Friday, April 17, 2009

Birds Passing Through


Today a vesper sparrow stopped by the farm on its way north. Small and finely streaked, with that faint eyering and chestnut shoulder—it's the first one spotted here at Indigo Hill in a decade.

Otherwise, spring migration here this year seems at least a week behind schedule.

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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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Monday, March 30, 2009

Mr. Brown is Back in Town

The brown thrasher returned to our ridge-top farm on Sunday morning. Zick heard him first and yelled it to me from the other end of the house. I stuck my head out the window and heard his jumbly sing-song coming from the spring trail.

This is a photo of the same dude (I suspect) from a few years ago. He was singing from the same tree yesterday and I would have gone after him with the camera for some fresh images, but I was simply not able. I've been down with some weird flu-like affliction since Friday night and have not been feeling anywhere close to myself.

Nice to know spring goes on, rolling around on Nature's giant wheel, even when we, ourselves, feel more like roadkill.

I am thankful for brown thrashers. Knowing that Mr. Brown is back in town has me feeling better—I'd say he's done more tom improve my health than a full dose of Biaxin—at least so far.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mourning Morning

One morning last week I was out on the back deck trying to clip Liam's claw-like fingernails before sending him to school. As he fidgeted and I snipped and growled at him to sit still lest he lose a finger, I heard a foggily familiar bird song rise up out of the tangled mess of chlorophyll that is our old orchard.


No. It can't be!

But it was! A mourning warbler!

Liam's remaining fingernails were given a cursory clip, leaving them looking like he'd tried to stop a belt sander with just his fingertips. I was off to grab the camera, binocs, iPod, and Julie.

We beat it out to the orchard and the bird was still singing, but from deep in the woods. Mournings, being members of the dastardly warbler genus Oporornis, are natural skulkers, preferring the deepest, most impenetrable tangles from which to sing.

This bird was a migrant. The nearest breeding mourning warblers to southeastern Ohio are found in the rhododendron tangles of the West Virginia mountains. We spished to get his attention. He kept singing but did not come closer. I looked at the impressive blend of greenbriar and multiflora rose thorns, poison ivy, grape vines, and Japanese honeysuckle that was between us and the bird. Even if we DID manage to get through such a green maze, the noise of our crashing and cursing would surely scare the bird away.

We did have the iPod...

Migrant birds infrequently respond to recorded calls. Why should they? They are not yet defending any territory—they are merely passing through.

It was worth a try. The weather was warm and the sun was shining. It seemed we would not be putting undue stress on this male mourning warbler. Besides, even though I knew the song and Julie agreed with my ID by sound, it would be nice to SEE the bird both to confirm its identity and to enjoy its beauty: a dark hood (like a mourning cloak), olive back, lemon belly, and pinkish legs and bill.

I played the song on the iPod. The bird chipped and hopped into sight. Then it went back to singing and foraging in its newly visible location, offering up the occasional chip as it sashayed around the edge of the yard. It chased a common yellowthroat, perhaps just needing SOMEONE to pick on.

We got a few photos. And we enjoyed every minute of this lovely creature.

After I left for work, the mourning continued to sing and forage near the yard. Julie heard a second one a few days later.

This may very well be the only mourning warbler I see this year. And thinking back it's been at least two years since I've seen one well—the last being on my 2006 adventure to northernmost Minnesota seeking another Oporornis, the Connecticut warbler.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Flying North with the Birds

A singing male indigo bunting, photographed at Shawnee State Forest during the 2006 OOS annual conference.

I'll be leaving this weekend for the annual conference of The Ohio Ornithological Society at Mohican State Park near Loudonville, OH. We expect about 200 avian enthusiasts for the event--the OOS's third annual conference. Saturday night's keynote speaker is Donald Kroodsma, famed ornithologist and bird sound recorder/interpreter.

I'll be hoping to catch up with migration, too, in heading north. The blackpoll warblers are passing through here right now, which means that the major flow of spring birds is ebbing. Blackpolls have always seemed to me to be a signal that migration is slowing down. Yesterday the spruce tree outside my office window held several Cape May warblers. Today it's all blackpolls.

Wherever you are this weekend, get outside--away from the "real world" and spend some time in nature! Books and magazines and blogs and websites are great, but there's no substitution for immersing yourself in the real natural world.

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