April in NW Ohio

Life has been pretty busy for me lately, as evidenced by my lack of posts here on the blog. I’m sort of frustrated that I’m losing touch with some of my regular readers because I just don’t have time to keep up with anything outside of work anymore. But I’m really hoping to get back to writing more after the Biggest Week in American Birding isn’t absorbing all of my time. At BSBO we’re burning the candle at both ends these days, attending to all the details that make this festival so successful. It’s a lot of exhausting work, but the carrot at the end of the stick is the joyful ten days next month when our birding friends from across the country will gather here on the shores of Lake Erie to celebrate the spring migration. This is very satisfying work, and even when I’m drop-dead exhausted, I’m so thankful to be where I am, doing what I’m doing. πŸ™‚

But what I wanted to write about now is the wonderful afternoon I just had. We had a very mild winter here in northwest Ohio, with only a couple snowfalls of about two inches at a time. But last night we got whopped with more than seven inches of heavy, wet April snow. I wasn’t liking it very much when I got caught driving home in the worst of it last night, but this morning everything was so beautiful. Here are a couple pictures from my backyard:

Seven inches of snow on patio April 9 2016 (800x533)

Snow in backyard April 9 2016 (800x533)

After my driveway was plowed at lunchtime, I decided to go run a couple errands. My intention was to be back home in less than an hour, so I didn’t take my camera (…cue dramatic music that tells you that was a BIG mistake…).

As I ran my errands I noticed how pretty the tree-lined streets were around this little town, and I took a few cell phone pictures. Then I impulsively decided to drive over to Spiegel Grove, the home of President Rutherford B. Hayes, to take a quick walk around their lovely grounds. It’s a pretty place very close to my home, and I’d like to visit there more often. And I knew my cell phone camera would be fine for taking some pictures of the huge snow-covered trees.

Hayes Memorial - April snow v1.jpg

As soon as I stepped out of my car I heard a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the evergreens beside the parking lot. I quickly counted at least a dozen of them, and stood there watching them for a few minutes. There were also a couple Eastern Phoebes in that spot. I was already kicking myself for leaving home with out my camera. But it seems that I get the best views of birds when I don’t have my camera, so I decided to just enjoy the birds and make mental images. (I’m sharing a couple bird pics from previous years, just so you can see which species I’m talking about.)

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Golden-crowned Kinglet - best crop (800x541)
Golden-crowned Kinglet

I loved this tunnel of trees, even though it was a bit treacherous when huge clumps of heavy snow came crashing down near me several times.

Hayes Memorial - April snow v5.jpg

And halfway down this tunnel of trees, I looked off to my left and saw a female Cooper’s Hawk just sitting calmly in a tree, surveying the area below her. There were a couple phoebes flitting around here too, and I wondered if one of them would become her next meal. Later, when I returned along this same path, a male Cooper’s had joined her on the branch. I was happy that I was able to share those birds with a woman who happened along just about then with her dog. I pointed out the hawks and let her use my binoculars to get a good view of them. And then we had a nice chat about a variety of things, including small town living and the process of adjusting to life after divorce. She gave me some tips on places to go and things to do, which I appreciated. It was really nice to meet someone who could relate to some of the things I’ve gone through in the past couple of years.

I continued walking…

Hayes Memorial - April snow v3

…and just around a bend I saw a woodpecker fly into a tree beside me. I stopped and lifted my binoculars, expecting to see a Downy Woodpecker. But what I saw was even better because it’s a bird I’ve only found once before: a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. It’s not that uncommon really, but I think it’s a really cool bird. It’s easy to mistake for a Downy or Hairy Woodpecker if you don’t look closely enough, but it’s got that bright red throat patch that gives it away, and the yellowish tint to the belly area too (thus the name). I stood there smiling from ear to ear, wishing there’d been someone with me to share this bird with. But it’ll just have to remain “my” bird for now. And that’s okay. (Sorry I don’t have any good pictures of sapsuckers, but you can find lots of them on the Google-machine.)

Hayes Memorial - April snow v6
Looking skyward….

