Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Business as usual at the heronry...and our Chipping Sparrows are back!!

Just about all the couples at the Great Blue Heron rookery are sitting on nests, and the activity seems to be increasing during the day. Some of the nests have been occupied for almost a month. The first day I saw any of the couples sitting on a nest was March 6, and it takes about a month for the eggs to hatch, so any day now…

Three of the six sycamore trees that support the colony 
of herons nesting in the rookery. The heronry looks 
almost empty here, but it's completely full. Little 
heads can be seen just above the rim of the nests.

Last week on the 26th they were sitting on nests…

Today on the 31st, again they are sitting on nests... But today there was a whole lotta shakin’ going on! The mama or the papa would get up, move around a little, play with the nest a little, or turn the eggs a little…then settle back in, which was neat to watch…sort of like “whack a mole” at the amusement park only    i  n     s  l  o  w     m  o  t  i  o  n     !

She or he's up, adjusting the nest or rotating the eggs...

...and down, keeping the eggs warm.

...and his or her neighbor is up, adjusting the nest or rotating the eggs...

...and down, keeping the eggs warm.

Beak Bit
Male and female herons take turns sitting on the eggs, but the Birds of North America Online site indicates that the males sit on the nests for about 10.4 hours each day and females only 3.5 hour each day. The female does most of the incubating at night. Adults usually spend about 54 minutes of each hour sitting on eggs, and they rotate the eggs about once every 2 hours. The females do most of the nest constructing, but the males bring in sticks for the nests.

Even though most of the birds have been sitting on eggs, males still continue to bring in sticks for the nests. It's almost a continuous stream of herons flying in with sticks.

Papa bringing another stick in for the nest...

While I was watching all the popping up and down of the herons, I suddenly heard the familiar buzzy trill of a small flock of Chipping Sparrows! Yeah! They are back. I watched and listened to them trill down the tree line. There were five of them, and they were, needless to say, exceptionally cute. I spent too much time watching them and not enough time trying to photograph them, but I did catch a Song Sparrow that was about 20 feet away.

...the Song Sparrow looking slightly ruffled...

No bluebird sightings today, however...

Note   If you're just tuning in to this blog, you might want to go to the first entry in this series to find out more about these herons.

Two very bloggy awards!

How lucky is that?

Van Gogh’s Ear Award
The first award is from Chris from Chris Photo Nature (Thank you, Chris!). Chris’s blog is very interesting. He is based out of Iceland and always has a nice series of photos. 

In keeping with the Van Gogh artist/painter theme, I’m passing this award on to two artist/painters:

Painted Thoughts blog
The Fenlandwalker – Birding and Countryside Blog

Kreative Blogger Award
The second award is from Laure of Painted Thoughts blog and is called the Kreative Blogger award (Thank you, Laure!). Laure is a fantastic artist. I read her blog every day for artistic inspiration.  

I’m passing this award on to:

Heather of the Hills
Roy’s World
The Early Birder
Pittswood Birds

Monday, March 30, 2009

A very sick American Goldfinch...

About a week and a half ago Rick spied this poor little goldfinch at one of our feeders. It broke my heart as soon as I saw him because I recognized the signs of a very sick bird. He was puffed out, a little too tame, and was showing labored breathing. I had been reading about the salmonella outbreak on many of the blogs due to the irruption of Pine Siskins and was hoping our area would stay safe, but I guess not. I stopped feeding the birds and luckily haven’t seen another infected bird. Maybe he had something else. 

If it were a very cold winter’s day he would 
look cute all fluffed up, but even then, you can 
see in his eye that he doesn’t feel well. 

We didn’t find his body anywhere in the yard, 
so maybe he survived, or flew off somewhere. 
It was heartbreaking to watch his labored breathing.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wilson's Snipe, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Voice of America (VOA) Park

Saturday morning Rick, Matty and I ran over to VOA Park (the old Voice of America site) to see if we could flush and photograph a few Wilson’s Snipe. I had seen two there the week before and wanted to show them to Matty and Rick. Well….we flushed them, but they were too fast and zig-zaggy for me to capture on film. So instead, you get a field sketch of what I wish I had been able to photograph!

