Spring snowstorm brings out the native sparrows…

View of the backyard during the snow storm

View of the backyard during the snow storm

This morning during the snow storm, we had quite the feeding frenzy of sparrows! Many more juncos than I’ve seen all winter, plus a couple song sparrows, several tree sparrows, and more fox sparrows than I’ve ever seen (at least 8, probably closer to 12.) There were many scratching around the ground below the feeders, but also several back in the spruce trees and others in the garden going after seeds. If you look closely at the photo, you can see several birds on the ground.

Tree sparrows

American tree sparrows in the garden

Rather than cutting down the garden in the fall, I leave my plant stalks in the garden all winter to provide food for the birds and also some visual interest. Ideally we could burn it in the spring, but I doubt the neighbors or the city would approve of that. So usually I just cut it down, but this year I’m going to pay someone to mow it all down for me.

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrows are one of my favorite native sparrows. They are relatively large/plump, with a very noticeable reddish color. They are usually seen during migration but will occasionally stick around for the winter (I’ve had them over winter in the yard a few times.) Mostly ground feeders, they can also be seen doing a double-hop motion as they scratch up ground cover looking for food. They don’t often perch up in a tree like this one, but will often be found under a feeder or digging around in a garden.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow on the bird bath

Another sparrow I saw today, but haven’t seen in the yard very often, is a song sparrow. Actually there were two of them this morning mixed in with the other sparrows. They aren’t uncommon in the area, though. I think of them as looking like a chipping sparrow, but with a very heavily streaked chest.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Juncos are also a type of sparrow. They spend their winters here and nest in Canada and Alaska. Very common feeder birds in the winter and especially tend to congregate around feeders when it’s snowing. They are mostly ground feeders but will also get up on a bird feeder and eat seed, or hop around on the deck railing. We nickname them “snowbirds” because of their association with snow and winter. I like juncos, but I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see them leave because that means spring has truly arrived!

Winter Storm in April!

Yellow-bellied sapsucker in the back yard

Yellow-bellied sapsucker in the backyard

Winter has been fairly uneventful in the yard. No unusual sightings. We have had some signs of spring here on Overlook Circle, including a couple of yellow-bellied sapsuckers in the maple trees and the return of chipping sparrows. Goldfinches are starting to turn bright yellow. Red-winged blackbirds are back, so I had to hang the suet log horizontally to prevent them from eating up all my suet!

Speaking of suet, I discovered I could save a lot of money by purchasing year’s worth from an online supplier. The suet I use is called Attractor and it’s made here in Minnesota. Woodpeckers LOVE it! I used to buy it locally but it’s fairly expensive so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get it at almost 50% savings (I do still buy most of my bird supplies locally.) I can go through a case in one month because I have so many woodpeckers, so I bought 12 cases from Woodpecker-Feeder.com and got free shipping buy buying in quantity. And now I have plenty on hand to keep the woodpeckers happy.

There are also some winter residents still hanging around, especially with this impending winter storm … many juncos and also some pine siskins and redpolls. Yesterday, in anticipation of bluebirds arriving, I installed some Gilbertson nest boxes to replace the Peterson nest boxes. I’m interested to see how the Gilbertson style works compared to Peterson. Still anxiously looking for bluebirds!

Winter Storm Warning April 10 2013

Winter Storm Warning April 10 2013

We are under a Winter Storm Warning so the feeders are quite busy, the birds know it’s coming! We need the moisture and I’m hoping the garden will do much better this year. Even native plants were stressed by last year’s drought. It seems that spring will never arrive …

Streaming is LIVE!

I thought my camera supported h.264 encoding, when I originally started investigating how to live stream. It’s the video format required by most streaming hosting services for live streaming. However it turns out that the NetCam SC only supports MJPEG, so I’ve been looking for a way to transcode MJPEG into h.264, and haven’t been very successful at it. Since the camera also has a BNC video out connection, I got an Axis M7001 video encoder which is a small dedicated device that will take the video from a BNC connection and encode it to h.264. So that’s what I have running right now. The video quality isn’t quite as good as I want, but I think it’s good enough for my needs at the moment. I also signed up with click2stream.com. It seems like a pretty bare-bones service, but the plans are reasonable and it works well as far as I can tell.

