Thursday, May 30, 2024

A hodgepodge of spring birds

I was out and about, to the extent possible, finding and photographing birds this spring. The last year has been my busiest ever for speaking engagements, thanks in part to my new book, Gardening for Moths. My coauthor Chelsea Gottfried and I have been very pleased with the book's reception, and we're grateful that people are interested in moths. So, if promoting one of our coolest groups of insects meant less bird shooting (with a camera) for a while, no problem.

Here, in no particular order, is some aviphotography from the past month or so.

A Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata) floats across a marsh. These birds are generally far easier heard than seen. Gallinules, along with Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots, are responsible for much of the loud cackles, grunts, and yelps that emanate from an early morning marsh. The vocalists often remain hidden in vegetation but this bird, lucky me, floated across placid waters in beautiful light. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Lucas County, Ohio, May 8, 2024.

An American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) flies over a Lake Erie marsh. Note the head and bill shadow on the underwing. Before its flight to another section of the marsh, the well-camouflaged heron was regularly delivering its bizarre oonk-ah-choonk song and continued to do so after arrival to its new hunting grounds. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Lucas County, Ohio, May 8, 2024.

A Sora (Porzana carolina) swims through the fringes of a large mixed-emergent marsh. Plenty of the little chicken-like rails were present this day. Soras are much easier to hear than see, though, as they tend to remain in dense cover. There were also a number of Virginia Rails, although on this day those remained sight unseen. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ottawa County, Ohio, May 8, 2024.

A very bright Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) forages along the Bird Trail at Magee Marsh on May 8. This one caught my eye due to its bright yellow coloration, pretty much from throat to undertail coverts. The streaks on the breast also look thicker than typical "Western" palms that move through Ohio in abundance. Could this be the rarer (for the Great Lakes region) "Eastern" Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum subsp. hypochrysea)? Or just an exceptionally colorful male Western Palm? Lucas County, Ohio.

A subadult male American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). Males of this warbler species do not develop their distinctive black and orange Halloween colors until their second season, although they can sing and pair off and breed as young "yellowstarts". This individual is particularly boldly spotted with black. A female redstart would lack the black dots and black around the eye. Magee Marsh, Lucas County, Ohio, May 18, 2024.

My front yard Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) was in peak fruiting condition on May 23 and does it draw the birds. To be this Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) must be akin to sitting in a bowl of botanical M & M's. A group of about eight waxwings has been visiting often to plunder the tree but they're not the only ones. In one half-hour photo shoot, I also saw Blue Jay, House Finch, Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, and Northern Cardinal partake of the fruit. If you like birds, plant a serviceberry. All this action is 20 feet from my front door. Worthington, Ohio.

A female Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) prepares to swallow a fruit from my Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea). She did not have far to go. Their nest (2nd pic) is on the other side of the driveway, about 20 feet away. The bluebirds made frequent visits to the berry-laden tree, even driving off catbirds, waxwings, cardinals and other fruit-seekers. Worthington, Ohio, May 22, 2024.

A Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) does the splits between two grass culms, a characteristic posture for this little wetland bird. There was a loose colony of several wrens in this spot. We could also hear several Sedge Wrens in the distance, in a drier grassy field. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ottawa County, Ohio, May 19, 2024.

A Sedge Wren (Cistothorus stellaris) surveys its foggy prairie domain from atop a Giant Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus). In the next shot, he chatters his mechanical sewing machine-like song. This species is loosely colonial, and others had staked their claims nearby. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ottawa County, Ohio, May 18, 2024.

A Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philapelphicus) strikes a pose along the bird trail at Magee Marsh. There were a number of them on this day. "Phillies" can look much like brighter-plumaged Warbling Vireos, and their song is incredibly similar to the Red-eyed Vireo, which can create identification challenges. Lucas County, Ohio, May 18, 2024.

A male Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) intently watches a mayfly whir by. Probably more people ogle the extroverted nesting pairs of Prothonotary Warblers along the Magee Marsh boardwalk in May, than observe all of the other Prothonotaries in existence, combined, during the same period. The males, especially, will pose at arm's length, seemingly curiously watching the fawning bipeds, and even land on the boardwalk guardrails. I love watching the reactions of newer birders to this amazing and charismatic songbird. Lucas County, Ohio, May 18, 2024.

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