Friday, August 8, 2014

Hummingbirds and sunflowers...

We often think of hummingbirds sipping nectar from red, tubular-shaped flowers, but if you've ever spent any time around sunflowers, you know they are a favorite of hummers too...

A juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from a disc floret on a sunflower.
...and there is a reason hummingbirds love sunflowers. If you look closely at the center disc of a sunflower (or a black-eyed susan, zinnia, or any other daisy-like flower), you'll find hundreds of tiny tubular shaped flowers (called florets). These little florets are perfect flowers that each contain drops of nectar.

Hummers have precise eye-bill coordination to be able to hover and drink from such a tiny cup!
A happy hummer!

What is a composite flower?
A composite flower looks like one big flower, but it's really an inflorescence (or grouping) of hundreds of tiny flowers called florets. Daisies, black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, zinnias, asters, dandelions, etc., are all composite flowers.  There are two types of florets in a composite flower:

Ray florets - are located along the perimeter of the flower head and form what look like petals that "radiate" out from the center (which is why they are called rays). Ray florets contain only a pistil (the female reproductive organ).

Disc florets - form the center disc of the flower head. Disc florets have a stamen and a pistil, so they are considered tiny, perfect flowers. Hundreds of disc florets create the flower head.

("Perfect" flowers contain both reproductive organs--a pistil (the female reproductive organs) and stamens (the male reproductive organs; the anthers contain the pollen). Lilies, daffodils, petunias, etc. are perfect flowers.)

Cross-section of a composite flower
When you realize that a composite flower is made up of hundreds of florets, all of which are tiny tubular flowers filled with nectar, it's easy to see why hummingbirds love sunflowers!

When the florets are finished blooming, and the seeds ripen (in the ovary of the pistil), American Goldfinches and Northern Cardinals take over...

An American Goldfinch eats sunflower seeds in the late evening light.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Female Baltimore Oriole

I saw this Baltimore Oriole on May 14, 2014 along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. A male Baltimore Oriole was much higher in the canopy of the tree flaunting his brilliant orange feathers, but this little female, understated in faded orange, was just as sweet, and she came in closer…

Female Baltimore Oriole, Magee Marsh, Toledo, OH (5-14-2014).

A female Baltimore Oriole studies a caterpillar before gobbling it up. Orioles also eat berries and even drink nectar from fruit blossoms.

I think it's hard to tell juvenile and female Baltimore Oriole's apart. Since this was early May, and most Baltimore Orioles don't return to Lake Erie until the first week of May, I assumed this was a female. Nest building starts soon after they arrive, and most babies fledge in late June and early July. 

Females build beautiful hanging nests. If you're in Cincinnati, you can often find a nest at Lake Isabella. I've seen nests there, and in the autumn, when the leaves fall from the trees, you can find the remnants of the summer's nesting activities! Click here for a photo of an oriole's nest.





This post is for Aunt Diane and Curg, whose spark bird was a male Baltimore Oriole they saw at Armleder Park (aka Armendinger Park) in Cincinnati, OH.

p.s. I'm enjoying our cooler weather. It was 49 degrees this morning, and I just had to go in and get a fleece-lined flannel shirt so I could continue sitting outside while I write this post.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Great Crested Flycatcher along the boardwalk...

With a sunshine-yellow belly and a loud, cheerful call, the Great Crested Flycatcher represents summer well. I don't get to see them often, though, because they like to hang out high in the canopy, so I was happy when one came into view along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh…

The famous lemon yellow belly of a Great Crested Flycatcher is always a welcome sight on a summer day.

Great Crested Flycatchers don't have much of a crest when they are at rest!

The little "whiskers" around the base of the bill are called "rictal bristles." They have a sensory function to help flycatchers snatch insects from the air.


...there's the start of the crest!
...and it's back down.
...and there we have it (not as "great" as a cardinal's crest, but pretty none-the-less). 

About rictal bristles...
Rictal bristles are modified contour feathers (the outer feathers you can see). Contour feathers have a central rachis (also called a shaft) from which the vanes (the feathery part) attach. A vane is made of individual barbs (filaments). A rictal bristle is a feather without the barbs…just the rachis.

