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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Are Monarch Butterflies in Trouble? There's Some Hope!

This year we are seeing more Monarch Butterflies stop by our garden, where last year we only saw two. Even though Monarch Butterfly populations are in deep trouble, having declined for the last 10 years, people are seeing more this year, but nowhere near as many as in the past. Monarchs still need substantial help if their populations are to be sustained in the long run. Most of their decline is due to habitat loss and loss of milkweed, which they need to lay their eggs on and their caterpillars eat. 
Plans need to be implemented to offset the loss of milkweed due to development and increasing croplands and milkweed needs to be maintained and more planted along migration routes. In your own yard you can plant flowers migrating monarchs nectar on. You can also help protect milkweed areas in your yard and local conservation areas. 

Go to this excellent website for much more info. 

In early Sept. they reported,

Reports from throughout the breeding range indicate an increase in monarch numbers roughly along the lines projected in May. The migration is already underway having started at 50 N around the 12th of August. The leading edge should be in southern MN at this time and in Ames, IA around the 6th of Sept. Fall roosts have been reported to Journey North in the Dakotas, MN, WI, MI and NY as of 28 August. No roosts had been recorded by the 29th of August last year (see Monarch Roosts Fall 2013 and Monarch Roosts Fall 2014). There will surely be more monarchs to tag over the next two months and the overwintering population in Mexico is certain to be larger. At a minimum, I expect the population to be twice as large as last year or roughly 1.4 hectares but it could be twice that size. We still have to hear about monarchs from many areas and the conditions during the migration will likely determine how many of the migrants reach the overwintering sites. It will help to watch the reports of overnight clusters recorded by Journey North and to watch the weather conditions and note the availability of nectar sources as monarchs migrate through the United States and northern Mexico.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

When To Take Down Hummingbird Feeders And Rare Hummingbirds That May Show UP In Fall

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Salvia "Black and Blue" flowers

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Salvia "Lady in Red" flowers.

Conventional wisdom says hummingbirds will not be detained by feeders, they know when to go. A hummingbird's migration urge is triggered by hormonal changes that respond to decreasing day length. But you still need to determine when to stop filling the feeders and take them down.

When and if you remove feeders depends on where you live in the country. If you live on the West Coast, Anna's Hummingbird can be found all year. There are places in the Southwest and along the Mexican border where a few species of hummers can be found in winter.  If you live in the northern part of the country, such as here in NH, the vast majority of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are gone by the middle of Oct. If you live in some of the states in the middle section of the country, such as Kentucky, most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have gone through by the end of Oct. If you live in the Southeast in a place like Florida you could possibly have overwintering Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. In addition a number of western species of hummingbirds such as Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Calliope Hummingbirds might show up.

Interestingly there seems to be an increasing trend in western hummingbird species, such as Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds and others, showing up outside of their normal range in fall in eastern states. NH has had a Rufous Hummingbird in 2007 and 2009 and a Calliope Hummingbird in 2013. They came to feeders but disappeared in the winter.

One of the issues of attempting to host an unusual hummingbird in areas that experience cold and harsh winters is the commitment it takes and the uncertain outcome. A standard hummingbird nectar solution of one part sugar to 4 parts water will freeze below 27 degrees. People go to lengths to warm the nectar such as attaching a flood lamp in a clamp-on reflector a few feet from the feeder, or hanging a low watt heat lamp rigged in an outdoor hanging fixture, but that will only keep the nectar unfrozen to near zero degrees. Last winter NH saw weather below zero. Remember to always keep your hummingbird feeders clean and fresh, mold can grow easily in them if you do not clean them every several days.

Our answer as to when we take the hummingbird feeders down here in NH is that we take our feeders down at the first hard frost. At that point our many hummingbird attractant flowers, such as red Salvia, succumb to the cold, and the hummingbirds are essentially gone from here.

A great place to see which and when hummingbird species are seen in your area, and to report your sightings, is the ebird website. Look under "explore data.

Here are a few photos of rare hummingbirds that have shown up in our state of NH.