I took a short video as I walked through that tunnel of trees earlier. It’s a little jiggly while I’m walking at the beginning, but I wanted you to hear the crunching of the snow under my feet.

Isn’t that pretty? I wish all of you could have been there to experience this quiet moment in time.

Finally, My Yard Has Come Alive

There’s a row of seven tall spruce trees running along the back edge of my yard, providing me privacy from the neighbor behind my house. That row of evergreen trees–and my lovely sunroom–are two important reasons I decided to buy this house.

And I’ve recently discovered that this row of spruce trees is serving an important purpose for someone else. Each evening at dusk, dozens and dozens of robins fly into those trees to roost for the night. Even if I’m not in the sunroom, I hear them arriving because of their constant chattering as they negotiate their individual spots on the inner branches of the trees.

I shot this 19-second video the other night to try to capture it. You can hear their chatter, and if you watch the left side of the trees you’ll see some birds moving in and out.

The whole thing is surprisingly dramatic. Robins are strong and fast fliers, so they shoot in like bullets in small groups, one after the other, continuing until it’s too dark to see them anymore. Some of them fly directly into the spruces, while others first land in the nearby crab apple to watch the goings-on before choosing which tree to enter.

I watch the branches of the spruces bouncing up and down as the robins move around inside, jockeying for the best spots. I’m guessing the best spots are those closest to the tree trunk because there they would be most protected from hazards like inclement weather and night-hunting owls. Knowing that those trees are loaded with so many birds each night gives me a huge thrill!

House Finches smooching on Valentine's Day
House Finches “smooching” on Valentine’s Day — too funny.

I’ve been frustrated since I moved here six months ago because I haven’t been attracting many birds to my feeders. Β For the past twenty years, watching and photographing feeder birds has been something that gives me a great deal of pleasure, so not being able to do that has been a bit depressing. But in the past couple of weeks, finally–after I moved my feeders to a new location closer to the shelter of the spruces–I’ve got lots of birds! I think maybe they were all too spooked by the Cooper’s Hawk that likes to swoop through the yard quite often, and my previous feeder location was probably a bit too exposed for their liking.

Dark-eyed Junco in spruce tree - close crop (800x700)
Dark-eyed Junco in the safety of the spruce tree
Dark-eyed Junco with wind-blown feathers (768x800)
Dark-eyed Junco with wind-blown feathers
Dark-eyed Junco watching me - close up (800x604)
Dark-eyed Junco watching me watching him

Now I usually have a couple dozen Dark-eyed Juncos here at any given time. I’ve always loved these little black and white sparrows, with their flash of white tail feathers when they fly, and their pretty tinkling calls. In my past experience, juncos have always tended to feed on the ground, eating seed that has fallen from the feeders. So I was surprised when I put up a new thistle feeder and they immediately began feeding directly from the feeder as well as on the ground below.

American Tree Sparrow on patio with seeds (800x425)
American Tree Sparrow

And today I found a White-throated Sparrow mixed in with the juncos and house sparrows…that’s a new bird for my Ohio yard list! This photo is partly blurred by the window, but it’s still a record of the bird being here so I’ll keep it.

White-throated Sparrow - partly blurred by window (800x566)

This little red squirrel entertained me the other day as he made attempts to get to the thistle seed hanging from the crab apple tree.

Red squirrel in crab apple tree.JPG

So I’m much happier now that my yard has more bird activity. I even got inspired to finally buy some valances to finish my sunroom. I’d been putting it off because of the cost and because I just couldn’t decide which fabric pattern would go well in that room with the yellow walls and my brightly-colored “Happy Chair.” I found some natural brown cotton valances with a fringed edge and they are absolutely perfect. And I re-covered a pillow to coordinate with my green sofa so now it’s a comfy and aesthetically-pleasing place to read a book and watch birds on a sunny winter day. Last night when I’d completed all those finishing touches, I found myself standing in the sunroom smiling from ear to ear. It finally feels the way I wanted it to feel…like MY home. πŸ™‚

Sunroom with valances finally hung (800x594).jpg