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- I've seen 168 species of birds so far in 2013
Most recently added to my year list:
6/11: Cliff Swallows (Lifer!)
5/30: Indigo Bunting at our feeders during thunderstorm 5/19: Chimney Swifts flying over our house
5/15: Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Parula, Bay-breasted Warbler, many more warblers, and LIFER: Canada Warbler
5/10: LIFER: Golden-winged Warbler
5/9: LIFERS: American Bittern, Rusty Blackbird, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Cape May Warbler
5/7: New LIFE birds -- Worm-eating Warbler and Mourning Warbler!!
Other warblers seen today: Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, Chestnut-sided, and lots more....
And the rest of my photos on Flickr…
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Last night I joined some new friends for an evening of watching Bald Eagles and Osprey at Stony Creek park. Both species have nests with one nestling each right now, and the nests can be seen from the same spot, making it easy to keep an eye on any action at either one.
Before I tell you about what we saw, I want to mention that this was my first time to meet Rob Golda of Hiking Michigan, after my friend Dr. Bob had been urging me to do so for a while. I liked him a lot and I’m very impressed with the broad natural knowledge he keeps stored in that head of his! I can see why his Hiking Michigan outings are so popular around this part of the state. Just a few of the things Rob told us about during the evening: how to identify poison ivy by shape (using your hands as models), how to make sassafras tea, and how not to remove a tick from your body. My solution for that last one is to not allow the little bloodsuckers to get on me in the first place…ick.
I’m going to show you a few pics, but I have to say that I didn’t get many great ones, despite using my biggest lens and tripod (400mm with 1.4 extender). I have a lot of difficulty getting my manual focus right with the big lens, so I’m often disappointed with the results, even after sharpening in Photoshop. I guess the conditions were challenging though, with the nests being so far away (200 yards), so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on my photographer self. The one below was by far my best photo of the evening, one of the adult osprey flying over us on the way back to the nest with some soft bedding material (at least that’s what we presume it would use the grasses for).
That’s pretty neat, isn’t it? At one point the Osprey flew over our heads from the nest, heading directly toward the Bald Eagle nest. We all held our breath as we watched, wondering if the adult eagles would come after him. I grabbed my camera off the tripod just in case there was going to be some drama, but nothing happened. The Osprey continued on to a nearby pond and came back a few minutes later with the grasses trailing from his talons. The Osprey nest is on a cell tower, a common place for large birds of prey to nest in urban areas. It’s always amazing to me that the birds use this particular nest location, because it’s directly adjacent to a busy shooting club with frequent gunshots ringing out. I get more annoyed by the gunshots than they do, apparently.
We were hoping to see the eaglet taking some practice flights, but she stayed firmly perched in the nest all evening, occasionally stretching her wings and giving us renewed hope for a practice flight. One of the parents was in the nest with her at the beginning of the evening, but later moved to a nearby tree to rest. The other parent was in another tree as well. Here’s an article about the eagle nest in a local paper if you’d like to read more about it.
Of course while we were all chatting during the evening, I was also keeping my eyes and ears open for other birds. We were beside a large pond and marsh, so naturally there were lots of Red-winged Blackbirds around. I was happy to hear the near-constant songs of Marsh Wrens too, although I never managed to see one of them. Here’s the list of species I reported to eBird last night:
15 species +2 other taxa
duck sp. 1
Turkey Vulture 2
Bald Eagle 3
Sandhill Crane 2
Empidonax sp. 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Marsh Wren 2 (heard them calling in response to each other)
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Yellow Warbler 4
Indigo Bunting 1
Red-winged Blackbird X
Baltimore Oriole 1
American Goldfinch 3
It’s unusual for me to go on a nature outing with other people who aren’t birders, so this was a nice change. For once I got to be the person who identified the birds before everyone else! I got to show people Yellow Warblers and a Common Yellowthroat, but most of the other small birds I saw while other people were talking and I didn’t want to interrupt them. I had to keep telling myself that not everyone cares to know the identity of every single bird that flies by like I do. (I think I have OBD — obsessive birding disorder.)
