Thursday, February 27, 2014

Woodpecker Couple House Hunting Fail

A Red Bellied Woodpecker couple are house hunting and checking out our Woodpecker Nest Box. The male seems keen on looking inside and checking it out further, but the female is checking out the outside and the neighborhood and is seemingly unimpressed and abruptly takes off with Mr. Woodpecker in close pursuit.  A number of Red-Bellied woodpeckers have been checking out the house which sports a built-in video camera so they can stream their family life on the web, but no serious offers yet!

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Video: Woodpecker Couple House Hunting Fail

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Striped Mud Turtle Laying Eggs

Three Striped Mud Turtle lays two eggs in the Florida Backyard. It grows only to 4 inches and can live 30 years or more. First time seen in the backyard - an attractive and fascinating little turtle that closes up tight when you pick it up. This female was discovered after she had already committed to laying the eggs and the process took two more hours. These turtles only have access to seasonal standing water and temporary standing water nearby, but the woodland environment they live in is at least generally moist soil with extensive wet vegatation litter except during the winter season.

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Three Striped Mud Turtle lays two eggs in Florida
 One of the smallest turtles in the world at 4 inches or less can live more than 30 years. Laying eggs that are 1 3/16" long is a pretty tall order. The process took over two hours from beginning to end.
Video: Striped Mud Turtle Laying Eggs

Three Striped Mud Turtle eggs in Florida
 Video: Striped Mud Turtle Laying Eggs

Three Striped Mud Turtle eggs in Florida

Video: Striped Mud Turtle Laying Eggs

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Eastern Screech Owls Return to Nest Box for 2014

The Eastern Screech Owls have returned for 2014! Courtship and mating now - hopefully eggs within 2 weeks! The male can be seen in the outside nighttime video checking out one of the nest boxes - the one they have used for the past three years, but Ms Screech Owl seems to prefer the other somewhat larger nest box and has spent a few days in there sprucing it up. As you can see she was not too happy to have her picture taken for the video thumbnail! She is the same mother from the past three years which is pretty remarkable. If all goes well eggs will be lain in one of the boxes in the next week or two. It is possible that once these owls stake out a box for sure and stop defending one of the boxes that the other box will be occupied by another Screech Owl couple a little lower on the "pecking order" -perhaps their young from previous years. Should be another exciting season - stay tuned! 

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Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box

Not exactly excited at having her picture taken!
Video: Eastern Screech Owls Return to Nest Box for 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

Florida Beach Renourishment

Hurricane Sandy caused beach erosion along the east coast of Florida as it moved northward several hundred miles offshore in late October  2012. Something a little different, but it's Nature-related and who could resist filming heavy construction equipment in the surf! A number of beach re-nourishment projects are underway along the east coast of Florida to bolster the dune line. Putting sand back on the beach against the power of Nature? A short-term fix, but probably futile in the long run. Filmed with a cell phone on a very windy day.

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Beach Re-nourishment Hurricane Sandy

Mourning Dove - Up Close

Mourning Doves love simple white millet thrown on the ground. This one was particularly friendly and cleaned up on the seed after the rest of the flock took off in typical panicky fashion.

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Mourning Dove

Video: Mourning Dove - Up Close

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hand Feeding My Blue Jay Buddy

Trained a Blue Jay to eat peanuts from my hand! As with any training, it helps if you have a motivated pupil to achieve success. I've often noticed that one member of a particular species will bond with humans and seem to develop a "deeper" relationship. Of course this usually involves food, and no doubt the balance between a self preservation instinct of avoiding humans and the easy availability of healthy food requires a risk analyses that the most intelligent and savvy are most likely to perform. I'm sure it wasn't my magnetic personality that sealed the deal - in any case we have a win-win relationship. Often the jay will make a very unique call when I approach with peanuts and also a characteristic two beak knocks on wood - that means - Peanut Now!. The preferred method by the Jay is to simply be handed a peanut, if I hold my open hand out it will fly to it. Next on to the Brown Thrasher who is starting to get jealous! Filmed with a cell phone which has advantages for one hand close up work and depth of field but can be a little shaky at times.

