Coming Out Of The Thicket

This bird is called a Common Yellowthroat. It’s a warbler. I don’t know why they leave that designation off in the official name (after all the Palm Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Magnolia Warbler as well around 40 more North American warbler species have warbler in their name.) Maybe folks think that the Yellowthroat is so common that everyone will know what it is.

Once I learned to recognize the chirps and song of this species, I realized it was quite prevalent around our property. But, it’s a little bird that moves very fast and prefers hanging out in the shadows. So, while it may be “common” in numbers, it’s not a common sight to be hold.

I feel fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to observe this lovely male Common Yellowthroat as he remained in the sun at the top of a small tree near our pond for a few minutes! Although it’s a small bird, that brilliant yellow color isn’t hard to spot once the bird decides to come out of the thicket.

NonChalant vs Unnerved

This Red-shouldered hawk seems unaffected by the Northern Mockingbird’s attempt to run him out of the neighborhood.

The Duck box is a preferred spot for the Hawk to sit for a spell. The other residents (Red-winged Blackbirds and friends) are very vocal about the visitor while the Mockingbird takes some serious action against the unwelcommed bird of prey. This video was captured on a trail cam from which the Mockingbird carried out his attack.

MILKWEED

Even if you are only an armchair naturalist, you may have heard of a plant called Milkweed. Why? I don’t think it’s because plants, especially those that are often referred to as weeds, really rate with the general public. However, Milkweed is special because it’s integral in the survival of the Monarch butterfly and who doesn’t love a butterfly? I took the next photo of Illinois’ state butterfly, the Monarch, last August (2020.) I believe the plant is Swamp Milkweed.

I snatched the following quote from the National Wildlife Federation website: “Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, the only host plant for this iconic butterfly species. As such, milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle and their populations decline.”

We have naturally occurring milkweed all around our property. Later this summer I will hopefully see many lovely Monarch butterflies flitting about, taking advantage of the nectar that the clover and many other wildflowers provide. But, that single species isn’t the only beneficiary of the Milkweed plant. Typically, when I film the flora around the property, it’s only after I download the images and view them on a larger monitor that I become privy to all of insects and other critters that use the plants during their life-cycles.

Here’s a series of images I shot a couple of days ago near the pond. At the upper left, you’ll find a pair of red beetles (I think they are Red Milkweed beetles) having a bit of sexy-time. There’s another orange and brown beetle couple (I believe are Pennsylvania Leatherwing Beetle – an aphid eating insect) having an interlope near the bottom of the center bloom. A Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (I hope I got the ID correct) is feasting on nectar while a bee (which I think is a Carpenter bee) sits just below the butterfly harvesting nectar as it offers pollination duties, as well. You might also notice that the most prominent leaf of the Milkweed plant has been consumed by, perhaps, a very hungry Monarch caterpillar.

Those photos were all taken on the same plant within in a few minutes. Just imagine how many other species utilize various parts of the Milkweed plant during their life cycle!

When filming this lovely plant and the animals it supports, I realized that the blooms are in various stages of development. That extends the support this plant provides to the fauna in the area over a longer period of time. And, when you look at it, it’s an absolutely beautiful flower (comprised of what appears to be many smaller individuals flowers.) While it may be referred to as a weed to many, I am surprised it isn’t used as a cultivar more often. It would make a lovely addition to almost any garden.

Please let me share with you more images of this highly valuable wild flower that I captured around our property. Perhaps it will inspire you to plant a few of these beauties at your home. In doing a bit of research, I learned that there are around a 100 native species of milkweed in North America. I believe the species in these photos is Common Milkweed.

One final note: I discovered that it’s easy to purchase seeds or plants of this perennial plant from Etsy to Amazon, on-line Nurseries and of course retail nurseries including some of the large home improvement centers!

Annie!

If you had the time to read my update on our nest boxes, PARENTHOOD, you may be aware of Raggedy Ann, an Eastern Bluebird that has had a bad go of it this Spring.

You may read the whole story of Ann at the previous post. Briefly, I first saw Ann (which is the only wild bird I have ever named) feeding chicks in box #26. I never saw her mate during the time I filmed her over a few days. A week later, Robert reported to me that he discovered a dead Bluebird chick hanging out of the hole of box #26. I assumed the mother may have perished. A few weeks later I rediscovered her at box#19. She had a mate. There were eggs in the box. Sadly, the eggs disappeared (can’t say what happened), and I lost sight of her.

