Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Unidentified bird in the middle of a nighttime rain

Around mid-week, Wednesday, August 19th, we finally got some rain.  I has been dry for awhile and my grass is brown and crispy.  

The rain came in the night, starting around 1:00 am or so and continued off and on, sometimes heavily, until morning.

Just outside my bedroom window I heard a bird that I did not recognize calling loudly.  It awakened me - sort of - I was not fully awake but, out of habit, I found myself running through the CD in my heard of familiar bird songs and calls.  I could not match it up with any.

I'm a restless and just not a good sleeper.   Around 3:00 am I was awakened by the rain coming down harder and I heard the call again. This time I was ready.  I got may cell phone and made these two recordings from my 2nd floor bedroom window.  Unfortunately, the bird either has it's head turned or is further away from my window. The calling is also diminished by the heavy rain.

The first video is 10 seconds and the second video is 12 seconds.   I hope you can hear it - have your volume up.  What bird is making this call?

Back to the beginning ... of 2015

Every so often someone will ask which are my favorite birds are.  I never have an answer for this question when it's asked, but later when I think about it, I feel like my answer is flycatchers and shorebirds.

Nevertheless, on my trip to Costa Rica at the end of January and 1st week in February, I fell for the little Snowcap.  

This is one constantly moving bird and good photos with a point and shoot ... well, forget it.  Doesn't matter.  These are the best of the many I took.  

18 seconds of a tiny moving machine video below.

I think that seeing a Snowcap ranks as a "must see" life experience.  Okay, okay so that's over the top ... but it's a great bird.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Baby Cedar Waxwings

Last weekend I was at my family's cottage pretending to read when I became distracted by a cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) in flight and chasing a largish insect.  In an impressive effort of determination the bird caught the insect several yards out over the lake.    

But it's mostly their berry-loving that brings them to my backyard.  For the past few days my yard has been visited by a large flock of juvenile cedar waxwings.  This morning a single adult flew in with the juveniles.

They've been attracted to my large pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) bush and, as of last night, had eaten all of the ripe berries.  There are still plenty of unripened berries and this morning the waxwings are back checking for more.  I also have purple berries on my arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) bushes.  I have several arrowwood trees that have mostly had disappointing yields of berry production. Nevertheless, this year there are some small purple berries on a few of the bushes.  I also have some plump berries on a couple of black choke cherry bushes that seem to have interested the birds.   

The running water in my pond-less (inaccurate name for such a moving water contraption because there is a small pond where the falling water collects) waterfall has offered a respite for them.  The past couple of days have been sunny and hot.  The water had become low and warm so I topped it off with some fresh, cool water.  I also keep a standard little cement birdbath full of fresh water for the birds that prefer this.

An adult bird has just flown into my flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) tree, which did not flower this year so has no berries (another disappointing tree in my yard).  If wishing to plant a berry producing dogwood, I recommend pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) which produces plump purple berries around mid-July.  I digress.  Cedar waxwings are such beautiful and, I think, overlooked birds.  I love their flocking, flight-style that makes their identification unmistakeable when they are overhead.  Their distinct lisping call note adds icing to the cake.

A northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) visited this morning, landing on a utility wire in terrible light, and seemed interested in dropping down but thought better of it.  I got three horrible photos before it flew off. The shape and structure of the tail is easily seen.

It's now 11:00 am and things have quieted down since I first came out. In addition to the waxwings and flicker, I've seen blue jays, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, red-breasted nuthatch, robins, cardinals, goldfinch and ruby-throated hummingbirds.  Earlier, I heard a nearby eastern pewee give an abbreviated call and the distinct rattle of an overhead belted kingfisher.  Not bad for a teeny, tiny urban backyard.  Oh, and I cannot leave out the house sparrows.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Last week there was an active cardinal nest in the dense center of one of my viburnum dentatum bushes.  I could hear the nestling chipping whenever one of the parent birds was nearby.  After the heavy rain around mid-week the nestling became a fledgling.  I can hear its insistent metallic chinking now from various places nearby and the parents, especially the female, are busy finding food.  The male also spends a lot of time singing from the utility wires.

Yesterday was an active yardbird day with the cardinals plus robins, goldfinches, house wrens and house sparrows.

This mourning dove was a tentative visitor to my waterfall.  It cautiously made its way in for a drink.  

For the past two to three weeks my yard has been a haven for robins.  This summer my pagoda dogwood tree had a nice crop of plump purple berries which the robins love.  The berries are now gone but the robins remain.  Last evening there were at least two fledglings and three adults.

One of the youngsters paused to take a nap on the waterfall rocks.  I was able to get very close to it and the bird seems still quite young though it is a skillful flyer.  Neither of the fledglings is begging which seemed unusual.  I am accustomed to seeing baby robins running after their parents begging for food well beyond their baby stage.  

Even the bathing adult did not immediately wake this youngster.  I got many photos and the fledgling seems entirely done in.

In the video below, the small heaving chest of the sleeping fledging is seen.  I did consider that this young bird may not be healthy, but I have seen nestling robins breathe in the same way.  Perhaps the job of being on its own is proving to be very tiring.

Below, the fledgling awakened from time-to-time to fly away, but came back for at least two snoozes.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

H is for Hawk, C is for Catbird

On Friday, after reading another set of glowing reviews, I purchased H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald hoping to begin reading it this long 4th of July weekend.  Sunday morning arrived and I still had not started reading.  This is thanks to other worthy distractions like a long, but completely disturbing, New Yorker article that I started reading before the book purchase.

