Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Posts about Birds in the backyard

Spring, in the right place

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 26, 2015 - 5:18 PM

Jude and I were  gone for 17 days in April, on the road to see family. We visited southern Florida, South Carolina, and Michigan, with a stop in northern Ohio for a bit of focused birding. We did birds throughout the trip, with but casual intent. Birding in Florida was bad, mostly because the temps were in the high 80s and 90s during our visit. South Caroline offered Atlantic beach time, but only two species of gull, the beach being full of people. Michigan: we didn’t even try. Ohio, at Magee Marsh on the Lake Erie shore, east of Toledo, was better. It can be a spectacular place during spring migration. We were early. I found kinglets, gnatcatchers, and Hermit Thrushes in the short time I spent in a wind-chill wind.

 

The highlight was the song of a Black-capped Chickadee at a Wisconsin rest stop along I-94. There was little bird song at our other stops, and none familiar except cardinal and Tufted Titmouse. It was good to get home.

 

Chickadees here are singing between periods working on the nest they are excavating in a backyard tree. It is a dead tree, sort of ugly, leaning over the pond. I’ve defended it against removal in recent years, vindication now mine: Dead trees have a purpose. Cardinals are singing. Downy Woodpeckers are tapping out their song. And best of all, frogs are calling in the swamp behind the house. Frogs are my favorite spring singers. Last night: Spring Peeper, Cricket Frog, and a lone Wood Frog. Last year we counted seven species before the calling made its seasonal stop.

 

There were 17 Wood Ducks on the pond Friday, with one lost Blue-winged Teal. There are two drake Mallards on most days, and a pair of Canada Geese that have claimed a nesting platform we put on the water. They had a noisy, hour-long argument this morning with another pair that has the same idea. Among all of those Wood Ducks there are four pair, or at least four drakes closely following four hens. One of our wooden duck boxes shows down caught on the edges of the opening. I am assuming occupancy, or at least interest. On the ground beneath another box we found two duck eggs, both opened and empty. I have no good idea of how they got there. The box on its pole looks like it should be predator-proof. Could a hen spill an egg?

 

House Wrens have yet to make an appearance. We usually have two boxes of wrens. Red-winged Blackbirds are here, just males so far; they are waiting for nesting partners. We’ll have Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow Warbler as nesters if this year follows recent years. Cardinals also must nest back there in the swamp tangle, but I’ve never determined where.

 

I sat on the deck overlooking all of this activity this morning, watching geese fight, and chickadees work. For all of the birds that travel might bring, it’s good to be home.

 

Chickadee with cavity debris in its mouth. Below, disposal trip.

 

Spring, in the right place

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 26, 2015 - 5:17 PM

Jude and I were  gone for 17 days in April, on the road to see family. We visited southern Florida, South Carolina, and Michigan, with a stop in northern Ohio for a bit of focused birding. We did birds throughout the trip, with but casual intent. Birding in Florida was bad, mostly because the temps were in the high 80s and 90s during our visit. South Caroline offered Atlantic beach time, but only two species of gull, the beach being full of people. Michigan: we didn’t even try. Ohio, at Magee Marsh on the Lake Erie shore, east of Toledo, was better. It can be a spectacular place during spring migration. We were early. I found kinglets, gnatcatchers, and Hermit Thrushes in the short time I spent in a wind-chill wind.

 

The highlight was the song of a Black-capped Chickadee at a Wisconsin rest stop along I-94. There was little bird song at our other stops, and none familiar except cardinal and Tufted Titmouse. It was good to get home.

 

Chickadees here are singing between periods working on the nest they are excavating in a backyard tree. It is a dead tree, sort of ugly, leaning over the pond. I’ve defended it against removal in recent years, vindication now mine: Dead trees have a purpose. Cardinals are singing. Downy Woodpeckers are tapping out their song. And best of all, frogs are calling in the swamp behind the house. Frogs are my favorite spring singers. Last night: Spring Peeper, Cricket Frog, and a lone Wood Frog. Last year we counted seven species before the calling made its seasonal stop.

 

There were 17 Wood Ducks on the pond Friday, with one lost Blue-winged Teal. There are two drake Mallards on most days, and a pair of Canada Geese that have claimed a nesting platform we put on the water. They had a noisy, hour-long argument this morning with another pair that has the same idea. Among all of those Wood Ducks there are four pair, or at least four drakes closely following four hens. One of our wooden duck boxes shows down caught on the edges of the opening. I am assuming occupancy, or at least interest. On the ground beneath another box we found two duck eggs, both opened and empty. I have no good idea of how they got there. The box on its pole looks like it should be predator-proof. Could a hen spill an egg?

 

House Wrens have yet to make an appearance. We usually have two boxes of wrens. Red-winged Blackbirds are here, just males so far; they are waiting for nesting partners. We’ll have Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow Warbler as nesters if this year follows recent years. Cardinals also must nest back there in the swamp tangle, but I’ve never determined where.

 

I sat on the deck overlooking all of this activity this morning, watching geese fight, and chickadees work. For all of the birds that travel might bring, it’s good to be home.

 

Chickadee with cavity debris in its mouth. Below, disposal trip.

 

Wood Ducks right where they belong

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 3, 2015 - 9:41 AM

There were 17 Wood Ducks on our pond this morning, with four Canada Geese and a pair of Mallards. Some of the ducks moved from the water into trees bordering the pond, although we have no natural cavities here. There was much courtship activity -- heads bobbing, males chasing, females checking out nesting boxes. We have five boxes surrounding the pond. Two of the boxes had visits this morning by possible occupants. Both Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers have nested here in past years. The mergansers were seen here three days ago, but not this morning. We also have one muskrat, an entertaining mammal that we've welcomed before. Two years ago a pair raised four young. Our pond and the swamp behind it hold no native cattails, the invasive species of that plant and purple loosestrife replacing much of the natural vegetation. That loss was underway long before we arrived. I think it poses a food problem the the muskrats. Two nights ago something ate the bark from two tamarac trees, young ones I've been nursing along. I suspect the muskrat. I wish it would eat duck weed and floating algae clumps. We have lots of that.

Why birding?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 31, 2015 - 10:40 AM

Perhaps this quote offers insight into the popularity of birdwatching. It comes from the book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean.
 
“There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.”

Goldfinches showing the color of spring

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 25, 2015 - 11:21 AM

If doesn't look a lot like spring today -- Wednesday -- unless you are looking at male American Goldfinches molting from their drap winter plumage into the bright yellow of spring and summer.

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