FOY* White-eyed Vireo

As spring unfolds the warm-weather birds start to appear, such as the Tree Swallows and Bank Swallows I mentioned a few days ago. Yet, some winter birds are still around. I’m still seeing Slate-colored Juncos (a.k.a. “Snow Birds”), Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and on today’s walk, I saw four Ring-billed Gulls.

To counterbalance the presence of those winter species, this morning I saw my (*) first-of-the-year White-eyed Vireo. It was encouraging to see the Vireo because it means that the spring migration is ratcheting up.

I’m still waiting to hear the skeeaw and gulp of the Green Herons. Should be any day now (although our colder than average March weather might be holding them back).

Swallow Two

Yesterday I posted a picture of a Tree Swallow, along with a picture of an Eastern Bluebird.

The Tree Swallows first appears (to my knowledge) about two years ago. They probably visited the pond before, but they never stayed. It occurs to me, as I write, that their nesting at the pond is related to the erection of the bluebird nesting boxes. The swallows and bluebirds compete for the boxes across the dam, with Brown-headed Nuthatches taking the box across the spillway, and Chickadees in the box further up the path from there.

However, for several years before the Tree Swallows stayed to nest, the only swallows I saw at Seagroves were Bank Swallows. They don’t appear regularly, but they are occasional visitors in the summer months, showing up for a few days at a time, then disappearing again. It’s possibly a migratory pattern.

There have been a pair of Bank Swallows around the pond for the past few days. I’ve found they don’t startle easily, so it is possible to get quite close for a photograph.

While not as brilliantly colored as the Tree Swallows, the Bank Swallows make up for it in almost teddy-bear softness.

One other difference you might notice between the two birds is that the Tree Swallows tend to fly high above the pond, staying fairly close to the eastern (dam) side of the pond. Whereas the Bank Swallows fly much closer to the water and prefer the western (dock) side of the pond.

Blue bird? or Bluebird?

If you see a blue bird, does that make it a Bluebird? Not necessarily.

If you see a bird that isn’t all blue, can it be a Bluebird? Perhaps.

This first image is a Tree Swallow. It’s probably one of the prettiest blue birds we see around the pond (and it’s almost entirely blue). I am asked from time to time if a Tree Swallow is a Bluebird. I’ll reply that its a pretty color, but it’s not an Eastern Bluebird.

To see an Eastern Bluebird, you have to look for orange.

Admittedly, this is a carefully chosen view of an Eastern Bluebird. The back of the Eastern Bluebird is blue, particularly on the males. Nevertheless, I find it amusing that from some perspectives, the Eastern Bluebird doesn’t appear to be blue at all.

On the west coast of North America, there are Western Bluebirds, but they have more orange than Eastern Bluebirds. However, if you go to the Rocky Mountains, you’ll find Mountain Bluebirds, which are completely blue. And they’re Bluebirds.

Great, Blue Heron

There have been at least two Great-blue Herons around the pond over the past few weeks. I’ve seen and heard them confronting(?) each other several times. A few days ago I heard a strange “Awwk” above my head and looked up to see the two of them concluding a brief, in-flight battle.

Or at least I think they were battles. Another time I thought I saw one pursuing another off into the woods to the east of the park. A few minutes later one of them returned alone.

At this time of year, they could be territorial battles for food or nesting, or they could be some kind of pre-courtship “getting to know you” rituals between a male and female.

Because the sexes are very hard to tell apart, I’ll never really know…unless we’re lucky enough to see some “little” Great-blue Herons.

Either way, as they fly around, they make interesting targets for photographs.

Just Ducky

Up in the trees we’re watching Red-shouldered Hawks build nests. But much lower down, there’s some subtle nest building occurring on the forest floor. Or perhaps I should say “location scouting.”

Several pairs of ducks have been noticed in the area between the bridges, some quite close to the path. This Mallard hen was just a bit off the paved path, very close to one of the “free-form” dirt paths. She blended into the dead leaves remarkably well.

Perhaps she was a bit too close to the path. As I watched, after taking this shot, a man and his young son came right along the dirt path. The Mallard wasn’t happy about that and waddled off to the water.

I inspected the site and was actually glad she hadn’t started lining the spot with downy feathers.

But somewhere around us, there’s a duck that knows what it’s doing. She’ll have a nest much like this one, perhaps almost in plain sight. But you will probably never know it’s there, until you see the little ones on the pond.

To Capture a Kinglet

The only bird that’s smaller than a Kinglet is a Hummingbird. We have two species of Kinglets at Seagroves Pond: Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned. Both species are busy birds. They move from branch to branch and twig to twig in small hops, usually not more than 8-12 inches at a time. They’re constantly looking for insects and other food.

But the constant motion presents a problem in trying to photograph them. No sooner do I press the shutter than the bird decides to move on to the next spot. Although it can be frustrating, it often amuses me when I’m looking through shots to see the Kinglet first in a nice pose on a branch, then in the next shot to see a blur headed somewhere out of the frame.

Even so, it’s rewarding when a shot pays off. This picture of a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet was part of the second pair of images, above.

The Kinglets will be around for another few weeks, then they’ll migrate north for the summer. The Golden-crowned will go about as far a Quebec; The Ruby-Crowned Kinglets can migrate as far as Labrador. They’ll come back to us in October or November.

Nesting is work!

I’ve seen at least four Red-shouldered Hawk nests under construction this week. Most will probably be false starts, abandoned for one reason or another. Some not well supported by the tree, some too public, some, well, who knows? Certainly the hawks do.

This morning I saw two hawks building a nest in some pines, just off the path. I think it’s a very public spot, so I don’t have much hope they’ll stay. But they are certainly busy gathering twigs and sticks. They’re opportunists and will often take useful-looking branches from squirrels nests. Other times they’ll hang and swing acrobatically while trying to pull a twig off of a tree.

I like these images because they show the birds in action, with the raw materials right in front of them.

Phoebe in Pink

Walking by the dock today, I heard some Brown-headed Nuthatches making their squeaky toy sounds. Then I heard another sound down by the water, almost like the Nuthatches, but a bit more pronounced. Then I heard it more distinctly: “fee-beee, fee-beeeee.”

I’ve seen an Eastern Phoebe around the pond for the past few days. When this one took its pose in a blooming tree, with reddish sweetgum buds behind it, I couldn’t resist. I fairly well knew how the picture would look before I pushed the shutter.

Then it said “fee-beeee,” just as the camera clicked.

Appropriate day for couples

Here’s a pair of (quite literally) “love birds,” spotted just today.

I saw one carrying nesting materials and tracked it as it flew to its nest. While it was working on the nest, a second, the female, alighted on the branch pictured here. The male joined it a few minutes later.

The male is on the left, the female on the right. Among raptors and owls, the female is often noticeably larger than the male.

We had a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks attempt to build a nest in Seagroves Park two years ago. Perhaps it was the same couple. I documented some of their nesting in one of my earlier posts. For whatever reason, they decided not to use the nest; perhaps this pair will succeed!

Sing a song of sixpence

An isolated shot of just one Red-wing Blackbird. There were others around. In fact, you will rarely see these blackbirds as singletons; there are always others around. Sometimes those others may include Grackles or Brown-headed Cowbirds. It’s always a party with Red-wing Blackbirds.

You might see them flying in flocks of 10 to 100 individuals. (Did anyone say “four and twenty”?) The entire flock will land together in the top of a group of trees. I’ve noticed they’re particularly fond of pine trees. In pines, they become invisible, save for the movement of a few birds, but the noise they make with their “skrr” call is unmistakable.