WEEK 6 - BLIZZARD BIRDS

February 12, 2013  •  3 Comments

     Like most Connecticut residents, the last several days have been all about digging out after the blizzard, one of the most severe in anyones memory. As a result, most of the birding in the state, indeed in most of New England, was done from home at the bird feeders. I have my bird feeders set up as a makeshift photo studio, near the windows with multiple perches for birds to land on. The only time I bother shooting feeder birds is when something uncommon shows up, like siskins or redpolls, or when it's snowing. I'm always hoping to get a classic wintry picture, like a cardinal on a snow covered branch.

     Earlier in the week I set up a couple new perches in anticipation of the storm, and filled the feeders Friday morning as the snow began. A steady stream of birds attacked the food, knowing what was coming. By mid morning the ground and perches were covered in snow and I set up to take some pictures. The usual cast of characters were all present. Unfortunately, a boorish bunch of starlings also found the feeders, and their noisy battles over the suet drove off the well behaved regulars. I got some pictures of sparrows and juncos on my new spruce bough perch before the wind and weight of the snow dispatched it.

     The conditions deteriorated and I gave up on photography. As the winds increased and the snow turned to icy pellets, I knew the inevitable couldn't be far off. We lost power at 7:00 Friday evening and the whining began. Being without power for about a week after both Irene and Sandy, that familiar sinking feeling set in. After a long night of high wind, snow and even lightning, I woke up at 4 a.m. and it was still snowing. Shortly after six, birds began arriving at the feeders, which were completely encased in snow and ice. 

   Unable to get at their food, I went out to clear off the feeders. As I chipped away at the ice the hungry flock waited close by. I went in and grabbed my camera before topping the feeders off and throwing some seed on the snow. The birds flew in instantly while I stood a few feet away. I shot the picture below zoomed out to the widest angle, with birds feeding right at my feet.

     I decided to take a walk around my neighborhood since there was a rumor that a tree had fallen across the street, taking down the power lines. The snow was about two feet deep but it was hard to tell because of all the drifts, some of which were thigh high. The pristine snow looked beautiful, but after 20 years working in the news media, I was happy not to have to be out covering the storm. I still couldn't resist documenting the conditions, though. 

     At the top of my street I found the culprit for the power outage, not a fallen tree, but several large pine branches hanging from the electrical wire. Route 156, a state road, was still snow covered and a man was digging to get his car out onto the deserted street.

     Returning home, my bird feeders were hopping with activity. Included in the fray were two Carolina Wrens, three Northern Flickers and a newcomer. A very dark Savannah Sparrow joined the usual flock of Song, White-throated and American Tree Sparrows and juncos feeding on the ground below. I also noticed three bluebirds visiting the feeders, two males and a female. The female seemed to be sampling the different seed and suet, while the males just served as chaperones. Of particular interest to her was a peanut butter mixture called Bark Butter that I put in holes on a driftwood post. This also attracts chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, flickers, both nuthatches and even juncos. It also appeals to squirrels and starlings, unfortunately. Absent from my yard this year are Red-bellied Woodpeckers, usually another regular attracted to the Bark Butter.

     One food I'm not sure of is dried mealworms. I bought some the past two years for Carolina Wrens, that seem to love them. Later I was told that they have almost no nutritional value. If anyone has any experience or insight on this, please let me know. I assume bluebirds would eat them, too. Aside from putting out a variety of feeders, seeds and suet, other important factors in keeping a variety of birds around are having natural food sources like berries available and having cover, especially near the feeders. Although our yard is modest, we are fortunate to have a variety of different trees and bushes that produce berries or flowers that birds feed on at different times of the year. We have woods and a brush pile in back and dense hedges on both sides of our yard that birds take cover in. The Carolina Wrens seem to love dense bushes like arborvitae not only for shelter, but there are likely moths, cocoons and spider webs in them to feed on. We also have a small brook behind our house that remains unfrozen through the winter and provides a constant water supply. I hope to write more about landscaping a yard for birds in an upcoming post, when things are quiet.       As the snow wound down Saturday, the dreaded shoveling began. It took four of us more than three hours to shovel our driveway out to the road. With an aching back and half the end of the driveway still blocked by an icy, waist-high plow bank, I asked a neighbor who graciously offered to plow us out hours earlier to finish the job. The rest of the day was spent shoveling walkways and charging cellphones and ipods in the car. With temperatures falling into single digits Saturday night and power still out, our house got down into the 40's. As my daughter got the milk out she quipped that the refrigerator was warmer than the kitchen. The next morning my son and I went out to breakfast with my uncle. Most roads, especially the state roads, remained snow covered and difficult to drive on. Several inches of packed ice and snow, filled with potholes, made for a jarring ride. With 85 percent of our town still without power, we went on a wild goose hunt to find coffee for my wife and daughter, without success. The 10 mile drive home took nearly an hour as bumper to bumper traffic crawled along at a snail's pace. With rain forecast for Monday, the rest of the day was spent clearing the ice from the gutters and shoveling the huge drifts of snow from the back deck and away from the downspouts to prevent basement flooding. Fortunately, the power was restored Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, that meant we had to watch the Grammy Awards Sunday night.

     With school and work cancelled again on Monday, I had some more time to try and get some pictures of the only new sighting this week, a Savannah Sparrow, but it remained elusive. There were a few soggy subjects to be photographed, below.

They included a flock of Mallards who were attracted to the yard by all the activity, but didn't have the nerve to enter the fenced in feeder area. They paraded around the back yard for a while before heading back down to the brook.

1 new sighting. Total 115 including 4 from Rhode Island.


Comments

3.Bob MacDonnell(non-registered)
Jim and Shirley - Thanks for the nice comments, I guess I have my agent/wife to thank for getting the word out. The storm was pretty nasty but we didn't get the worst of it. Some towns nearby had 3+ feet of snow. The deep snow kept plenty of birds coming to the feeders, though. It's almost all melted now - definitely looking forward to spring.
2.Shirley U.(non-registered)
Wow...this site is awesome! Thanks for sharing all the super shots of the snowstorm! Just loved seeing all those birds...I absolutely love watching birds at our feeders! We have tons of woodpeckers...their detailed coloring is so beautiful!
Will return often to enjoy your view of nature!
1.Jim Purvis(non-registered)
Awesome account of a historic snow in your area in 2013 -- love the bird shots - first time I have come to your blog -- will definitely stop back again - now that we live in the northwoods forest in northern Wisconsin, we are just starting to try to identify the many birds that come around now and again -- Pictures of snow are excellent -- thanks for sharing the experience.
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