Monthly Archives: August 2014

Yoga among the shorebirds


Sweetness and light.

8 a.m.: I ditched the backyard scene, with the gobbling, molting grackles, the squabbling, naked-headed bluejays (also in molt) and I headed a couple of miles east to my beach backyard where I blissed out on sandpiper cuteness.


Semipalmated sandpiper?

One hundred? two hundred? sandpipers and plovers were running around in the washed-up seaweed at North Hampton State Beach. They camouflage nicely so I guess that’s why the runners and walkers and beach-chair ocean-starers were ignoring the charming little birds.

shorebird seaweed

Some people were doing yoga with their mats rolled out on the clean sand closer to the ocean’s bright edge and the freshly risen sun. One class ended and another began while I was there. The instructor collected checks for $100 from a few people as they were leaving.

Some of them saw me taking pictures of the birds, but they didn’t seem to really see the birds. People see other people. Birds see other birds, and the hulking shapes of people when they are too close.


Plovers would chase each other sometimes, if one violated another’s breakfast-gathering zone, but they ignored the other sandpipers.

At one point I was standing right behind some people in beach chairs, while snapping bird pics, and I sensed they didn’t like how close I had come to their beach zone, reserved early on what promises (with sunshine and calm winds) to be a busy late-summer Sunday.


When there is a lot of seaweed on the sand like this, there is less space for people and more room and food for birds. So I consider the mild stench of rotting seaweed to be worth it to help the big job of shorebird migration.

 Semipalmated Sandpipers from eastern populations probably undertake nonstop transoceanic flights of 3,000 – 4,000 km (1,900 – 2,500 mi) from New England and southern Canada to South America, powered by extensive fat reserves.


Is this a semipalmated or piping plover? I don’t know enough to tell the difference. But one is endangered and protected, and limits human use of certain beaches during breeding season, and the other is in good shape.

Staring through a telephoto lens in bright morning sun at tiny, vivacious shorebirds is one way (that works especially well for me) to increase serotonin levels in the human brain without drugs.

A distinct sensation of elation was with me on the car ride home and still, an hour and a half later, now. Let the day begin.

I spy with my little eye…

chickens watermelon

I’m going to amaze you with this scientific chicken fact, as demonstrated by Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe the Buff Orpingtons as they pause from eating a wedge of watermelon to watch me approach.

Chickens use their right eyes for activities involving recognition and identification. “Oh, that’s Amy with her camera.”

buff orpingtons

They use their left eyes for depth perception and judging distance. “Amy is five feet away and coming closer.”


Like many prey animals their eyes are on the sides of their heads so they have good peripheral vision but a limited range of binocular vision. (Thank you, Grace and Marilyn. Go back to your watermelon picnic on the lawn.)

I read this is in Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow. Excellent reading for the would-be or novice chicken keeper.

An annoyance of grackles


Do you wish to attract lots of wild birds to your backyard? Be careful what you wish for.

For nearly a week a large flock of noisy Common Grackles (this is less than half of them) has been swooping in four or five times a day to gobble LOTS of seeds, nuts and suet, bother other birds, and poop purple and white grackle poop all over everything.

Wikipedia: Grackles tend to congregate in large groups, popularly referred to as a plague or annoyance. This enables them to detect birds invading their territory, and predators, which are mobbed en masse to deter the intruders.

This morning after cleaning chicken poop out of the chicken coop, I hosed grackle poop off the deck and patio and chairs and hot tub cover. I remembered how much I wanted to work at the zoo when I was a kid.

Cornell: During migration, set up bird feeders in your yard with a variety of mixed grain and seeds. Spreading grain or seed on the ground helps, as this is where Common Grackles prefer to feed – and if they come to the ground they may let smaller birds continue to use the feeders. Bear in mind that too much grain scattered on the ground can attract rodents, so it’s best to sprinkle just as much as the birds are likely to eat at any one time.

I don’t need to scatter it – they do that themselves! We always have squirrels and chipmunks but this year a surprising number of rabbits have been making themselves at home under the bird feeder and in the clover.

