Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spring Flowers and Summer Residents (Birds) of Upstate New York

House Wren
Well, Spring has finally Sprung!

The leaves on the trees have finally made an appearance, the spring flowers are in bloom, and the birds that make their breeding grounds in the north have returned. It was a slow process, but every year it's worth it. I always get excited when the perennials start poking through the surface of the ground. And to hear the song of the house wren when they have arrived -  you just know that Spring is here at last.

House Wrens:  The house wrens are a small (4" long) bird that are very active. They are the most common wren in the East. It can be aggressive and will ward off other birds trying to nest nearby. They have a loud and bubbly song. As a matter of fact they've been known to wake me up early in the morning. They will use nesting boxes if they are available, and they usually will nest no higher than 12 feet off the ground. The opening should be about 1&1/8 inches wide. They are found in shrubs and brushy areas. They prefer open forests, forests edges, and grassy areas with trees. They will build nests in city parks, backyards and farmyards.

They are usually seen with their tail in an upright position.

Here is a link to the Cornell Lab of Orinthology Nest Box Resource Center if you would like more information on constructing your own nest boxes.

This wren has nesting materials in its beak.

White Crowned Sparrow
White Crowned Sparrows: There are several species of sparrows and sometimes it's confusing trying to identify them. A lot of them look similar and sometimes it comes down to whether or not they have a certain eye stripe, wing bar, or a different colored beak, which are among a few of the identifying characteristics. There are Sparrows with streaked breasts, unstreaked breasts, short-tailed grass sparrows, marsh sparrows, and white-tailed sparrows to name just a few. They mostly eat seeds that they search for near or on the ground. You will find them in flocks when they are not nesting.

The White Crowned Sparrow has the identifying white and black stripes on the head, and light pink beak, and plain gray breast. It is a rather large sparrow, and has a long tail. Most of the time when you see them they have a very erect posture. I took the picture above when I was walking through my back yard this past week to get some photos of hostas, when I scared up a small flock of them that had been eating seeds under a pine tree. The immature birds have the same markings except the stripes on the head are brown rather than gray.

They live in areas that are brushy with open or grassy areas so they can search for food. They love brush piles to hide in and search for food.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. This one looks like he might be molting.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak. You can imagine my excitement the first time I saw one of these birds in our backyard. So colorful and stunning. And the song or chattering it made. Sounded similar to a robin. It didn't take us long to identify him with his distinguishable coloring characteristics. What a beauty. And pretty big, too. They are a little smaller than a blue jay, over 7". Their large beak is designed for cracking open large seeds like sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts. In flight the males have a red/pink patch under the wings and the females have a yellow patch under their wings. (Not that I've had a lot of opportunities to spot the underneath of their wings.)

You will find them on the edges of forests and woodlands. When they are migrating south in the fall you might see them in fruit trees searching for food for their long flight south. If you don't live in an area where the Rose-breasted Grosbeak spend their summers they might visit your feeders on their migration route either in the spring or fall.

Female and Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, pictured at the top of the feeder at right, doesn't look much like the male except for the heavy, conical beak. The female is brown, with stripes on the breast and a white stripe above the eye. The immature Rose-breasted Grosbeaks resemble the females.

Female Ruby-throated hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: You know it's spring when the hummingbirds have returned. They are the smallest bird in North America, and the only bird that can fly backwards. They have long, slender beaks to reach into flowers for nectar. Only the male has the bright red throat.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird east of the Great Plains. If you want to see other species of humming birds you need to plan a trip out west.

They live in open woodlands, forest edges, meadows, gardens, backyards, and parks. They are attracted to the color red.

Male Baltimore Oriole at Oriole feeder
Baltimore Oriole:  This is the only orange oriole east of the Mississippi. They love fruit (especially oranges), nectar and jelly. (I haven't tried the jelly yet.) In the feeder above I used the hummingbird mixture available in stores. And the hummingbirds also use this feeder. You will find Orioles high in the trees, but not in forests. They usually prefer orchards. open woodlands, forest edges, trees along rivers, parks, and backyards.

Oh, and who ever said hostas were boring?
What Do Black Flies, Hostas, and Weeds Have In Common?

They are all breaking out at the same time!

