Friday, July 27, 2012

What's up?

My post titles really are not very creative, but one afternoon at break-time, instead of making a cup of tea or working a crossword puzzle, I went outside and lay on my back in the grass.  The intensity of the sky's blue was mesmerizing - how can I just lie there and look at a blank sheet of blue?  Well, it has depth, it has nuance, and time spent gazing at that sky freed my mind from the moment-to-moment clutter - break-time indeed.
Sycamore, Platanus sp.
I expected a few birds, and indeed goldfinches and mourning doves flew through my sphere of blue at the level of the treetops. Just at the lowest margin of the tree's leafy branches, two different species of dragonfly zipped through, and a few small tufts of white drifted by - I guessed thistledown.  But that was all - no gulls, no hawks, no planes even.
Maple, Acer sp.
Most of the West Campus bird species this week were counted in the usual way, while walking around or driving through campus.

Bird list for the week of July 23-27, 2012:

Canada Goose - the flock is back
Wild Turkey - a mama with two youngsters
Herring Gull - fly-overs
Killdeer - three are seen regularly in one of the parking lots
Oak, Quercus sp.
Mourning Dove
Northern Flicker
Fish Crow
Barn Swallow
American Robin
European Starling
Locust, Gleditsia sp., with the moon visible.
Northern Mockingbird
Gray Catbird - pretty quiet these days
Yellow Warbler - a few singing down in the old leaf pile
House Wren - still defending territories near the nest boxes
Black-capped Chickadee - one in the woods
Tufted Titmouse - several in the same woods as chickadee
Spruce, Picea sp.
Northern Cardinal
Song Sparrow - nobody singing, but one softly chipping
Chipping Sparrow - loudly trilling in the A-21 parking lot, along with numerous cicadas, which just appeared this week
Common Grackle - one down by the river
House Finch
American Goldfinch - so many, and so vocal
House Sparrow
Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostrobiodes.
Twenty-three species for the week, a week of clear skies mixed with storm clouds and brief rain showers.  A week of dry pleasant days and hot humid days - but that's summer - and it's Friday afternoon so what do I say now - get out and enjoy it!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Looking down, rather than up

In the heat of summer when birds seem to be hidden from view, I find myself birding by ear, perhaps while looking down.  Here at West Campus where I stopped my car to listen for birds in the woods I took a few photos of hardy flowers at my feet.

Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota
In the woods at this same spot the American Robins were making a ruckus, and for the same reason as in my previous post - the Red-tailed Hawks were about.  This time it sounded like a young raptor calling to a parent, as the cries were quiet different one from the other, and came from different treetops.
In between the persistent cries of the robins and several cardinals as well, I heard one distinctive little "metallic" chip note.  When we birders describe a note as being metallic, we're referring to a sound as metal being struck by metal.  One of our common, but less frequent, summer residents which makes a sound like this is the Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  I stood patiently waiting and watching - and also pishing - and it eventually came into view.  The cool thing is that it was a young male!  Pretty well along into acquiring its black and white adult coloring, with a chevron of rosy pink on the breast, it still had streaks of brown on the flanks and belly.

With limited time to stand and watch, I moved on.  Looking down the path I noticed a small brown shape at the edge of the chainlink fence - a young White-tailed deer, still wearing the spotted coat of a fawn.  It watched me cautiously while continually flicking flies off its ears.  As I advanced it stayed and watched, then trotted away a few meters, stayed and watched again, trotted away again.  While I stood pishing for birds, the fawn actually moved nearer and when I took an action that often brings the birds in closer, it had the opposite effect on the young deer.  I crouched - and the fawn bolted away - perhaps I suddenly appeared four-legged rather than two.