This celebrity bird is a a little Calliope Hummingbird, male, a bird from the Northwest who strayed far from his usual range and migration route in Nov. 2013. He came to a feeder in Manchester, NH at the home of some very gracious birders who allowed many birders to view this hummingbird, a lifer for many! This was not the first time a Calliope Hummingbird had shown up in New England and there are records from other eastern states also. Calliopes have recently been reported from MA and NJ. It seems like more and more out-of-range hummingbirds are showing up in the East in fall at feeders. No one knows exactly why this occurs. Some birds' internal compasses may just direct them east instead of south. Over time that species may have a range expansion if those individuals survive and have offspring. Other people think that having more hummingbird feeders available and hardy plants in a human altered landscape may make it possible for some of these hummingbirds to be in the East in fall and winter.

The above photo is a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorous rufous) visiting a feeder in Hollis, NH in Oct. 2009. This is a very unusual hummingbird for here. One was last reported in NH in 2007. The Rufous Hummingbird is a western species whose breeding range goes as far up as Alaska. Increasingly, Rufous Hummingbirds are showing up in fall in the eastern half of the country. This hummingbird was banded over the weekend and the bander reported it as a hatching year Rufous Hummingbird, sex could not be determined. Identification of female and immature hummingbirds can be tricky, especially telling Rufous from Allen's Hummingbirds. Sometimes only banders, holding them in hand, can tell them apart by subtle differences in the shape of the tail feathers and even then sometimes it is not possible to definitively tell their sex. The above photo shows the extensive rufous on the sides and rufous on the tail feathers.

The throat has lines of small marks, with a number of larger marks (looking dark because the sun is not hitting them) concentrated in the center and going out to the sides of the throat. Usually the immature female rufous has smaller and fewer throat marks, occasionally with a few larger iridescent marks confined to the center of throat.

The back shows little rufous coloring on this bird. Some immature male Rufous Hummingbirds can show more rufous back coloring, especially later in winter. Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds often have extensive rufous on their backs and their throats.

Good luck with your hummingbirds.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hawks On The Move Now, Its Migration Time!

Ospreys are passing by many hawkwatch sites in the country now

Broad-winged Hawks have gone through New England in large numbers.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are on the move

I never tire of seeing the large numbers of Broad-winged Hawks rising on a thermal

Over 10,000 raptors have migrated past our hawkwatch site.

Hawks are still migrating past many hawkwatch sites across the country. Here we are at Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory in NH on the day when the 10,000th hawk for the season passed by. That's the second earliest seasonal record for Pack. It is so thrilling to see these large numbers of hawks on their way on their long migration to Central and South America. We wish them safe journey. Be sure and get out to a hawkwatch site near you. Broadwings have mostly drained out of the Northeast but are being seen in southern areas. Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Merlins, American Kestrels, Ospreys, Red-tailed Hawks and eagles will continue to be seen at hawk watch sites for some time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A River of Broad-winged Hawks!

Broad-winged Hawk

A "kettle" of Broad-winged Hawks, rising on a thermal of warm air.

Broad-winged Hawk

Yesterday we were thrilled to see over 4,000 hawks, mostly Broad-winged Hawks, go over Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory, NH most in a few hours, from 10 am to 12 noon. That was the second highest daily tally ever recorded at Pack. The flight was dense and right over our heads, like a river of birds that would flow, then "kettle" (rise as a group on a thermal of air) up, then more birds would flow in. These broadwings are on their way to Central and South America. 
So exciting to see! Go to your local hawkwatch site.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

How to ID Migrating Hawks, Migration Is Now!

Broad-winged Hawk, adult. Has thick, black-and-white tail bands.

The hawks are coming! The hawks are coming! We're entering prime hawk migration time for birders in the northern and eastern half of the U.S. Some hawks, such as Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, Merlins and American Kestrels, will move by flapping, but Broad-winged Hawks, an abundant migrant, travel by using rising thermals. Weather conditions of clear and sunny, with mild north or northwest winds, should produce ideal conditions for Broad-winged Hawk migration. The Hawk Migration Association of North America runs a large website where all the dates and numbers of migrating hawks are recorded. Go there to keep track of migration or to find a hawkwatch site in your area. Most of the Northeast hawkwatch sites will seen many Broad-winged Hawks this fall as well as many other raptors.

