Full-Frame Warbler Action on the Boardwalk!

I didn’t expect to be posting already on our first day at the Biggest Week in American Birding but we had such an extraordinary experience in only 90 minutes on the Magee Marsh boardwalk this afternoon that I just had to share with you. Mostly pictures, few words, because we have to be on a bus at 6:00 am tomorrow for an all-day field trip.

Since we only had a short time to bird this afternoon, we only managed to get halfway across the boardwalk before we had to turn back. But oh my gosh did we get a show! The warblers were coming down so close to us that I couldn’t even get pictures of them because my camera won’t focus that close.  For example, this Prothonotary Warbler was within arm’s reach of us for so long that I almost didn’t manage to get a picture of him, but when I did, just look at this beauty, filling the frame of the camera:

Prothonotary Warbler, only a couple feet away!

Prothonotary Warbler, only a couple feet away!

Most of my bird pictures have to be cropped down, but not that baby! Immediately after we saw him, we got good looks at this Ovenbird:

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

And then a moment later we bumped into Kim Kaufman giving a boardwalk tour to Jim Zehringer, Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Mr. Zehringer was so kind to me, asking questions and thanking me for my volunteer work on behalf of the festival. I really appreciated that, and after I got a good bear hug from Kim we moved on.

Next up was this stunning Black-and-white Warbler:

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

We saw quite a few Black-throated Green Warblers, and I got my first ever look at one of them from up on the observation tower, so I could see his gorgeous yellow-green back.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler seen from above -- isn't he gorgeous?

Black-throated Green Warbler seen from above — isn’t he gorgeous?

A very photogenic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A very photogenic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

We’re in our room at the Maumee Bay Lodge now watching a beautiful sunset over Lake Erie, winding down from the excitement of the first day, eagerly looking forward to tomorrow. It’s going to rain on us but somehow knowing that these amazing birds are still here makes that all right.

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration, Birds | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Having an Extrovert Episode

Reaching hands and sun via Flickr by timove with frame and captionYes, you heard me right: Extrovert Episode. You’ve probably not heard that phrase before, because I just made it up. But if you’re an introvert, you’ll immediately understand what I mean by it. It’s meant to describe those times when we introverts become unusually outgoing and involved with other people. We all experience this — sometimes for a short time (a few hours) and sometimes for longer. I’m in the midst of one of the longest extrovert episodes I’ve ever had, and I find myself thinking about what prompted me to reach out to the world this time.

I think it’s because in the past couple of years I’ve developed relationships with a small group of really interesting people who accept me for who I am. Many of these friendships began as a result of this blog, and I’m so glad I nudged myself beyond my usual comfort zone to open up about my life. I’ve been able to help other highly-sensitive people learn about themselves and how to cope with our always-doing-something-busy-busy-busy society. I’ve also connected with other people who love birds and nature as much as I do. Both of these groups of people have enriched my life in various ways, and I’ve been surprised to see how much overlap there is between the two. Maybe that’s part of the reason I feel so fulfilled by these friendships, because I’m connecting more often on a deeper level with people who share my outlook on the world. One of the most basic human needs is to be understood and appreciated by others, and I’m extremely grateful that I’ve started feeling some of that, finally. Every single person who has taken the time to get to know the real me–and allow me to know them better–has helped give me courage to stay “out here” in the world.

Visitors' Guides to the BWIAB for the past three years. (I missed the first year.)

Visitors’ Guides to the BWIAB for the past three years.

In just a few days I’m off to Ohio for the Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB). I hope to do a few brief posts while I’m there, giving you a taste of the beautiful birds and the birder festivities as we celebrate the amazing spectacle of spring migration.  My husband will be there part of the time, but I’ll be there the entire length of the festival, from May 6-15. I hope I’m not overdoing it with too much enthusiasm — I might have to sleep for a week when I get home!

