Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spectacular Backyard Birds

When bringing in the wash this afternoon, a Baltimore Oriole was singing amid the crabapple blossoms in the tree at the side of our home - spectacular!

Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole
Meanwhile, the courtship among the Evening Grosbeaks has been hot and heavy, perhaps due to there being (by my count) an extra male vying for the hand of a lady ...

Evening Grosbeak displaying
The courtship stepped up a notch today. Besides demonstrating his overall sexiness through displaying, the males have had to demonstrate that they know what to do when a youngster begs for food ... feeding of females has been more noticeable this year than in any previous year.

"Feed Me," she says.
("Perhaps he will know what to do with my young.")
The Indigo Bunting continues to appear off and on, and is heard singing in nearby trees.

Indigo Bunting

Few people will put the Common Grackle in the spectacular category, but the iridescence of the bronzed body and purple head are breathtaking this time of year. And if anyone reading this says that they don't like blackbirds, remember that blackbirds (Icterids) include grackles, red-wings, and Northern Oriole.
Common (Bronzed) Grackle

Good Birding!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Joy of S*x

Ah yes ... the joy of the Spring activity. A couple of bird walks this weekend yielded many warblers hurrying toward their breeding grounds, feeding frenzily, and singing lustily. Most were high in the canopy, but this Black-throated Green Warbler was closer to lens ...

Black-throated Green Warbler
The walks in the woods are marvelous, but for theatrical entertainment, sitting quietly on the back porch provides front row seats to drama, intrigue, and rivalry.

Five Evening Grosbeak males (perhaps six) are vying for the attention of four (best count) females, so there is sorting, accommodating, and liaisons to figure out. The guys are getting serious, with raised crest, raised tail, and flared wings becoming prevalent and insistent ...

Evening Grosbeak
 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (we have had five males and a lesser number of females) are gentlemen toward one another, but they have their moments ...

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
For shear truculence, there is nothing that can match the 1 gram package of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This guy perched 15 feet in front of us, until an intruder came along. He did his rapid "U" shaped display and totally cowed the poor rival who sped off - tried again - and again - and was driven off each time ...

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
By contrast, the dispute between Northern Cardinal males was almost gentlemanly, but no less serious ...

Northern Cardinals
Two transients made brief stops in the yard - welcome visitors not seen in the yard every year ...

Brown Thrasher ...

Brown Thrasher

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting
Not to be overlooked in the profusion of life bursting forth as the tiny gems at our feet, like the trout lily ...

Trout Lily
... or in the garden, the Crown Imperial ...

Crown Imperial
Listen to the birds ... visually consume the flowers ... celebrate Spring!!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Common Merganser Nuptials

My neighbor reported to me that a pair of Common Mergansers were courting on the gravel island in the river behind his home. I can see the area from my yard, so I have kept an eye on the area.

The truth was even more fun - one handsome drake appeared to be at the center of a love triangle, pursing one on the island, though a merganser on land hardly poses much of a pursuit threat. (On the other hand, she's not great at fleeing on land.)

Next he headed back to the water to impress a second hen ...

That's when the watching became really fun. To a lay observer, it looked like the two hens were displaying for the drake, or trying to intimidate the other ...

Friday, May 02, 2014

Spring Returns - and so do Old Friends

Since returning home to Vermont from our wintering in Philadelphia, we have been immersed in needed work on our home - hence the hiatus in posts.

But today was a Spring day, and early in the morning I headed out to greet returning friends.

Along the Connecticut River, abundant Yellow-rumped Warblers in their prom-going finery were joined by a few Palm Warblers ...

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler
Also along the Connecticut River, Osprey were busy building their nest on a transmission tower and pursing their courtship ...

In nearly every location I stopped, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were actively "singing" and displaying ...

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
During late April in our back yard, we watched many species in active courtship, including Yellow-bellied Sapsucker ...

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
 ... and Belted Kingfisher, a trio of which put on quite an air show one evening as we sat on the lawn.

Belted Kingfisher
In the realm of serendipitous good fortune, Evening Grosbeaks are again performing their pre-nups in our yard, and we anticipate that we will have another summer of helping to raise their young.

Evening Grosbeak
And finally, when I returned home for lunch, I was greeted by a stunning Rose-breasted Grosbeak and his shy lady lover ...

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
 Spring!! ... and after a long, tough winter, a time of exceptionally Good Birding!!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Brigantine Today

After two months in Philadelphia, we finally got a good day for driving to, and birding, some of the prime nearby place. We made an early morning drive to Forsyth NWR, Brigantine unit. Good birding, and a few decent photographic opportunities.

Highlight undoubtedly was the number of Osprey setting up housekeeping for another summer. I never remember to begin an actual count until I am well along, so I have to estimate that we saw at least 15-20 Osprey ...

