What have YOU seen?

Hey, all of you Stearns Mill Pond denizens and users, what have YOU seen on the pond or brook? Contribute your info - what great sightings, what birds, what animals, what sad things, what changes (good and bad), what wonderful moments have there been? Let's share what we know and love about our pond.
Live on the pond or brook?
Become an author on this blog; send me a message and I will add you to the official author list. Or, if you prefer, just click on the word "Comments" at the bottom of the entry to get a comment box up so you can add your sightings and thoughts. Email me pictures from our pond to post - I will credit them to you.
Click on the picture to see it in a larger format (all photos by D.Muffitt unless otherwise credited)

Sunday, February 21, 2016


In my eyes, there is very little in nature as beautiful is the sculptured grace of winter trees. This blog entry consist of my pictures and observations collected over the winter of 2015-2016. 

If you too, are a winter tree lover, I hope this post will resonate for you. If you are someone who shudders and thinks that the trees are so ugly and desolate in the winter, I hope that you can see some of the beauty that I so enjoy. 

If you wish to add your own thoughts or pictures, please feel free to send them along in a comment at the end of the post. I'd be happy to add to this post any thoughts and pictures others might have about the beauty of winter trees.

Moon through winter trees
Bare branches against the sky
Night beauty abounds

The Moon & Venus

The occasional leaf still on the limb
Like a flag, rustles in the breeze.
Is that a leaf or a bird peeking out from behind the branch?
Moss on the trunks.
No, not moss, but lichens,
Light greenish-yellow & white.
Delicate threads.

A few leaves remain on the oak trees all winter

3:30 AM. 
"Who   who who   whoo    whooo"

The great horned owl gets us out of bed

Looking out the window
"Who   who who   whoo    whooo"

Behind the winter branches
Sparkling stars and the last quarter moon shine in the clear sky 
"Who   who who   whoo    whooo"

A new voice, lower, answers the first's call
Probably the female, as they are larger birds
The duet continues...
"Who   who who   whoo    whooo"  
                      "Who   who who   whoo    whooo"

I wish I could see the owls that I am hearing

One moves closer 
Still the empty branches  
Yet so special to be serenaded by this pair of Great Horned Owls tonight
"Who   who who   whoo    whooo"

The sky on fire with dawn light


We have mostly white pines and oaks. The pines stand straight to the sky with large clumps of needle-full branches scattered on the limb tips looking like sponge painting. 

The red oaks are craggy and gnarled often with two trunks making a V shape. The branches bend and twist on each other and intertwine from tree to tree.

Oaks twisted and tangled in delicate, gnarled patterns


Woodpecker, bright in the sunlight, tap taps on a dead branch bleached white by the sun.

Pileated Woodpecker against a cloudy sky


The sun shines brightly through the mist and fog
It's the first we've seen sun in several days
Ice sparkles in the sunlight 
White against blue against black
The ice on the branches melts in the bright sunlight
Oh, that's cold down the back of my neck!



"Lambent" Definition: Playing slowly and softly over a surface, breaking
up or flickering, as lambent moonlight on the rippling lake.
2. Glowing faintly, as a lambent light in the fog.

Trees reflected in an open place on the iced pond


In mid-February, we had a snow storm with very heavy, wet snow.  At the end of the day, after dark clouds and on and off snow all day, we were outside clearing the driveway when suddenly, the sun came out, reflecting off of the snow covered trees.

Looking east, late afternoon

Looking southeast to the tops of the nearby trees

Looking south toward the pond.  Snow covered branches backlit by setting sun after a heavy snowfall


Send me thoughts and photos of the beauty in the winter trees.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


This week's weather in the 70s is driving me crazy!  It is November; it shouldn't be 70-something.  I love fall and I feel like I'm being cheated out of the cool, crisp bite in the air.  But more than that, the ticks think it is spring; there are massive numbers of them around, and most are the really tiny deer ticks--I have taken 10-12 off of Blake in the last 5 days.  I am looking forward to the weather getting cold and the temperature dropping so that it stays below 40 degrees.  40 (give or take a few degrees) is the point where these nasty bugs go dormant.