I’m not taking as many workshops as I have in past years, but I’m proud of myself for signing up for a Field Sketching workshop to learn how to enhance my nature journaling with simple drawings of birds, leaves, butterflies, and other pretties. Did you know that you learn better when you draw something? I’m curious to see if that will work for me. I’m a bit nervous about this workshop because I’ve never been able to draw a realistic depiction of anything before. I’m hoping I can keep myself from getting frustrated and just relax and do my best without worrying about what other people think of my drawings. Kelly Riccetti of Red and the Peanut will be our instructor. She’s a talented artist, as well as one of our blog team members for this year’s festival, and this will be my first time to meet her. Will I be brave enough to show you what I draw in that workshop? I wouldn’t count on it, but we’ll see. In the meantime, enjoy my little bird doodle.

Kim's Doodle Bird

Zentangle-inspired bird

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration, Drawing, Highly-Sensitive People (HSPs) | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Ties That Bind

Prothonotary Warbler - seen at Magee Marsh in Ohio on April 23, 2014.

Prothonotary Warbler – seen at Magee Marsh in Ohio on April 23, 2014.

Photo by Jack Kennard via Flickr Creative Commons license

Photo by Jack Kennard via Flickr Creative Commons license

If your education was like mine, at some point in elementary school you were taught that birds migrate south in the winter.  “South” was usually assumed to mean Florida. In fact, a woman I met recently told me that she honestly thought ALL birds went to Florida for the winter. I was stunned, but then I realized that before I got into birding I had never thought about migration beyond the tiny bit of info I’d been fed in school. I know more about bird migration now though, and there’s one particular aspect of it that I want to share with you, one that might impact how you feel about your morning cup of coffee.

Red-winged Blackbird, another of our migratory species

Red-winged Blackbird, another of our migratory species

But first let’s get a few things straight. Yes, birds tend to live and breed further north in summer and then go south for the winter. But “north” and “south” are relative. Some birds breed in the Arctic and then fly south only as far as southern Canada or the northern U.S. for the winter. Other birds breed in Canada or the northern U.S. and fly all the way to Central or South America for the winter. Most warblers rely on insects as their main food source, so when insects aren’t available up north, they have to go south. A few species can survive on berries and seeds though, and those birds are sometimes able to stay up north all year (like the Yellow-rumped Warbler, for one).

The Prothonotary Warbler shown at the top of this post will probably spend next winter in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, or even Columbia. Then he’ll fly back north, arriving here in Michigan in late April or early May. If he flies from Bogota, Columbia, to Detroit, that’s a distance of 2,653 miles (4,270 km). Think about it: This bird is only 5.5″ long (14cm). If my math is correct, just flying ONE mile is 11,520 times the length of its body. That would be like me (five foot five inches tall) flying almost TWELVE miles with nothing but my own body strength.  When you multiply those numbers by more than 2,500 miles, your mind –and your calculator– will explode with the effort of comprehending it all. Amazing little creatures, aren’t they?

So what do our warblers need while they’re down south? Well, they need a habitat that supports lots of insects–someplace where all the insects haven’t been killed with pesticides. Up until a few decades ago they found a wonderful supply of insects on coffee farms, where coffee was primarily grown in the cover of shade trees. But when the big coffee companies found that they could grow more coffee cheaper if they cut down all the trees, they began to do exactly that. Millions of acres of trees were destroyed in the name of profit. Even then the warblers might have had a chance at living on coffee plants. But the high-yield coffee plants that grow in the sun require lots of pesticides and fertilizers. And those chemicals kill even more of the insects that the warblers depend on for their survival.

Think about it. Even if “our” birds are happy and healthy up here where they breed in the summer, what happens if they can’t survive on their wintering grounds? They won’t be coming back north in the spring, that’s for sure. Imagine what life up north would be like with zillions of mosquitoes and no birds to help you out with that little problem. See how our world is tied together? The health of our ecosystem in North America is directly tied to that of South America. To care for the birds that eat our insects, we also have to make sure they are cared for in their southern habitats too.