Flycatchers have rictal bristles around their bills to help them sense flying insects, but rictal bristles can also be protective by helping to keep insects out of a bird's eyes, or in the case of woodpeckers, by helping to keep wood chips out of their eyes. If you want to learn more about feather structure, click here for info on Cornell's "All About Birds" site.

I saw this bird at the Biggest Week in American birding on the Magee Marsh boardwalk back in May.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

'Tis the season for baby birds...

Rick spotted this newly fledged American Robin in our front yard this morning. It was about 7:15, and the grass was still wet with dew. The little bird was sitting in the grass pecking around in the ground, looking like he was not at all happy with the prospect of digging his own worms for breakfast...

A small clump of dirt clings to this fledgling's bill, evidence of his recent attempts of being the early bird getting the worm.



...gotta love the little downy "hair tufts" still clinging to his head!

Momma Robin was nearby in the tree keeping an eye on the fledgling.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A whole bunch of cute...

Our little office Killdeer chicks (from this post) hatched Monday—our first successful brood! Larry spotted the babies running in and out of the rocks and up and down the grassy banks in the early afternoon. I went home to get the camera, and by the time I returned a mowing crew had descended. Drama for the chicks! Within a few hours of hatching out of the safety of their eggs, a mighty iron beast was chasing them around Seapine's north green. What an introduction to the world!

Clover blossoms tower over the tiny Seapine Killdeer Chick #1.
I flagged down the lawnmower man, and pointed out the chicks to him. He promised to keep the lawnmower crew away from their nesting grounds. These fluffy little chicks will spend a good portion of their lives watching for and escaping from predators, they didn't need to spend their first few hours scurrying away from a lawnmower. Three of the four eggs in the nest hatched, and all three chicks are still doing well. I watched them running around outside my office this afternoon. Adorable!

Seapine Killdeer Chick #2

Seapine Killdeer Chick #3


Precocial chicks are up and running within hours of hatching. These chicks are just a few hours old.

After hatching out of their shells and waiting for their feathers to dry, precocial Killdeer chicks are ready to run around. They quickly start pecking at the ground, learning to look for insects and other food. Even though they can run around, they can't fly yet and are not completely self-sufficient. They still need their parents for protection. If you get too close, the parents will call out a warning, and the chicks will freeze and hunker down. When the parents feel all is well, they give the all clear with another call. I was seated on the ground fairly far away (these photos are heavily cropped), so the parents didn't perceive me as a threat, and I didn't get to see the behavior.

...balls of fluff with legs.




Killdeer couples can have 1-3 broods a season, so since their first brood was successful, there is a chance they will nest here again after this brood. Killdeer chicks will stay with their parents for about a month, then they fledge and move on. If we're lucky, we will get another go around with these cute birds!

Go Seapine wildlife!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wood Ducks in a tree...

…when you hear a noise, look up, and see a male and female Wood Duck perched in a tree above you, you can't help but smile (or even, as in my case, laugh out loud). It is fun seeing these dignified and beautiful birds romping around in a tree. It shouldn't be surprising though—they nest in cavities in trees, but if you're not used to seeing "ducks out of water," it can take you by surprise...

Male and female Wood Ducks perch high above the boardwalk at Magee Marsh (near Toledo, OH).
Male Wood Ducks are such dapper fellows, impeccably groomed with a flair that surpasses all of their other ducky cousins. Their outrageously colorful plumage complements the female's understated and elegant markings, and they both possess a sophisticated charm that belies their ability to perch in trees!

When you see those little webbed feet wrapped around a branch, you have to smile!
Wood Ducks have small claws on their toes that enable them to climb in trees and perch easily, which comes in handy when choosing a nesting cavity! Since Wood Ducks don't have the ability to drill out their own holes like a woodpecker, they often use abandoned woodpecker holes (or man-made nesting boxes). They can use cavities with entrances as small as four inches, and they often prefer the smaller size because it helps keep out predators (source: Cornell, All About Birds). When baby Wood Ducks venture out of their nest (only a day after hatching), they truly make a leap of faith. Mama Wood Duck whistles for them below on the  ground or in the water if the nest is above water, coaxing them out of their safe, warm home. They fling themselves clear of the entrance and fall...and fall...and fall to the ground or water below. They can endure tremendous falls, bouncing like balls when they hit the ground or bobbing like corks when they hit the water. I've read reports of drops from 50-60 feet up to 290 feet (Cornell). Their fluffy feathers and the fact that their bodies are still mostly composed of cartilage instead of bone keeps them safe.

