Tag Archives: wildlife in suburbs

Welcome Spring

Spring sunset

Spring sunset

stone fence

Stone fence

a field

Not too spring-like yet

down the gravel road

Pretty path

short-eared owl

Short-eared owl

Although it’s officially the start of spring, I’m still feeling a bit sun-deprived. In an effort to speed up the retreat of the winter blues, I’ve been commuting with the sunroof in my car open, despite the air temperature.

After eating dinner yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice the sun shining through the clouds preparing for its descent. Rather than watching through the window or in my backyard, I grabbed my camera and headed out to a park to enjoy the view. Not only was I rewarded with a beautiful sunset, but I also managed to snap a shot of my first owl! Welcome sunshine, welcome spring.

Linking to:


Signs of Spring

Trying to get the female cardinal to take notice

It’s spring, time to get the female cardinal to take notice

The male cardinal fanning his tail feathers

First a little singing, then fanning the tail feathers

The attentive female cardinal

The attentive female cardinal takes it all in

There are a few scattered piles of unmelted snow in the dark corners of my backyard, but some telltale signs of spring have come. The daffodils started poking out of the ground and, a few days ago, the spring peepers began calling from the boggy area down the road. I thought the birds would still be waiting for warmer weather, but the cardinals have already abandoned all thoughts of winter and progressed straight into the spring mating season.

I heard the male cardinal tweeting repeatedly the other day, so much so that I stopped what I was doing to look outside. From the top of a small tree, the male cardinal was loudly carrying on. The reason for all the ruckus? A female cardinal was perched nearby in an adjacent tree. After he finished his serenade, he flew over closer to the female and began chipping and strutting about, fanning his tail feathers and putting on quite a show. She played cool though, sitting very still and seemingly not giving him a glance. Today, I noticed the cardinal pair checking out the site of last year’s nest, so I suppose his display won her over. Spring is here!

Linking to “Signs of Spring” at the Outdoor Blogger Network.

The Stealth Move

This backyard hawk caused a downy woodpecker to make some stealthy moves

This backyard hawk caused a downy woodpecker to make some stealthy moves

The woodpecker flattened itself against the tree branch

The woodpecker flattened itself against the tree branch

What a trick! Hiding behind the branch out of the hawk's sight

What a trick! Hiding behind the branch out of the hawk’s sight

Every once in a while a hawk visits our backyard; today it came twice and caused one of our backyard birds to resort to a stealthy move for its survival.

The first raptor visit was early this morning when I was in the kitchen. Through the window, I saw the hawk perch low in the walnut tree next to our bird feeders. I wanted to take a photo through the sliding glass door, but the hawk flew off just as I returned from down the hall with my camera. Later this afternoon, I was outside in the backyard, with my camera, when the hawk returned a second time.

Normally, when a hawk is nearby, the backyard birds flee into the hidden areas of the bushes or pine trees and there is silence. All chirping ceases. This afternoon, the hawk appeared so suddenly it seemed to take the birds by surprise. They weren’t able to resort to their normal safety routines.

The female cardinal didn’t flee and hide. Instead, it stayed completely frozen in place on a tree branch, not moving whatsoever. The tufted titmouse was a little bit braver. It made a short, sudden warning call and then immediately dropped into the pine branches out of sight. The mourning doves stayed still in the same position they had been sitting in previously. The downy woodpecker, however, was the stealthy one. First, he froze on the tree branch. He didn’t move his head to the right or to the left, but you could tell he was aware of the danger. Then, he pressed his body down as close as possible to the branch. His final move was to swiftly rotate around to the underside of the tree branch to get out of the hawk’s direct line of sight. The woodpecker stayed completely still in that position, keeping the branch between himself and the hawk, until the hawk finally flew away. Once the danger was gone, the woodpecker moved back around to the top of the branch and started to eat some suet. The other birds also resumed their activities like nothing had happened.

Noisy Ravens in New Jersey

Blackbirds, crows, ravens – I never thought much about them before. If I happened to come across a small, dark bird, I called it a blackbird. Anything slightly larger was identified as a crow. The common raven was a more mysterious bird to me, reserved for the legends of nevermore. This past summer, however, I came to realize that ravens were in our midst.

A noisy raven

A noisy raven

At first, I never actually saw a raven; I just heard something loud and unusual. It was such a strange noise that, when I heard it, I stopped washing the dishes so I could listen. It was more like a croak or a growl or a honking, definitely not the caw-caw-caw call of a crow. I dismissed the noise that day, attributing it to either the kids in my neighborhood or a stray cat spooking around outside.