A quick field sketch of a Wilson's Snipe

I love these strange birds with the long bills. When they flush they burst up with a raspy squawk. I think I’d like to spend a couple hours in that meadow just being very quiet and still, waiting for one to return to the flush area. I could put down a little blanket, hunker down in the weeds, and just listen and wait (did an image of Linus and the Great Pumpkin just pop into your head...because it did mine...).

A Little Beak Bit
Here are some interesting tid-bits on the Wilson’s Snipe taken directly from The Birds of North America Online:
The name “snipe” is derived from “snite,” a variant of “snout,” and refers to the long bill of the bird. The French and Spanish names are derived from bec, “beak.” The snipe’s long beak has sensory pits near the tip, a character shared with other sandpipers, which help individuals detect prey as they probe in mud for small invertebrates. The eyes of the snipe are set remarkably far back on its head, providing full vision to both sides and a binocular overlap to the rear. This arrangement enables a bird to detect the approach of a predator while its beak is fully buried in the substrate.
Since we were in a marshy meadow, Meadowlarks were all around. At first I could just hear them calling back and forth, but soon one popped into view. He was pretty far away, so the photos aren’t the best, but you can see his deep yellow and black bib.

We had a lot of fun. We stayed at the top part of VOA park (the small ponds and wetland that borders Tylersville Rd...right next to the monstrous strip mall). Amazing something so beautiful nests so close to a heavily congested area.

Matty was happy because he was squishing around in the mud...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Killdeer exhibiting the False Brooding Display

As I was leaving the rookery on Thursday, I noticed movement at the edge of the parking lot near the grass and saw two Killdeer scurry across the pavement. I stopped the car and got out with my camera. I thought I’d use the car door as a blind, but then decided to get back in and drive a little closer and shoot out the window. That was a good move because I was able to get pretty close! 

The male watched me intently (not sure he’s 
the male, but he seemed like the leader of the pair).

Every now and then he would bob up and down like he 
had the hiccoughs. I had read earlier that when a Killdeer 
notices an intruder (me and my car!), it stops to look 
at the intruder and at the same time bobs up and down.

He continued to remain "on alert," eyeing me over his shoulder!

 With every click of the camera, he would rotate his head to face me.

Neither of the couple did the classic Injury-feigning Display where the bird will sort of crouch down or flop around on the ground with what seems to be a broken wing trying to lead the intruder away from the nest, so I guess I wasn’t too much of a threat, but the female did slip into the False Brooding display. At first I thought she was exhibiting some sort of courtship behavior and was encouraging the male because she was sitting on the ground with her rufous rump-patch exposed. However, after reading about the False Brooding Display, I realized that was what she was doing. The False Brooding Display is a distraction display, which like the Injury-feigning Display is designed to get the intruder’s mind off the real nest, thus protecting the eggs or nestlings from predation.

The female hunkered down on the ground like she was 
sitting on a nest and actively showed her rufous rump-patch.

Every now and then she would look over her shoulder 
at me and continue to fluff up those rufous feathers.

Eventually she calmed down and decided I was no 
threat, as she got up and walked around with the male.

The Birds of North America Online has a nice description of the distraction displays.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"The bluebird carries the sky on his back."

There is nothing like the blue of an Eastern Bluebird filling your camera lens! So vibrant and happy! When I arrived at the rookery today, the rain had just stopped and the sun was starting to peak out. The ground was making a squishy, settling sound that was quite nice, and as I listened and looked up into the sycamore trees to see what the herons were doing, I saw movement in a tree about 20 feet from me...and then that wonderful flash of blue that is always such a surprise! I quickly focused in a found this little male perched nicely for me. I had to step into a few sprigs of multi-flora rose for a better angle. If I moved even slightly to the left or right the autofocus would zoom in on a small branch and Little Blue would go out of focus, so I had stay put, which was pretty easy to do considering I was anchored in place by the thorns! Small price to pay for the Bluebird of Happiness...

So beautiful. This Eastern Bluebird sat and posed for me for a long time.

Every now and then, he would drop down to the
ground to grab an insect then fly back up to his perch.

When a bluebird turns his back on you, it's quite all
right! Henry David Thoreau's quote, "The bluebird
carries the sky on his back," fits this photo so well...