Male Osprey off to forage and prove he can provide for her chicks.
Tree Swallows return early, but Barn Swallows were also present today, and Purple Martins were staking claim to nesting sites ...

Purple Martin
 The large wintering flocks of waterfowl have, for the most part, gone north, but there were still good numbers present. A sampling ...

Hooded Mergansers - female


Green-winged Teal
Among the returning songbirds, I was most delighted by the Black-and-White Warbler, a forerunner of the warblers that make our eastern states the envy of the world ...

Black-and-White Warbler
And finally, closer to our Philadelphia home in the last week, highlights include Rusty Blackbird at Heinz NRW ...

Rusty Blackbird
... and up to 25 Wood Ducks along the Wissahickon Creek.

Wood Duck
Wood Duck
Good Birding!!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird males begin to return
before winter has loosened its grip


I sit in my study, waiting yet another late winter snow storm. But I know that Spring is here. The visual signs are missing, but the auditory signals are certain.


By the still-frozen riverbanks, ponds and marshes, one of the earliest announcer of Spring has been passing through since early March. Nine inches of black feathers, he stretches his neck skyward, opens his pointed bill and belts out nasal, gurgling phrases which can only be called a “song” by another of this species. And as he sings, his wings open in flightless display, and red epaulets flash with sun-drenched brilliance even on the grayest of days. The Red-wing Blackbird has returned.

Some Red-wing Blackbirds may winter as near as the Connecticut coast, but most gather much further south in flocks which may number in the thousands. They wander through farmland, marshes, forest edge and open fields, gleaning whatever food might be available. But even before winter begins to loosen its grip, the males begin moving northward.

Male Red-winged Blackbirds claim their territory
when the marsh is still barren
By the time the Red-wing Blackbirds begin reaching our neighborhoods, the flocks are starting to break up. Individual males begin looking for breeding territory. When the ice finally goes out of our ponds and marshes, and plant life begins to reassert itself, the males will be there. Perched on a reed, cattail, or shrubby willow, they will stake their claim as proprietors, intimidating their rivals with red-wings and vocal prowess. “Conk-a-reeeee!”

When the drab females come along in another few weeks, the males will have settled their real estate disputes. They’ll be ready to urge one or more females to make a home.

The Red-wing Blackbird does not draw much attention from bird watchers except in March when it is one of the earliest of the summer residents to return. It is a successful and adaptable species. Except during our Vermont winters, there is no shortage. The Red-winged Blackbird is so common that it is easy to overlook its beauty ... and its toughness - it is a scrappy bundle of feathers.

Male Red-winged Blackbird displays his prowess
What the Red-wing’s song lacks in musical quality to our ears, it makes up for in volume. Inevitably, it draws my attention. If it draws your attention as well, you will be treated to the accompanying nuptial display. He holds the fore part of his wings well out from the shoulders. He spreads his shiny black tail. He bows his head low and displays his bright red wing patches. It is an impressive display; one might even say thrilling. And if I have that kind of reaction, imagine what it can do for a female blackbird! Some males are so impressive that they attract two or three mates, all nesting in polygamous harmony near one another in the same marsh or bog.

Female Red-winged Blackbird
Once the nuptials are concluded, the nondescript females seem to disappear into the confused tangle of the marsh while the male stands guard. He is vigilant, and fearless. A passing crow will draw his attack, as will a Northern Harrier, a bittern, or an Osprey. Neighbors will join the fray, and the passing intruder will be soon mobbed by angry blackbirds. On a misty, early morning, I once watched a Turkey Vulture laboriously take flight. It was all it could do to get airborne in the heavy atmosphere. The struggling vulture with his five and a half foot wingspan was soon hurried along by nine inches of black fury. The attacking Red-wing Blackbird pecked and prodded and harassed the backside of the hapless and probably harmless scavenger.

Nest of Red-winged Blackbird
Last summer I wanted to find the nest of a Red-wing Blackbird. So I cautiously ventured through the marshy fringes of the beaver pond and into the soggy grasses. I was just able to see a couple of nests - bulky open cups which were lashed to the reeds. But I quickly retreated. My slight intrusion into the marsh had sent the Red-wings flying into hysteria. They fluttered over head, heaping maledictions on my head. They raced from reed to reed to shrub wailing at my intrusion into their domestic realm. Seldom have I felt less welcome anywhere.

“Conk-a-reeee!” I heard the Red-wing’s gargle as I made a few quick birding stops in between my other errands. The sky grew grayer and heavier. The first few flakes of snow began falling. I hurried home to wait out the winter storm. Even so, I know it is Spring!

Male Red-winged Blackbird aggressively defend their territory
against rival males and any other intruders
Female Red-winged Blackbird on her nest

"Conk-a-reeee!” Good birding!


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