Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Pileated Woodpecker Digging for Ants

Since mid-December, the pileated woodpeckers have been observed at least once a week at the large suet feeder in the Colvin Run Habitat.  This morning, one of the pileated woodpeckers was seen on the trunk of one of the maple trees.
This female (no red mustache) was digging in the remaining mark of a previously removed branch.  No she was not seeking maple sap (as other woodpeckers do), but rather digging ants that have infested this tree. 
From the third photo (click on the photo for a zoomed view), you can get an appreciation of the size of the hole that this woodpecker had dug.  She has her complete bill and perhaps half of her head buried in the hole.
This last photo was taken this afternoon and shows the size of the holes dug.  The site is located about 5 feet off the ground in a line of trees on the Habitat boundary furthest from the woods.  Perhaps this is an indication that these very shy woodpeckers are becoming more comfortable around the Habitat.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tongue of Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Previously, I posted a limited number of photos showing woodpeckers and hummingbird tongues. Today, I took video of the tongue of a male red-bellied woodpecker in action. When the snow was too deep to get needed suet to the feeders, I hung this feeder just outside of the porch windows.  Over the last few weeks, the birds - primarily the woodpeckers - continued to come and eat the suet. The cone shape is a result of the suet sticking to the top of the cage feeder and the reach of the woodpeckers' longer beaks.

When the suet cannot be reached with the beak, the woodpecker tongue - which as you will see is longer than the beak - does a great job at reaching the suet. Above is one frame from the below video in which you can clearly see the curved tongue coming out of the beak and touching the suet. Now take a look at the video below. Enjoy the video.

Where does this woodpecker store his tongue?  The tongue slides to the back of the head, loops upward around the back of the inside of the skull, and then forward around and under the eye.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: American Robins - Annual Migration

One last photo from the Colvin Run Habitat blizzards of 2010.  Even with 30 inches of snow on the ground and snow clearly still on the roof, this flock of American Robins arrived in two waves.  With snow on the ground, the worms were safe this day.  The annual robin migration attracts the robins to the water in the heated bird bath.  They drink, they splash, they continue north.  

With snow on the ground, the robins were a reminder of a coming spring.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: Carolina Wren Seeks Cover

The large amount of snow weighed down all of the shrubs and created shelters - even in broad leafed shrubs like this rhododendron. The Carolina wrens made good use of this rhododendron located right under the temporary feeder outside of the porch window.  The wrens would come up, feed, and return to their shelter.
Take a close look at the upper left corner to see the tail feathers of one of the wrens.  Click the photo to zoom in.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: Red-Tailed Hawk and Red-Shouldered Hawk

We saw in a previous post the red-shouldered hawk during the peak of the snow.  Here is a photo of the red-shouldered hawk perching the morning after the storm.
The next morning, this red-tailed hawk arrived and perched in the same spot.
This hawk would perch, then fly out, make a circle, and then perch again.
In the two above photos, you can see the red-tailed hawk's wing feathers as viewed from above and below.  The dark upper feathers and the white lower feathers provide protection from predators - though which predators is never clear to me.
And here is the reason for the name - the clearly red tail,  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: Signs of the Fox

During the last week of December with the first blizzard's snow still on the ground, two red-tailed foxes where observed one afternoon going across the lower meadow.
These first two photos were taken the second morning after the second February storm.  How do I know that these are fox tracks?  First, the night before, in the near-full moonlight, I observed a male fox come up the hill into the back yard, mark the snow, proceed to the front yard, and then run down the newly plowed driveways.  Second, the tracks map nearly identically to the path of the foxes in December - even the curve over the to small bush under the snow - the bush the male had marked in December.  Why the deep tracks?  The snow had yet to crust over.
Third, the tracks came up the hill, to the general location that I observed in the moonlight the male fox marking by raising his leg.  The next morning the fox urine was clearly visible on the snow covered bush that served as a house for the birds and squirrels.  
24 hours later - the next morning - just before sunrise, this female red-tailed fox arrived and sniffed around under the feeder.  How did I know it was a female?
Simple, the male raises his leg to make and the female - per the above photo - squats to let their marks. 
You can see that even on this third morning after the storm, the fox is leaving deep tracks as the snow still had not crusted over.  Sorry for the poor quality of the photos, but they were taken in near darkness.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: Red-Bellied Woodpecker and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Let's maximize the red in the photo with a male cardinal and a male red-bellied woodpecker.
Here the male red-bellied woodpecker defends the suet feeder from the nearby starling while a female red-bellied woodpecker flies away.
Like the other woodpeckers, the red-bellied woodpecker enjoys the sap on the maples even if he has to dodge the icicles.  
Here the red-bellied woodpecker perches on the oak branches.
And here is the reason the red-bellied woodpecker is called red-bellied.  It is very hard to see this patch of red when he is attached to a tree trunk.  The other woodpecker in the photo is a yellow-bellied sapsucker.  
The yellow-bellied sapsucker shows up every year  in the Colvin Run Habitat during the middle two weeks of February.  Clearly a migratory time, as the yellow-bellied sapsucker usually winters south of Northern Virginia and summers north. In this photo, the yellow-bellied sapsucker enjoys the maple sap (of course) during the morning after.  The second blizzard delivered over 8" of snow to the branch.  For the record, the second storm delivered 30" of snow to the Habitat.  The winter total was over 70" setting a season record at nearby Dulles Airport.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: Downy Woodpeckers

