Monday, January 24, 2011

Using Birds to Control Tomato Hornworms

Here's a lovely macro shot of a tomato hornworm caterpillar taking a little break from gorging himself on my tomatoes. Ever seen one before? They're huge and pretty startling to come across when you're pruning your tomato plants. They blend right in, until you accidentally touch one- hopefully not with the horned end!

This picture was taken near the end of the season so I wasn't SO upset, but I definitely want to prevent hornworms for next season. I started doing some research on how to get rid of tomato hornworms and the good news is you don't need to use insecticides or crazy home remedies- birds will do the work for you!

This great website I found- the Yardener has a whole section about insect pests in the vegetable garden. According to the site, feeding birds year-round will help you control the tomato hornworm problem in your garden. For bird lovers, this shouldn't be a chore at all. Just keep your feeders full with desirable seed like black-oil sunflower seed and nyjer seed thistle, and in the winter especially, don't forget to put out some suet (Southern New Englanders can get them for just $0.49 a piece at Ocean State Job Lot).

Downy Woodpeckers are just one of the birds that are attracted to suet and love to eat hornworms. Keep them happy throughout the winter and they'll repay the favor by helping to control your hornworm population!

Other birds that like to eat tomato hornworms:

Baltimore Orioles
Barn Swallows

I have to admit- I tend to slack off on filling my feeders in the summer. I'll be more diligent about keeping them full this spring/summer and I'll post an update on my hornworm problem then!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Trustom Pond Birds- BwBTC 2010 New England Trip Recap

The second half of our 2010 BwBTC New England Trip (held in August) was spent at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.

(photo credit: Dawn Fine)

At this point in the day I was more focused on socializing and simply spotting birds- not taking pictures, so I'm sorry to say all I have is a single video of the Ring-necked Pheasant we all had fun watching:

This was around the time that the alligator was spotted in Rhode Island, so that was a topic of conversation as we were all gathering for our group photo on one of the viewing platforms. We didn't see any alligators, but I did see a huge snapping turtle sticking its beak out of the water to breathe.

BUT I am happy to spread the link love, and share links to the outing recaps on my BwBTC friends' blogs.

Check out Dawn (our BwBTC outing organizer)'s recap for some terrific pictures of the ring-necked pheasant, and the black-billed cuckoo (or red-eyed vireo?). Not to mention a fantastic group shot of our New England BwBTC group. We had some fun trying to get it right with the timer (her husband Jeff had to keep running back to join the group after starting it), but eventually we succeeded.

This was my first time meeting Cindy, and I had such a nice time chatting with her. That's what's great about our BwBTC outings- they bring together people you wouldn't ordinarily go birding with (she hails from Brooklyn). Her recap features some terrific close-ups of the shorebirds.

My neighbor John (Bird Man of Bridgewater)'s recap: He managed to get a picture of one of the many warblers we saw along the Trustom Pond path (Magnolia Warbler- my favorite). How he did it- I don't know! They were very elusive.

Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog applied some creative color filters to his pictures of the trip. See for yourself:

Dan of Nature Observances managed to get some crazy pictures! My favorite has to be his intimate close-up of the ring-necked pheasant hiding in the bushes.

My cousin Susan of The Nature of Framingham met up with the group here at Trustom, and got some really nice pictures of the Osprey. Also- on an interesting note, one of her blog connections pointed out the mis-identification of the black-billed cuckoo. Her reader Ryan said that it's actually a Red-eyed Vireo.

Afternoon bird list (thanks to Dawn and Jeff for compiling it):

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Caspian Tern
Black-billed Cuckoo (or red-eyed vireo?)
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Blue-winged Warbler
Pine Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

It only took me 6 months, but finally I posted my 2010 BwBTC trip recaps :) *sigh of relief*

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Charlestown Breachway Birding Trip with the BwBTC folks

Maybe it's the feet of snow we have on the ground that's got me reminiscing about warmer, sunnier times in New England. One fond memory I have is the 2nd annual BwBTC New England Trip. These trips are organized by Dawn of Dawn's Bloggy Blog. Last year we did some Plum Island birding, and this past August Dawn organized a trip in beautiful Rhode Island.

On-hand we had:

Jeff and Dawn @DawnFine on twitter/Dawns Bloggy Blog

Dan @Docforestal on twitter/ Nature Observances by Forestal

Larry from the Brownstone Birding blog

Cindy Cage from Living in Brooklyn and Longing for Maine

John (Tucker) from The Birdman of Bridgewater

Susan @natureframingham on twitter /The Nature of Framingham

Cindy @gemswinc on twitter

Bird List for Charlestown Breachway (thanks to Dawn for compiling):

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Snowy Egret

Green Heron

Turkey Vulture


Cooper's Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Black-bellied Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Piping Plover

Spotted Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Ruddy Turnstone


Semipalmated Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Laughing Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Forster's Tern

Common Tern

Caspian Tern (this was an exciting lifer for me- they're huge!)

Here's are links to other BwBTC member wrap-ups of our morning Charlestown Breachway birding trip:

To any birder thinking about going to Charlestown Breachway- I highly recommend it. The drive there from Massachusetts was absolutely picturesque- especially once you get onto the winding roads along the Rhode Island coast. The morning sun reflecting off the water was beautiful. It made the early rise worth it :)

Dawn planned it perfectly with tides, and there were only a few points where we had to get wet crossing the channels. Luckily I wore quick-drying running shorts and just carried my camera above my head. Here are some pictures of the BwBTC crew mastering art of Charlestown Breachway channel crossings.

Cindy & Dawn:
Dawn, the other Cindy, Larry, John & Jeff:

Larry, Jeff & John:

John's sister and Dawn:

Here are some of the highlights from the Charlestown Breachway.

Great Black-backed Gull enjoying some breakfast:

Egrets in the trees:
Snowy Egret:
Black-bellied Plover:

This is one of my favs. I'm not 100% sure, but I'm going to so with Semipalmated Sandpiper:

There was a lot of debate over this bird. Some people thought it was a Baird's Sandpiper (I believe one was spotted on the Breachway earlier in the day), but in the end I think we decided it was a Juvenile Sanderling:

Dawn has this one tagged as a Least Sandpiper- I'll take her word on it!

I have more Charlestown Breachway shorebird pictures to share...let's see if I can get motivated to write yet another post.