and the natural surroundings can make for lovelier photos, too!

Maintaining culture through plants

Burmese farmer IMG_5217© Maria de Bruyn resChapel Hill’s largest refugee community comprises three ethnic groups who fled the country of Myanmar (Burma); a number of them lived in refugee camps in Thailand before they came to the USA. Some 30 of these families have been receiving assistance since 2010 at the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, through which they are able to grow many of the plants on which they relied as farmers in their home country. The gardens they maintain not only help feed members of their families and community, but also enable them to maintain some of their original culture through dietary customs. The farm also helps the families earn an income through the crops they sell via farmers’ markets and a community supported agricultural (CSA) project wherein customers commit to buying a box of vegetables from them every week.

IMG_5230© Maria de BruynThis evening, the Community offered the general public a chance to tour their gardens and sample some of their traditional dishes, a delightful experience to be sure. When I arrived for the event, I first toured one of the plots with shared vegetable gardens. What first struck me was the large number of birds that were in the garden, including American goldfinches (Spinus tristis), chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina), ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) and great-crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus) among others.

American goldfinch IMG_5117© Maria de Bruyn res

chipping sparrow IMG_5063© Maria de Bruyn res flycatcher IMG_5075© Maria de Bruyn res

ruby-throated hummingbird IMG_5088© Maria de BruynThe air was alive with bird calls and song and as dusk fell, you could see the birds flitting from ground to plant to plant. Butterflies, like this red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), were also flying about the garden, which had a mix of full-grown vegetables and blossoms promising more crops to come.

Paper wasps (Polistes) and other insects were also plentiful.

red-spotted purple IMG_5151© Maria de Bruyn res Paper wasp IMG_5182© Maria de Bruyn res

squash IMG_5095© Maria de Bruyn res vegetable blossom IMG_5065© Maria de Bruyn res

The event was co-sponsored by The Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Orange County Partnership for Young Children, and Triangle Land Conservancy, which provided the Community Farm with space in its Irvin Nature Preserve. Representatives of the organizations said a few words about their work and then we were led on a guided tour of a newer part of the Community Farm by Kelly Owensby, the Project Director, and one of the Karen teenagers participating in the project, Joe.

IMG_5194© Maria de Bruyn

We had some tasty beer, provided by a donor, and were given a bit of the Farm’s history as we walked along the path to the new section.  The 5-acre Farm is on land in the rural outskirts of Chapel Hill and, while it is a wonderful site on this 269-acre Preserve, it is not served by public transportation, a circumstance that has made it impossible for some refugee families to participate in the project. The 30 families that have managed to get there daily, in addition to their regular jobs, have made over $125,000 over the past three years with their produce sales.

pumpkin IMG_5070© Maria de Bruyn resKaren plant IMG_5139© Maria de Bruyn res

Joe told us about a Karen holiday that are celebrated by these ethnic families here in North Carolina. The wrist-tying ceremony recalls how the Karen people fled through Mongolia a long time ago; elders bind the wrists of young people by winding white thread around them three times wound three times with white string, which wards off misfortune and evil.

Papaya IMG_5176© Maria de BruynThe farmers grow some 40 plants native to Burma. These plants need to be re-planted from seeds each year since the North Carolina climate is too cold in winter for them to survive as perennials. The papayas don’t bear fruit but the Burmese refugees use their leaves in various dishes. Some of the native plants include gourds, turmeric, bitter melons, ginger, taro root, medicinal herbs and lemongrass. Plain green gourds could be seen hanging near spotted water gourds.

taro IMG_5201© Maria de Bruyn respepper IMG_5115© Maria de Bruyn res

gourd IMG_5211© Maria de Bruyn res water gourd IMG_5204© Maria de Bruyn res

Sesame IMG_5187© Maria de Bruyn resOne female farmer had begun growing sesame seed, a crop she had had in her native country and which she was very glad to be growing here. The bamboo trellises are commonly used to suspend gourds and provide shade for crops that need protection from constant sun such as ginger and turmeric.

 

 

The farmers are also growing plants native to North Carolina, such as okra.

okra IMG_5199© Maria de Bruyn res

IMG_5231© Maria de Bruyn

 

Burmese vegetables IMG_5219© Maria de Bruyn resBurmese meal IMG_5229© Maria de Bruyn res

The okra featured alongside water gourd and ridge gourd as part of our meal appetizer of vegetable tempura. We were also treated to a delicious soup incorporating okra along with lemon grass and shitake mushrooms, a delicious and slightly spicy pumpkin curry and a salad with some bitter elements that went well with the other dishes.

gourd IMG_5113© Maria de Bruyn res Karen plant IMG_5156© Maria de Bruyn res

I had told four people about this opportunity to sample Karen and other Burmese cuisine but none of them came; they missed a really delicious meal! I hope many more people attend the evening next year.