I finally noticed his mate sitting about 10 feet behind him on the lower branches of a Sycamore tree. She was not nearly as vibrant, but lovely just the same.

His mate was preening and still appears to
be a bit wet from the earlier rain shower.

Bye Mrs. Blue. I hope to see you at the rookery again!

Nintey Years of Birdwatching...

My husband just sent me this article on CNN.com/technology, Ninety years of birdwatchers' notes going online. Written by Azadeh Ansari, the article announces the work of J.A. Loring and 3,000 other citizen scientists:
These note cards -- 6 million of them, spanning almost a century -- contain a trove of invaluable information that could help unravel the effects of climate change on bird behavior.

"This is the longest and most comprehensive legacy data set on bird migration that we know to exist," said Jessica Zelt, who coordinates the North American Bird Phenology Program at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
Data in the research will help scientists learn about climate changes and how they are affecting the birds, and may help answer the question I asked in my previous post:
Climate change already has affected bird populations. Birds use temperature as a cue for many life-cycle decisions. They are also at the mercy of weather patterns that can affect biological processes such as when and where they migrate, and when they breed.

"Warmer temperatures will lead to earlier springs, and local plants and insects will come out earlier. However, if bird arrival dates remain the same, then they are potentially at a disadvantage, as the primary food [insects] for their young may no longer be at its peak," said Sam Droege, an ornithologist at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Habitat loss, pollution, climate change and competition from invasive species have all reduced North American bird populations.

A recent survey, "The U.S. State of Birds," conducted by government agencies, conservation organizations and citizen volunteers, found that nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in serious decline.
It will be very interesting to read these handwritten notes. They have already scanned 200,000 cards and transcribed more than 17,000. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What has happened to our White-throated Sparrows?

The lilting song of “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada,” usually so ubiquitous in the spring at our house, is strangely missing, and the feel around here is empty because of it. The White-throated Sparrows usually stay around well into May, but I haven’t had any for at least three weeks. In February they were still here as described in this post of "Spring sounds are starting to pop up," but over night they vanished.

Rick took this photo last spring. This spring, the 
White-throated Sparrows have gone unaccounted for.

I don’t know if their early departure is from recent habitat destruction about a mile from our house, or if they just took flight north way, way early because they were tired of our digs. Has anyone else noticed diminished numbers, or is my yard’s population an anomaly?

I really miss these songsters. Spring is just a bit empty 
without their lovely song. I look forward to it every year!

Another bird missing from our ranks is the White-crowned Sparrow. We had a few in February, but they have disappeared early also. Their numbers are never as big as the White-throated and we only had a few popping up every now and then this winter. A couple years ago, they were regular visitors, but this year, they were more sporadic.

Rick also capture this shot last spring. No 
White Crowns have been around since February. 

A small woods was taken down in our area, and we lost 3 huge bushes around the feeders last autumn due to the drought, so maybe habitat destruction has something to do with it. Are they sensitive to Starlings? We had a very large flock move in late winter. The other birds don't seem to mind, but maybe they are more timid? I have no idea...but something is up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Will today be the last day for our American Tree Sparrows?

Usually the sun keeps away from our north-facing kitchen window, but for a brief time in the morning a few rays creep into the tree and on the feeder just outside the window. The other morning, as I was getting ready to fry an egg, I peeked out and saw the sun lighting up the browns in this American Tree Sparrow' feathers as it nipped at the thistle. The browns were so rich and warm I let out an "ooohhh......" and ran for the camera!

The sun enhanced the brown feathers on this 
tree sparrow, making them glow with warmth.

I will miss this little fellow and his flock because they kept us entertained all winter. After the big snow, we had 20+ eating, flitting, twittering and looking cute daily at the kitchen window feeders. The entire month of February was an American Tree Sparrowfest. All you had to do was glance out the window to find either a small group or the whole flock busily going about their business, which usually involved eating seeds, twittering, or looking up at me as I cracked the kitchen window to listen to them! 

A brave little fellow, he would barely flinch as I cracked 
the kitchen window for better viewing and listening!

I wonder how much longer they will be around…will today be the last day? I’m keeping track. Three were at the feeder this morning, but when I came home late this afternoon, there were none. In their place will come the Chipping Sparrows, but they are usually not as feeder friendly, preferring instead, the insects found in the grasses in our back yard. That’s okay. I will set up a portable bird blind and watch the chippy little cuties hopping around scoring invertebrates off the grasses, and I'll snap their pictures in the sun too.