Several days later, I heard the noise again and ran outside to try to locate the source of the sound. I kept this routine going for several weeks – I’d hear the strange noise and look around outside – but I could never figure out where the sound was coming from.

Finally, one day in late August, I heard the noise, ran outside, and saw the creature fly right between our house and the neighbor’s house…a crow, a blackbird, what was that? I wasn’t sure. I had never seen a crow come close to our house before and crows usually don’t fly solo. It was too large to be a blackbird.

I started looking on-line at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Guide and stumbled upon the raven. After I listened to the recorded bird calls I knew that was it! The bird I’d been hearing for the past month was the common raven. I certainly don’t remember ever hearing a raven in our neighborhood before. By the end of August, the sound of the raven was gone and I haven’t heard it again.

Early this December, the postal carrier delivered our copy of the winter 2012 edition of the New Jersey Audubon magazine. Inside was an article by Rick Radis about a bird that is becoming more common in New Jersey. The article was entitled, “The Return of the Raven”. Here was the proof, in black and white, that the range of the raven really has been expanding in New Jersey and their population has increased. I was quite happy that the strange bird noise I heard this past summer helped me notice something “new” in my New Jersey neighborhood.

What do ravens sound like? Here’s a short clip I recorded at the Raptor Trust:

Weekly Photo Challenge: Hands

This eastern painted turtle is so tiny, but you wouldn’t be able to tell without the hand and fingers to give perspective.

Click to see other “hands” entries in the Weekly Photo Challenge.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unfocused

The scenario was perfect for taking a great wildlife photo…

I was sitting on the grass with camera in hand. The bunny rabbit hopped out from under a tree and slowly wandered around nibbling clover. The rabbit moved closer and closer and closer toward me. Then, it struck a perfectly adorable pose. I raised the camera, focused and clicked — noooo! Just as I clicked the camera, the bunny turned his head to look at something.

The result: a very unfocused bunny.

Click the link to take a look at some other “out-of-focus” interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge.

A Chorus of Spring Peepers

A few days ago, I heard the spring peepers starting their chorus, one of my favorite sounds of spring. Every year, as winter winds down, the peeping emanates from a small, wooded lot down the street from our home in central New Jersey. Our neighborhood has a high water table, making that area very swampy, just the right environment for frogs.

Last night, I convinced my husband to go looking for peepers with me. He put on his rubber boots and I, without thinking, stepped out in my white, soon-to-be brown and wet, Avia sneakers. We entered the woods and followed the peeping sound through the fallen debris and pricker bushes to reach the swampy area. As soon as we approached there was complete silence, all the peeping stopped. We positioned ourselves as inconspicuously as possible and waited, and waited, and waited some more. Every once in a while one peeper would start, but the rest of the chorus wouldn’t join in. We continued to wait until the frogs felt comfortable in our presence. Finally, after 30 minutes or so, the peeping restarted en masse. What a sound! When you are close to the peepers it actually hurts your ears. A group of peepers, peeping together, can reach the decibel level of a rock concert. It is amazing that something so tiny can be so incredibly loud.

Every spring we hear the peepers in this swampy area.

Although a chorus of frogs was surrounding us, we only managed to locate one peeper (shown above). What I mistakenly thought was a tiny shoot growing out of a sapling, turned out to be a clinging peeper. His tan-brown color blended right into the branch making him extremely camouflaged. If he hadn’t been loudly looking for a mate I never would have found him. These frogs are fascinating to watch with their balloon-like vocal sacs; it was worth getting scratches and mosquito bites on our arms to see it. Cheers to the spring peeper choir for being one of the first to say goodbye to winter and hello to spring.

Signs of Spring

Rabbit in backyard

This rabbit was a recent visitor to our backyard.

Pair of mallards

A mallard couple stopped by for a quick swim.

Growing daffodils

The daffodils will soon be ready to bloom.

Blooming crocus

The crocus has already started blooming.

Signs of spring are bursting forth here in New Jersey. The daffodils are poking through the soil, the crocuses have begun to flower and some of the backyard visitors I haven’t seen all winter are venturing out.

This past week, a brown rabbit has been hanging around our house. He seems too tame for survival in the suburbs. I hope he quickly learns some street-smarts. Fortunately, our backyard offers hiding places for bunnies needing a hurried retreat.

A pair of mallards recently landed in our pond. They enjoyed a quick swim and then returned to their springtime task of scouting out a proper egg-laying site. I wonder if they will ultimately choose an unusual location, like the ducks who nested in a Home Depot garden department. The blackbirds also have nest-building in mind; I spotted one dangling a long piece of dried grass/straw from its beak.

