If I had to pick a favorite time of year to photograph birds, it would be now, near the official beginning of winter and on until early spring. There are not as many varieties of birds as during the spring or fall migrations, but there are many local and visiting winter residents to challenge any birder/photographer. Clear, cold winter mornings are magical, the angle of the sun provides excellent photo lighting, and with most of the foliage gone, the birds are easy to see. But they are quite wary this time of year because they are more vulnerable and the predators are hungrier. The best strategy this time of year is to set up with a blind or camouflage in a likely location and wait for them to come to you. A type location which I like for field and woods birds is a protected field edge adjacent to brush with big trees behind. My favorite location near home is at The Field. There is a spot on the north side of the field where the field edge protrudes into the woods forming a pocket about 40 yards wide and deep, with lots of brush and large oaks/pines mixed behind the brush. There is a large old pecan tree growing about 10 feet out in the field at the west edge of the pocket. This provides for the early morning through late afternoon sun to warm the cover along the edge, and the area is protected from the predominate west and north winds that come this time of year. The warming activates insects in the brush, attracting many species. Poison ivy berries and mistletoe are growing in the pecan and oaks, providing another source of food. It is always amazing to me how many critters come to such an area to find food. The car is a great hiding place. Animals are not really afraid of cars if they are still and you stay inside. Last Thursday I went to this spot about 8AM and parked my car parallel to the back of the pocket about 30 yards out, giving me visual access to all three sides of the spot from the drivers seat. And I waited. When I left at 11AM, I had pictures of about 20 different species of birds and a few mammals. They included both field birds(Robins, meadowlarks, sparrows), woods birds(Blue Jay, White Eyed Vireo, Ruby and Golden crowned Kinglets, Flickers, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, White throated Sparrow, Bluebird, and Orchard Oriole), raptors(Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier), and a few Mammals( Fox Squirrel, O'Possum, Deer). My favorite shots are of the Vireo, the squirrels, and the Pileated Woodpeckers doing acrobatics in the pecan tree trying to eat the poison ivy berries Merry Christmas and enjoy the pics below!!
The most striking woodpecker we have in North America, I think, is the wary Flicker, called by some in the south the "Yellowhammer" because of its bright yellow under wing color. Actually there are two variations of the bird, the eastern and western, with the western variety having bright red instead of yellow underparts. The two types often hybridize and present mixed coloration. They are tannish-brown and covered with black spots, with a white rump patch. Our eastern birds have a red upside-down V on the back of their head/neck, and a black bib on the front neck/chest area.
Flickers are year round residents in most areas of the US, but the northern birds do migrate, spending their winters in the south. This means that our southern population is greatly increased in the winter, so the best and easiest time to see them in our area is the winter months. They are plentiful now and the pictures below were taken in The Field yesterday.
Unlike most of our woodpeckers, those birds feed mostly on the ground on an insect diet consisting mostly of ants and beetles, although they also consume fruit, berries, etc. They prefer open woods areas which allow for tree access and available ground feeding sites. For a complete review of their life cycle, breeding habits, and general behavior, visit the Cornell Bird Identification Page. Enjoy the pics below.
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Monday, Dec. 1 was a warm, blue-sky day . With Thanksgiving already in rearview, the holiday season is in full overdrive. To escape the Monday shopping frenzy I visited Pungo Lake located in the Pocosin Lakes National Wldlife Refuge . Pungo Lake is the largest of the three lakes in the Refuge and is a winter home for many waterfowl including the Tundra Swan. For me, there is nothing that better defines fall and winter than the constant honking babble of these beautiful birds. Charles Kuralt on his now only a memory Sunday Morning TV show, would set up his traveling recording set at one of the impoundments near the lake and record their sound as they flew all around his vehicle. He would play this sound with video for 3-5 minutes at the end of his show---it is one of my favorite memories of this great naturalist's many nature recordings. There is a memorial sign at the spot where he did these recordings. It was there that I stood on Monday watching and listening , and getting a few photos to share on this Journal. For a complete description of the life cycle of the Tundra Swan, visit this site. You can go to this spot at Lake Pungo by driving the North Canal Rd. I highly recommend it to get into the true spirit of the Holidays---
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Jerry Lotterhos is a retired professor who resides in Greenville, N.C.