Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Winter Surprise at the Bog


It is the last Friday in January and I am walking down to the bog to do my eBird site survey. On my way I walk past snow banks up to my shoulders down cold and quiet streets. The architecture of New England capes and Colonials are dripping icicles thick as tree branches. Oaks, maples and Eastern white pines tower over me providing shade in summer and year –round habitat for squirrels and birds. Usually I see birds on my way to the bog, but not today. I am disheartened as I walk since my last count at the bog included only 3 species of birds. However, as I draw near I hear crows calling.

DSC_0011The mounds of snow have grown even higher and in some spots I cannot see over them into the bog. I walk the short length along the road trying to be aware of cars entering and exiting the neighborhood beyond, but there is little room to walk or drive. The snow has invaded everywhere!  In my efforts to look between the young pines planted along the roadway as a break I spy one poor tree up to its branch tips in snow. It looks like it is drowning and its uplifted branches appear to me as arms reaching to the sky for help!



The road past the bog leads into a rather posh neighborhood with huge mansions on large lots dominating the landscape. It is a newer neighborhood with each house made to look as if it were old and has been here a long time. Each yard is meticulously landscaped with flowerbeds, boulders, and benches tucked beneath trees or against little stone walls. The bog is located on the curve of the road that leads into this neighborhood and serves as a transition from the newer homes and the older neighborhood below. You have to drive uphill and around a bend to get into the new neighborhood and I can tell you from experience that once you pass the curve in the road the wind rushes downhill and right through you! However, some of the best views of the birds and the bog are from this upper northwest corner, which is the transition from the landscaped neighborhood, to the bog, and the woods beyond. So, pulling my hood up tighter around my head, I brave the wind and head up the road. All the time I am looking and listening. I am thinking that I will just walk to the upper edge of the bog, take a quick peek, and head home, for it is awfully cold today. But then, as I get farther up along the side I hear an unusual call.

I look between the pines to a tall toothpick like tree stump stabbing the sky and there at its tip a little blue and orange breasted bird is calling and fluttering. It flies off and lands on the tip of the trunk again. Can I believe my eyes? It is an Eastern bluebird! It sounds so mournful to me! It sounds frantic? Is it looking for its mate? I do not know, but it breaks my heart and I wonder what the poor thing can find to eat, for I know that bluebirds are insect eaters. Its behavior makes me wish I had a handful of mealworms to toss up to it, though I hate mealworms myself! However sad it may seem, I am delighted to see this little blue bird on this cold and snow-covered day! It is so exciting for me that I decide to brave the snow and do something I have resisted doing ever since this deep and persistent snow has fallen: I climb the bank up to the edge of the bog!

My feet sink into the soft snow, for it is only packed a little at the edge where the plows have piled it. Even there I have to create steps with my feet and then I sink in up over my knees. My boots only come to my ankles, so now I am standing in knee-deep snow and clinging to one of the pine trees. The heat from my body is melting the snow and my pant legs are getting wetter and wetter, but I don’t care because I want to SEE! I finally realize that if I stamp out a little section of snow itDSC_0022 won’t press against my legs and keep melting. So, I wiggle around and stamp and stamp, all the while clinging to the pine tree. I don’t dare move any farther in because the edge of the bog is blurred by the soft blanket of snow that covers it. I cannot tell where the rocky edge ends and the drop off begins, and I do not want to find out by tumbling down it! I look and look around the bog.  I want to see the birds! But other than the bluebird, all I see are a continuous stream of crows flying home to roost for the night in the State Park beyond. In contrast to them and flying in the opposite direction a flock of seagulls is flying high overhead. The little chickadee that greeted me when I first arrived is still working the pines, and then I spy a white-breasted nuthatch and a downy woodpecker! I watch the downy male as he lands on a snag out in the middle of the bog. He enters a round hole where I suppose he lives.

My legs are cold and wet now as the shadows lengthen and the sky grows darker. I decide it is time to leave, so I turn and climb down the snow bank to the pavement below. I walk home in the silent gloaming, wet legs and all, with a warm smile on my face.

DSC_0025 Squirrel seen while walking home 1-31-11

Note: the Bluebird made it species number 53 on my Big January Count. I only added 2 other species after it from our trip to Gloucester, MA on January 30th. I did not bring my camera with me on the 28th, the day of this story, which was a cloudy day and late in the afternoon. I went back to count birds again on Monday, the 31st. I brought my camera with me this time but it was a bright and sunny day and my camera was acting up, so some of these pictures are not the greatest. (operator era on my part I am sure. I still have things to learn about using this camera.) One thing I have observed is that I see more birds at the bog later in the afternoon than in the middle of the day. It was around noontime when I went back to the bog and once again I only counted 4 species of birds.

Bog Bird Count 1-20-11, 12:25PM, 20 Minutes

  1. Downy woodpecker 1
  2. Blue Jay 7
  3. Song sparrow 1

Bog Bird Count for 1-28-11, 3:55PM, 25 minutes

  1. Gull species 25
  2. Downy Woodpecker 1
  3. Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 (heard)
  4. American Crow 80
  5. Blue jay 2
  6. Black-capped chickadee 1
  7. White-breasted Nuthatch 2
  8. Eastern Bluebird 1

Bog Bird Count for 1-31-11, 11:28 AM, 22 Minutes

  1. Red-tailed hawk 1 (heard)
  2. Ring-billed gull 1
  3. American Crow 1
  4. Blue Jay 1

These bird counts are all part of the eBird Site Survey and as you can see, it really does help track bird populations over time. I survey the bird species at the bog at least once a week and then submit my sightings to eBird.

Troy Mullens of Ramblings Around Texas and ICU Nature sent me this link to How bluebirds survive in winter: Winter food for Bluebirds


  1. Wonderful post, Kathie! I hope your bluebird is OK, somehow they must manage to deal with the cold weather and find food. I have seen them eating sunflower chips on my deck.

  2. That's quite a list for January. Only a die-hard birder would be out there in that cold New England air looking for birds.

  3. Lady Birders are made of sterner stuff.

  4. You are brave, and persistent, to climb that snow bank. Either that bluebird is lost or knows something we don't. Love the images, especially the squirrel peaking out.
    Hope you're staying warm, except for wading in the deep snow. Think about snow pants from a thrift store.

  5. A wonderful post Kathie. I have never actually seen a bluebird before, but the closest I have been to a mealworm are the suet cakes that include them. They seem to attract a Downy and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Would you please pop over and identify a hummingbird for me please? I took this delightful little bird in southern California last September. I was amazed that I found him resting on a branch. The only other time I have seen hummingbirds is when they are flying around at light speed :) Thanks Kathie.

  6. Eileen, I hope so too. I have not seen it since that day.

    KaHolly, I'm a diehard birder!

    Roy, thanks!

    Gaelyn, I suppose I should. I keep hoping it will all melt but it just keeps coming!

    Hey Denise, I'll be right there and see what I can see. I often see them resting at my home in AZ. Here on the east coast I know that Ruby-throats like pine trees as well as others.

  7. I have never seen an Eastern Bluebird here in our backyard in the 49 years we have lived here. Not sure why.

  8. Back again, just wanted to stop by and thank you a whole bunch for all the wonderful information on my hummingbird. So kind of you to do that for me. Have a great Sunday.

  9. All wonderfull fotos shots in blog, best regard from Belgium. Louisette passion retriever.

  10. What a little treasure you found Kathie, definitely makes that icy weather just a little more tolerable.


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.