I needed to do some gardening this morning, mostly pruning and weed pulling - baby maple trees everywhere - when around 9:30 am I heard a Carolina Wren calling from across the street and then, very shortly, calling in my yard - meaning that it was moving. I heard it again a couple of houses further in.  This was the first Carolina Wren in the neighborhood for me (but then I'm probably the only one left who pays attention anymore; all of the other birders have left) all spring and made a note of the time to enter in eBird later.  Its sudden appearance may also signal the early start of fall migration.  I called it quits on the gardening, different than finishing, to finally sit in the shade and begin reading H is for Hawk.

House sparrows flitted in and out of the pond and then a male robin with still bright plumage came to bath.  Then it was quiet.  Back to reading.  Movement around the pond caught my attention again.  It was obscured behind the blazing star and I thought the robin was back. But then a catbird jumped into view and hopped down on a rock and began drinking.  A couple of weeks earlier I heard a catbird in the neighbor's thick hedge across the street.  But this is the first time I have actually seen a catbird in my small backyard.  I wanted to get my camera but I knew that as soon as I moved the bird would be gone and the moment would be lost.  The catbird stayed for at least five minutes and then flew off to perch in my dogwood tree beyond the pond.

I went in for my camera and was rewarded with a brief appearance by a goldfinch.  This my third summer having the waterfall.  I have both regretted and enjoyed having it.  I payed way too much to have it installed (should have known better) and it's a lot of work (I had been warned).  Mostly I have enjoyed it and today was one of those days. Back to reading H is for Hawk.

Women's World Cup soccer at 40 minutes:  USA 4, Japan 2.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bog hiking

This was a much anticipated event.  I, being the novice naturalist in the group, had never hiked in a bog before.  For sure Susan Kielb has because she does research on singing Palm Warblers and it takes her there daily when she is in the UP.  For sure Artemis Eyster has - at Warterloo NWR and other LP locations - but never before in the UP. Sarah Toner is currently working for Seney National Wildlife Refuge where she is doing marsh field surveys so, for sure, she has done some bog hiking.

In my many drives to Whitefish Point and other UP locations, I've seen bogs along the roadside and have thought that they appeared both inviting and forbidding.  It wasn't even clear to me that one could actually enter a bog and hike.  Turns out that, just by looking and seeing, I was right.  They are both inviting and forbidding.

On Sunday morning, we met up at 6:00 am and with Susan driving set off for the Farm Truck Road bog where she collects data for much of her research on the Palm Warblers song.  Susan is an intrepid GPS user and I was an admirer.  I've never used a hand-held GPS; indeed, don't even know how.  In addition to experiencing a bog hike of this extent, the focus of our travels was to see if we could find nesting LeConte's Sparrow.  Susan had the spot marked for a LeConte's sparrow found on a previous year and we headed off in the direction of that location.

We saw and heard so much. 

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia

From right to left:  Artemis, Sarah and Susan.

Bog footprint

The long view.

The short view.

We GPS'd in on our singing LeConte's sparrow only to find that it was a Savannah sparrow.  Startling to see what a wide range of habitats a Savannah is comfortable nesting in.  I am accustomed to the dry, grassy sites where Savannah can be counted on.  And, here it was in the wettest of the wet locations.

Above and below terrible photos of a beautiful plant:   Bog Rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla).

Pitcher plant flower (Sarracenia purpurea).  Unfortunately, I neglected taking a photo of the plant itself.

Unidentified scat.

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor).

I hesitate to call this Bog Cotton because I can't find this in the small, yellow Wildflowers of Michigan field guide - (by the way, a pretty good guide for novices like me) - but I remember that the word cotton was used in its name.

Above and below: Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule) in the bog.


I love the bright green of the fresh growth on the young tamarack trees.

Swamp laurel (Kalmia polifolia). Out-of-focus - really, how do I do this on a still flower?  Sometimes my photos drive me crazy.  But in this one instance I may have an excuse.  The mosquito intensity was fierce and my hands were bare and even though they were slathered in bug juice, it didn't seem to matter.  More on this later.

Above and below:  the fresh growth on the young black spruce trees.

A hummock.

Forgot which plant this is, but we watched a female hooded merganser flying around as we stood in this location, making us think we were close to her nest cavity tree.

The remaining photos are back on dry land and taken along Farm Truck Road.

Blue Flag Iris - again and a much nicer photo.

I thought this lichen was beautiful.

Above and below:  Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum) - in the Iris family

This Rosy Maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) was found on the road. Believe it or not, it was still alive after being struck by a car.  We laid it off the road in some soft sand under under some protective plants after taking these photos.

Pink Lady's Slipper on Farm Truck roadside.

I am a complete novice about wildflowers and wild plants.  We discussed all of the plants identified by the others as we hiked though the bog, but I was not writing down the names.  Some of the plants in the photos above remain unidentified, but I did my best to identify the others.  Hopefully, I've gotten them right.  All except a few of my photos are quite poor, but as I mentioned conditions were not the best.  

As with our visit to Whitefish Point the day before to see the Piping Plover, the bog was an intense experience with mosquitoes.  More later when I write about our Sunday afternoon adventure.