West Campus bird list for the week of July 16-20, 2012:

Red-tailed Hawk
Herring Gull and Killdeer
Mourning Dove and Rock Pigeon
Northern Flicker and Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay and Common Grackle
American Robin and European Starling
Cedar Waxwing and Barn Swallow
Song Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow
American Goldfinch and House Wren
Northern Cardinal and Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's a bird eat bird world (groan).

breast feathers
We watched this morning, with the fascination only biologists have, as an adult Red-tailed Hawk devoured a freshly-caught medium-sized gray passerine.  High in the same tree an adult robin called continuously, with its strident warning note, and several goldfinches chittered nervously.  The hawk ignored these smaller birds but kept a wary eye on the humans watching from inside the building.

secondary feathers from the right wing

A few hours later we stepped outside to look for remains and found only those pictured here.  The pale rufous breast feathers tipped with black and the size of the secondaries are both definitive marks for a young American Robin.

So many hazards out there for a young and inexperienced bird... and an unlucky Friday the 13th it was.

Well, other than the drama we just witnessed this morning, it was rather a quiet week of birding at West Campus.  Earlier in the week I saw a duck fly overhead - which at first I tried to turn into a Black Duck (new for West Campus) - then thought better and called it a female Mallard.  Yesterday Lynn saw a pale bird with slender tapered wings soaring overhead which she narrowed down to possibly a tern.  Without binoculars, she just wasn't certain enough to name it and add it to the list.

What these sightings alert us to, is that - in birding terms - things are moving.  The earliest migratory shorebirds are already moving down the coast from Arctic breeding grounds.  We should keep an eye out for something really different, after all, we're only a mile from the coast as the sandpiper flies.

Birds at West Campus for the week of July 9 to 13, 2012:

Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture
Herring Gull and Killdeer
Mourning Dove and Rock Pigeon
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay and Fish Crow
American Robin
Gray Catbird and Northern Mockingbird
Song Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow
House Finch and American Goldfinch
European Starling and House Sparrow
Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird
Yellow Warbler
Barn Swallow and House Wren
Cedar Waxwing and Northern Cardinal

twenty six species for this week

Friday, July 6, 2012

Birds by the numbers

Although we did not participate in a formal Summer Bird Survey, I thought I'd try to group the West Campus birds this week by the numbers. These are mental notes on observation frequency - no actual paper tallies, hence the broad ranges, with repetition, yes - a flawed system.
 Common chicory, Cichorium intybus - link to Wikipedia page - such a summer color.  My camera has trouble with some purples, but caught this blue pretty well.  I have tried valiantly to identify the insects.  They are not bees, but hover flies, of the family Syrphidae (sometimes called flower flies).  Maybe genus Eristalis.  Any entomologists out there? Start looking at insects, and you realize we birders have it really easy.

Here we go... bird list for the week of July 2-6, 2012:
40 +:
American Robin
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Mourning Dove
Song Sparrow
European Starling
Gray Catbird
House Wren
Brown-headed Cowbird
Rock Pigeon
Northern Cardinal
Barn Swallow
Chipping Sparrow
Herring Gull
Blue Jay
Northern Flicker
Red-winged Blackbird
Red-tailed Hawk
Yellow Warbler
Common Grackle
American Crow
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Northern Mockingbird
Wood Thrush
Wild Turkey
Only one individual observed:
Willow Flycatcher
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Great Egret
Black-capped Chickadee
Downy Woodpecker

Thirty two species for the week - really pretty good for mid-summer.
Rubus phoenicolasius - (name links to Wikipedia) - a non-native species, Japanese Wineberry is related to our wild raspberries and blackberries and is equally edible.  Speaking of which, looks like there will be a decent crop of blackberries this summer.  Berry pie anyone?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Zen of Summer

Before work this morning, I walked along the perimeter fence to the edge of the Oyster River. Closing my eyes for a moment to listen to the birdsong, I was in a wild place, but after a few minutes a commuter train roared through and a distant plane cruised overhead. But hey, we find our zen in nature when and where we can.

Do you have 30 seconds to watch the river flow by?

Do you have 60 seconds to listen to the sound of a Wood Thrush singing in the morning?

Find the zen of summer - don't make yourself crazy with unnecessaries - these beautiful summer days don't last forever - and they're all around you - right now.
Enjoy it!!