This is why there’s an effort to get farmers to go back to the traditional method of growing coffee on shaded plantations that support the birds. Many people say that shade-grown coffee tastes better too, imagine that? Lots of people are committed to helping this movement expand, and I think you’d be interested to read what Kenn and Kim Kaufman found when they went to Nicaragua a couple years ago to do a bird survey on one of the shade coffee farms. Kenn’s article is archived here. Smithsonian bird-friendly-logoRight now there’s only one brand of coffee that has the Bird-Friendly certification from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and that’s Birds & Beans. I don’t mean this to be a commercial for them, but I just wanted to let you know that there are lots of other companies marketing coffee as “bird safe” or “shade-grown,” even though some of those so-called certifications are questionable. If it matters to you, you can read about the certification process on the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center website.

I just learned that a coffee shop called Common Grounds will be supplying thirsty birders at the Biggest Week in American Birding with shade-grown coffee from Birds & Beans. Common Grounds is known in their local area (Port Clinton, Ohio) for providing work opportunities for people with disabilities. So now these good people are stepping up to help the birds as well. I love to see good people joining forces to accomplish good things, don’t you? The folks at Common Grounds made this adorable commercial about their bird-friendly coffee — it made me giggle. I hope you giggle too.

More info: Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s facebook page

Kirsten-BirdDayChallenge

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hugging a Tree on Arbor Day

Happy Arbor Day, my fellow tree-huggers!

I just had to do it....and it felt good too!

I just had to do it….and it felt good too!

Posted in Trees | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Trees of Life

blog---tree-with-yellow-leaves-and-quoteThis week is a big one for the big blue marble we call Earth: We celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and Arbor Day on April 25. I usually consider myself to be pretty “tuned in” to environmental issues, but I  was taken by surprise last week when these two holidays popped up on the calendar. I was sad to realize that neither of these two days has been high on my list of “holidays to celebrate.” Our culture makes a much bigger deal about Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and New Year’s. Heck, even President’s Day gets more attention than Earth Day and Arbor Day.

We planted this Colorado Blue Spruce in our yard last year.

We planted this Colorado Blue Spruce in our yard last year.

I submit to you that we have some very misplaced priorities, especially when you consider that none of those other holidays would even be possible without a healthy planet that provides what our species needs to live here.

So in an effort to set my own priorities straight, I’m appointing myself an unofficial ambassador of both holidays.  With that in mind, I took a quick tour around the interwebs to get educated on the origins and purpose of both of these days. Wanna know what I found? I knew you would.

Did you know that the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970? It was a way to harness the energy behind the protests of the 1960s and turn it toward protecting the natural world. Inspired in large part by the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the environmental movement was off and running. But it seems to be celebrated much more enthusiastically in other countries than in our own, and that needs to change.

And Arbor Day has an even longer history. Arbor Day was created by J. Sterling Morton, a journalist from Detroit who moved his family to Nebraska in the mid-19th century. The first Arbor Day was celebrated there in 1872, with the planting of over a million trees in a single day. And get this: When it was made a legal holiday in 1885, Nebraska City celebrated with a parade of a thousand people. So tell me, when’s the last time you saw a parade to celebrate the importance of Arbor Day? I never have. (Click the link in this paragraph to see the official story of the history of Arbor Day.)

And we planted two of these Korean Firs too. Although this one was badly damaged by deer this winter, so we'll see if it survives.

And we planted two of these Korean Firs too. Although this one was badly damaged by deer this winter, so we’ll see if it survives.

For the eight years we’ve lived on our two-acre wooded property, I’ve been a fierce protector of every single tree here. We leave the dead ones to provide food and shelter for the birds and other animals who live here with us. And when a large ash tree beside the house died last year and threatened to fall on our roof, rather than have the entire tree removed, I instructed the tree guys to leave the bottom 15 feet of it standing.  I look out my office window now and often see woodpeckers and nuthatches foraging on that tree trunk. Some people may scoff at my efforts to do what they consider small and meaningless acts like that, but I know that it makes a difference. That tree will continue to support life for other species long after its own life has ended.