One of the most interesting things, which we all saw, was a Red-winged Blackbird harassing two Sandhill Cranes on the far side of the pond. At first we could barely see the cranes’ heads poking out of the vegetation, and could see the blackbirds dive-bombing them repeatedly. I imagine the cranes were too close to a nest. I’ve seen quite a few instances of Red-winged Blackbirds violently attacking other birds this spring; they’re extremely protective of their territories and won’t hesitate to buzz a curious human either.
The cranes slowly worked their way down into the pond, emerging from the vegetation so we got beautiful full-body views of them in the evening sun. And as you can see in the picture here, one of the blackbirds wasn’t finished with guard duty. It was basically riding on the crane’s backside as he walked through the water. The blackbird would flutter up and come back down, and I couldn’t tell if it was actually pecking the crane. But then it just sat down and the crane didn’t seem to mind it hanging on like that. Such an odd behavior. It reminded me of birds that eat insects off of elephants or bison — a tiny bird on a larger animal.
As the sun got closer to the horizon I started to get chilly, so left the remaining three people in our group and and headed back to my car. On the way back I looked back toward the eagle nest from another vantage point and spotted the other adult sitting on a branch out in the open. I think a Bald Eagle looks majestic no matter how blurry the photo….
I’m still surprised at how much I enjoyed the evening last night. As is my way, I was a bit uncomfortable going out to meet a group of total strangers. It’s not that I’m shy, but rather that I worry that there will be people who talk too loud or are obnoxious or otherwise unpleasant to be around for an extended time. But I’m really glad I went despite my hesitation. Everyone was so nice and it was very low-key, just a group of nature lovers sharing time together at the end of the day. The scenery was beautiful, everyone had something interesting to contribute to the conversation, and the birds were singing and flying all around. We talked about bugs. We talked about wildflowers. We talked about photography. Now that’s my idea of a great night out!
You might be one too. Do you have books piled in every room of the house so you’ll always have something at hand to read? Do you keep a wish list on Amazon as a reminder of books you might want to buy? Do you, like me, download free sample chapters of Kindle books as further reminders of books to consider? Do you daydream about getting locked in a library or bookstore overnight? If so, you might be a bookaholic too.
I’ve been a book lover since childhood, when I devoured everything I could get my hands on, from Mad Magazine to the Encyclopedia Britannica. I have clear memories of ordering paperback books for 35 cents each through my school, and my excitement on the days the books arrived. It was like Christmas every time. Nice shiny new paperbacks with all those stories inside to transport me to exciting places. Couldn’t get enough then, and can’t get enough now. Although these days I tend to read more nonfiction than Nancy Drew mysteries.
But it’s not just about acquiring the books, it’s about reading them. Well, maybe it’s partly about simply having them, at least with the traditional printed books. Heck, some of them are really pretty.
But I have to admit, sometimes I get overwhelmed by my piles of books everywhere. And by my habit of reading too many at once because I got distracted by the next interesting one to come along. Don’t tell anyone, but I have lots of books I’ve never read at all. Like the six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson that I found at the library’s used book sale for $2 each and couldn’t pass up. I fully intend to read it, eventually.
I don’t treat all my books equally either. Some are just for grazing whenever I have a few free minutes. Others are for studying, highlighting, and ruminating over. Those are the ones that are dangerous, because I usually end up following the author’s citations to even more books. It’s sort of like going on the Internet and clicking a link, then clicking yet another link, and eventually forgetting where you started. Every book leads me to another, endlessly. And I love that.
Whatever the reasons or justifications for owning so many books, I know I’m certainly not alone in my compulsion to keep bringing more of them home. I’ll never forget the day my grad school professor had our class to his home for an end-of-semester party. I should explain that we were all in the masters program for library and information science, so there were many book lovers in the group. But as the professor gave us a tour of his lovely home in a historic section of Detroit, it quickly became apparent that he had us all beat in that department. Every wall of the house...every wall…was lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves jammed full. You’ve heard about Barbie’s Dream House? Well that was Kim’s Dream House. But the professor said the moving guys were none too pleased with them on moving day…too funny.
And while I love my Kindle and the ability to download a book instantly whenever I want to read it, I can’t imagine life without traditional printed books too. Some people predicted the death of print books when e-readers became popular, but I’m confident both forms will co-exist for a long time.
And just because it’s fun to share, here’s a list of some books I’m reading and/or browsing now, collected from various piles around the house:
- Binocular Vision: The Politics of Representation in Birdwatching Field Guides – Got this via interlibrary loan, so I only have it for 3 weeks….not long enough…need to focus!