Meanwhile, the trees have been very interesting, surprising, (and beautiful!) this week.  Monday, I took Blake and we paddled down the pond in search of some fall pictures.  I was not disappointed!  (All I had was my iPhone, so these pictures were all taken on a phone!)

The oak trees were in their stage of deep reds, golds and browns.
Stearns Mill Pond, Nov 2, 2015
I love the reflection of the clouds in this one
Stearns Mill Pond, Nov 2, 2015

I paddled upstream and startled a flock of ducks; I'm not sure if they were mallards, blacks or wood ducks.  Why were my binoculars at home???  The ducks churned up the water as they flew off and it started me looking at the ripples in the water near my canoe. 

The water/shore line is at the very top of the page.  
Notice the gentle ripples in the reflection and the deep blue of the sky.

The berries on the branches of trees and shrubs feed the birds this time of year.  If you are planting in your yard, try to put in some berry producing plants, but be sure to always plant native trees, shrubs and flowers.  Ornamental plants from other countries, or even other parts of the US, are pretty, but they often push out the native plants because there are no animals, birds or insects who feed on the plant and help keep it in check (think about how Purple Loosestrife has taken over).  When the native plants disappear, so do the birds and animals that depend on them.  Put native & local plants in your yard. 

I lucked out taking this photo; the very next day, the dogwood next to the house (the red tree, bottom left) had gone into its stage of brown and crumpled leaves.  Now, just 5 days later, all of the leaves that belonged to the dogwood are gone and are replaced by oak leaves that didn't quite make it to the ground.

The Monday that I took these pictures (Nov 2) was spectacularly gorgeous in colors, temperature and the feel of the air.  Two days later it was hot and all of the leaves had withered and hung limply on the branches.  Two days after that, the leaves were in the roadways, driveways and yards!

Our road
I love the winter trees - the shape of the bare branches are so interesting.  These trees lost most of their leaves in just two days.  The acorns are another story!  In some places on the road, it is not safe to walk; you just roll along on the acorns!
Morning Sky, Nov 7, 2015

My phone just couldn't get a good picture of the crescent moon with Venus at her side, but the color and shapes are quite striking.

I am grateful that we are off of daylight savings time so that we can enjoy the early morning light again!

I recommend getting out there early and just looking around at all you can see and all that becomes visible as the sun rises.  Pretty special.

What do you like about fall?  Send comments and pictures to add to this post.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Northern Cardinal - immature
The feeders and trees are filled with baby birds right now!  We were just out walking Blake and saw an adult Eastern Wood-Pewee feeding two juveniles.  The adult would sally off into the trees, swoop around until catching a bug, then bring the bug back and feed one of the young-uns. The adult then flew off to catch another bug and feed the other baby.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat...

How can you tell if it is an adult bird or a juvenile bird?  That isn't always easy.  Sometimes you can tell it is a young bird because they just seem terribly uncoordinated -- not quite landing smoothly, almost falling off the branch, etc. For some birds, like American Robins, it is pretty simple because although the juveniles have the same build as the adults, they sport spotted breasts with only a little of the red on the edges.  

The immature Northern Cardinal below is obvious, too!  It looks a lot like the adult female, until you look a the beak!  Look at the female bird's beak (below, on the left) - bright orange!  Look at the juvenile's on the right, more black with a touch of red beginning to appear near the corner of the mouth.  
The adult female also has a black patch under the beak and her crest (which is folded down in this picture) is red.  (You can look at a larger copy of the photo by clicking on it.)

Northern Cardinal - immature
Northern Cardinal - female

For other birds, like the Wood-Pewees we saw, the juveniles are very similar to the adults.  So how did we know they weren't adults?  Because they were just sitting on the branch waiting to be fed!  

