Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Readers tell of visits by wild, winter guests

STACEY COLE March 01. 2013 9:37PM

I have decided to back this column up to pick up some letters that I should have used earlier. On New Year's Day a gentleman from Londonderry wrote in part: "You can imagine our surprise when four bluebird pairs visited us on Christmas Day, 2012. They checked out the suet, feeders, and the bird house, stayed about fifteen minutes and left. I thought they might stay overnight in the birdhouse. We had a pair that used it last summer. After they had left, I cleaned out the house and noted that their nesting material was almost exclusively pine needles. The prior summer we had chickadees in the house. Their nest material was fine grasses, dryer-lint, down and mosses." Also enclosed were two excellent, recent bluebird photos.

Here at the farm we had one nesting pair of bluebirds that used only pine needles. Other nesting pairs have used grasses as a base and lined with feathers, mostly from chickens. Tree swallows use very similar material, especially chicken feathers. In cleaning the birdhouses after chickadees have used them, I have found comparable nesting material to that as described by our reader.

I was delighted to receive visits from a pair of bluebirds both before and after Christmas Day. What a delight to see them!

Since mid-January, I have been watching for a flock of so-called "winter robins." Two reports have been received from readers who have seen them. In late January, a long-time reader friend who lives in Henniker, phoned to describe a small flock of robins as being "heavier and brighter-colored" than so-called "summer robins." This is the usual description of robins that visit New Hampshire in winter. It is believed that these so-called "winter robins" nest in northern Canada or Labrador and change their food from worms and the like to fruit such as tree-dried apples, crab apples, mountain ash, and other berries they find. Our Henniker reader said that their robin flock hung around for about three hours and ate the old apples they had cast out for birds.

An Exeter reader also reported having a flock of robins that met the "winter robin" description visit them for a short while later in January.

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A Concord reader wrote an interesting letter and enclosed a computer-photo of a hawk to be identified. He believed the hawk was a red-tailed. Since the pictured hawk appeared to me to be basically black with a narrow tail, a white breast and several flecks of white on its back and wings, I could not identify it. However, I am sure someone at NH Audubon in Concord could.

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On Jan. 6 a Campton reader wrote in part: "This letter is not about birds but about a bird feeder visitor. Since early December we have a youngish or small raccoon as a regular visitor to our bird feeders, both the feeders on the porch and those on poles down in the yard. We've had occasional visits from raccoons in past years, and they normally only stay for a couple of nights, cleaning up the bird seed before leaving us. This raccoon has stayed as long as 4 hours on the porch where we have 3 feeders - one on the deck, the second on the railing and a third on a pole with a red squirrel shield. He/she spends the visit time cleaning up the seed in and around the deck and railing feeders. The box-type feeder on the railing is 20 inches long, 10 inches wide and 12 inches high, to give you an estimate on the raccoon's size (as shown in photo). Though he/she normally comes at dusk, a few times we have had he/she as a daytime visitor. Sometimes he/she will curl up inside the box feeder and appear to nap for 20-30 minutes before rousing and resume snacking.

"Realizing it is a wild animal we do give it a wide berth, but we did have an outside lighted Christmas Tree on the porch and when I went out to plug it in, the raccoon would turn its back and shield its eyes as though saying: 'If I can't see you, then you can't see me.' Once I go inside it will resume eating. Our cat will stare at it through the closed sliding doors but gives it rather little notice other than that.

"Prior winters we have had Snowshoe Hares come up the porch steps and eat the seed out of the feeder sitting on the deck, but none have ventured up to the deck this year yet."

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In my column of Dec. 29, I referred to Stinson Lake as Stimson Lake. I regret the error.

Writing letters continues to be very difficult. Questions will continue to be answered in columns, but delayed due to my publication schedule. Columns are written two or three weeks in advance. To receive a more timely answer please enclose a phone number. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

Nature Talks

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