- Peterson Field Guide: Eastern Forests – Birding has led me to an increased interest in habitat types.
- Atlas of Bird Migration – This is a great coffee table book to pick up, learn a bit, and put it back down.
- Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv
- Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, by Douglas Tallamy – Although I’ve heard about the importance of native plants for a long time, this is the first time I’ve really understood why they’re important to all of us.
- Out of the Woods: A Bird Watcher’s Year, by Ora Anderson – Charming stories of life in the woods of southeastern Ohio (near the area I grew up in).
So tell me what you’re reading lately…I need something else to read.
I ran away today. The road commission was out on our dirt & gravel road doing their never-ending maintenance, assailing my morning with the loud and incessant sounds of backup beepers and grinding truck engines. So I packed up my laptop and some books for writing inspiration and headed to the park, hoping to find a quiet spot for an afternoon of writing. Here’s how it went:
It’s a cool, sunny day, about 70 degrees with a brisk breeze that results in me being bombarded with a hail of cotton puffs from the cottonwood trees. I settle myself at a picnic table a couple hundred yards uphill from the lake, and get busy typing. Of course I’m immediately distracted by the birds, but I remind myself that I will not be birding today. I’m here for writing. But I still have my binoculars (“bins” in birderspeak) and 300mm lens, just in case something incredible happens by.
Just to get warmed up, the first couple paragraphs I type are about the birds I’m hearing and seeing. In particular, a chipping sparrow is singing constantly from the inner branches of the tree right in front of me. He even dropped down to the ground a couple times to nibble on a leaf or other delicious tidbit.
I finally put down the bins and resume writing, chastising myself for my lack of focus. I make some good progress in the next hour, stopping periodically to look at the birds. Suddenly it dawns on me that I could write about the experience of birding in one single tree. That seemed an intriguing idea, so that’s what I’m doing. Pretty clever, huh? I’m writing, but I’m also birding. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.
Before I tell you about the other birds, let me introduce our tree for the day. This is a 30 foot tall black locust tree located on the edge of a parking lot. At least I think that’s what it is, after perusing two tree field guides. Other trees nearby include cottonwoods, various evergreens, oaks, elms, and many more I don’t know how to identify (yet). There’s a large lawn area too.
The little chipping sparrow appeared to “own” this tree, as he sang from it for the entire three hours I was there, entertaining me with his pretty little song.
At one point I think I see a kingbird fly into the back side of the tree, but can’t confirm it. But 15 minutes later he pops into view on a branch right in front of me, posing nicely for his photo. I later watch him launching flycatching forays from the highest branches of the tree, grabbing insects midair. The kingbird is a member of the flycatcher family, birds that grab insects on the wing, often coming back to land again and again on the same branch. I’m always delighted to see this feat of timing and speed, not to mention eyesight. I can’t even see the insects they’re grabbing.
I open a document of notes I took at a writing workshop at the Biggest Week in American Birding. I read some of them. I look back up to try to see the chipping sparrow (because now that I know what I’m writing about, I realize that a photo of him would be a nice addition). As I look up, I see a bluebird fly out of the tree with a worm in its mouth. He flies overhead and goes into a tree behind me, where I soon see his mate as well. No matter how many times I see a bluebird, it always makes me smile because I think of the “Bluebird of Happiness.”
Back to my notes. The writing workshop was led by Dr. J. Drew Lanham, a professor at Clemson University. This was my first time being taught by him, and I came out of that workshop with some notes that I know I’ll refer to many times in my future writing efforts. One of my favorites of his ideas was to pick up a leaf nearby when you see a special bird, and insert it into your field guide to remind you of how you felt and what you saw at that moment. So I stopped in my writing to bend down and gather up some of the cottonwood seedpuffs that were coating the grass.
Now the breeze slows down and the air feels warmer. A robin starts singing loudly behind me. I can hear a blue-gray gnatcatcher in another tree nearby, and now goldfinches have gathered in the interior of our locust tree, softly chattering among themselves. A flicker announces his presence with his boisterous calls. And still the chipping sparrow sings every five or ten seconds. Does he sing for the pleasure of it, or to get a mate, or to protect his territory? Possibly a bit of all those, I think.