The inside of the mouth of a baby bird is often bright red, to make it obvious in a dark nest (don't want dad to miss the mouth!).  And in nestlings, the beak opens VERY wide with what is called a "gape" at the corners of the mouth so that the mouth opens wider to make it more appealing to the adult ("Here, mom!  Put that bug right here!!").  See the picture below of our Carolina Wrens who nested in the carport last year.  The two center birds have their mouths open to be fed; look at the one on the right and you can see the beak (black) in the center of the yellow gape.

Carolina Wren Nestlings, first week.  Notice LARGE mouth

The nestlings below are almost ready to leave the nest and you can clearly see the remainder of the gape on the bird to the right; it is the yellow on the side of its beak.

Carolina Wren nestlings, 3 hours before fledging. Notice yellow gape still visible.

Sometimes you can recognize a juvenile by the wing fluttering.  When a baby bird wants to be fed, he/she makes a shivering or fluttering motion with the wings which entices the adult to feed it. This young blue jay below is fluttering its wings and opening its mouth to be fed.  Notice that the inside of the mouth is still very red.  As the bird matures, the red fades.  The adult (lower left) is ignoring the requests for food.  "Nope.  You've gotta learn to find your own.  There is a feeder with seed right behind you!"

Young Blue Jay fluttering wings & opening mouth to be fed. Adult (lower left) ignoring request.

We have a family of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks who have just arrived at the feeder and are really chowing down!  The adult male is obvious:

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The only thing about the female that looks like the male is the beak and the chunky size of the bird!  Below is an adult female on the left and I believe the bird on the right is a juvenile, possibly a male.  My first clue was in the behavior of the bird on the right; it kept looking like it wanted to be fed, although it never fluttered.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, adult female on left, possible juvenile on right.
I thought that the bird below was an adult Rose-breasted Grosbeak until I zoomed in on the picture and looked closely.  It was then that I noted the residual gape and a little bit of fluffy grey down on the bird's left shoulder.  It hasn't quite finished its molt.  I am leaning toward it being a male because there seems to be a little bit of rosy color below its right shoulder.  The male immatures will show light rosy patches until they molt into their breeding plumage in the second year.
Juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak

An aside on the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak:  Usually when a smaller bird is in the feeder tray and a Blue jay shows up, the smaller bird gives way, even if it is an immature Blue Jay.  We watched mama grosbeak, who was sitting in the tray chowing down, completely ignore the jay.  The jay tried to move in and mama grosbeak went at the jay and chased it off!  The jay came back and again was chased off!  Go mama!

When I first started taking pictures of the bluebird below, I thought it was an adult female, but then it started fluttering its wings, so I suspected a juvenile.  I am leaning toward the juvenile because you can still see a bit of the yellow gape. (see the closeup two pictures down).
Eastern Bluebird - Juvenile
I think it may be a male as there is a lot of blue beginning to show on its back, but I am not sure as the female has blue on her back, too.
Bluebird - still showing some gape

Two more pictures of young-uns and I stop this lengthy entry!  

Below is a juvenile White-breasted Nuthatch.  Notice the darker face - both the male and female adults have pure white faces.

White-breasted Nuthatch - juvenile

And lastly, an adult Common Grackle (below) feeding an juvenile.  Notice the brown color of the immature and the red inside its mouth.

"More! More!" "No, this is my seed"
Common Grackle adult feeding a juvenile bird

Saturday, June 20, 2015


We had a really exciting visitor this morning! 

Great Horned Owl - June 20, 2015
We hear the Great Horned Owls frequently when walking the dog in the early morning or at night, but rarely see one.  This morning, we were looking out the window, trying to hear some other strange sound at about 5:30AM, and noted the jays and other little birds seemingly mobbing something (also a common activity around here with all of our hawks and owls!).  I saw a movement - something flying toward a tree, but had no clue even how big the bird was, let alone what it might be.  I grabbed my binocs and went into the other room where there were fewer branches in front of where I thought I saw a bird.  It took some hunting, but I finally found an odd lump up next to the trunk of the tree.  Cool!  This lump has ear tufts!!!

