Hummingbirds

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Because I need to finish writing my second book, I will stop posting for an indeterminate time as of today.

Here are some recent photos of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have been coming to our backyard for the past several years.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

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Summer Flowers

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The abundant rain we have had this Spring has led to lots of vibrant summer flowers.

Milkweed ( Asclepias tuberosa).

Milkweed ( Asclepias tuberosa).

Some Monarch butterflies have already started to visit the milkweed.

Astilbe.

Orange Echinacea.

Kabocha (winter squash) flower in vegetable garden.

Inside the house, the Clivia plant, now divided into three separate pots, is also blooming vigorously.

Clivia.

Clivia.

Cleome.

All Gone

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The young Eastern Bluebirds have all fledged. The birdhouse is now empty. I took it down and opened it. Nothing inside except for a nest made with dried grass. There was no eggshell (maybe it was eaten by the babies or their parents), and the nest did not look too bad. No fecal sac, just some dirt at the bottom of the nest. Still I used a hose to spray it with water thoroughly to make it clean again. It is now back in its old place waiting for the Bluebirds to raise their next brood.

The fledglings are flying around our backyard practicing their newfound skills. Some also dive to the grass to look for food. One newly fledged chirped plaintively as it landed near me on the deck.

Bluebird fledgling.

Bluebird fledgling.

An older sister was at the top of a magnolia tree, looking all around her to see whether she could spot her parents.

Female fledgling.

Female fledgling.

However, the parents are keeping their distance, perched very near the top of the surrounding trees. They won’t intervene, unless there is a threat from a bigger bird, like a Blue Jay.

Bluebird fledgling contemplating a new world.

Eastern Bluebirds – First Fledgling

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Yesterday was an almost perfect, sunny and dry day. A male Bluebird was perched high on a tree, calling the babies to come out and try flying.

Male Bluebird.

Meanwhile, Mamma Bluebird was still carrying out fecal sacs.

Mamma Bluebird.

Seeing that, I thought it would be several more days until the babies start fledging. Then a young one poked its head out.

Young Bluebird.

It chirped, its parents called, and then it jumped out, landed on the grass with parents in tow. Quickly it flew away with the parents, a beautiful threesome. The only bad thing was that I was caught flat footed and did not have time to take any shot!

After a few minutes, another baby appeared in the birdhouse entry hole. It made plaintive calls asking for food.

Young, hungry Bluebird: “You are not going to let me starve, are you?”

Soon enough, Daddy flew in with a juicy worm.

Daddy with worm and youngster.

Daddy with worm and youngster.

Daddy feeding youngster.

Young, hungry Bluebird, still hungry.

It could have been a different youngster.

Mamma Bluebird flew in with an insect.

“Happy now?”

Eastern Bluebird – Babies First Look

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Yesterday I finally saw the baby Bluebirds in their birdhouse.

Eastern Bluebird.

Eastern Bluebird.

They stayed inside the birdhouse, and had not fledged yet, although it could be a matter of days now. There were probably two or more baby birds. Their parents were busy as usual.

Daddy with food.

Mommy retrieving diaper.

Mommy with food.

Both parents kept a close watch on their birdhouse.

Keeping guard is essential for the survival of the Bluebirds. Last week, while both parents were away, a House Wren inspected the birdhouse thoroughly, and even went inside for a few seconds. It exited without dragging out any baby, but that was scary. House Wren can kill Bluebirds, adults as well as babies.

I have also seen a Black Crow and a Blue Jay landing on the roof of the birdhouse and bending their necks to look inside through that round hole. I had to shout and shoo them away forcefully. Later in the evening, the male Bluebird dive bombed a Blue Jay that came too close the nest.

No Plumbing 2

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Today there is plenty of sunshine. I was able to capture very clearly both Bluebird parents doing their chores.

Female Bluebird getting fecal sac while male Bluebird waits with food.

Got it!

She flew away to dump fecal sac.

Following that both parents fed their babies and checked, but no fecal sac was retrieved. They flew away to look for more food.

Male Bluebird flying away from nest.

Female Bluebird flying away from nest.

One more trip for Bluebird father. Maybe Father’s Day is not celebrated in the realm of birds.

Male Bluebird flying away from nest.

Incidentally, once they fledge, young Bluebirds will not produce fecal sacs.

No Plumbing or Why Parenting Is a Hard Job

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A Bluebird nest has no plumbing. Therefore, in addition to constantly flying around to look for worms and insects, the two parents have to keep the nest clean so that their babies can grow up in a disease free environment. The little ones naturally don’t do anything but eat and poop. Fortunately, nature has come up with a way for the parents to deal with their no-plumbing environment.