Well, if you've been outside the last few weeks, and you've got some trees or bushes in your yard (and of course dirt) chances are you probably have at least two of the above three: black flies and weeds! Wow! Is it me or have the black flies been really bad this year. My husband says it's me, because he knows when they're that bad I usually just stay in. But I've been trying to get some weeding done. It's been so wet the past few weeks, that I couldn't even get out there to weed. Oh, and Cold! I forgot to mention how cold it's been. Well, with the warm temperatures we've had this past week, its been was drying up, and the heat hatched out the black flies.

Not sure if black flies are common over the rest of the country, but they are an insect that is a little bigger than a fruit fly, but smaller than a house fly, and are they ever annoying. And when they bite they draw blood, and sometimes it can swell up. I usually like to weed in spring with sweat pants on (we usually have a cool spring), but it got so warm I had to get out my summer clothes. And I paid for it. Bites all over my ankles, neck and arms. They are only out during the day, and they usually don't come out when it's windy or cold. If that's the case they'll stay in the warm earth or bushes. They go for thinner areas of skin on the body like the ankles, behind the ears, and behind the neck. In the past I have actually weeded my garden with a raincoat and hood on to avoid being bitten by these insects. They usually only last for a few weeks starting in May, but depending on the area, like the Adirondacks, they can hatch out later in the season. Usually the species in our area only have one generation, but depending on the species, they can hatch out several generations per year.

"Black fly larvae and pupae develop in flowing water, typically non-polluted water with a high level of dissolved oxygen.  Suitable aquatic habitats for black fly larval development vary greatly and include large rivers, icy mountain streams, trickling creeks, and waterfalls.  Larvae of most species typically are found in only one of these habitats." 
Taken from: Purdue Public Health Insects Black Fly

Well, in our area we have all of the above aquatic habitats. If you plan on doing any hiking, camping, or boating in the next few weeks be prepared for these pests. If you will be venturing into one of these areas you might want to bring a insect repellent containing Deet, and wear protective clothing.

Here is some more information on black flies as per Wikipedia: Black Fly

And How About Those Weeds? This is  a great time to weed your gardens. In spring the ground is usually somewhat moist (after this week pretty soggy), and the weeds are just starting grow. It's best to try to keep up with the weeds this time of year because you will keep them from going to seed if you can eradicate them now and continuously throughout the growing season.
Chestnut tree leafing out

One of my neighbors always used to weed right after a rain (I always thought it was too wet), she would get a little muddy, but she told me that the weeds pull out easier when the ground is wet. Well, she was right. As long as it's not too muddy I'll try to get out there and weed after a rain.

After you weed, if you want you can put down a pre-emergent weed killer like Preen. You sprinkle this on top of the soil and water it in. It will kill the roots of seedlings that have recently germinated. But DON'T use a pre-emergent weed killer if you want new seedlings to come up from your annuals or bi-annuals (like foxgloves). The pre-emergent weed killers will kill all new seedlings. It doesn't know the difference between your flower seeds and the weeds.

No matter how chaotic it is, wildflowers will still spring up in the middle of nowhere.
~ Sheryl Crow

Jack-in-the-Pulpit  Wildflower growing in our back yard (just came out of no where!)

Thanks for stopping by 
and visiting our backyard.

Feel free to leave a comment. 
And if you have a blog leave a working link and I'll check it out!

#Nature  #Nature Photography  #HouseWren  #WhiteCrownedSparrow  #BaltimoreOriole #RoseBreastedGrosbeak   #JackInThePulpit #BlackFlies


  1. Cute birds pics. Sometimes, I just don't give birds enough credit for being cute and I feel a little guilty about not having a bird feeder. Not even one for hummingbirds! Since I already feed the bunnies, squirrels and deer in the off season, it's time to be equal I guess. (And then I wonder when my tulips and hostas get eaten, oh well, you win some, you lose some).

    1. I know from experience Laura, that when there is birdseed around you can plan on extra critters in the gardens. We've had problems with racoons at night raiding the feeders and destroying them, so now sometimes we have to put our birdfeeders in the shed overnight. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Great selection of birds, Sue. I love that lantern feeder, so creative. The hummers are back here too, nice shot of them.

    1. Thank you Donna. The lantern feeder was a gift. The hummers have been busy around here, and I think it's because with our late spring the flowers are a little behind schedule. Thanks for your feedback.

  3. You can have the black flies which I find even nastier than mosquitoes....great birds.

    1. Thanks Donna. Luckily the black flies aren't as bad now as they were a few weeks ago, but there are still some around. I agree with you and I think they are worse than mosquitoes. The black fly bites itch for a couple of weeks on me. And to make it worse I think I'm allergic to their bites.