Great Horned owl hiding from mobsters
Our visitor hung around for about a half hour, so I managed to set up my camera and the scope and we got some really good views of it.  I had hoped to get some pix of the little birds mobbing the GHOW*, but never managed to click at the right moment, and the owl was doing a good job of not being noticed much.

It did come out onto the branch more, so the rest of the pictures are frontal.

It was mostly still, but occasionally looked from side to side.

Owls can turn their heads all the way around to look behind them, but I'd never actually seen that.  These next two pictures are interesting because in the first one, you see the blurred movement of the head, and the second one shows the head turned backwards.  

Great Horned Owl turning its head all the way around

Looking at all 40 some pictures that I took, there was almost no change in the bird's body or its feet and the way it was clamped onto the branch.  Only the head moved.

We have no idea why the owl was out and about after dawn.  Could have been caught away from its usual daytime roost and was waiting for the mobbers to go away; could have been seeking food for its nestlings - owls will hunt in the daytime when they have nestlings; or it could have been chased away from its usual roost.  Ooo!  Or maybe its usual roost is right around here and we just haven't seen it before!  Suzanne has seen a GHOW* here a few times this year.  In any case, we sure enjoyed the visit!

Great Horned Owl - June 20, 2015

*There are four-letter "Alpha Codes" for all birds, a bit of shorthand.  The Great Horned Owl is "GHOW"

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Linda and I are good birders when it comes to the birds around our house and neighborhood -- the ones with which we interact frequently.  We know some of them by sight and even sound, and some of them by general affect (flight, position on a tree or the ground, attitude of the head...).  But overall, we are just intermediate level birders.  We don't do birding trips or travel to see rare birds, but this year in May, we DID do a birding trip!  We went to Point Pelee National Park, in Ontario (Canada).  

Point Pelee is a triangular peninsula that points due south from the north shore of Lake Erie; therefore, birds crossing the lake in migration are likely to see Point Pelee first and land there to rest.  Consequently, something like 340 species of birds can pass through Point Pelee on migration to their northern nesting grounds. 

What an amazing experience, being at Point Pelee during spring migration!!  We were there for three days of the two week festival and in those three days, added many "life birds", otherwise known as "lifers".  (A life bird is one you have never seen before.)    In our three days, Linda got 17 lifers and I got 22.  Most were on guided walks, but some on our own.  (Then later in our trip to visit our moms, Linda saw two more lifers and I saw one more, to bring our total life bird sightings for the trip to: Linda-19, Diane-23.  Very cool!)

For both of us, the most special was the Red-headed Woodpecker: for Linda, because she grew up with them and hadn't seen them since she was a child, and for me because I had never seen one!

Red-headed Woodpecker at Point Pelee, Ontario, May 15, 2015
Other highlights of the "normal" type were, Northern Parula (lifer for both), Scarlet Tanager and Indigo Bunting (just cuz they are so strikingly beautiful!), many nesting Barn Swallows (lifer for both and just so interesting!), seeing the Red-winged Blackbirds acting like house sparrows and picking up food scraps from under the picnic tables, and seeing two nightjars - Common Nighthawk (lifer for Linda) and a Chuck-will's-widow (lifer for both).

In the OMG/rare bird category were the Chuck-will's-widow and a spectacular little Kirtland's Warbler (!!!)

The Kirtland's Warbler has been on the endangered list since 1967 because it nests only among the Jack Pine forests (which are rapidly decreasing) in two very small regions of Northern Michigan & the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  With some controlled burn projects, the Jack Pine areas are coming back, as are the birds.  For a while, the Kirtland's Warbler was counted as just a few hundred.  Now it is over a thousand breeding males.  (http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/solve/conservation/rare-bird-focus-kirtlands-warbler.php)

We were lucky, and a Kirtland's female was resting at Point Pelee while we were there, and was very cooperative!  

Kirtland's Warbler at Point Pelee, Ontario, May 14, 2015

The pictures here were taken with my new camera that Linda got me for an early birthday present - a Canon SX50 HS super zoom.  It is a "point & shoot" but super fast and has an optical zoom to 600 and a digital zoom to 1200!  The Northern Parula picture below is unedited, shot hand held and was not from close range!!)  