Goldfinch using our newly-planted spruce tree last summer.

Goldfinch using our newly-planted spruce tree last summer.

My love of trees has continued to deepen with my love of birds. And not just for the obvious reason that I spend a lot of time walking under trees. Birders tend to learn about trees while watching little birds with binoculars. We see details of trees that most people never notice.  I first heard the word “catkin” while watching warblers in the spring. (Catkins are the dangly flowers in some trees, like alder, oak, and beech.) We learn that certain species of birds prefer certain trees for food or nesting, and we learn where the various types of trees are likely to be found, so we can find the birds we’re seeking.

I’m frustrated at how environmentalism and efforts to “Save the Planet” have become politicized in our country. Taking care of our habitat shouldn’t be something that is debated the way it is, with people being called names for wanting to protect natural places. I’ve got news for those people who sneer “tree hugger” like it’s a dirty word — those people who are planting trees and saving wetlands and so on are doing it for ALL of us. For me, for you, for your children and your grandchildren.

The earth can survive without trees and clean water. But the human species can’t.

Trees for Wildlife by NWFAnd the National Wildlife Federation has a program that allows you to sponsor a tree in the name of a loved one for as little as $10, and you get a certificate to commemorate your memorial tree (or trees).

I plan to continue protecting the trees we have, and if I can find another spot to plant new ones, I’ll do that too. I hope others will be re-inspired to plant more trees as well. Even if you don’t have space for more trees in your yard, you can donate to the Arbor Day Foundation or Earth Day Network and support their efforts to plant trees around the world.

Ok, I’m going outside to hug a tree now…. :)

Posted in Trees | 11 Comments

Some Nature-Loving People You Might Want to Know

Photo by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr Creative Commons License

Photo by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr Creative Commons License

Long-time readers of my blog already know that this time of year is both my favorite time and my busiest time. Why is that? Because spring migration is ON, baby, that’s why! Some species have already started to show up here in Michigan, and others are still down south making their way toward us. We track our favorite species on the eBird maps each day to see how much closer they’re getting to us. We’re all making notes about which friends will be in Ohio on which days, hoping to renew our friendships over birding, always followed by pie at Blackberry Corners. (Note to self: Lose a few pounds to make room for pie.)

Thousands of bird lovers from around the globe are making plans to visit the southern shore of Lake Erie in May, to witness one of the most amazing spectacles in all of nature. The Biggest Week in American Birding is in its fifth year already. This will be my fourth year attending, which means that it’s been four years since my world changed forever.

Yep, I'm a Blogger Wrangler. See my lasso? (Photo courtesy of Drew Maughan via Flickr Creative Commons)

Yep, I’m a Blogger Wrangler. See my lasso? (Photo courtesy of Drew Maughan via Flickr Creative Commons)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m the official “Blogger Wrangler” this year, in charge of motivating the bloggers and sharing what they write on the Biggest Week’s Facebook page. But I thought many of you might find their blogs interesting too, so I just wanted to give you a brief list of some of their Biggest Week writing so far. Everyone’s bios and profile pictures are on the Biggest Week page if you care to go over there when you’re done here. Many of the posts linked below have beautiful pictures of birds too, so I hope you enjoy browsing through them.

Jennifer Callaway – Birdfreak: Biggest Week in American Birding: Hoos In?  

Cheryl Harner – Weedpicker’s Journal: Birding Events Matter

Jerry Jourdan – Jerry’s Birding/Digiscoping Blog:  Warblers on My Mind

Greg MillerBiggest Week in American Birding Warbler Cheat Sheet and Where are the Eastern Wood Warblers Now?

Nemesis Bird (Drew Weber and Anna Fasoli) – 5 Reasons to Go to the 2014 Biggest Week and Beat the Winter Doldrums by Registering for the Biggest Week!

