Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fall Departures & Arrivals!

Fall is about half way over on the calendar, but for us Northern New Yorkers it's winding down pretty fast. It seemed to me like the leaves were slow in changing, but when they did we got a lot of rain and wind that knocked most of them down.


Yellow-shafted Flicker

Last week I spotted a few flocks of robins in the yard and a northern (yellow-shafted) flicker woodpecker. The northern  flicker is not your usual woodpecker that you see pounding away way up in the trees. They mainly eat ants and beetles so you are more likely to see them on the ground or at the base of trees. They will dig in the ground with their beak.

Male Yellow-shafted flicker

When they fly you will see color on the wings: yellow if you are in the East and red if you are in the West. You can also notice a bright white spot on their rump. The photo above shows the male which has a black "mustache" on both sides of the beak. The female yellow-shafted flicker does not have that black marking. We are right on the border of their summer residency which is why you will rarely see them in the winter. If you are interested in hearing their calls or seeing a map of their range you can click on this link:


Snow Buntings

Another rare sighting for me this week, and also the first time I've ever been able to photograph them, was a flock of snow buntings. The birds fly in flocks and they blend in very well with their surroundings especially in the winter with snow on the ground. Most of the time when I've spotted these birds it has been in winter on the side of the road. And because they are so light colored you usually don't spot them until you get close to them, and then they take off and are gone. There is a lot of white in their plumage. 

Snow Buntings

The snow buntings' summers are spent in the tundra in Alaska, northern Canada, and coastal Greenland.
For more information on the snow buntings click here: Snow buntings

Male Red-bellied woodpecker and Blue jay visiting the suet feeder

The sighting of the male red-bellied woodpecker was a nice surprise for me yesterday as well. We haven't seen these woodpeckers since last winter. Of course it's probably because we just started putting the suet cakes back out. We usually take the suet down in the summer because they attract too many raccoons.  We have had the suet cakes up in summer in the past and it was great because the woodpeckers would bring their babies to the suet feeders. The red-bellied woodpeckers are common in the east and live in forests. They will occasionally visit a feeder outside of the woods as well, but they are usually very wary. If you live near the edge of a wooded area you might be able to attract them with suet in the winter or peanuts and sometimes sunflower seeds in the spring and summer. Dead trees may also encourage them to your area as well. They may feed on berries of hawthorn or mountain ash in the fall and winter. It took quite a few years before they started coming more frequently to our suet feeders. The males red markings' on the back of the head are the distinguishable characteristic that differentiates the male from the female. The female has the red marking on the back of the head, but it's not as long as it is on the male.

Blue Jay on suet feeder
In the winter, suet and suet cakes will attract birds to your yards. You can purchase any variety of suet cakes. They are offered with seeds, nuts, corn, milo, wheat, millet, sunflower seeds and even fruit. You can buy them anywhere birdseed is sold. Or you can even get plain suet from the butcher at your local grocery store. The feeder shown above has a suet cake in it, but it will also hold the suet blocks you can get from your grocery store. My husband made this suet feeder several years ago and it has held up well considering all the wildlife we've had visiting it like raccoons and "cats".  Birds eat suet in the winter because it's nutritious, and provides them with a good source of fat and calories that helps them to survive the harsh, cold winters. Other birds that have visited our suet feeders in the past includ include chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmouse, and other woodpeckers.

Another bird that winters here from the Arctic is the Junco. I've seen them in our yard, but haven't photographed them yet. It will be a long winter so I'm sure they will be around for awhile.

Appledale Orchards, Mexico, NY

New Apples!

New York is the second largest apple producing state in the United States.Central New York is one of the major production areas in the State. There are approximately 694 commercial apple growers in NY. Some of the most popular varieties grown in New York are MacIntosh, Empire, Red Delicious, Cortland, Golden Delicious, Rome, Idared, Crispin, Paula Red, Gala, Jonagold, and Jonamac. New York State grows and markets more commercial eating apples than any other area of the country.
Behlings Orchards, Mexico, NY

NY State Apple growers are developing new planting systems for growing the trees such as Y-shaped trellises or posts and wires to support the trees. This allows more sunlight to filter into the trees which improves the color and flavor of the apples.

Other news in the apple orchards is the involvement of horticulture and research Professor of Agriculture, Susan Brown, from Cornell University, in the development of two new varieties of apples. They are being introduced this year as SnapDragon and RubyFrost. It can take up to four years before a tree seedling produces fruit. The horticulture department at Cornell University cross breed different varieties of apples for select traits. Those include: sweetness, disease resistance, insect resistance, texture, firmness, and other desirable traits.

SnapDragon is a cross between Honeycrisp with a Jonagold-like hybrid. It is an early ripening variety that is crisp and sweet. I have had these this year and they are excellent. You will not be disappointed. Both delicious and great in pies. RubyFrost ripens later in the fall, is tart, juicy, has a high Vitamin C content, disease resistant, and resists browning. This last trait would be attractive to retailers selling apple slices. Both these apple varieties were bred to withstand a long time in storage. Expect to find them more available in 2015.

Here are additional articles and a video on the new varieties of apples:

Syracuse/The Post Standard article & video: Cornell University Growing New Apple Varieties

NY Apples New York Apple Association

New Paltz Times: Two New Apple Varieties

*      *      *      *      *     *      *      *      *     *      *      *      *     *

Thought I would share with you some of the last images of our fall scene before the snow piles up. As I look out the window it's now starting to snow. . . .

Selkirk Shores State Park

Taken across the road from our house by my husband Ted

The Conservationist Magazine

If you are interested in a free trial issue of the New York State Conservationist magazine you can call 1-800-678-6399. Mention Code Q12PVB. They are having a Super Cyber sale November 29, 2013 through December 2, 2013. Six issues for $6.00. This publication features information on fish, birds, wildlife and natural resources. The photos are beautiful and the articles very informative, and there is no advertising. Here is the link to their site:

I welcome your comments. Hope you enjoyed your visit!

#woodpeckers #snowbuntings #NYApples


  1. So pretty out your way. I have seen quite a few juncos, and oddly my first flicker. I have not ever seen a snow bunting. I will have to be on the lookout now. Great news on the new apples too. I think NYS has the best apples. Those are fighting words too. Ha ha.

    1. Thanks Donna. We have a lot of juncos here too. That's a coincidence that you saw your first flicker.
      The snow buntings are the only flock of small, white-colored birds that you will see around here in winter, and that's a rare sighting. I usually see them on country roads or open fields. I think they are foraging for seeds. At one time I remember reading an article that they ate "snow lice".

  2. Sue,
    Wonderful information as always. I love the is so great to be able to have them visit in your yard. I know how attached we got to "our" hummingbirds in the summer. The photos are great and it makes me want to try a watercolor. Mark also enjoys the garden blog. Best to your photographer ..he needs to do his own calendar!!! Linda

    1. Linda,
      Thanks for your comments. Glad you enjoyed this issue. We've been feeding the birds for several years now, and what helps is that we have a lot of trees and shrubs for them to find protection in the winter. The hummingbirds are really a lot of fun to watch, too. I think it would be great if you would try painting some birds. And Ted is thinking of doing his own blog on hiking and waterfalls! Sue