Thursday, June 26, 2008

Babies of the Solstice

Summer Solstice on the Southern Shore of the Salish Sea.
Say that six times.

Nights cool, calm and damp. The sun is slow to burn off the morning mist while being heralded by a confusing blend of bird calls ringing through the heavy marine air. Hummingbird territorial fights start around 5 AM, I have been as slow as the sunshine by getting outside around 5:30. Camera in one hand, coffee in the other and my dog Jujube at my heel.

This is my dog Jujube. She quietly guards me while I bird watch from a folding chair in the garden. We have an aggressive Red Squirrel that rules the yard in her absence. On this morning she apparently was trying to send a visual message to all trespassers.

Feeding at the Poker plant an early morning Female Rufous Hummingbird hovers silently.

Same bird feeding at the Honeysuckle. I have been playing with the flash and all the buttons on the camera so my results have varied. Using a flash in the early morning light does not allow me to stop the wings completely. Later I will post some more photos of the humming birds.
The scent of Honeysuckle hangs haunting sweet in the damp morning air.

Bath time! Lather, rise, repeat.

Now the baby pictures.

One of the neatest things in birdwatching is the narrow window of time in which you can see baby birds. Not all baby birds can be seen but if you know where to look you can still find them.

Here are some of the young birds I have found in the past week or so.

A shiny new Bewick's Wren quitely wait for it's noisy parents to return with juicy inch worms.

Cliff Swallow chicks only get to leave the nest once, no going back. They have to wait until the time is right. I do not know if hunger or overcrowding is the final motivating factor in them venturing out to join the rest of the world.

Young Barn Swallows sit quietly in their nest trying not to draw attention to themselves until the male Barn Swallow can be sen approaching. Then the competition is on, they loudest chick gets feed. truly a case where when you snooze you loose.

A new Crow fledgling eyes the fountain in the garden. Four young were hatched out by the pair that have been driving off the hawks this spring. This was the youngsters first trip to yard alone. Notice the gray eyes and yellow corners of the mouth. These marks as well as the "brown" hood will soon become difficult to distinguish from the adults.

This Tree Swallow was featured in a previous blog entry called "Swallow Love". Here one of the adults removes a fecal packet offered up by a nestling after it received food. This practice allows the adult to move the waste material away from the nest keeping it clean and help keep predators from sniffing out its location.

A male Downey Woodpecker also removes a fecal packet from it's nest. This bird always brought three of whatever it had caught back to the nest. His trips varied three to five minutes apart, all day long. I did not see the female bring any food to the nest even though she was near by and feeding herself. So I looked it up in one of my bird books. It said the male does the brooding in Downey Woodpeckers. Happy Fathers day!

This is a late hatching of Canada Geese. The first hatchings started appearing around the last week of April. These were hatched on the 17th of June.

Mother Mallard takes her brood for their early morning swim.

These are Canada Geese that were hatched in late April or early May. They have already started to molt in to their adult colors. They are becoming smaller versions of their parents. Over the past two months the number of goslings in the area have been getting smaller each week. Only experience adults will get the most young to adulthood. When you live near an eagle nest you take your chances.

I first noticed this Flicker nest under construction about a month ago. I watched the Male leave as this Female took up her shift on the nest. Neither brought food but the nest was never left unattended. I am sure they will have young to feed very soon.

I know it is not a bird but we have had at least three litters of rabbits in various parts of our yard so far this year. The Escarole, carrots and other vegetables have faired well among so many beady little eyes. It is still early in the year, I am sure there will be more and the garden can not hide forever.

This may not be exciting to you, I am very happy with this photo. This is a female Kingfisher returning to her burrow. Kingfishers require sandy hillsides near feeding waters in which to dig deep burrows. They lay their eggs in the cool ground to protect them from predators. It has been a long search for a nest like this. They are hard to find and the Kingfishers are very shy. I do not have any better photos. I did not want to stress out the parents. I got my shot and got out of there.

This next photo may not be for all viewers.

This is a two for one deal. The local Bald Eagle pair have been keeping their youngster hidden in the bowl of their huge nest for months now. Here the returning parents bring a Canada Goose Gosling home for lunch. I have watched this nest for dozens of hours over the past six months. This is one of the most amazing moments, the eaglet's head is directly below the flying adults right tail tip.

Take care.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

An amazing appetite

Here is a quick but I think amazing series of photos I took today. Over the past few months I have seen this same bird pull off this same stunning feat. This was the first time I could get a clear set pictures.

As I approached the dam today I could see this Great Blue Heron flying along side my car headed to the same place. We both got there at the same time and the heron landed facing away from me, this gave me the chance to get into position to take these photos.

The heron landed on the middle of the dam and slowly walked to it's favorite location.

Here is the spot. Fresh water is spilling from the right to the left. The dam is sixteen feet high and the water is moving very fast.

It only took a minute for this heron to score this impressive salmon!

The salmon did not just give up. It fought with all of it's might to wiggle out of the herons bill. It was amazing to see, the heron must have a vise like grip to keep this powerful fish from simply slipping away.

The heron wasted no time in repositioning the fish to be swallowed. It moved the body along through it's bill to get the head pointed down it's throat.

Once the head was in the right position it was all over for the fish.

Like magic it was gone.

A couple of gulps and a little adjustment of the gullet and the salmon went down wiggling the whole time. With a meal that big I wonder how many fish that big the heron can eat in a day? A week? Over a life time?