Melissa Penta – My Digital Mind: Get Biggest Week Tweets Sent to Your Phone and Countdown to the Biggest Week and  Is It May Yet?

Kelly Riccetti – Red and the Peanut: Yellow-rumped Warbler in the Rain and Two-second Bird Sketches and Magnolia Warblers at Magee

Robert Setzer – Dr. Bob’s Bird Blog: Spring and one’s fancy turns to … The Biggest Week

Chris West – Swallow-tailed Kite: The Biggest Week in American Birding 

2014 Festival guide cover imageHot Off the Press: The official visitor’s guide for the Biggest Week in American Birding just went online today: check it out here. The guide contains wonderful articles about conservation issues, the full festival schedule, and even a “Boardwalk Code of Ethics” to help everyone play nice on those “bodacious birding boards” of the Magee Marsh boardwalk.

And one last special announcement: May 10, 2014 will mark the first annual celebration of “Bird Ohio Day,” as approved by the Ohio Senate only a few weeks ago. Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) worked closely with Senator Randy Gardner to designate one day each year for celebration of the benefits the state of Ohio reaps from their efforts to protect habitats and to showcase the birds that migrate through there in such numbers each spring. Not only do birds provide valuable ecosystem services for farmers (eating agricultural pests, for example), but they draw lots of birders to the state too. Surveys by Bowling Green State University and BSBO found that birders spend $30 million in NW Ohio every spring, can you believe that? Hmmm, that makes me think that every other state would be smart to try to attract birders too.

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Birds | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Foggy Day in the Park

I love fog. There are usually a few days each year, in the late winter or early spring, when we wake up to find the landscape around our house shrouded in mist. In a really good fog we can’t even see the road, and our property becomes a wooded island far from anywhere.

Trees in fog - banner styleI wrote about one of these a while back and showed you some of my photos, and now I want to share some new ones, taken just a few days ago. I’d predicted we’d get a foggy day soon, because we still had lots of snow on the ground and the temperatures were slowly inching up into the 40s and 50s. I’m no meteorologist, but I think that’s a pretty good recipe for fog. So when we had a foggy day last week I high-tailed it over to the park as soon as I could, knowing that the 500-acre lake would make for some interesting shots. I removed my 400mm birding lens and put my wide-angle lens on the camera for some landscape photos.

Turkey in the fogWithin the first 100 feet of the entrance road I spotted this turkey strolling along beside me. I grabbed my little point-and-shoot camera and got a couple shots off before he fled into the mist. Turkeys are very skittish; I’d think such large birds would be a bit braver. But maybe it’s because they’re hunted and they know humans are bad news.

Big tree in fog

I really like this one.

I walked out among the scattered trees in a big field, looking for some good ones to shoot. This park is one of my favorites, and I usually feel that I know it pretty well. But walking in the fog made it all feel new and different, like someplace far from home where something magical could happen. It almost wouldn’t have surprised me to see a unicorn walk out of that mist, that’s how other-worldly it felt.

Believe it or not, there's a 500-acre lake out there somewhere.

Believe it or not, there’s a 500-acre lake out there somewhere.

Did you know there are various types of fog? I didn’t either. According to the National Weather Service, there’s advection fog, radiation fog, upslope fog, ice fog, freezing fog, and evaporation fog. So I’m thinking our fog was the advection type, caused by warmer air moving over the cool snow on the ground and ice on the lake. (If you want to read more about these types of fog, here’s where I found that info.) The National Weather Service website ends their fog page with a warning about driving in fog, saying that it’s important not to use your high-beam headlights in fog because your visibility will be reduced even more. I did know that. (Jeopardy, here I come….)

