Where Do I Even Begin?

Well, we’re back home after our five days at The Biggest Week in American Birding. My head is still spinning from all the great birds we saw and the wonderful people we got to spend time with. This event has been life-changing for me each year, but this year was the best yet. I’ve gone through all my notes from workshops and field trips and I’ve got a lot of things I’d like to share with you all, but it might take me a while to get it all written coherently. I’m starting to work on that today, but for now I’ll just show you some more of the birds I was able to photograph.

American Bittern stalking its next meal in the marsh

American Bittern stalking its next meal in the marsh

As we were driving along the causeway leaving Magee Marsh one afternoon we came upon a small grouping of cars pulled off on the edge of the road, with birders watching something in the marsh. A group of people staring out into the water with scopes and binoculars is the unofficial International Birder Alert, and it means the rest of us naturally stop to see what they’re watching. Even before Eric had stopped the car completely, I’d seen the bird and I was very excited. This American Bittern is the first one I’ve ever seen, a “lifer” in birderspeak. They’re usually very hard to find because they are, as you can see, very well camouflaged for their habitat and they stand motionless for long periods of time. While we were watching this one, he suddenly stabbed into the water and came up with a small frog for his lunch. I wish I’d been fast enough with the camera to catch that awesomeness. Isn’t this a beautiful bird? (Of course I say that about lots of birds…can’t help it, it’s true.) And by the way, the bittern was my #200 bird on my life list, a meaningful milestone for me. I only got #100 last April (American Coot), so I’ve doubled my life list in a year. Pretty cool.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

We saw quite a few Gray Catbirds during the week, but these birds generally stay pretty well hidden in trees and thickets, so it’s difficult to get unobstructed views of them. You can usually tell where they are because you think you hear a cat mewing in the bushes. If you’ve never had the extreme pleasure of hearing a catbird call or sing, you can listen to a few samples here at the Cornell Lab’s “All About Birds” website. I especially love the “Mew Call” near the bottom of that page. Catbirds are related to Mockingbirds, and they have the same ability to mimic the songs of other birds. This group of birds is a favorite of many people for their amazing singing abilities. And speaking of Mockingbirds, we were surprised to find one flying across a grassy field on Friday morning. The range of Northern Mockingbirds doesn’t usually extend this far north, sadly for me.



This is a Veery, a member of the thrushes, just like the American Robin. I think you can see the resemblance to a robin in this photo, right?  This one was singing when I came upon him on a deserted section of the Magee Marsh boardwalk. He gave me a private performance of his beautiful song (listen here). That was a special moment for me.

Speaking of special moments, just a few minutes before I saw this Veery I found my first ever Rusty Blackbird. I’d been trying to find one and wondering if I’d overlooked them mixed in with flocks of other blackbirds before. But I was walking along a quiet stretch of the boardwalk and heard a loud grating call from down below. I bent down to peer into the undergrowth and saw the most beautiful bright yellow eye on a shiny black bird with a rusty tinge to his feathers. Aha– my Rusty Blackbird! I knew it in an instant, even though he was bigger than I’d expected; I’d always thought they were the same size as the common Red-winged Blackbird, but they’re a bit larger.  Mr. Rusty was hopping around the little pools of water down there, happy as can be. A group of people came along and he quickly went further back and I lost sight of him, but I’ll never forget that first few seconds that I got a great view of him.

American Woodcock

American Woodcock

The last bird for today is this American Woodcock we saw very well camouflaged in the leaf litter about 20 feet from the boardwalk. I just learned that these birds are also called Timberdoodles — isn’t that the coolest bird name? They’re members of the sandpiper family but they live in moist woodlands where their primary food source is earthworms. I watched this one stick that looong bill into the soil and pull out two big juicy worms. The tip of the bill is flexible so they can grasp the worm without opening their bill (which would be impossible when it’s stabbed down in the mud anyway). I think that’s such an ingenious evolutionary feature. And don’t you just love that huge brown eye? (Click the picture for a larger view.) These birds are always a treat to see because they stay so well hidden. In fact, there was a woodcock sitting on eggs right in the grassy area in the middle of the Magee Marsh parking lot this year and even though there was yellow police tape marking a protected area around her, it took me 30 seconds to spot her right in front of me. They are amazingly good at staying down low and hidden.

The day before we arrived at the Biggest Week lots of people had been lucky enough to see another Woodcock and her newly fledged babies walking across the parking lot. I saw some adorable photos of those babies on Flickr — sure wish we’d been able to see that.

Ok, now I’m going back to writing and editing more photos for you guys. In the meantime, remember: Just because the Biggest Week festival is over doesn’t mean the birds are gone. Migration is still in full swing, so get out there and look around!

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5 Responses to Where Do I Even Begin?

  1. Littlesundog says:

    Wow! What awesome photographs, Kim! I have never seen ANY of these! I have seen a pair of Baltimore Oriole’s the last two weeks, hanging out in the honeysuckle on the back porch. The male chirps at me (not in a nice way) when I come on the back porch. I think he’s staked a claim on MY porch! LOL

    I can’t wait to hear more about your week and see more photos!

    • Kim says:

      I wonder if your orioles have built a nest near the porch somewhere…you know what an oriole nest looks like, right? A gourd-shaped thing usually high up in a tree. That would be cool! I had another post almost ready to go last night, but I just went back down to Ohio for another day of birding today and OMG, you won’t believe what I saw! It’s going to take me at least three more posts to cover the last week…I’m having the time of my life!

  2. wandena clair says:

    So cool! You are getting lots of good pictures! I can see why you get so excited since there are so many different birds to find. Love you, Mom

  3. I’m glad to hear you had such an awesome week! Looking forward to all your pictures!

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