Grosbeak Sightings

The Rose-breasted grosbeak population in Central New York seems to be quite healthy, as everyone has been talking about summer residents and sightings at bird feeders well beyond the Spring migration. I’ve observed two nesting pairs on our 30-acre natural area and often see a female around the feeders. Here she is, in morning light.

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Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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Apple Tree Blossoms 2017

May is apple blossom season in Central New York!

I worry like a farmer when the flower buds begin to open. Killing spring frosts are common and they can wreak havoc on new growth. We escaped those this year, but the bloom was greeted by cool, wet weather that greatly reduced the activity of bees and other insect pollinators.

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Warm weather finally arrived! Several days of summer-like weather really perked things up and the bloom peaked.

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We weren’t “out of the woods” yet. A clash of cold and warm air masses produced severe thunder storms, complete with high winds and hail. Wind in excess of 40 miles per hour damages trees, especially those that are predisposed due to poor form and/or location. Of the dozens of wild apple trees that I manage, two were affected. One, on soft, wet soil in a stream bottom, was uprooted completely and will become firewood and cottontail habitat later in the year. The other, pictured below, had poor structure: two large stems separated by a seam of “included” bark rather than solid wood. Lacking a strong connection, the trunks were ripped apart in the high winds.

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Days after the storm, the resilience of nature was apparent. Most trees, as well as their blossoms, appeared to have survived our erratic spring weather and should produce some apples this fall.

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The bloom is fading, the ground now littered with petals, but I’m still looking up. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, singing in the tree tops as they forage on flowers, have my attention!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Colorful Visitors

When the songbird migration is peaking in early May, interesting and colorful subjects can appear just about anywhere. In fact, a backyard bird feeder can be just as productive as an exotic field trip. Some sightings, like Goldfinches, might be resident birds, more obvious in bright breeding plumage. But many species, the surprise encounters that have us tripping over things to find binoculars, cameras and field guides, are migratory. They’re returning to their summer ranges and breeding grounds, often covering thousands of miles in the process. I’ll never even begin to comprehend that incredible feat of endurance and navigation.

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Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, in breeding plumage

A year ago, almost to the day, I observed Goldfinches and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at my feeders and published “Finch Metamorphosis” (5/11/2013). There was a repeat performance this year, with one exciting addition: an Indigo Bunting.

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Adult male Goldfinches, in breeding plumage

With just 4 platforms on the tube feeder and 2 – 3 times as many finches, little scuffles for access occurred frequently. The mature males prevailed.

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The Indigo Bunting, outnumbered and less aggressive than the Goldfinches, perched nearby and fed when the crowd left.

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Adult male Indigo Bunting, in breeding plumage

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The birdseed that everybody’s fighting over is a readily available (and expensive) product trademarked “Nyjer” seed. It is not thistle seed, as I once thought, but the fruit of Guizotia abyssinica, an annual, exotic plant that was first cultivated in Ethiopia.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Mother’s Day Treat: Grosbeaks

Talking about favorites in the natural world is a bit like asking a parent to name a favorite child. However, if pressed to say which backyard songbird I enjoy seeing and photographing the most, my answer might be the Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

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We’ve seen them for a few days at the feeders, this year and last, but have gone years with no backyard sightings. We’re well within their summer breeding range and have suitable second-growth woodland and forest edge habitats locally, but I don’t know if these birds are residents or on their way to points north in the US or Canada.

I have yet to capture really good images of the female, so will feature the male in this post.

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All photos by NB Hunter