Lately I have seen them carry out what is called “fecal sacs” that they collect from the rear end of their babies. These sacs contain excretions (poop) from the digestive system, and the parents take them out to throw them far away from the nest. They are like diapers for birds.

Following is a series of photos I took these past few days to show how both parents perform their diaper duties.

Male Bluebird inspecting nest.

Male Bluebird reaching in to get fecal sac from a baby bird.

Male Blurbird carrying fecal sac away to dump somewhere else.

Male Bluebird taking fecal sac away.

With a brood of 3 to 7 babies, it really takes two adults to hunt for food and to carry out fecal sac disposal many times a day.

The female Bluebird shares with her mate the same diaper duties. The following photos, taken at different times, show her doing her share. She was too fast for me, or there was not enough light, so the photos turned out blurry.

Female Bluebird flying fecal sac away from nest.

Female Bluebird flying fecal sac away from nest.

Female Bluebird with worm.

Feeding their babies and cleaning after them constantly have taken their toll on the Bluebird parents. I think they have lost a good deal of weight compared to three or four weeks ago. Since Bluebirds usually have 2 to 3 broods each year, these parents may have a second set of babies to care for in a month or so!

Feeding Time 2

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Both Bluebird parents are working hard to bring food back to their babies. They disdain the store bought mealworms I put out, and prefer to catch fresh insects and worms. Still the mealworms disappear, and I suspect the Robins have something to do with it.

Female Bluebird flapping her wings as her mate approached.

He’s flying in!

Each parent with their food package.

She flies first to their nest.

She feeds the babies.

“Don’t worry. Daddy has more food!”

“Come quick, they are still hungry!”

“I’m ready with a nice insect!”

He feeds the babies.

Daddy feeding.

“All done, but they are still asking for more.”

Female Bluebird, with more food.

Wary female Bluebird.

Nearby an American Robin was looking at the Bluebirds.

American Robin eyeing Bluebirds.

Feeding Time

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Both Bluebirds have been busy going out to find food and bring it back to their nest. I suspect they now have babies, but I have not seen them yet. Meanwhile, the parents have been flying around our backyard, paying little attention to me.

Male Bluebird with insect.

Male Bluebird with mealworm.

Male Bluebird on top of birdhouse.

Female Bluebird with worm.

Female Bluebird with insect.

Male Bluebird bringing food to nest.

Male Bluebird feeding babies.

Male Bluebird after feeding.

“Honey, we need more food!”

Looking Up

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While I was searching for my Bluebird friends, a plane flew overhead as it prepared to land at Trenton Airport, about 10 miles from our house. I aimed the camera skyward and got the following shot.

Jet flying toward Trenton.

A short while later, a Cooper’s Hawk appeared, and gave me enough time to snap three shots.

Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk.

Our Bluebird couple was perched on the Crape Myrtle as usual.

Female Bluebird.

Bluebirds, female on left, male to the right. She seemed to be telling him to get busy and go get some food for their nest.

Male Bluebird. He did fly in with something in his beak, but I did not get a good shot.

Bluebird house.

Eastern Bluebird and Others

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Twice a day, the female Eastern Bluebird flies out of the birdhouse to preen herself and maybe look around for food. I’ve placed some mealworms on a big oak tree stump, but so far she has not come near them. It has been stormy with lots of rain coming down, which may explain why. In the meantime she has posed gracefully for the camera. First in the afternoon.

Female Eastern Bluebird in the afternoon sun.

Then in the morning.

Female Eastern Bluebird.

Female Eastern Bluebird.

Female Eastern Bluebird.

I have not seen the male bird these past few days, but I am sure he is somewhere nearby protecting her and their nest.

Meanwhile, other birds keep coming to the vegetarian bird feeder.

Male House Finch.

Female House Finch.

Eastern Bluebird Couple

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The Eastern Bluebird couple nesting in our backyard today made a joint appearance for my camera. It has been at least five years since I put up the first birdhouse, and finally this year Bluebirds are using one of them!

Female Eastern Bluebird.

Female Eastern Bluebird singing.

This afternoon, I first saw a male among the crape myrtle branches.

Male Eastern Bluebird.

Male Eastern Bluebird.

Male Eastern Bluebird jumping as his mate landed nearby.

Eastern Bluebird couple.

Eastern Bluebird couple.

Following the above shot, she flew away, perhaps after seeing a worm or insect on the ground. Bluebirds do not eat from the bird feeder filled with sunflower seeds that I put up for other kinds of birds.

Male Eastern Bluebird looking in the direction where his mate flew.

