Bird brained stories!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

So, I was actually out birding....

I made good on my promise to myself and got out of bed and into the wetlands to do some birding this morning. I honestly believe that it may have been the first time I went there early in the morning all alone. Other times, I've been there early on bird walks, in company of other birders. Today, I arrived in anticipation of once more finding those Yellow Headed Blackbirds, that glut of Kildeer, with camera in hand.

How wrong I was!

When I first started down the trail, it seemed like all sign of avian life had gone. No ducks! No egrets. Not even a lousy Red-Winged Blackbird! For this, I got up early?

Yes, for this. As I slowed my pace even more, I realized that like me, the marsh was simply waking up slowly. I realized it when I walked down to one of the viewing platforms, startled to see about six Canada Geese, one leg tucked and heads under wing, still asleep. The graceful silhouette of one, then two, then three Great Egrets flew down from treetops, where I'd not noticed them before.

I didn't bother to count and catalog, but chose instead, like the birds around me, to simply allow the sun to warm me and illuminate the world in front of me. The Kildeer were absolutely not present. The recent rains had filled the area where I last saw them, perhaps making it too wet for their tastes, in spite of the overall green sheen of the water. The Red Wings began to awake, as did the Rough-Winged Swallows, and before long, I was following bird songs in pursuit of the birds singing them.

Along the way, families with dogs and little kids were waking, too. Little boys, reminiscent of mine in years past, delighting in dropping rocks from the bridge. Runners everywhere, also reminscent of myself in days before chondromalicia overtook my running years, trying to beat the forecast high temps.

Common Yellowthroats were calling all over, but seemed to enjoy doing so from the wrong side of the trail, at least as far as the photographic lighting was concerned. Yet I still found one foolish enough to come into view, not quite where I'd have liked, but close enough and in good light.

Amazingly, a Great Blue Heron just off the trail looked right at me---and continued on about his business. Unbelievable. Approach quietly within half a football field and they're off, but not this one. I crawled into a blind of tall grass off the trail and watched him fish for at least a half hour. He watched me, too, but didn't seem concerned in the least. I actually had the luxury of waiting for the perfect sun to break from the clouds, creating that beautiful morning backlight we all crave in our photos.

Further on, a brood of new-from-the-box Wood Ducks sat on a deadfall, with Mama Duck roosting on one end. Watching--and shooting---they eventually grew impatient, as children will, and one, then the others, darted into the water in defiance of Mama. It would seem that the young of birds and the young of humans are really not so very different in that.

So, what photos from today's bonanza can I share? Rarely do I get one decent photo, much less many of three different birds. I'm not really superstitious, but....isn't it nearly impossible to ignore such good fortune as perhaps a good omen? I would like to think so. Even if it's nothing more than dumb luck, it is luck enough to encourage me to get up and wake up with the world more often.

Friday, July 29, 2005

ATCs of....birds!

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Birding in my mind...

I've been out birding once since returning from Europe. I'm not sure why I haven't looked much beyond my own backyard in the last week, but I haven't. The Orioles who were a constant presence before I left seem to have vanished, but the House Finches, Goldfinches and Cardinals are ever present. A Chipping Sparrow, dare I say it, is actually getting on my nerves! It must be a nestling, because it chips all day long from the same tree! I will get myself out of bed early tomorrow and go forth to see birds. I think that sometimes, the birds just need to wait. I've enjoyed connecting with my almost 19 year old son this week. Life has been especially rough for him, and he's trying to climb out of his pit. We have a daily cribbage game--he's won the last two--eat a healthy supper together--ah, the berries are in season!--and he even acquiesced to come with me and have a sandwich at my favorite coffee shop. He's the older of my baby birds, his wings itching to fly free but unready to do so. Conversation, good food and beating Mom at cribbage are part of the medicine, for both mother and son.

Healing with good food requires some shopping. What better place to go than the Cameron Park Farmers Market? A bird might gather up some goodies here, if the squirrels don't get it first. A place where we can still gather with strangers and spend a few minutes being friends, I came home with a bouquet of sunflowers, fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and raspberries. Pesto spaghetti with tomatoes and a bowl of raspberries and blackberries made for a satisfying supper, the sunflowers gracing the table. It doesn't hurt that at the market tonight, while I carried on conversations with two vendors and a grandma shopping for cucumbers to make pickles with her granddaughter tomorrow, musicians were playing for all the shoppers to enjoy. It's one of those homegrown milieus that force us to slow down and enjoy the moment.