Human fishermen often take offense to the numbers of fish that are eaten by birds such as eagles, herons, mergansers and cormorants. When they see a sight such as this can you blame them for being upset? Everybody's got to eat something. We have choices other than fish, for us it is sport. For them it is daily life, not an option.

I do not fish any more.
They have a hard enough time without me out there messing with their day.

I find it simply amazing this bird could catch and control a fish as large as this one. Like I said, I have seen the heron do it before and I am sure I will see it again. The heron is predictable and obviously there is something in the water that draws these fish to their doom day after day, week after week, year after year.

My little chickadee

I think it is great when I wake up and my blog writes it's self. After a cup of coffee I went outside to open the flimsy fence/gate I have had to put across our driveway to help keep the deer out. In previous blog entries there are pictures of the culprits that love to attack our cherry tree.

As I walked out to the gate I saw four small birds fly out of the blackberry bramble into a conifer on the edge of the yard. Surprisingly the last bird in line was a female Rufous Humming bird tagging along with three Chestnut Backed Chickadees. One of the chickadees was newly fledged and making the classic "feed me" noises little birds make. I think the humming bird was just there drawn in by the all the excitement the young bird was causing. I have seen this before, the instinct to feed a young bird is so strong birds are sometimes drawn to babies of other species. The humming bird quickly lost interest and I went for the camera.

Here are some of the photos I got while the youngster was fed it's breakfast. Nummy, nummy little insects that only a chickadee could love for the first meal of the day.

An Adult Chestnut Backed Chickadee searching for tiny insects.

It requires intense focus and endless trips to fill up a bottomless baby chickadee.

I caught the eye of this adult and after a little scrutiny I was allowed to stay and take more pictures.

Here the adult bird is on the left and the youngster is fluffed up.

The newly fledged chickadee is on the left and quivering it's wings as it begs for food.

The fledging is the closer bird. Fledglings quiver their wings as they beg, sometimes adult birds that are courting will also quiver their wings and accept food from their partner as if they were young birds. This helps to strengthen the bond between adults as well as demonstrate how well they can provide food.

Feed me...feed meeee....FEEEEED MEEEEE!!!!!!

Now with any luck the parents of this bird will nest again in the next three to four weeks and raise another brood. I will keep an ear to the wood line and let you know if I am as fortunate to see that one also.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Little yellow bird

First picture of the little tormentor.

For the past five years each spring I get a glimpse of a small yellow-green bird in my yard. Three years ago I got my first picture. From what I could tell it was a female warbler. This statement right here will separate birders in to groups. Some will not take on warblers at all, they are difficult to see, erratic and just never seem to come close. Those who take on the warbler challenge may not take on the challenge of identifying female warblers.

This bird is small, yellow, green and gray. Not easy to see in the new foliage of the springtime. I have been carrying my digital camera with me in the yard every day so that on the off chance that I would run in to her I could try to get a photo. This bird has had all the luck, I have seen it eight to ten times this year and have gotten a few photos that just tease me more. Even with a 250mm lens on a 12 megapixal camera I was having difficulty catching her in the open.

Another fleeting moment.

Too far away to make out any identifiable details.

Here she is collecting inch worms for a nest near by. This was a good sign, it meant she was going to be around for a while.

Yesterday it started before sunrise. I could hear an annoying, insipid and continuous, chirping from the trees bordering our yard. It was the "I am over here" call of a cold , hungry and scared young bird that had just fledged from it's nest.

I got my day started and took a few minutes around 8:30 AM to investigate. The noise and I mean noise was still present. It was one of those high frequency noises that confuses your sense of audio direction. When I was facing what I thought was the noise it sounded as if it was coming from behind me. As I turn around to zero in on it, the direction changed. Then I realized there were three young birds about fifty to sixty feet apart in a triangle around our front garden.

I found an out of the way spot in the yard and stood still for a moment. There she goes, the little yellow bird shot by. I started to follow, what a mistake, I was so confused in just a few seconds I could not tell what I was following. She was just rocketing around the yard from one fledgling to the other and all were in deep cover low to the ground. I would have never found any of them if I tried.

I noticed that during one orbit she stopped at a branch that looked like a good ambush site. I got there and pulled out my little red bird call and let out a squeak.

You may have seen one at a nature store or national park gift shop and ever wondered if they really work. I have used them for many years and I have given them to kids who's minds I have tried to poison with bird watching. Most of the time I got nothing for my fumbling squeaks and chirps. When it has work it has been magical. This past February I was in Dallas. I pulled it out while near a steep banked stream and birds were coming at me like bullets, even over shooting my location looking for the source of the sounds.

Birds hear the noise and think it is an intruder in their territory. I have tried to make sounds like birds with it, but I think I am just fooling myself. I have found the simpler the better, just a quick chirp and see if any thing takes an interest. I have had mixed results and never know if it will work or not in any given situation. I can make a lot of really irritating noises with it.

On the fourth squeak, she was on the branch I had selected in front of me and I got these photos. She was not happy at all with me distracting her from her rounds and took off not to be seen again.

A surprised Female Orange-crowned Warbler.

An angry Female Orange-crowned Warbler.

So, now I have good photos of a female Orange-crowned Warbler and I have another successful experience with the bird call. I will continue to use it irritating noises and all. This bird call was one of the those I had given away years ago to a dear friend. She passed away and it was given back to me to remember her by. I keep it on my camera strap so it is always with me for just such an occasion. I would like to think she is with me too.

The next time you see one of these bird calls, get it. Give it to a kid and let them go annoy the wildlife. You might make a birder out of them. You might try it yourself.

Have fun, take care.