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!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wrens & Flycatchers

In the dark, morning light of Muir Woods, the Pacific Wren (split a few years ago from Winter Wren) presented itself so suddenly that I did not think about camera settings. Even so, I managed a few adequate photos ...

Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Wrens are troglodytes (cave, hole, or cavity dwellers). They do not always show themselves.  It took this Bewick's Wren several minutes to get comfortable with my presence ...

Bewick's Wren
Bewick's Wren

Bewick's Wren
The Black Phoebe has been a photographic nemesis on western trips. It would never allow any kind of approach. But in the campground at Montana de Oro State Park, this Black Phoebe was working the area quite unconcerned by people presence ...

Black Phoebe
Black Phoebe
And finally, Say's Phoebe

Say's Phoebe
Good Birding !!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Peregrine Falcons - Pretzel Park, Philadelphia

I returned on a bright clear afternoon to Pretzel Park in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia where a pair of Peregrine Falcons are preparing to nest for a second year in the tower of St. John the Baptist RCC. A few images ...

Arriving at the Park, both birds were flying overhead and making plenty of noise. On the top of the transmission tower, they were even noisier as they copulated ...

Peregrine Falcons about to mate - Note: both birds are banded
He then went off, presumably to hunt, while she waited in the steeple tower ...

Peregrine female - tower of St. John the Baptist
Then off she flew for another transmission tower rendezvous ...

It was interesting to observe the almost inverted position of the female as they mated ...

During their copulation, the size difference between the male and female (she is about 1/3 larger) was evident. It was also evident as he flew off (presumably with a smile) ...

Male Peregrine Falcon flies off after mating
Littered on the streets near the park, are the remains of their successful foraging among the urban bird population ...

European Starling
Rock Pigeon
 Good Birding!!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sparrows & Blackbirds

Sparrows, those little brown birds that drive so many casual bird watchers crazy, are nevertheless one of my bird favorite families, and California provided many opportunities to enjoy "different" sparrows.

Golden-crowned Sparrow is a far west species. Adult breeding is distinctive; adult nonbreeding somewhat less so ...

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Fox Sparrow may be my favorite sparrow. At home in Vermont, it is a Spring and Fall transient, although one has spent most of this winter visiting my feeders. It was a prime example of the "Red" or "Taiga" subspecies.

It was a delight to see this favored sparrow in California.

Fox Sparrow  ...

Fox Sparrow (Slate-colored?)

Fox Sparrow (Sooty/Pacific?)
Dark-eyed Juncos are common across the continent, though they give several variations in the west. I thought this "Oregon" Junco was particularly handsome ...

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)
 Blackbirds tend to be an overlooked part of any landscape, which is too bad, because their iridescence can be stunning, and occasionally there are differences that should be noted, as in this Brewer's Blackbird ...

Brewer's Blackbird

In addition to being a "Bi-colored" Red-winged Blackbird, the manner of feeding with drooped wings was one that I have not noted in the eastern birds. I will watch more closely this year ...

"Bi-colored" Red-winged Blackbird
 Good Birding !!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bushtit et al

I love songbirds, and the challenge of finding them and photographing them, but there are few of them to be found in the East during winter. This winter has discouraged wandering outdoors, which makes finding songbirds even more difficult. One of the delights of California last month, was finding different songbirds. A few examples ...

"Pacific" Bushtit


Chestnut-backed Chickadee ...

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
I was delighted to see the Varied Thrush, our most colorful thrush and only a rare vagrant in the East, but a little disappointed that none gave me good photo ops. This was the best I managed ...

Varied Thrush
I love the corvids, and especially the jays. Stellar's Jay is the Blue Jay's closest relative, with a very similar personality ...

Stellar's Jay
The Hermit Thrush is Vermont's state bird. His haunting, flute-like, and ethereal song carries through the forests in late Spring and Summer. On the breeding grounds, the Hermit Thrush is secretive and often very hard to see.

When the breeding season is over, the hormones subside and a personality change occurs. Hermit Thrushes were common, feeding in the open like a bunch of East Coast winter robins ...

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush
Good Birding !!


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