Eastern Bluebird

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A pair of Eastern Bluebird is now residing in one of the birdhouses I put up around our backyard. Recently I have seen them flying around, but today I finally saw a female come out of a birdhouse. After some waiting, I saw her perched on a nearby crape myrtle branch, preening herself and inspecting her surroundings.

Female Bluebird preening.

Female Bluebird.

Female Bluebird.

Feisty Red-winged Blackbird

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Red-winged Blackbirds were very active at the beach at Fortescue, NJ while the birds were feasting on Horseshoe Crab eggs. I couldn’t help noticing the following male who seemed quite feisty patrolling the beach close to its territory in the dunes.

Male Red-winged Blackbird.

Male Red-winged Blackbird.

Male Red-winged Blackbird: “You guys keep out of my way!”

When not on the beach, he perched on a nearby tree and belted out his warning calls.

Male Red-winged Blackbird.

Male Red-winged Blackbird.

He was not scared of and studiously ignored a bigger Boat-tailed Grackle that was only a short distance away, singing his own warning calls.

Male Red-winged Blackbird and Boat-tailed Grackle.

Horseshoe Crab 2019

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Last week I went to Forstecue, NJ to see Horseshoe Crabs come ashore for their annual mating. The weather was cool and the tide high which may explain why there were not many Horseshoe Crabs to be seen. However, the birds were very busy feasting on the crabs’ eggs.

Shore birds eating eggs. A female Horseshoe Crab was surrounded by three males in photo center.

As usual some Horseshoe Crabs were upended and helpless on the beach.

Horseshoe Crab laying on his back.

Upended Horseshoe Crabs.

Birds eating Horseshoe Crab eggs at Fortescue, NJ.

Boat-tailed Grackle watching the feast.

Boat-tailed Grackle taking off.

Ruddy Turnstone flying away from beach.

Oculus

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Oculus is the name of the World Trade Center station in New York City completed in 2016. Today I went there for the first time to take photographs from different angles of the wonderfully striking building. However, I forgot to bring a spare battery for my camera, which cut drastically short that plan. In the end I was only able to take the following shots.

Oculus, outside.

Oculus.

Oculus.

Oculus, inside.

Oculus.

Oculus.

One of these days, I will have to make another trip to the city to take other photos of the rest of Oculus and the World Trade Center, with at least one spare battery.

Miniature Horses 2019

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The South Jersey farm where miniature horses are raised has been on sale for a few years, so I was not too hopeful when I drove there to photograph them a few days ago. But they are still there, at least some of them, grazing peacefully on two lush fields covered with yellow flowers. As usual, the male and female horses were kept apart, separated by a wire fence.

A white mare saw me and approached, looking for a treat that I did not have! She looked very pregnant.

Very pregnant looking mare.

She came close to the fence, batting her eyelashes …

White mare.

I did not see any baby horse, perhaps because it is too early in the season? Meanwhile the male horses were grazing peacefully in an adjacent field.

Male miniature horse.

Male miniature horses.

Male miniature horses.

Miniature horses.

Male miniature horse.

More Longwood Gardens Flowers

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Here are more photos I took at Longwood Gardens last week, both inside the Conservatory and outside. There were many more flowers, but rain and time were the limiting factors to our visit.

Lilly.

Allium.

Allium.

Anthurium.

Foxglove.

Carolina Silver Bell.

Lilly.

Longwood Gardens Flowers

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Longwood Gardens is a botanical garden in Pennsylvania about 75 miles (121 km) from our house. We took some friends there on a rainy day last week and saw flowers mainly in its Conservatory rather than in the many gardens extending over 1,077 acres (436 hectares). Here are some of the flowers that were most prominent and colorful.

Painted Tongue (Salpiglossis sinuata) a relative from Chile of petunias.

Flowers from the Powder Puff Tree (Calliandra haematocephala) from South Africa.

Royal Pelargonium.

Lollipop Plant (Pachystachys lutea).

Abutilon Indian Mallow.

Gesneriad, identified thanks to Eliza.

A Dozen Plus One

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A Mallard mother was leading her 13 ducklings around a small pond at the Sayen Garden in Hamilton, NJ.

Mallard and Ducklings.

She seemed very proud of her brood. They in turn enjoyed her tour, nibbling at plants in and out of the water.

Mallard and Ducklings.

Mallard and Ducklings.

Here are some closeups of the Ducklings.

Ducklings.

Ducklings.

Ducklings.

Ducklings.

Duckling: “Hi!”.

Mallards Up Close

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The fish are mostly gone from Colonial Lake. They were either eaten by Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Cormorants, or humans fished them out of existence not too long after the state allowed fishing in mid March after stocking the lake with trout. The large raptors are now rarely seen at the lake. However, Mallards are plentiful and didn’t mind my coming close to them to take the following photos.