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Hand Feeding Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Brown Thrasher Peanut Cracking Technique

A Brown Thrasher has stolen the Blue Jays peanut and taken it deep in the brush - but it could use some pointers from the Jay on opening it. Then after all that exhausting hard work opening it - a squirrel steals it from the Thrasher! The Humanity! - That's the way of nature! It is interesting to watch the Thrasher repeatedly and strongly strike the peanut against the soft leaf litter and then break the nuts into smaller pieces to eat. I'm guessing that it will learn to put it into a wood crevice after cracking a few more nuts.

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Brown Thrasher Florida

Video: Brown Thrasher Peanut Cracking Technique

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tufted Titmouse

A Tufted Titmouse finds a bonanza of seed all to itself high in the Great Smokey Mountains. It makes repeated trips stocking up the seeds in a secret cache and eating a few. Generally these are lower elevation birds, but this is at 4,000 elevation. Their eyes are quite evocative and their faces quite expressive.

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Tufted Titmouse

Painted Buntings - Up Close and Hungry!

Painted Buntings feast on white millet. We have a small "flock" of 6 winter visitors - four "Greenies" which are either female or immature males and two mature males in classic colors. In the past we have had "banded" birds but have seen no bands indicating capture and release for two winters now. Population seems to be down, but that could just be a coincidence. Considered the most spectacularly colored songbirds in North America they spend their day in heavy brush and come out to eat voraciously 4 or 5 time a day. This late afternoon video with low sun and tree branch shadows shows off the iridescent colors of the male well. Like Hummingbirds - how they appear depends a lot on sun and the angle of the sun.

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Painted Buntings in Florida

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Brown Thrasher Up Close and Natural

This solitary Brown Thrasher has been hanging out in the wood behind the backyard all winter and is becoming my favorite bird. It is the State Bird of Georgia and considered common in some areas of the south, but here it is a rare bird that is typically only seen in the cooler months. The Thrasher has a very expressive face and eyes has become a bit of a Backyard personality, often sparing with the Blue Jays who think they rule the yard. Perhaps it will try and find a mate this spring. I'm slowly teaching it to eat out of my hand - may take awhile. It is seeing some of the Blue Jays eat from my hand and not liking it - but not trusting enough yet. In the meantime it is coming quite close, but staying safe just inside the heavy brush allowing for some great closeups! Stay tuned.

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Brown Thrasher Up Close and Natural

Friday, February 7, 2014

International Festival of Owls - March 7-9 Houston, Minnesota

International Festival of Owls

Billed as the "only full-weekend, all-owl event in North America" the International Festival of Owls runs from March 7-9, 2014 in Houston, Minnesota. Sounds like a great time for owl-lovers - a whole weekend dedicated to owls with programs for children and adults with lots of live owls and owl-related events and a photography contest.  For the more serious owl aficionados, there are internationally known speakers, the annual World Owl Hall of Fame awards, and special Outdoor Owl Photography sessions. If you love owls this sounds like a lot of fun for a good cause. 

The mission of the International Festival of Owls is to: 
- spark a personal connection to owls and the environments we share with them
- provide financial support for the Houston Nature Center
- stimulate tourism in the Houston area

Why an International Festival of Owls in Houston, Minnesota you might ask?  Check out their web page and find out for yourself!

Great Horned Owl

Alice the Great Horned Owl. The festival started as a celebration of her hatch-day.

(c) Images by Ingavalson

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Squirrel's Valentine's Day Date !

A cute and tasteful Valentine's Day squirrel love story of epic proportions! Have you ever heard the sound squirrels make whilst in the throes of passion - it's cute! Unknown to these young squirrels they were caught on a video camera meant for observing Screech Owls. This is the story of two classy, but adventurous, young squirrels who dared to check into an Owl Nest Box to conduct their courtship ... introducing an element of excitement, danger and intrigue to their romance........
Play at high volume and HD for best results! The rest of the story at:

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Squirrel's Valentine's Day Date Romance

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Great Backyard Bird Count February 14-17 and February is National Bird Feeding Month

The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place February 14th - 17th  and February is National Bird Feeding Month...