Click here for a previous post on American Tree Sparrows, and a little more information on them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Red-bellied's red belly!

We don’t often get to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker’s red belly. Because woodpeckers spend most of their time hugging branches, limbs or tree trunks, the belly goes unobserved. When I took this photo, I didn’t realize I captured his rosy-colored belly feathers and was surprised when I brought it up in Aperture to crop it down.

I wouldn't call this the reddest belly out there, 
but if you look closely, you can see the rosy color.

Kel, the feeder is getting low! 
 ...if I can just turn upside down, I might be able to….

Everyone thinks those pesky little downies are so 
cute, but I’ve a few cute tricks up my sleeve as well…

…try my left side...I think it's better…

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Vögel im Garten!

Tonight’s post is coming all the way from Münich, Germany, where my sis-in-law, Sabine, and nieces, Sarah (8) and Alyssa (4), have recently become bird watching enthusiasts! Yeah! I now have a direct link to European birds, and to top it off, Sabine sent me three German bird guides so I can learn the names of the European birds auf Deutsch.

Alyssa (4), Sabine, Sarah (8)

Sarah and Alyssa decided they wanted to turn their back yard into a bird sanctuary so Sabine bought some birdseed and a feeder to get them started. After almost two months of waiting patiently for the birds to arrive, Sarah decided the birds couldn’t see the feeder in their yard very well, and if she ever wanted to see any bird action out there she would have to make some improvements. So she enlisted Alyssa’s help, and together they constructed a big ring of stones on the ground to catch the eye of any bird flying by.  To make sure the birds hung around, she sprinkled birdseed inside it. She also thought the birds might be thirsty, so she added a little bowl of water, and guess what? The next day ein kleines Rotkelchen (European Robin) showed up, and soon after many other birds started visiting the bird sanctuary too.

Ein süßes Rotkelchen. These little birds always seem 
to have such a sweet expression on their faces!

This little cutie is called eine Blaumeise (Blue Tit, 
Parus caeruleus). He looks like a very colorful 
chickadee and must be fun to watch. 

A group of Grünfink (Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris) 
hanging out in the miniature Bird Stonehenge. Way to go 
Sarah and Alyssa for coming up with the design! 
I think the bright red bowl was a good eye catcher too.

Eine Amsel (Eurasian Blackbird, Turdus merula). He 
seems to be a combination of our Robin and our Blackbird.

A very cute Feldsperling (Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus). 
He is similar to the House Sparrow (Haussperling) but has 
a brown cap and black cheek spot. Both birds also go by “Spatz.”

As time goes by hopefully Sabine, Sarah and Alyssa will keep us up to date with new Deutsche Vögel. I think Sarah and Alyssa might be on their way to becoming naturalists, and Sabine admits she is now running to the window (just like the rest of us) to see which bird is at the bird feeder with camera in hand. Thanks guys for sending me the photos and the books!!!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cincinnati-area American Bald Eagle News

I just talked to Aunt Pat and Uncle John about the eagle’s nest they can see on the way to their cabin in Brown County, Ohio. The eagle couple is definitely sitting on eggs. This is their fifth year to nest there. Eagle couples mate for life. Last year, there were three babies in the nest. No babies yet this year. Only mama or papa's head can be seen popping up over the rim of the nest. Once the babies hatch out, the parents move to the side of the nest. The offspring from the first nest are now 4 years old, which means they are old enough to reproduce. Since children usually nest within 100 miles of their birthplace, there's a chance that one of the eagles on the new nest in Butler County were from this original pair. Who knows...maybe next year another of their offspring may be thinking about starting a family of his or her own near us!

I have no eagle photos yet, but Larry does. Here are a few photos he took in the the Grand Teton National Park.

I really like this photo. The eagle seems 
to be giving Larry the eye!

A sight I hope to see in Cincinnati soon!

This Wild Birds Unlimited blog has some interesting info and photos on American Bald Eagles.

Laure of Painted Thoughts sent me a link to a live Eagle Nest Cam. Click here to check it out.