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!