Monday, April 29, 2013

The gnatcatcher and the caterpillar...

While I sat in the grass watching a Red-shouldered Hawk's nest, this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher landed on a branch in a tree very close to me. I had been sitting still for a while, so maybe he didn't notice me, or maybe the promise of tasty crawly eats overrode the danger of a human with a camera...

This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was studying something on a branch above him. I knew whatever it was had to be important because the little bird had come in so close to me. I wondered what it was and imagined a fat and juicy caterpillar inching along unaware of its impending doom...

...sure enough, the male gnatcatcher snatched up the protein-rich larva right in front of me!  The instant I clicked the shutter, he glanced my way, warning me off the tasty treat with a birdy (but steely) stink eye... 

Yum...fresh caterpillar... that another? definitely was, and within seconds, he jumped to the next branch over and nabbed another unsuspecting caterpillar. 

How do you tell a male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher from a female? 
Just look for "eyebrows." During the breeding season when males are in their alternate breeding plumage, you'll see a thick, black line above their eyes:

Male Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in breeding plumage sport dark eyebrows! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Red-shouldered Hawks on nest along the Little Miami River...

I took the afternoon off work today and headed to the Little Miami River. It's been so long since I've spent an afternoon looking for birds, and I loved it. The spring migrants are moving in, and I could hear their new birdsong filling the river corridor. I saw lots and lots of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and heard and saw my first Northern Parula and Indigo Bunting of the season, but seeing a male and female Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) on their nest was the highlight....

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
A male Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) on a nest. He flew in to relieve the larger female (hidden from view).
This nest is located on the Little Miami River and bike trail about a half mile from the abandoned Peter's Cartridge factory. I saw it last year, but construction was only half-hearted and the hawks never occupied it, but earlier this year, when snow was still on the trail, I noticed the nest was slowly being beefed up, and today I saw why...mama and papa have settled in!

...eventually the larger female Red-shouldered Hawk starts to pop up. It's time for her to fly out.

...there she is. You can see how much larger she is.

...stretching her wings.

...right after this shot, she flew out of the nest to an adjacent tree. Then she took off. I can't wait to see the babies after the eggs hatch. Let's hope the couple is successful. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sweet Swamp Sparrow at Spring Valley Nature Area...

Before we went to the Little Miami trail to look for the eagle's nest (click here for that post), Rick and I spent some time on the boardwalk at Spring Valley hoping to catch a glimpse of the Virginia Rails. We heard two rails calling close to the observation deck, but they stayed hidden in the cattails. That was okay, though, because while we waited patiently for the rails to peek out, a very pretty Swamp Sparrow caught our eye as he waded in and out of the shallow water around the observation deck...  

A Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
A male Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) wading into the water looking for something to eat. 

A Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
True to their names, Swamp Sparrows really like water. This fellow acted more like a shorebird wading through the water than a sparrow.  

A Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
A Swamp Sparrow from behind is pretty. I like his droopy wings and rusty colors.

A Swamp Sparrow sitting on dead cattail stalks at Spring Valley Nature Area.
A Swamp Sparrow perches on dead cattail stalks. He was singing his lovely song from this perch. He's probably migrating through, though, not setting up a territory. Swamp Sparrows breed in Ohio, but much further north. 
It was really nice to just sit on the observation deck in the warm sun and listen to the Red-winged Blackbirds singing all through the marsh. Beautiful Blue-winged Teal flew over regularly, and an Osprey took to the wing flying by low. Painted Turtles were everywhere basking on logs, and we could hear frogs and toads from the marsh edges...

Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) basking in the sun at Spring Valley Nature Area.
Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) on a submerged log soak up a bit of sun. was hard to leave the boardwalk. I loved lazing the time away in the warm sun just watching and listening to the birds. If that log were bigger I would have crawled out there and joined the turtles!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An American Bald Eagle on a nest along the Little Miami River...