For a few videos showing baby Wood Ducks dropping out of their nesting cavity, click here and here.

...the head-on view of our Woody's face. I love the red eyes, red bill and green forehead and crown from this angle!
Woodies live in wooded swamps, in woods along rivers and streams, and in bottomland forests, which is why I see them any time I canoe the Little Miami River in the summer. Click here for an earlier post of an encounter Rick and I had with juvenile Wood Ducks on the Little Miami River.

I took these photos on May 13, 2014 while I was at the Biggest Week in American Birding at Magee Marsh in Toledo, OH.

In the Cincinnati area, it's easy to find Wood Ducks along the Little Miami River. Click here to learn more about the scenic Little Miami.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Killdeer nest on the north green...

We finally have a nesting pair of Killdeer at the office! Larry spotted the nest a week or so ago, and I photographed the bird and the eggs on May 20. We set up a ring of orange cones around the nest to keep the evil lawnmower man from inadvertently running over it. I checked the nest over the weekend, and Momma Killdeer is still attending her four eggs...

Momma Killdeer keeping a watchful eye on the nest.
Killdeer usually lay four eggs in a nest that is nothing more than a scrape in the dirt. They love gravelly areas, so it was no surprise our couple placed their nest near the rocky swale leading to the detention pond. Killdeer are not timid birds, and they don't shy away from human habitation. They often nest in gravel along parking lots and sidewalks. Last June I photographed a Killdeer couple that nested at the Lindner Family Tennis Center...right in the middle of the action (click here if you want to read about that encounter).

Four Killdeer eggs hidden in plain sight. 
The cryptic coloration pattern on the eggs provides camouflage. If you don't know exactly where to look, the eggs are nearly invisible. Killdeer are members of the plover family, which makes them shorebirds, but you don't have to go to the shore to see them. They love short grass, meadows, gravelly driveways and roadsides, golf courses, and even construction areas. They do like to be near water, however, and our slow-moving little stream seems to do the trick (yeah, little stream!). It's easy to distinguish Killdeer from other plovers because they have two black breast bands and a red eye ring. You would think this plumage coloration would make them easy prey for predators, but the black bands provide disruptive coloration, an effective camouflage pattern for rocky and gravelly terrain.

Two black breast bands and a red eye ring distinguish adult Killdeer from other plovers.
Killdeer move on the ground like other plovers, running in short bursts and then stopping suddenly. If you get too close to the nest, one of the nesting pair will exhibit a broken-wing distraction display. You know you're too close to the nest if you see the bird flopping around like it has a broken wing while uttering a pitiful cry. The adult is trying to lead you away from the nest. I didn't get a photo of the broken-wing distraction display because I used my long lens and was far away. I didn't want to disturb the couple because I wanted to make sure they would stick around. Click here for the tennis center post mentioned earlier, which has an example of the broken-wing behavior.

After a short mad dash, our little Killdeer pauses to look around.

I can never resist that beautiful red eye ring!
Killdeer chicks are precocial, which means when they hatch their eyes are open, and they are ready for business! Unlike robins, cardinals, sparrows, and other common songbirds that hatch blind, featherless, and unable to feed themselves (altricial), Killdeer chicks hatch with fluffy feathers, and they are up, moving, and ready to eat on their own as soon as their feathers dry. Precocial birds stay in the egg twice as long as altricial songbirds, which usually hatch in about two weeks. Our little Killdeer hatchlings won't make an appearance until they have incubated for about 25 days. Until then, the orange cones will stay on the north green...

Stay away lawnmower man (as well as raccoons, opossums, skunks, foxes, squirrels, and even mice...all predators of the ground nesting Killdeer).