Sunday, April 13, 2008

Weekend Birds

I spent Friday and Saturday along the shores of Lake Erie, which always provides interesting birding opportunities in spring. Most of the time involved activities related to Wing Watch, but I was able to get out and explore some local areas like East Harbor State Park and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Speaking of Wing Watch, Bill of the Birds was the keynote speaker and wowed everyone with his program. Bill has a new book out, The Young Birder's Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America, and his talk was based on that. You really should hear this program, as Bill has some wonderful thoughts and insights on getting young people out of doors and involved in nature. This should be a chief priority for all of us who are enthusiastic about the environment, no matter what age we are. Bill will also be speaking at the annual OOS conference - details right here.

Following are a few photos of the 80-odd species of birds that we managed to ferret out in our limited time afield on Friday.
The ducks were great, and the drakes were frisky. These are Red-breasted Mergansers, carousing in the waters of East Harbor. These seven males were hot on the heels of two females, and testosterone-laden as they are this time of year, were arrogantly prancing across the water, billowing out their shaggy crests, and feverishly vying for the female's attention.
The mergs would scoot with great rapidity across the water's surface, hot on the heels of the girl, or each other. Great brouhas would erupt from time to time, with the males lunging and chasing each other about.
While we watched the ducks and their antics, this bird flew in nearly overhead, high in an Eastern Cottonwood tree. No, it's not a jacamar, it's a male Belted Kingfisher, that boisterous and rather ill-tempered rattling catcher of fishes.

He wasn't there long when the resident Northern Cardinal took great umbrage at his presence. Though sorely outclassed in terms of both size and hostile nature, the cardinal waded right in and let that kingfisher know in no uncertain terms that he was unwelcome, and should immediately vacate the vicinity. We, way down on the ground, wondered if Mr. Kingfisher would impale the cardinal, rap him several times smartly against the tree, and then swallow him.
Whoa! Cardinal = 1 - Kingfisher = 0. The fiesty little redbird made it clear who rules the roost here, much to our surprise.
The insanity of Yellow-rumped Warbler fever has begun. They were everywhere, in good numbers, but have not yet built to the crescendo that they will in a week or two. Like this male, they are all great-looking warblers, but their numbers can be so large that it can grow tiring sorting through them for non-yellow-rumps. Paying close attention to our commonest migrant warbler can pay dividends, though. Sharp-eyed Ray Hannikman found an Audubon's Warbler amongst the much more plentiful Yellow-rumped Warblers at Headlands Dunes this weekend. The Audubon's is the western subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler, and is quite beautiful and distinctive. Our eastern birds, when they were considered separate species from the Audubon's, was called the Myrtle Warbler. There are very few records of the western Audubon's in Ohio.

Sometimes birders will refer to Yellow-rumped Warblers as "butter-butts". Here's why.

This is Rusty Blackbird habitat. They favor swamps, which are wooded wetlands. There, they forage on the ground along or even in the water, or stroll along logs. Listen for their rich, squeaky gurgles, often likened to the sound a rusty hinge makes as a door is opened. This scene is along the Bird Trail at Magee Marsh.

And here is a pair of Rusty Blackbirds wading about. Note the bright white eyes. That's a male on the left, female on the right. This is said to be the most rapidly declining songbird in North America, which is totally alarming. No one really knows why. Some estimates claim that we've lost about 95% of the population in the last 40 years. Read more about this issue right here.

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