February is a good time to celebrate backyard birds as they are usually quite active in the late winter months and often hungry and thirsty  A celebration of Backyard Birding takes place over the long President's Day Holiday weekend - The Great Backyard Bird Count. 
Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.Since then, more than 100,000 people of all ages and walks of life have joined the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.
Here are Seven reasons to get excited for the great Backyard BirdCount (from last year, but still valid). You can submit your lists and pictures - see results from around the world and win prizes. You never know what you'll find in your own "backyard" and most of all you will help better understand and protect the birds that bring so much joy.
February is also National Bird Feeding Month. Here is a guide on Backyard Bird Feeding from the Fish and Wildlife Service. It all boils down to food, water and shelter - even custom built homes like this woodpecker nest box. While your at it - feed the squirrels too!

These three videos demonstrate - Shelter -- Water and Food - what we all need to flourish!

Brown Thrasher Great Backyard Bird Count
Brown Thrasher - One of my favorite "Backyard Birds".

Monday, February 3, 2014

Five Injured Screech Owls Nursed Back to Health in Maryland

Eastern Screech Owl Rehab Katherine Frey/Washington Post)

Wearing gloves to protect herself from the injured screech owl's claws and beak, Suzanne Shoemaker gets ready to feed Angora. (

 Injured Screech Owl Pepe Le Pew at Moon Raptor Center

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Osprey Sky Dance and Courtship Calls

Amazing Male Osprey Sky Dance and courtship calls right over the backyard while the female calls very loudly on a nearby tree.The male is performing the classic "Sky Dance" and courtship calls while the female is making very loud but different sounds - perhaps giving him encouragement from the grandstand. These are actually very loud birds and have been carrying on for several weeks - one certainly knows when its time to grab the camera. This event went on for at least 10 minutes - this video is the best parts of when I had the bird in focus - some of the audio not included was even louder! I am hoping this is to be a new nesting pair and that they will build a nest in one of the living or dead long-leaf pine trees behind the backyard - perhaps in the one the female was calling from.
This was actually a very difficult video to shoot as the Osprey was nearly directly overhead -until I figured out to lay on the ground looking straight up and not zoom in too much. However, the stereo audio came out superb - crank up the volume and enjoy!

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Osprey Sky Dance and Courtship Calls

Osprey rises and stops momentarily in mid-air before making another steep dive as part of a  Sky Dance and Courtship Calling ritual

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mysterious Knocking on Wood Sounds from the Deep Forest of the Great Smokey Mountains!

What's knocking on wood in the primordial high-elevation forest of the Great Smoky Mountains? It seems to reverberate from all directions and is hundreds of yards away - or is it! After four days of investigating these strange, incessant and mind-numbing wood-knocking noises deep in the forest I was not able to find and film the mysterious creature(s). Having spent parts of 7 summers here this is the first time I encountered this phenomena to such a degree that it caught my attention. It was early October 2013 near 4000 feet elevation. An exhaustive Google search seemed to solve the mystery to my satisfaction. You probably have heard a Chipmunk "Chip", but have you ever heard the elusive "CluckMunk" Cluck? This bizarre knocking on wood phenomena has actually been researched, but is not well-documented. I managed to find the expert on the subject at:  
This fellow wrote a thesis on this "clucking"!
However, contrary to his theory of the Chipmunks making these "clucks" as warning calls for raptors in the trees, these bizarre "Cluckmunks" just seemed to enjoy making this sound for hours on end - and when two or three get going at once echoing through the canopy it is as strange a sound as you ever want to hear in the deep dark forest. What was odd was that they didn't stop making the noise when I was making noise walking through the woods. There seemed to be a difference between the many Chipmunks hanging around the cabin and the deep forest creatures. Is the mystery solved - or does the high forest hold more secrets?

Note that toward the end of the video there are two red squirrels - they are not making the noises - the knocking noise is from off-camera. I fortunately recorded both Chipmunk calls going on at the same time while filming the red squirrels.

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Mysterious Knocking on Wood Sounds from the Deep Forest of the Great Smokey Mountains!

Video: Mysterious Knocking on Wood Sounds from the Deep Forest of the Great Smokey Mountains!

Eastern Chipmunk Great Smokey Mountains
 Who - Me?