Yes, sometimes a birder just has to do other things. Life is filled with too many wonderful experiences to limit oneself to only one. Like....Artist Trading Cards. I did two sets this past week for swaps. About birds.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

You lookin' at me? Eastern Wood Pewee

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Birding the hot ones

I returned home from Europe to a heat wave combined with a moderate drought. I believe that with our recent rainfalls, the drought conditions have improved, but the grass was definitely crunchy. One of the wonderful joys to which I returned was a dentist's appointment. I told my dentist that I'd met his wife and done some early morning birding with her this past spring. He sort of laughed and said, "Yeah, she's getting into birdwatching and counting and all that." He told me about her best day, which was a good one indeed, and spoke much as my own bemused husband probably speaks of me. I told him I was actually planning to go out to the Myrick Marsh as soon as I finished my appointment. His response? "It's too hot, there won't be any birds!"

That sounded like a challenge to me.

I wasn't really sure what I might see. It had been over a month since I'd been able to bird the area, so the cute fuzzy goslings and ducklings would be big. And it was definitely hot. Right away, I spotted no less than thirty Great Egrets gathered near the reeds. During the time I was birding, they eventually worked their way over to a large dead tree, where they arranged themselves artfully among the branches. Large numbers of Canada Geese were resting in the shade of the Wood Duck Trail, at marsh's edge. The teals, mallards and other small ducks were all paddling about. On one dried up flat, there were probably 30-50 kildeer, difficult to count as they blended in and moved about often. I got a close look for a change at a number of Yellow Headed Blackbirds. The yellow was not so bright, but it was still striking.

I even saw a family of ducklings, but I'm not sure what exactly there were. Not Mallards, not Wood Ducks. Someone needs to make a field guide that shows the young birds.

The birds were indeed out there; I just had to take my time and look. This was no problem, with the heat near 100 and the humidity adding a light haze. I'd still rather be out there than sitting inside the air conditioned house, thinking it's too hot to go outside! I even added two new birds to my year list, not a bad day birding at all.

Birds seen (or heard)

Cardinal, House Wren, Yellow Warbler, Red-Winged Blackbird,
Mallard, Wood Duck, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron,
Great Egret, Canada Goose, Song Sparrow, Solitary Sandpiper,
Blue Winged Teal, Prothonotary Warbler, Redstart, Starling,
Grackle, Robin, Yellowthroat, Baltimore Oriole,
Catbird, Black Duck, Goldfinch, Eastern Wood Pewee,
Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher,
Some Empids! Warbling Vireo,
Cliff Swallow, Northern Rough-Winged Swallow,
Eastern Kingbird, Purple Martin,
Lesser Yellowlegs, Kildeer

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Some Spanish birds were very accomodating models

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Most often, these were the birds I saw

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Birds across the pond

I set off for my travels throughout Europe with high hopes of adding new birds to my life list. High on my list was the desire to see a stork on a rooftop, but any other sightings would be serendipity. I don't have a European field guide, so I had no expectations as to what else I might see.

I didn't really stop to consider that this itinerary I was traveling as a delegation leader for People to People was mostly urban. The times when we'd be in more rural settings, the alpine forests were thick and deep, making bird sightings difficult. Besides, I was busy concentrating on keeping the chocolate for my picnic lunch away from one of the belled cows roaming the Swiss Alps! For the most part, my bird sightings were pigeons and the ubiquitous house sparrows, both of which would mob anyone foolish enough to sit down on a park bench with anything edible.

So what exactly did I see? Well, we were finishing up an environmental project, removing invasive plants from a small river in Freiburg, Germany, when someone pointed out a stork watching a nest on a rooftop. Said stork had a webcam watching over it. I saw other storks in Cordoba, Spain, baking in the 116 degree heat on the top of a statue. In Parc Guell in Barcelona, there was a constant squawk of bright green parrots, flying jewels. Reading up on them, I learned they are an invasive species as well. Monk parrots, bought as pets but escaped from their cages, have reproduced and created problems for the local ecosystem, eating everything green they can find.

In Seville, I saw my first white doves flying about the square by the cathedral. Blackbirds were abundant and I enjoyed their singing; it gave new meaning to the lyrics of George Harrison, "blackbird singing in the dead of night." I heard cuckoos in the woods near my homestay in Switzerland, but sad to say, though I had three weeks overseas, not much new was added to my life list. Ah well, the trip was not one for birding.

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