The beauty of snow on all of the tree limbs is that birds that are often hard to see - size and color - can be seen easily.  As the snow fell, the downy woodpeckers could be seen landing on the dogwood tree prior to approaching the suet feeders.
During February, all of the woodpeckers - even the downies - spend time on the maple trees to feed on the sap that is running.
All of the woodpeckers keep an alert eye for trouble while on the maples.
In a few months, the leaves will prevent this small woodpecker from being seen at this position on the tree.
This male downy also enjoyed visiting the suet feeder just outside of the back porch window (aka the Colvin Run Habitat observation deck).  This feeder was put up as the suet feeders were not reachable down the hill in the snow.  Within a day, the downies would allow me to walk on the porch while they were at the feeder.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: Northern Cardinals

As I have mentioned many times, the cardinals are simply brilliant in the snow - even during the peak of the storms.
Even the female cardinals standout during the snow storm.
With the white or gray background, it seems easier to catch them in flight.  This male extends his wings with the feathers fully exposed.
This female is photographed making an approach to the feeder.
And this make is actually flying up to a tree limb, but he is flying away from the camera.  The result is a full exposure of his back and top of his wings.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: Bird Count in the Storm

So here is the answer to the quiz in the last post.  If you need a closer view, just click on the photo.  Here are the birds clockwise starting in the upper left corner:

  1. Two starlings on a tree branch
  2. One red-shouldered hawk.  This hawk perches often on that branch with his back to the birds at the feeder.
  3. Two cardinals at the sunflower seed feeder
  4. One downy woodpecker at the suet feeder under the cardinals
  5. One starling at the large suet feeder
  6. One starling perched at the pole top
  7. One cardinal at the suet feeder - yes you can hardly see this one
Interesting observation: the birds ate an inch of seed for every inch of snow that fell - refilling the feeder was tough with the snow above the knees.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: Peak of the Storms

Yesterday's post showed amazing sunlight and brilliant blue sky.  These photos show the near-peak of the storm - very tough photo conditions with little light and falling snow causing focus problems.
I say near-peak because at the peak of the storm, only the most near-field trees were visible.  
Storm or no storm, the birds need to come to the feeder.  The white-throated sparrows were numerous around the feeder, even at the peak of the storm.  The sunflower seeds or the suet provides the nutrition to shiver which allows them to stay warm.  
To stay warm, the birds also fluff up their feathers as shown in this photo of the white-throated sparrow and the northern cardinal.
The northern cardinals - males and females - always standout in the snow.  Their bright red feathers as a background ensures that foreground snowflakes are seen.
So here is the quiz for the day - how many birds can you count in this photo?  Can you identify them?  As always, click on the photo to get an expanded view.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blizzards of 2010: The Morning After in the Colvin Run Habitat

The 2009-2010 winter season brought three major snow storms - all resulting in blizzard warning being issued - to the Colvin Run Habitat.
I'll show a number of photos from the two February storms over the next few posts.  Yes, it is a month after the last storm, but who has enough time for photography and posting these days.  A month after the storm and today is the first day that there is no snow remaining in the Habitat.
All of the photos in this post were taken the morning after.  
Nothing like lots of sunlight and snow reflected light to get some great photos.  In the next few posts, you will also see less than perfect photos taken during the peak of the storms.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Northern Cardinal and Carolina Chickadee

While observing foxes and bluebirds last weekend, I also took photos of the frequently seen cardinals and chickadees. Enjoy.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Two Foxes on the Snow

Over the last ten days, a red-tailed fox has been observed running across the lower meadow at the Colvin Run Habitat in the morning. The lower meadow remains covered with snow - from the snow storm we had two weeks ago - and as a result the fox is easily seen.

This afternoon, a fox was observed quickly coming out of some brush. The fox made a quick stop and appeared to look back (first photo). This fox then ran hard across the snow with an urgency.

With the first fox out of sight, a second fox came out of the brush from the same location. Clearly larger, this second fox walked casually and even took time to mark some shrubs.

After the marking, the second fox walked across the snow. Ten minutes later, the second fox return to the original brush.