Last October, Matty and I spent some time up at the Spring Valley Wildlife Area photographing what we thought might be an eagle's nest (click here for that post). Today Rick and I drove up to see if it was...and it was!

An American Bald Eagle sits on a nest along the Little Miami River at the Spring Valley Wildlife Area
Okay...squint, step back and look carefully. Yes, it's there...a white head and a dark body. Finally, I've seen an American Bald Eagle on the Little Miami River. The quality of the photo is poor, but I was over 500 yards away shooting from the bike trail, and then I cropped the image to an inch of its life to try to make out the eagle. 

A huge eagle's nest fills a sycamore along the Little Miami River near the Spring Valley Wildlife Area. This is the view from the bike trail...
View of the eagle's nest from the bike trail. The nest is bigger now than it was this October, and there's no mistaking an eagle is in residence. When you look through binocs or the spotting scope, you can clearly see the bird, but through a 400mm lens, the eagle is nothing more than a bump on a blob!

This huge sycamore hugs the Little Miami River. Canoeists floating down the river are in for a treat if they look up! From the bike trail, it's a different story. However, just hang out at Spring Valley for a while, and you'll see the adults flying overhead or even grabbing a fish from the water. Rick and I spoke with a fisherman at the lake, and he said he's seen an eagle several times swooping down to catch a fish. What a sight!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lesser Yellowlegs foraging in a flooded field...

The sky was gray as the late afternoon sun faded away behind heavy clouds, but not even the approaching gloom could dim the spectacular yellow color of the legs on a Lesser Yellowlegs as he picked through the shallow waters of a flooded field at Voice of America (VOA) MetroPark...

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
A Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) forages in the shallow waters of a flooded field at VOA MetroPark in West Chester, Ohio.

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
A Lesser Yellowlegs has his eye on something...
Is that a Lesser Yellowlegs or Greater Yellowlegs? I'm pretty sure this guy is a Lesser. He didn't seem tall enough to be a Greater. The best way to tell Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs apart is to look at their height, bulk, and the length of their bill. Lessers are about 10 inches tall and have dark bills about the same size as their heads. Greaters are about 14 or 15 inches tall and have slightly upturned bills a little longer their heads. Greaters are more bulky as well.  

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
The water in the flooded fields wasn't that deep, but it was perfect for Lesser Yellowlegs. Earlier I saw this fellow nab a small crawdad (aka crawfish or crayfish) and there were empty crawdad shells scattered all over the fields where the water had receded. Maybe he has his eye on another?
Where did all of those crawfish shells come from? To grow larger, a crawfish must shed its shell and grow a new one. It may do this ten to fifteen times in its lifetime. After it molts, it is very soft, so it pumps itself up with water to gain girth and make lots of room for the new shell to form. Crawfish are mature at two years and can live up to seven years (click here for more information on crawfish).

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
The classic profile of this beautiful bird...

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
 A Lesser Yellowlegs foraging in a vernal pool in late afternoon light.

A Lesser Yellowlegs gets ready to nab dinner while "fishing" in a vernal pool at VOA MetroPark. out crawdad!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spring's beauties...

It was cool this afternoon at 46 degrees, but it was sunny, and you could feel the shift of winter to spring in the warmth of its rays, so I headed over to the Little Miami River to see if any wildflowers were blooming. I knew I wouldn't be able to walk very long, but I wanted to see some of spring's beauties...

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) - the first wildflower of spring.
Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)
Spring Beauties are one of the first ephemerals to bloom along the Little Miami River.

...the five stamens and long thin leaves of a Spring Beauty make it easy to identify this spring ephemeral.
When identifying Spring Beauties, look for five stamens with pink anthers and long thin leaves. The stem is often reddish and the petals have beautiful pink striations.  

Golden-crowned Kinglet...another one of spring's beauties (...although we have Golden-crowned Kinglets in our woods all winter, they look especially sweet in spring).