Winged Highlights from Spring, 2020

Wildlife watching around the house and on local trails has occupied much of my free time this spring. The backyard has been an aviary, with an unprecedented variety and abundance of birds visiting feeders and, now, nesting in adjacent habitats.

I’m posting images in chronological order to illustrate the weather roller coaster and subsequent environmental responses during the last two months of this unusual spring season.

16April2020. While sitting in a ground blind hoping to photograph a turkey that was gobbling earlier in the morning, a male bluebird burst onto the scene. Despite the snow and cold, he appeared to be evaluating nest boxes and thinking ahead to nicer weather! In May, a pair of bluebirds did, in fact, build a nest in one of the boxes, only to abandon it and disappear when yet another spring snowstorm blew through.

29April2020. Spring events, including the arrival of red-winged blackbirds and the bloom of shrubby willows, were about two weeks late this year. After several attempts, I was pleased to capture both the bird and blooms in the same frame. The territorial song and breeding display of the redwing is a sure sign of spring and something we all look forward to. “The redwings have arrived!”.

30April2020. Record numbers of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were seen at feeders this spring. Unmistakable in a splash of bold and vivid colors, they quickly became the main attraction and the talk of the town!

10May2020. As their numbers increase around the country, eagles must adapt to human activity in order to capitalize on suitable habitats and food sources near people. This adult just left its nest in a residential area to hunt for fish and waterfowl in local reservoirs and road-killed animals in agricultural areas.

12May2020. Dozens of Goldfinches swarmed the neighborhood tube feeders for weeks this spring, to the point that Niger seed disappeared from store shelves. The birds far outnumbered the available feeding platforms on my modest feeder, leading to chaos and frequent displays of aggression.

13May2020. All seems right with the world when Tree Swallows arrive to claim nest boxes and showcase their magical flight maneuvers as they pursue air-borne insects. They’re most cooperative and photogenic on bright, chilly mornings when they’re apt to perch and preen in the sun. before take-off.

19May2020. Baltimore Orioles exploded onto the scene in May, dazzling with their vivid plumage and beautiful song. It wasn’t long before they received a red carpet welcome of sliced oranges, dishes of jelly and sugar water (in hummingbird feeders).

30May2020.

20May2020. Indigo Buntings, erratic visitors to feeders, are fairly small songbirds that are easily overlooked when moving about in the shadows and dense foliage of thickets. Due to widespread and lingering appearance at feeders this year, everyone now knows and appreciates Indigo Buntings! Their unique coloration is mesmerizing.

9June2020. For several years now, a pair of House Wrens has occupied a nest box on my garden fence. Their musical talents and voracious appetite for bugs more than compensate for their drab plumage. The garden experience wouldn’t be the same without them.

12June2020. The garden pests have more than a family of wrens to worry about. A pair of cute little tail-bobbing phoebes are nesting on a rafter in the open wood shed, not far from the wrens. They too are feasting on insects throughout the day….I think there’s enough to go around.

13June2020. Caught in an awkward preening position, this feisty male hummer guards the sugar-water feeder early in the morning and again late in the evening. His head is on a swivel as he diligently searches for another male invading his territory. The light is rarely adequate for a sharp image, but sometimes the scene trumps quality!

Photos by NB Hunter (April 10 – June 13, 2020). © All rights reserved.

 

 

Songbird Migration 2019

The National Wildlife Federation has promoted the creation of sustainable wildlife habitat for as long as I can remember. It maintains that “Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife”. The scope of this mission is broad – residential properties, institutional grounds, urban green spaces, etc. – and the support is equally impressive. Programs include gardening for wildlife (including butterflies and bees), the certification of wildlife habitat, education, current events and photo contests.

The rewards of wildlife habitat enhancement are evident throughout the year, but never more so than during the peak spring migration in May. Songbirds in myriad shapes, sizes and colors are on the move. Some are passing through, perhaps offering no more than a glimpse, while others are settling in on summer range. In either case, the birds need places to rest, feed, shelter — habitat!

Visitors to habitats around a home present opportunities for viewing and photographing that are virtually impossible at other times of the year for many species. This post is an example. Overall, the habitat includes mature trees, shrubs, herbaceous vegetation, water and feeders. The micro habitat for most of the images is a purple-leaf sand cherry and bird feeders next to the house. The sand cherry, a shrubby tree, provides valuable perching habitat and convenient access to feeders.

Male hummingbird guarding a sugar water feeder (1 of 2; May 10 and 15, 2019)

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeders in mid May (1 of 2; May 6 and 15, 2019)

Male Baltimore Oriole exploring its feeding options (1 of 2; May 16, 2019))

Male Indigo Bunting (May 17, 2019)

Female Eastern Towhee laying claim to a nesting territory (May 15, 2019)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

Colorful Visitors

When the songbird migration is peaking in early May, interesting and colorful subjects can appear just about anywhere. In fact, a backyard bird feeder can be just as productive as an exotic field trip. Some sightings, like Goldfinches, might be resident birds, more obvious in bright breeding plumage. But many species, the surprise encounters that have us tripping over things to find binoculars, cameras and field guides, are migratory. They’re returning to their summer ranges and breeding grounds, often covering thousands of miles in the process. I’ll never even begin to comprehend that incredible feat of endurance and navigation.

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Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, in breeding plumage

A year ago, almost to the day, I observed Goldfinches and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at my feeders and published “Finch Metamorphosis” (5/11/2013). There was a repeat performance this year, with one exciting addition: an Indigo Bunting.

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Adult male Goldfinches, in breeding plumage

With just 4 platforms on the tube feeder and 2 – 3 times as many finches, little scuffles for access occurred frequently. The mature males prevailed.

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The Indigo Bunting, outnumbered and less aggressive than the Goldfinches, perched nearby and fed when the crowd left.

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Adult male Indigo Bunting, in breeding plumage

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The birdseed that everybody’s fighting over is a readily available (and expensive) product trademarked “Nyjer” seed. It is not thistle seed, as I once thought, but the fruit of Guizotia abyssinica, an annual, exotic plant that was first cultivated in Ethiopia.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.