Northern Parula at Point Pelee, Ontario, May 15, 2015
Total list of birds seen in our three day venture (not necessarily seen by both of us):
Canada Goose
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Wild Turkey
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Turkey Vulture
Spotted Sandpiper
Black Tern
Common Tern
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-headed Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren 
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
American Redstart
Kirkland's Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
White-crowned Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
Common Yellowthroat

Some of the above were seen and pointed out to us on one of the bird walks that we took.  In some cases it helped us learn more about the bird so that we could more easily ID it next time; in other cases, it was a spot it, enjoy it and totally forget what we'd seen!  However, we learned a lot about warblers on this trip!  Combined with seeing more of them around home this year (by looking up to the tops of the trees instead of down to the bird feeder or ground) I feel like I can have a better chance of ID-ing a warbler other than the yellow warbler.
And later in our travels to the midwest we also saw:
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (3 different ones banging on pieces of metal)
Bald Eagle
White-breasted NuthatchCarolina Wren
American Tree Sparrow 
Common Raven
Chipping Sparrows
Great Blue Heron
Various Gulls, not determined

A good trip from a birding point of view!

Saturday, May 9, 2015


Ah, some of my favorite birds have shown up this week, so spring is truly here!
One of my favorites is the Northern Oriole.  I am always amazed at how much the male's color matches the color of an orange.

In case you don't know, one of the easiest ways to get an oriole into your yard is to offer oranges!!  They love them and will come several times a day to drink the juice.  They also like grape jelly...  This guy showed up for the first time Sunday evening. (May 3)

I was sitting on the porch on that Sunday evening when I saw the oriole.  Shortly, the hummingbird arrived.  He didn't stay because the feeder is right near the chairs!  (There is a second feeder on the other side of the porch for when we are sitting out.)  I actually didn't see him at that moment, but the hum of the hummer's wings is unmistakable!  We have seen him many times since.  
The picture below was taken in 2006 and is a female or immature; I didn't get a picture of the male who has been visiting the feeder this year.

If you are feeding hummers, do NOT add red food coloring to the food; the chemicals are not good for the bird (or for people!).  Get a feeder like this one that has red on it, or put up a hanging red plant or even a ribbon and the birds will find the food.  (4 parts water, 1 part white sugar and change it every 3 days - more frequently if it is hot.)

Last Thursday, 5:15AM, the windows were open and we were awakened by the cacophony  of the birds!  I was dozing between alarm snoozes and hearing, but not listening to, the birds: titmice, mourning doves, chickadees...  WAIT!  That sounds different!  Now I'm wide awake!  But there is too much other bird noise to hear.  Gotta get my ear out of the pillow.  Under the sound of the doves... what is that?  Owl??  No, not likely.  Mourning doves are the most commonly mistaken call for owls.  I wish the titmice would be quieter so I could hear, cuz there IS a different sound in there.  I moved to the window.

YES!!!  There is a Great-horned Owl calling!  No, make that TWO GHOs!!!  VERY COOL.  Worth waking up for.  "Linda!  Wake up!  Great-horned owls!"  We listened at the window.  Yup.  Clear.  Probably a male and a female because there are two different pitches (the female is usually higher pitched than the male).  Whoa!  Listen to the crows!  Did they find the owls?  "No showers and exercises this morning, let's get out on the porch!!"  

We wonder if one of them was the same one that we SAW last weekend (May 1).  Suzanne called us mid-morning to say that there was a GH Owl sitting in the trees between our houses.  It then flew across the pond, but came back.  Made the circuit three times.  Linda got a good view of it; I saw the bird, but could not have ID'd it if I'd been alone.  It flew from the pine tree to the top of a broken off tree and sat there.  Wonder if it was looking for food for its chicks?  We have lots of gophers and squirrels!