Male Mallard.

Female Mallard.

Some were strolling or marching down to the water as if they owned the lake, which they probably do.

Male Mallards.

Female Mallard.

Some male Mallards were completely brown from their neck down, and were perhaps hybrids of Mallard with some other type of duck.

Mallard, a hybrid perhaps.

Mallard, hybrid?

Green-winged Teal

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I took the following photos of Green-winged Teals at the refuge a month ago. They are the smallest among dabbling ducks, much smaller than Mallards. They feed by looking for vegetation in shallow water. The ones seen below live in North America. They differ from their Eurasian counterparts by having a white stripe on their breast. The Eurasian Green-winged Teal have that white stripe along their shoulders.

Green-winged Teal, male.

Green-winged Teals, male and female in back.

Green-winged Teals, female and male in back.

Green-winged Teal, male.

Spring Flowers

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Usually Monday would be reserved for monochrome photos, but yesterday some spring flowers were so vibrantly displaying their colors that an exception can easily be made for them. The tulips are from our garden, while the other two are plants we grow inside the house.

Tulips.

Clivia.

Orchid.

Soaring Birds

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One afternoon, a Bald Eagle flew in and circled Colonial Lake several times looking for fish. It even dove toward the water once but still came up with no fish, but it provided good opportunities for photographing in the waning sun.

Bald Eagle at Colonial Lake.

Bald Eagle at Colonial Lake.

Bald Eagle at Colonial Lake.

A few weeks ago, a Turkey Vulture was also soaring above Colonial Lake for several minutes, looking for carrion in the nearby woods, or perhaps for dead fish dropped by the eagles.

Turkey Vulture over Colonial Lake.

It came down low enough for me to take a shot looking at its back. I did not see it catch anything.

Turkey Vulture over Colonial Lake.

Then a Red-tailed Hawk (tentative identification) also made its appearance.

Red-tailed Hawk over Colonial Lake.

Goslings 2019

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Goslings are now commonly seen at the refuge and are often the subjects of the cutest Spring scenes.

Goslings and mother.

Goslings and parents.

“You are eating WHAT?”

My internet connection has been very iffy these past two weeks, and it was only last night that it came back to normal and allowed me to read emails and access various sites, including WordPress. My apologies for not having been able to respond to your comments or visited your posts. I will try to catch up for sure.

Butterflies (Yellow) Magnolias

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Our Butterflies Magnolia tree is in full bloom, covered with flowers and hardly any leaf.

Butterflies Magnolias.

Butterflies Magnolias.

I planted the tree near the bird feeder, which is why many birds perch on its branches while waiting for their turn. They also tend to land on it as a place to break apart the sunflower seeds they pick out from the feeder.

Carolina Chickadee.

Goldfinch.

Today I noticed some birds that resemble House Finches. Looking them up at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site, it turns out they are Purple Finches. These birds are losing out to the House Finches which came to the East Coast after they were brought to New York City in the 1950’s. Between 1966 and 2014, populations of Purple Finches have declined by 52%!

Male Purple Finch.

Female Purple Finch.

Male Purple Finch.

Here’s a photo of a House Finch on the same Magnolia tree.

Male House Finch.

Yellow Magnolia, Bluebird, Egg

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Our yellow Magnolia tree flowers late, and has managed to attract Bluebirds for the second year in a row.

Bluebird on yellow Magnolia branch.

The Bluebird, or its partner, checked out one of the birdhouses I put up.

Bluebird checking out birdhouse.

However, there is no sign yet that the birdhouse is occupied by any bird.

Meanwhile, during a walk around Colonial Lake, I saw an abandoned Canada Goose egg on the ground, near the water. It was quite big, but there was no Canada Geese around it.

Abandoned Canada Goose egg.

Canada Goose egg.

One can see many Canada Geese at Colonial Lake, either swimming in the water or grazing onshore. I have no idea why this one egg was left out in the open with no mother goose tending it. Another mystery.

April Showers …

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We received a good soaking of rain yesterday, while temperatures soared into the 70’s (20’s Celsius). The Magnolias trees outdid each another to bloom and open up their flowers. We have two trees and together they have thousands of buds opening up today.

Saucer Magnolias (Magnolia Soulangeana).

Saucer Magnolias (Magnolia Soulangeana).

A Star Magnolia (Magnolia Stellata) is normally the first one to bloom, but this year it yielded to the above trees.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia Stellata).

Star Magnolia (Magnolia Stellata).

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata).

Star Magnolia (Magnolia Stellata).

Star Magnolia (Magnolia Stellata).