Beautiful Boy Birds of Spring

Not a bird

Now that I can see them, I understand what bird watching is all about. Compared to the more secretive mammals (if you don’t count the chipmunks and squirrels), many species of bird conduct a lot of their business of meeting, quarreling and foraging in plain sight, secure in the knowledge that the world of the air is theirs. Not only are they way more active and busy to the eye than,say,deer, they sing and come in a hundred colors and shades.

Okay, fine, this is not exactly Big Scientific News. But it’s news if you have only recently been able to tell a floater in your eye from a mouse in the sink, and OMG the colors this year! We haven’t spotted anything unusual since the water thrush in 2019, so if you live in the east, you have probably seen and heard all these birds as well. That doesn’t make them any less amazing.

Of course, everyone knows the show offs of the entire animal kingdom are the males, and birds are no exception. I am trying to avoid gender bias in my bird watching, but female blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) look pretty much like the males, maybe because the species as a whole is just 100% balls to the wall. They are the street kids of the bird feeders, and beautiful acrobats. (These shots are from a stealth cam-I’m not that quick on the shutter!).


Blue as they are, they don’t hold a candle to an Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea). The shade of blue is more…what? Turquoise? Both the Bluejay and the Bunting get their blue from the structure of their feathers rather than the pigmentation. (Editors note: Real Science!)

Passerina cyanea(Indigo Bunting)

Below is another example of color that comes from structure rather than pigmentation-in this case it’s iridescence on the hummingbird gorget.

Goldfinches are not shy or uncommon, but our flock really cheered me up this year. As my brother said on spying one, “That’s a handsome bird.”

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)


American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)


Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)











Super thrilled to have a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) come to a feeder near my window, but he was chased away by the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus).



What a colorful shot that would have been! Instead, I got this magnificent Cardinal hiding in the background.








                                    Later, though, I got that Oriole good and proper.

I am not going to leave out the color of some of my favorite birds – crows and ravens. I don’t have a good shot of the raven pair we’ve seen around (mostly being chased by crows), but I did catch a couple of European Starlings and a Red-winged Blackbird. I just love that flash of yellow or red.

Did I leave anybody out? Maybe.Probably. But after all this flash and glory I’m craving a little subtlety. LBB’s, anyone?


Wooly Adelgids


Tsuga canadensis the year we discovered Adelges tsugae (woolly adelgid)

HWA distribution courtesy NYS DEC

Bad news this year – walking across the creek bridge next to our house I got smacked in the face by a hemlock branch encrusted with Adelges tsugae (wooly adelgids). Currently a serious threat to Tsuga canadensis (hemlock) here in New York, adelgids can kill a tree in as little as four years by tapping directly into the trees food storage cells. One insect can be responsible for orginating as many as 40,000 descendants in a single season!

Hemlock distribution courtesy NYS Hemlock Initiative

This is a big deal in our neck of the woods. Hemlocks are the third most common tree in our forests, and are what is called a “foundation” species. This means they create the ecosystem where they resides. Also a climax species, they are members of a mature forest, and critical components of a clean water system.


We have been keeping an eye on the four mature hemlocks in a row here, and even now see not many more adelgids than these, but it is no more likely there are only the adelgids we see than there is only the one house mouse we caught… still, in a spirit of hopeless optimism inappropriate to our current political climate, my husband cut the branch off and burned it in the wood stove. We then sprayed the ground between the tree and the  house with isopropryl alchohol, ’cause some fell off, okay?


Zeb Strickland

We like these trees. They are close to the house but not TOO close (like the Norway spruce), and they hold the creek bank near where it likes to flood the road. Even though we assume the many, more ancient hemlocks in our woods won’t benefit much from stopping adelgids down here, we suddenly feel on the front lines of an invasion. These trees are on a direct path to a work site, and we don’t want to become vectors ourselves, spreading the little bastards to uninfected areas.So we have asked Forest and Water Solutions to come have a look.

I met Zeb back when I was part of the Cornell Botanic Gardens Natural Areas Academy for a few years. A great teacher, we spent some time discussing the pro and cons of pesticides and certification in their application. (I got to “shoot” some Japanese knotweed under his supervision, a highlight of my time there.) So we were already pretty confident when we contacted him, and his easy manner and thorough explanation of the process cinched it. We signed up for a single basal bark application for four trees.

Forest and Water Solutions

I was able to stand nearby and watch. It didn’t take long, or cost much. Zeb used two chemicals, one faster acting and the other good for five years or so. For those of you rightly concerned about the over use of pesticides, I was pleased to see how careful and contained the process was. Yes, we could have left these trees alone. Would their death have been certain, or is it possible experiments in the introduction of natural predators would have progressed enough in time to save them? If not, does it matter that these four trees, out of the hundreds near us,survive? I don’t know. We weighed the options and we made this choice. I wish us all luck.