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.

Spring, in the right place

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Birds in the backyard, Nesting 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 under Bird biology, Birds in the backyard, Nesting 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.

 

Colorful spring birds

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird sightings Updated: April 25, 2015 - 6:10 PM

Wild Turkey males dress for the occasion when its time for courtship. Few other bird species can match the bright shades of red and blue, or such a vivid combination. This tom was following a hen in our neighborhood a few days ago.

Resourceful grackles

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird feeding Updated: April 23, 2015 - 8:17 AM

During a recent visit to South Carolina I watched Common Grackles feeding on tiny clams they dug at low tide from sand along an Atlantic beach. The birds walked, looking for holes the self-buried clams made in the sand for breathing purposes. A quick poke of the bill down the hole produced a clam. Several grackles were seen doing this.

One migration day in Duluth

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird migration, Minnesota birding sites Updated: April 17, 2015 - 11:22 PM

This  report was posted to the email list of the Minnessota Ornithologists' Union by Karl Bardon, an excellent birder in Duluth. He does bird counts during spring and fall migrations for the Hawk Ridge Nature Center. The bird movements discussed occurred on April 12. This report has some age, but it shows the massive number of birds that can be on the move on a given day. Migration is in its early stages here. Be alert.

Bardon's report:

There was a mass migration event along the Duluth-Superior lakeshore on Sunday
April 12th, including 34,000 American Robins, plus smaller numbers of Rusty
Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and Northern
Flickers (low hundreds of each), and a few Common Redpolls, Yellow-rumped
Warblers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Although I have seen migration of
this magnitude in fall, this day was so amazing because all the birds were
so low and close, at tree height, with a continuous river of songbirds from
sunrise until nearly noon. Raptor migration was equally impressive with
1083 Red-tailed Hawks counted including 9 dark morph Westerns, plus 676
Sharp-shinned Hawks, 442 Turkey Vultures, 158 Bald Eagles, 24 Rough-legs,
12 Northern Harriers, 3 American Kestrels, 2 Merlins, 1 Peregrine Falcon, 1
Osprey, 1 Northern Goshawk, and 1 Swainson's Hawk. With two successive days
of very strong south winds, this is probably the best landbird flight I
have ever seen here in spring:). Smaller numbers (but still impressive)
continued on Monday (eg, over 5,000 robins and 289 flickers).
 

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