Friday, April 24, 2009

Gnatty Sign of Spring

Though far away, he hears me spishing at him.

On of the birds whose arrival I note each year as a solid sign of spring is the blue-gray gnatcatcher. Male gnatties come back well before the leaves are out on most trees—and just after the male red-winged blackbirds have started conk-a-reeing in the cattails. How the gnatsters find anything to eat I'll never know, but they must.

I often hear this species before I see it. It has a high-pitched, sibilant call that sounds more like an angry mosquito than a territorial bird. Hearing the gnatcatcher's call I scan the treetops, hoping for a sign of movement—these are very active birds. But the gnatsnatcher's gray-on-gray plumage is a perfect match to the still-leaden winter skies, and I often miss seeing this tiny bug-eater of the treetops.

Gnatcatchers ARE very susceptible to spishing, however. And, as you can see from this series of photos, their curiosity sometimes brings them quite close to the spisher. Try it for yourself.

I'm glad that the gnatties come back early. Even though they don't add much color to the woods as some later-arriving migrants do, they add sound and activity and life, where everything else seems dormant, still slumbering under winter's sedation.


I've got his attention now.

He's hopping mad that he cannot find the rival gnatcatcher.

His face shows that he realizes he's been duped.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Haiku for Spring Beauties


Tiny white flower
like snow on a sunny day
spring won't be denied



These images were taken on Easter Sunday at Camp Tupper, a park in Marietta, Ohio. The hill in this last image is ceremonial mound called the Quadranaou, built by the Hopewell Indians sometime between 100 B.C and 900 A.D. Growing up in Marietta, we kids in the neighborhood surrounding Camp Tupper called it the turtle mound because it was vaguely turtle shaped. It got the name Camp Tupper during the Civil War when Union soldiers used this park and Sacra Via nearby as camping and parade grounds.

Every April, the spring beauties carpet Camp Tupper—a reminder that spring is here and soon the trees will be full of migrant birds and the air full of their songs.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Hurrying the Seasons

Weak spring sunlight casting shadows of leafless trees on new meadow grass.

It's been spring, officially, for two weeks, but it's not really spring for us bird watchers until the good spring migrants start showing up. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE the hardy early arrivers: pine warblers, tree swallows, chipping sparrows, brown thrashers. But it seems so much more wonderful when the wood thrushes, chestnut-sided warblers, great crested flycatchers, and Baltimore orioles show up.

So I guess I am trying my level best to hurry the seasons along. Despite the advice of all the New Age gurus that we must "live in the moment and not "wish our lives away." When it comes to anticipating the special birds of spring, I'm totally ready to forget today if tomorrow brings a dawn chorus of new arrivals.

Some other spring signs:

Blooming fruit trees.

Bluebirds getting house proud.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

This Just In: Tree Swallow

This morning when I took Phoebe out to the bus, dawn was barely breaking and there was a heavy dew on the ground. By the time I took out Liam to his bus, just after 8 am, the dew was still there, and it was joined by a heavy, filmy mist, which obscured the sun. As we walked to the garage, the silhouette of a bird sitting on the power line caught my eye.

"Is that a tree swallow?" I asked myself. Liam overheard me and said "Walll, you know what preddy-mush all the birds are Daddy, so, yep, it prolly is!" He was right! It WAS a tree swallow.

Now THAT'S a good sign of spring's arrival.

Bus duties completed, I tossed a handful of dried eggshell bits up onto the dark-shingles of the garage roof. The tree and barn swallows eat these eggshell bits all spring and summer. I know it's early, but it felt good to start yet another spring ritual: The Feeding of the Eggshells.

Also in full song this morning: eastern meadowlarks, eastern bluebirds, house finches, a red-shouldered hawk, and all the usual suspects (cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, song sparrow, wild turkey) joined by some het-up dark-eyed juncos who are getting a head start on their spring concertos.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring's Eternal Hope

The first robin of spring!

Everyone, it seems, has been waiting for spring to finally, well, spring. Here in SE Ohio it finally did today with a bunch of obvious signs. First, there was the mythical First Robin of Spring! We have robins all winter long flying over the farm and in our woods. But that does not stop us from gushing and pointing and proclaiming the arrival of TFROS.

Colt's foot (Tussilago farfara)

Colt's foot has been in bloom for about 10 days and is now starting to go to seed. This hearty wildflower grows along roadsides and seems to thrive in areas of disturbed soil. It comes up in early spring without fail, just when you think you'll never see another blooming flower ever again.That high-pitched whining sound you're hearing at night from the roadside ditch is the love song of the American toad. The male toad trills away on warm, wet evenings, hoping to lure a female into range so he can jump on her back, fertilize her eggs, and make more little toads. These toads, captured en flagrante, are temporary residents of our backyard pond. Once the deed is done, they'll head back to the woods where they live, hoping to avoid broad-winged hawks by day and barred owls by night.

I, for one, am glad the wait for spring is over. Now I must steel myself for the warm weather ahead and for all the delectable birds that will be riding in from the south on the warm fronts.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

This Just In

Blue-gray gnatcatcher. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

When I woke up this morning and saw the sun (that unfamiliar bright yellow light in the sky) shining and the maple trees in flower, I knew it might be the day they arrived.

And sure enough it was today.

Just about the time I was throwing the hotdogs on the grill, and shellacking the kids at a game of P-I-G on the basketball court, I heard the telltale high-pitched, buzzy lisp of our latest spring returnee.

The blue-gray gnatcatchers got in today here in Southeastern Ohio. An undeniable sign of spring. Hallelujah!

I ran to the house for my binocs and when I came out I could hear the gnatcatcher's call, but at some distance. Where to look? .....DUH! Look in the trees that are flowering. That's where the gnats AND THUS the gnatcatchers will be. Ah! Look there! In the crown of that red maple. It's a male blue-gray and he's looking natty!

Happy spring to you, my fellow bird watchers! May a gnatcatcher soon arrive to catch your gnats.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Last Night I Smelled Spring


Last night I smelled spring
alive once more from frozen torpor
wetness seeping through sodden ground
peepers hail at edge of earshot
woodcock twitter-peents around

swollen creeks brown frothy roaring
bearing off the earth's loose, cloddy skin
tree buds swell anticipating
yellow sun, warm kiss of wind

It was no dream this earthy scent
of soil and grass and winter death
of leaves now rotten moldering
I filled my lungs with spring's sweet breath


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