I stand up to stretch and see a turkey vulture soaring over our tree. As I sit down, some blue jays and crows are having an argument in the trees behind me. Two cowbirds land beneath the tree and walk around poking around in the grass.
A chickadee is singing his sad-sounding two-note call in a nearby tree. The breeze has brought a sweet smell now, from some plant I can’t see around me and can’t identify from the scent. But trust me, it’s lovely. I can’t inhale deeply enough. Maybe honeysuckle?
Down near the lake there are red-winged blackbirds calling occasionally. They seem to have already settled down from the noisy and aggressive early part of breeding season. A couple geese land in the lake as a red-bellied woodpecker makes a brief stop in our tree.
I keep writing. I make good progress, ending up with two draft articles for future use.
Then I hear a catbird softly mewing behind me. I play a catbird song on my Audubon bird app and he responds by singing back to me for twenty seconds or so. (I try to be judicious in my use of bird calls so as not to cause distress to the birds, but I thought in this situation it was ok to play it one time.)
So to summarize, I saw the following birds in this single locust tree during my three hour writing session: Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Bluebirds, American Goldfinches, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. This unassuming tree managed to feed or shelter at least five species of birds this afternoon, not to mention all the work it did to capture carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen to make our planet healthier. A tree is a special thing. (And this “one-tree birding” idea is fun and I might just try it again soon.)
And, just because I’m compelled to record all the birds, here are the others who didn’t actually visit our tree: Northern Flicker, American Crow, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Turkey Vulture, American Robin, Gray Catbird, and Black-capped Chickadee.
The sparrow is finally quiet and I find that I feel lonely without his pretty serenade to inspire me. I hope he’s taking a well-deserved nap up there in the cool interior of that lovely tree. I’m heading home, rejuvenated and relaxed, happy that I can share this peaceful afternoon with all of you.
Maybe a change of scenery and some fresh air would do you good too. Why not try it and find out? And don’t forget to hug a tree while you’re out there.
I confess that I’ve slacked off on my writing. Sure, I’m writing a lot, but most of what I’ve written lately is of the quick-and-dirty share-it-fast variety. My goal of becoming a better writer seems to have been shoved to the back burner during the heat of bird migration. But things are slowing down now and I’m getting refocused on it. And the more I write, the more I find that my vocabulary is inadequate. You may notice that I fall back on the same old words over and over again. I rely far too much on best, really, amazing, and awesome. Clearly, I need to broaden my vocabulary.
I will give myself credit for often putting aside what I’m reading to look up the definition of a word. That’s one thing I love about reading on my Kindle; it lets you highlight a word and click for the definition, instantly. But as I said, sometimes I get lazy and skip over a word that isn’t well known.
Today, for example, I was reading this post on the Nutty Birder. Eric Ripma used the word riparian to describe the habitats in which they were conducting a bird survey. I realized that I didn’t know the meaning of that word, despite having read it many times before. So I looked it up.
Riparian: relating to or living or located on the bank of a natural watercourse (as a river) or sometimes of a lake or a tidewater <riparian trees> (Definition from Merriam-Webster.com.)
I feel better now that I know that. And to make sure I remember it, I need to use it. So watch for that in future writing here.
In general, though, I have a pretty good understanding of word meanings. I used to love taking the vocabulary quizzes in Reader’s Digest, and always scored well on them. What I find more useful is a thesaurus, to help me reduce my dependency on some of those crutch words. You remember your worn paperback thesaurus from high school English classes — the book that gives you synonyms for any word. Thanks to Merriam-Webster’s online thesaurus, instead of writing: “This is a White-eyed Vireo, partly named for its amazing whitish iris,” I could have written: “This is a White-eyed Vireo, partly named for its captivating whitish iris.” I like that better because it conveys a more nuanced description of why I mentioned the bird’s eye in the first place. It’s what draws and holds your attention when you see this particular bird. I guess this is an appropriate place to show you the bird again…as if I needed an excuse.
Sometimes the choices I find in the thesaurus don’t seem to work, or they feel forced, like it’s not me writing them. I presume that would diminish with continued use of a larger variety of words. Who knows, maybe one day soon I’ll no longer talk and write like a teenager. Yeah, man, that would be totally awesome! LOL