Road to Nowhere

Road to Nowhere

My family had a very scary experience while driving in heavy fog on a vacation many years ago. We were on the freeway with my dad driving–he’s an excellent and safe driver, so we were going verry slowly and keeping plenty of distance between us and the other cars. But suddenly a pair of headlights came out of the fog headed toward us — another driver had somehow gotten disoriented and was driving on the wrong side of the freeway. I remember how our hearts jumped into our throats as we watched that car pass beside us, knowing that we’d narrowly escaped tragedy as the other car disappeared into the mist behind us. A foggy day is not a day for driving, that’s for sure!

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

~ Carl Sandburg

Bikers in the fog

Bikers in the fog

Posted in Trees, Walking in the Woods | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Nature Photo Journal

Just wanted to share a few photos from our nature walks this weekend. Winter hasn’t released its grip on us entirely yet, but things are getting better. And a bit of fresh air and exercise always helps improve my mood, giving me a boost of endorphins in my winter-addled brain.

We saw some ducks on the pond and watched a male Belted Kingfisher flying from perch to perch, watching for a chance to swoop down and grab a meal.

Four species of ducks here, coexisting peacefully.

Four species of ducks here, coexisting peacefully (at least at the moment).

Kingfishers are Eric's favorite bird, so it's always fun to find one of them.

Kingfishers are Eric’s favorite bird, so it’s always fun to find one of them.

Male and female Ring-necked Ducks, just chillin' in the pond.

Male and female Ring-necked Ducks, just chillin’ in the pond.

We walked along the river banks, enjoying the now free-flowing water. This part of the river is very curvy, so the current is fast. There are beautiful sycamore trees here, displaying their mottled gray and brown bark and their pointy seed pods.

Sycamore bark and seed pods. I loved the heart shaped section of bark.

Sycamore bark and seed pods. I loved the heart shaped section of bark.

Sycamore seed pods decorating the tree.

Sycamore seed pods decorating the tree.

Those ducks are too far away for a good shot!

Those ducks are too far away for a good shot!

I almost walked right past these leaf cookie cutouts in the snow — aren’t they interesting?

Leaves making cookie cutter shapes in snow as they melt (2) (800x556)

I’m guessing that the dark color of the leaves absorbs more of the sun’s heat, melting the snow below the leaf faster and letting it sink down.

Oak leaves making cookie cutter shapes in the snow

Oak leaves making cookie cutter shapes in the snow

I’m trying to remember to take wider landscape shots occasionally instead of always zooming in really close, so here are some views of the scenery.

Landscapes at Stony Creek in early spring (6) (800x600)

Clinton River -- no more ice!!

Clinton River — no more ice!!

Can you see the guy fishing and his black dog on the bank?

Stony Creek lake, still about 75% ice-covered.

Stony Creek lake, still about 75% ice-covered.

Back at home I went into the woods to see if there were any signs of growth under the snow. I found 2″ shoots of daffodils and 3″ skunk cabbages. And then I found this half of a seed pod or maybe a nut shell — I have no idea what it is. Can anyone help me with an ID on this?

What is this? It's about an inch and a half long (this is a front and back view of the same half shell).

What is this? It’s about an inch and a half long (this is a front and back view of the same half shell).

Oh, and I finally was able to trudge through the remaining snow in the yard (about 6 or 7 inches) to remove the red bows I’d tied on some fir trees back in December. Up until now, access to our yard has been blocked by 4-foot-high hills of snow that the plow guy had pushed off the driveway. But enough has melted in the past few days that I was able to get up there easily enough. It felt great to pull off those faded symbols of winter, sort of like saying, “Ok winter, off you go now. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

Posted in Ecotherapy, Walking in the Woods | 9 Comments

Are They Here Yet? Huh, huh? Are They Here Yet?

