Skip to main content

Birding by Ear

The sounds of birds was the focus at a special workshop held this weekend at the Wilds, and ably orchestrated by Al Parker, along with help from a number of other Wilds' staff. They've been conducting the Birding by Ear weekend every year for several years now, and this was the first year I was able to attend. I appreciated the invite, and had a great time.


I cast a long shadow over the Wilds shortly after dawn this morning. I arrived at the field trip rendezvous site early, to study the various grassland birds that abound in this area. The Wilds is BIG COUNTRY. Ten thousand acres of Wyoming-like scenery sprawls in every direction. Early in the morning, especially, it is possible to get quite far from any other people. It's neat - and rare enough in Ohio - to have thousands of acres all to one's self.

It is a good Bobolink year at the Wilds. They are everywhere, and at times a cacophony of R2 D2-like metallic spinks, spanks, pinks, and panks of the odd mechanical bubbly gurgling songs of the males fill the air. Singing high over the meadows, they cast their tunes across the grassslands on stiffly quivering wings. These Bobolinks have come a long way from their Argentinian wintering grounds - theirs is one of the true miracles of bird migration.

Al packed 'em in this year. We had a pretty full house of birders keen on honing their skills, who came in from all over the state. And we mustered up lots of birds. Many a lifer was had, and many a song learned. Here, we were helped by Dr. Danny Ingold of Muskingum College and Dr. Jed Burtt of Ohio Wesleyan University, both of who conduct grassland bird research at the Wilds.



The banding nets snared some goodies. This is a Grasshopper Sparrow. Quite abundant in these grasslands, Grasshopper Sparrows are rather retiring and sing a soft, insect-like trill. Up close in their breeding finery, their plumage is stunning. Beautiful golden-yellow highlights pop from the bend of the wing, and the lores.

If you want to see Henslow's Sparrow, this is the place to go. They are everywhere. I spent a fair bit of time studying a singing territorial male this morning through my scope, before the group arrived. Teed up on a low weed, he repeatedly sang his superficially pathetic insect-like hiccup. Lasting but 3/5 of a second or so, the song of the Henslow's doesn't sound like much. In fact, most people who hear it - assuming they'd even notice - would never suspect the sound came from a bird. But it has its own charm, and I've found that most people, when shown a singing Henslow's well, as through a scope so that the bird can be seen well, are invariably delighted by the singer's efforts.

The view of a Henslow's Sparrow is what you would have if you spent all of your time on your belly. Your life would be a dense tangle of green grass, viewed from within. But, when the testerone flows in spring, the males mount their two-foot tall perches to issue hiccups. This is a major production, if you are the sparrow. From his mount, he looks about, possibly to see if any ladies watch. Then, with all of the panache of one of the Three Tenors about to launch an aria, he tosses his head straight back. The arietta Of Sparrow doesn't last long, but the bird's body shakes with effort, his tail trembling and wings fluttering. Every ounce of his effort goes into the song.


Our group had some extraordinary birding experiences. Great looks at fine birds were commonplace, and we were really able to study what we found, and focus on learning songs and other vocalizations. An added bonus was all of the breeding evidence we collected for the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas. The above is last year's nest, of a Red-eyed Vireo. Notice how the finely woven cup is carefully placed right in the fork of these spindly American Elm branches. But thanks to a number of sharp-eyed participants, we also found a number of active nests of this season. Neat was a Red-shouldered Hawk aerie with some fuzzy white young. Neater yet was, even though we were some distance away from the nest, the way that the adult hung hundreds of feet over our heads, motionless, as if suspended from invisible strings.

At one magical spot in the forest, we saw an Eastern Wood-Pewee constructing its nest, one of two that we found. From the same spot, we could see an Acadian Flycatcher incubating eggs on its nest, a rather leafy cup, with just her tail sticking over the side. Nearby, an American Robin flattened itself on its more substantial mud/plant cup. Plenty of other species were seen carrying food or otherwise offering proof of their efforts at reproduction. Atlas season is in full swing.


Andrea Schiedler holds a big Black Rat Snake. Of course, there were many non-bird elements of natural history that we found, and this was one of the more impressive. Driving along a narrow gravel country lane, I saw the snake, frozen on the road. We stopped, leaped out - me figuring it for roadkill - and were glad to see it was just fine and as alive as could be. After a bit of handling, it settled right down, as Black Rat Snakes generally do, and was no problem. I'll give Andrea kudos for admiring it; most people have an unnatural and completely unjustified fear of snakes. This beauty was in fine shape, having recently shed its skin; gleaming and glossy. Good-sized, too, between four and five feet. They are known to reach eight feet! When we were through admiring it and getting some photos, we put it well of the road, on the side it was headed for.

A fence stretches off into infinity at the Wilds. Not just a fence, though. This time of year, more a linear Bobolink-perching device. It was good to see everyone this weekend, and congatulations to everyone on their life birds!

Comments

KatDoc said…
Some day I've got to make it to this work shop. Look at the lovely sparrows! Aaaahhh...

~Kathi

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…