I think if I had it to do over again, I might go with an Axis camera, since they offer several models with h.264 support out of the box, and other features I like. But, I’m happy with the quality of the StarDot NetCam I have, and considering the investment I’ve made in it at this point, I’m sure I’ll have it running for several years!

Infrared is here

First attempt at infrared illumination.

First attempt at infrared illumination.

I hooked up the infrared illuminator today for a trial run. I suspected that it would be too much light for the distance I have between the camera and the feeders, but I thought I’d go ahead and try it. I purchased this 130 LED illuminator because it’s rated to to an operating temperature of -22F. Most of the less expensive illuminators didn’t rate below zero or only to -4F. Also this one has a weatherproof rating of IP66 which means it should be fine in any weather.

Infrared illuminator on top of feeder cam.

Infrared illuminator on top of feeder cam.

All I did was bungee it to the top of the camera housing. The good news is that it works – the camera switched over to I/R, and there is plenty of illumination. However, the image is extremely blurry. I’m assuming right now that’s because it’s too close, so I’ll try and relocate it in the next day or two and see if that improves things. Hopefully I can find something else to bungee it to (at least for temporary testing!) When I have it working correctly, I’ll start uploading images 24/7.

2013 Yard Bird Wish List

Tufted titmouse (photographed in Wisconsin)

I always say I only keep one list, which is my yard bird list, but I realized that have an unofficial wish list for yard birds. Last year I had Harris’ sparrow on my wish list, and the year before, white-crowned sparrow. There are only so many possible birds that could visit, based on habitat and location, but here are a few that I think might be possible, even if some are a stretch. Check out the MOU Species Occurrence Maps to see what species have been reported in the state, and what season.

  • Hermit thrush – we’re in the right habitat for them, so it’s probably the most realistic bird on this list. UPDATE: seen on 4/19/2013, woohoo!
  • Orchard oriole – they’re in the area, I’ve got Baltimore orioles so no reason I shouldn’t be able to get one of these
  • Carolina wren – not common here, but there are occasional reports in the area.
  • Tufted titmouse – we are just north of their normal range, so it’s not likely but you never know. They probably don’t read the bird books so maybe one will decide to show up in my yard. The photo on this page is one I saw in Wisconsin.
  • Eastern towee – they are not listed as common for this area but it’s very possible that we could see one here.
  • Screech owl – I’ve never seen or heard one around the area, but I don’t see why not. And I have an Owl Shack ready just in case!
  • Saw-whet owl – a few years ago there was one just a couple miles away, and I think we have good habitat. They are just hard to find. I think the chickadees will let me know.
  • Merlin – they are seen at the MN Valley refuge which is just down the hill. I know they like to nest in tall pine trees which we have plenty of. Although, if they nested here, all my other birds might leave. And my neighbors would hate me because these birds are loud and aggressive. So I should be careful what I wish for.
  • Yellow warbler – I’ve seen many other warblers in the yard during migration, just not this particular one. UPDATE: seen on 5/19/2013
  • Pine grosbeak – theoretically possible, according to Cornell I’m within their range.
  • Red-shouldered hawk – they are around the Twin Cities, I’ve seen them in Mendota Heights and we also sometimes have them at the Raptor Center.

Maybe 2013 will bring some of these to my yard, or maybe something entirely unexpected!

Merry Christmas!

Backyard on Christmas Day, 2012

Backyard on Christmas Day, 2012

It’s a cold but sunny day here on Overlook Circle. I got up this morning and drove along Black Dog Rd to look for eagles. I found a very cooperative pair of juveniles perched in a tree and got some nice photos. As far as yard birds, we have the usual group- lots of woopeckers and goldfinches, etc. Some crows have joined in, feeding on the ground underneath the feeders. Mourning doves are enjoying the heated bird bath.

Yesterday I sent the new Feeder Cam back to StarDot, to exchange it for the NetCam SC 5MP IR, which has infrared capability. All I need to get is an I/R lamp and Feeder Cam will be viewable 24/7! I’m very interested to see if we have flying squirrels coming to the feeders. 😀

Welcome!

Welcome to the new Overlook Circle website! It’s a place for me to share what’s going on here in Bloomington, Minnesota. I’ve redesigned it as a WordPress blog to improve the look and make it easier to keep things updated. We still have Feeder Cam, and weather, both much improved. We’ve also got some new things like photos, and more info and resources which will hopefully be of interest. Have a look around and let me know what you think. 😀