Bzzzz December 14th, 2007

Call me silly or naive, but I feel honored when a special bird visits my bird feeding station. This fabulously beautiful and interesting bird is the Evening Grosbeak.

The flock is, indeed, a gross of grosbeaks–I didn’t just invent that.

Evening Grosbeak

Until today I had only seen a single Evening Grosbeak. That was about a year ago and I wasn’t able to snap a photo before it flitted away.

Today, I was playing hooky from work and catching up on my ironing while gazing out the back windows. (Do I know how to have a good time on a Friday or what?) From where I iron in the kitchen, I can see the bird feeding stations, which consist of two free-standing poles–one with several small feeders, including a nyger feeder for the Goldfinches, a larger hopper feeder with a platform underneath to catch stray seed and a single two-tiered feeder hanging in a tree.

I immediately noticed a flash of white on the wings of a bird flying to the hopper feeder. Since our usual bird buffet guests are Tufted Titmouses, Chickadees, Nuthatches and Goldfinches–none of which have this distinctive white shoulder patch–I was immediately captivated. I snagged my binoculars and confirmed–EUREKA! EVENING GROSBEAKS! And not one! A gross of grosbeaks!

Of course, I was torn between watching before they flew away and running for my camera. You can tell that I took the gamble and scrambled for the camera with the long lens. Then I had to scramble for the tripod because the long lens is, well, long. It is quite heavy and needs the tripod for stabilization. I crossed my fingers and tippy toed just outside the back door and banged off a few shots.

Just then, the workmen who were to install a new front door system arrived. Why is it that these guys never arrive on time unless you’re taking photos of Evening Grosbeaks or have just stepped out of the shower?

Well, of course, they all flew away. There was no hope of their returning with all the commotion of door removal and installation. Still, I feel honored that they visited and will be looking outside hopefully for days to come.

Here in Maryland the Evening Grosbeak is only a winter visitor. Although a type of finch, the Evening Grosbeak is more along the size of a Robin. The males have a brilliant yellow color, even in winter, while the females are more drab. The wings have back tips and a white band that is very noticeable when they are moving about.

An Evening Grosbeak has a distinctive and facile method of eating sunflower seeds, dexterously manipulating it with his cone-shaped bill. They are prodigious eaters and can wipe out a feeder given the opportunity. They also are known for eating large quantities of salt and fine salty gravel from roadways.

I’ll be peering out the windows again tomorrow. There is an ice storm headed our way, but I am prepared. I stocked up at K-Mart yesterday on flashlight batteries, candles, camp stove fuel and even a coffee percolator. (Gotta have that java!) Since we lose water as well as power when the electricity goes out, I’ll be filling our bathtubs with water once the storm moves in. I’ll also be up early tomorrow morning to bake bread, a cake and make soup that can be easily heated on a camp stove.

My husband and son find my storm preparations amusing. The people at K-Mart looked at me yesterday like I was some sort of survivalist out for my annual survival gear shopping spree.

Oh well. I am naive about birds and amusing about my storm preparations. At least I’m not totally dull.

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Bzzzz December 11th, 2007

I first noticed something was afoot when I was doing my morning walk. The crows were in an uproar!

We have several pairs of crows that live in the trees near our hay field. Despite their negative reputation, I adore crows. I enjoy the way they call back and forth from the treetops as if they’re having a conversation. And they aren’t frightened when I walk by–they just keep up their dialogue.

Crows are quite smart and can mimic the sounds of other birds and even humans. Although they may chase small animals, it’s all just part of their crow-minded entertainment.

“Hoho! Isn’t it fun to terrify the Papillons!”

Crows can live to be 20 years old. They often re-use their nests each year. And crows that aren’t mated pitch in to help raise the other young birds. They also will collect anything they find that is bright and shiny. Who wouldn’t love a bird who appreciates glittery finery!?!

So this morning, the crows were having a fit.

The woods were FILLED with a humongous pack of birds singing their heads off. I couldn’t see the bird pack, but I could certainly hear them. And the crows apparently were having quite a conversation about how to handle the situation.

I couldn’t identify the mystery bird sounds because they were all chattering at once. But while I was gazing out the window and munching on my icky, puny, sad salad lunch, I saw what I believe was the cause of the ruckus. Hundreds and hundreds of Red-Winged Blackbirds!


The male Red-Winged Blackbird is very distinctive–a jet black with a red epaulette on his wings. The females are more drab brown, but with distinctive streaks on their undersides.

The bird books all say that the Red-Winged Blackbird is a common bird in Maryland and Delaware. Well, I don’t care what the books say, we don’t really see much of them except in the winter. And when they do arrive, I usually only catch a glimpse of one or two.

My Stan Tekiela book on the Birds of Maryland & Delaware, which is practically worn to shreds from being frantically thumbed through, says that up to thousands of these birds will gather in fields like ours.

Well, today was a stellar bird day because, as you can see, there were hundreds. This photo only shows a small part of the field that they covered.


Of course, you can count on a Papillon to keep things exciting, so Sarah chased them into the trees.


They gave her what-for.

Too bad I actually have a job and can’t keep looking out the window. A bunch of Robins have finally arrived en masse today too.

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