Nice way to wake up!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


This year, April is the beginning of spring.  Outside my window, it looks like a March day, large patches of snow still in the yard, cold, breezy and dark with rain and sleet on its way.  But the calendar tells me it is April 8!  Hmm... disconnect.

But it IS spring. The spring migrants are arriving - two new ones just yesterday!  We saw a Pine Warbler, who has also graced our feeder several times today, and a Fox Sparrow (a lifer for us!).  

Pine Warbler stops by on his migration route.
Also yesterday while we were doing our usual "greet the morning" by sitting on the porch at dawn, we saw this roiling in the water of the pond.  OK... there must be something there.  We had seen a muskrat swimming the day before.  There are both common and hooded mergansers (migrants) and our local mallards, black ducks, and wood ducks, but this seemed different.  Suddenly Linda called, "Otter!"  She was wrong; not one otter, but two otters.  What are they doing?  Fighting?  Playing?  Oh... MATING!  We watched for about 15 minutes (no privacy).  

Today I was snapping pictures of the pine warbler above (all of the pix are taken through the window, thus somewhat fuzzy), and I noticed a large disturbance in the water.  (Have I said how much I love having my desk facing the pond!  Yes, it is distracting, but it is great fun!)  Back to the disturbance.  I looked and a bird came up from the splash and flew out of the water!  What is it??  I couldn't get the binocs (or the camera that was in my hand) on it, but it clearly wasn't a red-tail or a coopers, they don't dive.  Oh, it flies like an osprey!  I don't have a 100% definite ID on it, but osprey is my guess.  It got its breakfast, too! 

Let's go back to the feeder birds for a minute.  During this time of year, don't make any assumptions about what is at your feeder.  Linda saw the Pine Warbler because she took that second look -- it didn't look quite like the goldfinch it was sharing the feeder with (see pix below).  But it is close enough in appearance that with just a glance, one might pass it off as another one of the huge flock of goldfinch that empties our feeders each day.  

Pine Warbler (left), Goldfinch (right)
Likewise with the fox sparrow, which I had heard about as showing up at feeders in migration, but had never seen before!  It was just another brown bird under the feeder.  It looked a lot like the song sparrow that hangs out here, or the female juncos, or the female red-wing blackbird who eats at our feeder in the spring before the bugs she prefers are readily available.  Yeah, just another brown bird.  But... second look: it looked more reddish brown.  Hmm... Better check!
Fox Sparrow (left) Goldfinch (right)
Zooming in on that picture:
Fox Sparrow

Notice the really reddish tail and the grey.  The belly is white with the reddish-brown stripes - you can see a little bit of that striping of the underparts near the tail.  I was able see the face with the eye-stripe, yellow beak, and striped underparts, but by the time I ran downstairs and grabbed my camera, the bird had turned.  Then it flew and we haven't seen it again.  (Whoa!  I think the osprey just flew by again!  We don't usually see them in the spring, just later in the fall!)

Moral of the story: keep your eyes open during migration; the birds you are used to seeing aren't all that are there!

OH YEAH!  We think that we have a pair of swans on the pond again!!  We have been seeing one every day for the last week and we were talking yesterday about, "Sure wish it would come in with a mate."  Then I realized that it actually is time for the swans to be on the nest and this one was acting like he was patrolling the waters, not checking out the surroundings!  We think his mate has a nest in the upstream part of the pond!  YAY!  We have missed the swans for the last 3 or 4 years since one of the adults of our resident pair died.  Each year, we'd all hope for the return of swans to our pond.  Looks like maybe this year is the one!

And, one last thing - I just got a pretty good picture of a female red-winged blackbird.  If you are a beginner birder, I'm sure you've never noticed one!  Pretty good cameo, eh?  Look for the beige eye-brow and the brown eye-stripe.
Red-winged Blackbird - female

(It is snowing.)  One more confusing brown bird just landed.  The female Brown-headed Cowbird.  Easy to figure out when with its mate.  (Mourning Dove gives a sense of the size of the cowbirds.)  See the snow coming down in the picture?  Sleet, actually.

Brown-headed Cowbird female & male, Mourning Dove on right