Insects are starting to fly around too. A tiny winged creature was sitting on my mailbox. My husband was surprised to see a butterfly. The ants and the bees will most likely be the next to make their spring entrance.

For some reason, spring can make me feel melancholy. I suppose it’s because change is in the air and sometimes change can be difficult to cope with (or is it the onslaught of allergy symptoms?). The joyous nature of spring, however, is undeniable. It’s a time of new beginnings, fresh starts and second chances. Gardens are prepared. Newborn animals take first steps. Plants that were shriveled and frost-bitten become green and vibrant again. All of what spring represents seems to culminate in the celebration of Easter.

Now that the daffodils and crocuses are appearing, along with the wildlife who’ve been in hiding all winter, I look forward to observing more signs of spring — blooming yellow forsythias, tiny buds on branches, chirping baby birds and more.

Our New Neighbors: Vultures!

Turkey vultures

Turkey vulture perched on railroad tracks

Vulture stretching wings

There were more than 15 vultures perched in and circling around this tree

Recently I wrote a post called, “Are You Seeing More Turkey Vultures Than You Used To?” Without a doubt, I can now answer affirmatively – YES. Perhaps it’s because my awareness of vultures has increased. Or, maybe it’s because I’ve been intentionally looking for them. Whatever the reason, I see vultures not just occasionally, but almost every day. It’s not only when I’m out and about; quite often they are circling over my house. In fact, they seem to have developed a habit of circling over my home and neighborhood on a regular basis.

If I was the type of person who put faith in omens and bad luck charms, I’d be worried the vultures were warning me and my neighbors of impending danger. The big screen often portrays vultures as harbingers of doom, circling over weakened prey, waiting for the opportunity to feast. The truth is, vultures do not circle dying animals (see article: Vultures!). Their keen sense of smell leads them to carrion (see article: Nature’s Focus: The Turkey Vulture). Not all movies depict vultures in a bad way though. In the animated film, “The Jungle Book,” vultures were characterized as friendly fellows (see clip). Whatever the opinion, the “clean up” work of vultures is valuable because it can help prevent the spread of disease.

A few days ago, as I was heading back from the grocery store, I spotted three turkey vultures sitting on the railroad tracks in my neighborhood. I quickly drove the rest of the way home, unloaded the groceries, grabbed my camera and headed back to the tracks. The vultures didn’t pay attention to me as I snapped a few photos of them. They contentedly perched on the metal rails and, every once in a while, stretched out their wings. The turkey vultures seemed quite comfortable in their role as the newest residents of my neighborhood. Comments?

Are You Seeing More Turkey Vultures Than You Used To?

Turkey vultureFlying turkey vulturesHas anyone noticed an increase in the amount of turkey vultures? Are you seeing more vultures than you used to? In the past, it seemed like a rarity to spot a vulture in my area. The only place I saw them was on the side of the road, picking at the remains of something that had lost an encounter with a moving vehicle. Lately, I see them soaring all over the place. Most of the time, the vultures are flying solo or in pairs; sometimes there are several in a group. The other day, I saw eight or nine vultures circling over my house. It felt like they were spying on me and I started to wonder if I was looking sickly! Today, there were four vultures scouting over the parking lot at the grocery store.

If I lived in Georgia, I’d probably be very happy to only have a few vultures to watch. According to a news report by mnn.com, a Georgia neighborhood is experiencing an influx of hundreds of turkey vultures. I’ve seen Canadian geese in the hundreds, but not turkey vultures. Hundreds of vultures invading my neighborhood would be quite intimidating to say the least.

After doing some research, I’ve learned that my observation was correct. There really are more turkey vultures in New Jersey. Information provided by the USDA states that the turkey vulture population has increased over the past 50 years in northeast. Vultures can live up to 16 years. They are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. As you are out observing wildlife where you live, are you noticing an increase in the amount of turkey vultures? We welcome your comments..
Editor’s Note – April 2012:
Here is a link for a more recent Nature in the Burbs post about vultures: Our New Neighbors: Vultures.

Unexpected Wildlife

Welcome to Nature in the Burbs. Most of the time when I see wildlife in my neighborhood, it’s something I’ve seen before, like a blue heron or a snapping turtle. The other day, however, my husband was in our backyard taking photos of something that I had never seen before…

Hummingbird Moth

…it was a Hummingbird Moth.  It looks like a moth or a weird kind of bumble bee, but it flies like a hummingbird. There were several of these moths enjoying our butterfly bush. Normally, I’m not an insect kinda gal, but this was pretty cool. Here are some details from Wikipedia.

Have you ever seen one? Let us know. Click Comment.