One brown rabbit was in the chicken run when I put the chickens in last night. It couldn’t figure out how to exit the open door and kept crashing into the wire mesh of the enclosure. I wavered between helpfully shooing it out and catching it so I could pet it and feel its soft rabbit fur. The chickens chased it out before I could decide.

P.S. What is it with grackles and wishes?

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

The Red-winged Blackbird wears epaulets to display his rank. He is Captain of the Red Maple Swamp beyond the woods. Sometimes he visits our backyard for seeds.

The genus name is Latin derived from Ancient Greek, agelaios, meaning “belonging to a flock”. The species name, phoeniceus, is from the Latin word meaning “deep red”.

Red-winged Blackbird

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds

Red-winged Blackbirds eat mainly insects in the summer and seeds, including corn and wheat, in the winter. Sometimes they feed by probing at the bases of aquatic plants with their slender bills, prying them open to get at insects hidden inside. In fall and winter they eat weedy seeds such as ragweed and cocklebur as well as native sunflowers and waste grains.

The Red-winged Blackbirds ate our seeds in spring but I didn’t see them much in June and July. Is this visitor telling me it’s fall in bird world?

The Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Nature, Poem 51: The Blue Jay
Emily Dickinson

No brigadier throughout the year
So civic as the jay.
A neighbor and a warrior too,
With shrill felicity

Pursuing winds that censure us
A February day,
The brother of the universe
Was never blown away.

Blue Jay

The snow and he are intimate;
I ‘ve often seen them play
When heaven looked upon us all
With such severity,

I felt apology were due
To an insulted sky,
Whose pompous frown was nutriment
To their temerity.

Blue Jay

The pillow of this daring head
Is pungent evergreens;
His larder — terse and militant —
Unknown, refreshing things;

His character a tonic,
His future a dispute;
Unfair an immortality
That leaves this neighbor out.

Bird dish


Mm, cardinal soup.

This young Northern Cardinal was snacking on seeds. I usually put peanuts in this bowl and the grackles and blue jays battle for the nuts.

Northern Cardinal immature

Perched, this bird’s feathers are a patchwork of color.

This is one of the immature birds that have started showing up at the feeders.

immature northern cardinal

Bird model.

Cardinals’ bills are large and chunky, black in juvenile birds and turning to red or orange in adulthood. – Bird Identification Guide, Bird Watcher’s Digest

Hen friends


Another in what could be a series: Chickens in Chairs.

These two hens are good friends. The majestic (fat) blonde, a Buff Orpington, is Number One in the pecking order; the petite, flighty Ameraucana/ Easter Egger ranks last of the five chickens ranging the backyard.

Marilyn Monroe regally tolerates Ella, expecting no challenge to her dominance. Ella stays close to Marilyn for protection and belonging.

And… maybe they just like each other.

The new birds

immature Northern Cardinal

New bird at the feeder!

This finch-beaked fellow hanging out with the Downy Woodpecker appears to be an immature Northern Cardinal. Weirdly ratty tail feathers, but cardinal shaped otherwise. Dusky bill instead of red like the adults.

(Here are some great cardinal photos on


Not sure if it’s a male or female. I just started seriously watching birds this year, so this is my first batch of young ‘uns. They look different than their parents.

And they act different – tamer, less easily alarmed.

cardinal and grosbeak

And chummier with each other.

These two were pals for a while at the feeder. I thought the bird on the right, also a new visitor this morning, was a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak at first. But because of the red under the wing, I think it may be an immature male.

cardinal and grosbeak immature

Pretty markings.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak: Females and immatures are brown and heavily streaked, with a bold whitish stripe over the eye. Males flash pink-red under the wings; females flash yellowish.

immature rose-breasted grosbeak

Portrait of a little chow hound who has been at the feeder off and on all morning. Too hungry to bother that I was standing right next to it.

The food is Dodge’s Supreme Wild Bird Food, a blend of black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, white millet, safflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts and granite grit, from our local Dodge’s Agway. Good stuff: always clean, dry and fresh.


I wonder if feeding these young birds’ parents this year helped with the success of their nesting and nurturing.

Welcome to our backyard, little bird friends.