Monthly Archives: May 2015

The bird stars of Star Island

Barn Swallow

The Barn Swallow is pretty much the iconic bird of Star Island.

Highly visible (and audible), it swoops and soars and perches charmingly on railings and banisters and builds its nests under the very large porch of the grand old Oceanic Hotel. You can easily observe this bird from a porch rocking chair.

Barn Swallow

What a pretty bird!

barn swallow

Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Glistening cobalt blue above and tawny below, Barn Swallows dart gracefully over fields, barnyards, and open water in search of flying insect prey. Look for the long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this agile flyer and sets it apart from all other North American swallows.

barn swallow

Barn Swallows have a steely blue back, wings, and tail, and rufous to tawny underparts. The blue crown and face contrast with the cinnamon-colored forehead and throat.

Cinnamon! I can just about taste these colors.

barn swallow

Barn Swallows feed on the wing, snagging insects from just above the ground or water to heights of 100 feet or more. They fly with fluid wingbeats in bursts of straight flight, rarely gliding, and can execute quick, tight turns and dives.

“If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be?” my daughter thought it was fun to keep asking me that.

Well, I really can’t think of a bird I am most like, or most relate to, but I can think of birds I would like to be for a day. Barn Swallow is one, just to fly like they fly. Also, not to anthropomorphize too much, but they seem like happy birds.

barn swallow

Both male and female Barn Swallows sing a “twitter-warble” song during courtship and egg-laying, with a long series of continuous warbling sounds followed by up to a dozen rapid, mechanical-sounding whirrs.


Our birding trip to Star Island last weekend was focused mainly on migrating warblers, but I couldn’t help observing and admiring the Barn Swallows too!

Masked warbler

common yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat… looks like he’s up to something.

A broad black mask lends a touch of highwayman’s mystique to the male Common Yellowthroat. Look for these furtive, yellow-and-olive warblers skulking through tangled vegetation, often at the edges of marshes and wetlands. Females lack the mask and are much browner, though they usually show a hint of warm yellow at the throat.

I took this picture on Star Island last weekend (photo album HERE) but we have these warblers in our backyard too.

Yellowthroats are vocal birds, and both their witchety-witchety-witchety songs and distinctive call notes help reveal the presence of this, one of our most numerous warblers.

A buttery yelllow bird

yellow warbler

Looking up at a Yellow Warbler on Star Island last weekend.

North America has more than 50 species of warblers, but few combine brilliant color and easy viewing quite like the Yellow Warbler. In summer, the buttery yellow males sing their sweet whistled song from willows, wet thickets, and roadsides across almost all of North America.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warblers nest on Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off our coast.

Look for Yellow Warblers near the tops of tall shrubs and small trees. They forage restlessly, with quick hops along small branches and twigs to glean caterpillars and other insects.

We also saw migrating warblers like Magnolia Warblers, Northern Parulas, Black-throated Green Warblers and Wilson’s Warblers. And many other birds too!

banded Yellow Warbler

This Yellow Warbler was banded, probably on the banding station next island over – Appledore Island.

More on our our especially birdy weekend coming up in a few more posts.

Photos from a Spring Birding Weekend are on Flickr HERE.

Window hummingbird feeder

hummingbird window feeder

Hummingbirds are visiting the new window hummingbird feeder many times a day.

My youngest daughter Laura gave it to me last Christmas; I put it up last week. It’s sunctioned-cupped to a living room window and visible from the kitchen too.


Is it cat torture or cat entertainment? We can’t decide.


I have mostly seen a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at this feeder, and yesterday an aerial battle between two females to see who would perch and feed first. (There are multiple feeding ports, but they don’t seem to share.)

The back porch hanging feeder is attracting both male and female. I wonder how many hummingbirds there are around here.

Here is the feeder on Amazon: Aspects 407 Jewel Box Window Hummingbird Feeder, 8-Ounce

All my posts on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Purple martins and tree swallows nesting

tree swallow seabrook

Tree swallow at home.

Nest box off Cross Beach Road, Seabrook Beach, Hampton-Seabrook Estuary. Took a ride out there on Sunday morning.

nest boxes cross beach road

On the north side of the road out into the marsh, colorful nest boxes and mostly tree swallows.

purple martins cross beach road

On the south side of the road, more nest boxes and a purple martin gourd rack.

gourd rack purple martins

Volunteers affiliated with New Hampshire Audubon put up the rack last year, after they noticed some martin pairs nesting in nearby boxes.

purple martins

Looks like the purple martins are happy with their new digs.

purple martins

Some pairs still prefer their old seaside summer cottages.

purple martins

I admire the creativity of the nest box builder(s)!

Great resource for learning about and tracking purple martins: PMCA

tree swallows

Tree swallow pair.

Avian bug control specialists, they are nice to have around if you live next to a marsh.

More photos on Flickr: Purple martins and tree swallows nesting

First Of Year? No, First Of Ever


6 a.m. Pouring coffee. Looking out the kitchen window. Something is on the lawn.

It takes my brain a moment to register the fact: I am looking at ducks. First time I have ever seen any in our immediate backyard, rather than out by (or in) the pond.


A pair of mallards was scouting the spot where the pole bird feeder was in winter, still thick with sunflower hulls. They wandered all over the backyard. It was so early I hadn’t let the chickens out yet.

I watched them for about 10 minutes, moving from one window to another. Then they flew away.