Girl with binoculars

(Photo by Johan Koolwaaij via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Yes, it’s that time again, when those of us in northern latitudes start thinking about the return of our songbird friends. After a long and difficult winter, it’s time to lift our eyes skyward in search of things with wings. It’s time to start watching the eBird maps to see where our favorite migrants are each week, and try to predict when they’ll be passing through. It’s time to celebrate the return of spring and look forward to many hours spent hunting for our favorite birds in the woods, marshes, and grasslands. Yes, the days are filled with anticipation.

eBird map showing locations of Black-and-White Warblers as of March 19, 2014

eBird map showing locations of Black-and-White Warblers as of March 19, 2014

Black-and-White Warbler (by Jason Weckstein via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Black-and-White Warbler (Photo by Jason Weckstein via Flickr Creative Commons license)

This map shows where the Black and White Warblers are as of today…see, they’re already up to North Carolina! These striking birds spend the winter in Mexico, Central America and South America, with some of them only going as far south as Southern Texas or Florida. But they are definitely on the move now, and I’ll be checking eBird often now to watch the progression of those little orange markers on the map, which should pop up in Michigan in only four short weeks.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is also helping whip us all into a frenzy of excitement with their annual March Migration Madness brackets, where you can vote your favorite birds up in the rankings each week. I just voted for the Painted Bunting over the Bullock’s Oriole, basing my vote purely on the joyful colors of the bunting (I pick my basketball teams by the colors of their outfits too, by the way).

Today we're voting on the Tweet Sixteen...come and play with us (It's more fun than basketball!)

Today we’re voting on the Tweet Sixteen…come and play with us (It’s more fun than basketball!) (Photo by Melissa James via Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

It occurs to me that the Cornell Lab is a serious enabler. But in this sense, that’s a very good thing.

Photo via Max_Rae via Flickr Creative Commons license

Is that a bird over there? Is it? I think it is!                                                              (Photo by Max_Rae via Flickr Creative Commons license)

If you’re curious (or obsessed) and want to find out where and when the birds will be in your area, you can read the forecasts on Cornell’s Birdcast site. And if you’re coming to the “Warbler Capital of the World” (the Magee Marsh/Crane Creek area of NW Ohio), the Black Swamp Bird Observatory has a page on their site where you can find out which species are likely to come through northern Ohio at any given time leading up to the Biggest Week in American Birding festival (this year’s festival is May 6-15).

You may have noticed the little box in the sidebar on my blog’s home page that says “2014 Festival Blogger” — in addition to being on the team for the second year, this year I’m also the “Blogger Wrangler,” in charge of motivating the other team members and publicizing their posts about the festival on Facebook. It’s a lot like herding cats — these bloggers are active people with lots going on in their lives in addition to their commitment to help spread the word about the Biggest Week. It’s a challenge, to be sure, but I’m willing to do almost anything for such a good cause.

Soon we’ll be out in groups like this!
(Photo by Amy Evenstad via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Since I’ll be so focused on birds for the next couple of months, I’d be thrilled to answer any of your bird-related questions if you want to send them to me. Heck, I’ll do that anytime. I’m no expert, but I sure know where to find answers. I’m trained as a librarian–so I’ve got killer research skills–and I know quite a few bird experts too. Just leave me a comment or use the “Contact Me” tab at the top of the page. I guess I’m an enabler too. ;-)

Wherever you’re reading this from, I hope you find time to get out in nature this spring. And don’t forget to look up in the trees occasionally — you never know what might turn up during migration!

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

In Search of Spring

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird (this pic is from last April)

Last Friday I started hearing people saying they had seen their first Red-winged Blackbirds of the season, and I thought it might help me deal with this agonizingly long and harsh winter if I could see my first one too. So I hopped in the car and drove a few miles to Holland Ponds, a place I often see those joyful harbingers of Spring.

It was a beautiful day, with the temperature in the low 40s. Compared to the frigid temps we’ve been dealing with for months, it felt absolutely tropical. I was in heaven as I walked slowly down the path, gleefully stepping in the mud puddles that had replaced the treacherous, slippery surface that challenged me when I’d visited a few weeks earlier. I turned my face to the sun and inhaled fresh air deep into my lungs. I could feel my body beginning to heal from the months of being cooped up indoors. On my first few walks every spring I always feel like a kid being let out for recess, running and jumping for joy.