Here are some tips for watching hawks:

1. Prime Broad-winged Hawk migration in the North is Sept. 11 to 25, in the South (TX) it is Sept. 25th to Oct. 10.

2. Prime Sharp-shinned Hawk migration in the Northeast is Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, in the Mid-Atlantic States it is Sept. 10 to Oct. 20, in the West it is Sept. 11 to Oct. 31.

3. Hawks usually move most under sunny skies with mild northwest, north or northeast winds. Broad-winged Hawks require thermals to move.

4. Go hawk-watching at one of the many "official" hawk-watch sites here. Or find your own by going to a hill, mountain, or tall structure available to you that has good views to the north, because that is the direction the hawks are coming from.

5. Bring binoculars that are at 8 power, or even 10 power if you have them. Scan slowly back and forth across the sky at different heights to find the hawks. Most hawks will be fairly far away and some may look like specs. Learn hawk shapes at a distance to identify them. Many hawkwatchers also use spotting scopes to locate hawks.

6. Here's a brief look at the most common hawks you will see:

Broad-winged Hawk, adult

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile

* Broad-winged Hawks. These are medium-sized hawks, 16" long, with broad wings, and soar together in groups. Look for the broad black-and-white tail bands seen on the adults, usually visible even at a distance. Juvenile Broad-winged Hawks have thin tail bands and dark streaking that is usually heaviest on the sides of the breast.

Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

*Red-tailed Hawks migrate a bit later than Broad-winged Hawks and here in NH, we can see them all the way through Oct. or even later. People may confuse juvenile Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawks. Note on this bird, the dark mark, called the patagial bar on the leading edge of the wings, a great clue, also the dark belly streaks form a "belly band" another great clue.

* Sharp-shinned Hawks. These are small, about Blue Jay-sized, 12" long, hawks in the accipiter group. They migrate mostly singly with flap-flap-flap glide flight and have short rounded wings and a somewhat long tail that has a squared end.

* Cooper's Hawks. These are extremely similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, and are a tricky ID challenge, but are somewhat larger, 17" long, with a longer, rounded tail and larger, longer head and similar flight pattern.

* American Kestrels. These are a type of falcon. They are smaller than a Sharp-shinned Hawk, about 10 1/2" long, with pointed wings and a long tail and fly mainly with continuous flapping.

* Merlins. Very similar to a Kestrel but darker and larger, about 12" long. Has broad, pointed wings and a somewhat shorter tail than a Kestrel. Flies swiftly and strongly. See yesterday's blog entry for details on Merlin vs. Kestrel ID.

* Turkey Vultures. Very large, about 27" long, all black birds that constantly soar with their wings held in a V.

7. Keep track of your numbers and turn them in to your local bird or hawk-watching organization.

8. For more complete information on identifying hawks see our all new national photographic guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It has 3,400 images and is the most complete photo guide available.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Wet Catbird Loving the Bird Bath!

Splish Splash, this Gray Catbird is loving our bird bath in this unseasonably warm weather here in southern NH and really getting into it, splashing and dunking its head underwater. This is the ideal bird bath in that it has a non-slip surface, a fountain to recycle the water (birds love fountains) and it is just the right depth. This is the time of year that birds are molting their feathers, they may also have feather mites, so a nice good cleaning is just what they're after. Provide them with a really good bird bath, some daiquiris and monogramed towels and they will line up!
See our Stokes Bird Gardening Book for more great tips on bringing birds to your yard.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating, bye-bye!

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are still migrating through here in southern NH. Here's one I just photographed feeding at the Salvia Lady in Red blossoms in a planter on our deck. Note the whitish forehead, which is pollen from flowers.  Rubythroats help pollinate flowers by carrying this pollen from one plant to another. Keep your hummingbird feeders filled with fresh nectar, during this migration time and usually by mid-to-end of Sept. here, they will all be gone.