Path at Holland Ponds

Ducks at Holland Ponds

Ducks at Holland Ponds

The small pond was still mostly frozen, but several dozen Mallards swam in a small open water area, accompanied by two Ring-necked Ducks. I remember this same flock composition at this location from last year — just a couple Ring-necks with the other ducks. Interesting. There were no signs of kingfishers yet, but I know they’ll be here soon. I saw three bluebirds singing from perches high atop the tallest trees, flashing their brilliant blue wings as they jockeyed with one another for the best spots.

I headed out the trail toward the woods, hoping the path to the river was passable. Along the way I spotted a Turkey Vulture coming toward me. I quickly swung my camera up and started shooting as it flew in ever-tightening circles directly above me, coming lower and lower. For a few seconds I found myself holding my breath as I wondered if it was actually coming FOR me.

Turkey Vulture checking me out

Turkey Vulture checking me out

After he decided I was a bit too fresh for his taste, he moved along and I continued toward the woods. The path through the woods wasn’t cleared, but it wasn’t too difficult to navigate. I spent some time scanning the trees for owls, and then went down the steep, icy stairs, anxious to see how much of the river was thawed.

Footbridge to the river

Footbridge to the river

Partially thawed Clinton River

Partially thawed Clinton River

I was happy to see some water moving in the Clinton River, but it still had a good amount of ice on it. I spent some time walking along the banks enjoying the peace and quiet, then headed back up the hill, pausing to search for the source of some loud drumming on a distant tree. I thought it must be a Pileated Woodpecker but couldn’t confirm that.

Early spring sun in the late afternoon

Early spring sun in the late afternoon

My late afternoon shadow  looks like I'm walking on stilts

My late afternoon shadow looks like I’m walking on stilts

This is my favorite time of year for walking in the woods because there aren’t too many other people out there yet. The only time I don’t have to fear being a woman alone in the woods is when it’s too cold for the bad guys to be out there. In warmer weather I always have to be on alert for someone who might have bad intentions, but when it’s cold I can really relax and enjoy the silence of the woods and the singing of the birds. It’s a sad reality in our society that a woman just can’t go hiking as easily or spontaneously as a man can; we have to be afraid. Even on this day there was a man who kept walking back and forth near me, seeming to pay too much attention to me. I headed into the really muddy section of the trail to get away from him, because he was only wearing sneakers and couldn’t follow me there.

Frozen marsh

Frozen marsh

There’s a large heron rookery in the trees to the right of the marsh in this photo (you can’t see it here though). I scanned the nests with my binoculars in case any of the herons had shown up yet, but didn’t see anyone on the nests. Quite a few of the nests at this rookery were destroyed last year when the trees started crumbling below their weight, so I’m curious to see how much of the colony comes back this year.

The obligatory "muddy boots" picture from my first spring hike

The obligatory “muddy boots” picture from my first spring hike

It’s sort of becoming a habit to take a photo of my muddy boots when I go on these spring hikes. I think I like to have proof that I’m no longer the prissy girl who didn’t like to get dirty. My boots are an important sign of personal growth!

By the way, I didn’t find my Red-winged Blackbird that day, but I saw one a couple days later when Eric and I went to see Snowy Owls in Lenawee County (at the Michigan/Ohio border). The birding community has had a wonderful time this year enjoying the historic number of Snowies that came south for the winter, but they are starting to move back to their Arctic home now. I only saw four of them this year, and had been hoping to see one in flight instead of just sitting still. My wish came true finally, and I was able to cature a couple photos of this beautiful owl as he glided only inches above the snowy field, his 5-foot wingspan controlled with the precision of a fighter plane. It’s a bittersweet feeling now, knowing that they’re leaving. I’ve loved knowing that these magnificent birds from a far-off place were here, near my home, all winter long; but I know they need to go back home now. Safe travels, my friends.

Snowy-Owl-in-flight-v4-w-sig Snowy-Owl-in-flight-v2-w-sig

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