But, I’ve seen Annie again! Whoo Hoo! The afternoon after I posted PARENTHOOD, I saw four Bluebirds flying near Box#26 (Annie’s original box.) Two flew on, but two stopped near the box. The handsome male perched atop the box. The female perched on the fence about six feet away. She observed while her mate partially entered the box.

Next, the male hopped down to a wire near the box and the female flew over and clung to the box, peering inside. She entered the box, disappeared for a moment, then stuck out her head.

The day was moving fast and I wanted to check on a few other areas around the property. When the birds flew off, I left. About forty minutes later I returned, hoping to catch a glimpse of this newly discovered Bluebird couple. That’s when I realized the female of this “new” pair was Raggedy Ann. Annie was alive and still making a go of creating a family this breeding season. I was overwhelmed with joy!

I’m not going to lie. Annie still looks like crap. Her breast feathers are still missing. She lacks the healthy sheen of quality preening. But, she’s here and she’s trying and we are hoping the best for her and her mate! No, I’m not going to call him Andy. Well, maybe just in my own mind.

Deep Purple

After posting the outrageously comprehensive nest site status info (for a hobby blog), PARENTHOOD, I realized that I failed to mention our colony of Purple Martins that reside just outside my office patio! They are a constant source of entertainment. I love their cheerful vocalizations – which they sing throughout the day. I have read that in the Eastern United States, they live exclusively in housing provided by humans.

Two years ago, on a whim, we bought a forty dollar Purple Martin house at the farm store. Within a couple of days of putting it up, birds arrived. Last year, we added gourds, and found that the birds used both the “red barn” style house and the gourds (albeit we have not seen a House Sparrow try to nest in a gourd, but we have seen them take ownership of one of the apartments in the red house.) This Spring we added some additional gourds and there are birds using those, as well. It’s hard to count them because they are never all in the same place at the same time. I also haven’t put in the effort to sit and calculate who is going into what home because, well to be very honest, I would find that more tedious than I want my hobby with birds to feel. Ballpark figure: there are fourteen holes in the red house, and I’d say eight to ten are occupied. There are six gourds on the first tower, and I’d say around half are occupied. There are eight additional gourds on the second gourd pole, and I’d say around half are occupied. So, we probably have between ten and sixteen pairs leasing our housing options.

Some of this year’s chicks have fledged. I can tell because I have been privy to their ‘new flight’ practice. At times, it’s like watching the ballet. But, when the wind gust increase to double digits (mph), the newbies can looks a bit like kids the day you take the training wheels off the bike!

We currently have new fledglings, birds feeding chicks and I’ve seen a bird taking nesting material into a gourd. I am assuming it’s a second brood, but it could just be a very late arrival. These birds are incredibly entertaining. They are not territorial (except against invaders like the House Sparrows.) They appear to like human activity – they will stick around when Robert is mowing the lawn just under their housing. My only complaint is that the males, in particular, are simply not easy to film against a darker backdrop (like the trees) and in low light. But, I adore their deep, iridescent purple color, non-the-less. They are a spectacular species to invite to our little piece of paradise.

Parenthood

A year ago, I never thought I would be spending so much time compiling and evaluating data. The way I looked at it, “been there done that” when it came to scientific studies. For twenty years I was a professional scientist (initially in basic auditory research in academia, then clinical oncology research in a hospital setting and finally applied research, product development and market support for medical diagnostics in corporate America.) That was twenty years ago, and since then I’ve been a small business owner, dog trainer and instructor of Service Dog handlers for two decades. While my brain may always be more reasonable and logical than artistic, the dog training stint reminded me that there’s both art and science in most endeavors…. I suppose even hobbies…. and even a hobby I really didn’t think would rock my world as much as observing birds on our retired farm. I don’t want you to get me wrong. I’m providing some “data” here, but this isn’t a scientific report!

I find myself the happy landlord of over thirty nest boxes that we’ve erected all around our property. With that endeavor comes some level of responsibility. I once read that it’s better to refrain from hanging a bird house if you aren’t going to maintain it properly. Mostly, that implies that providing a safe haven for the invasive species like European Starlings and House Sparrows to procreate further is offensive to the native species that need cavities in which to raise their young. It disrupts the original balance and order which evolved without those adversarial species. While I do “birding” for recreation and personal enjoyment, I do take my hobby seriously when it comes to how I may affect the natural world around me.

This Spring, one which arrived on the tail of one of coldest late winter events ever (the Polar Vortex), left me aching to see my beloved Bluebirds return and start their little families. They were late, and I grew anxious with each passing day. But, I’m happy to say that they eventually arrived, they set up shop, and I’ve observed two pairs successfully fledge chicks, and three other pairs are in process of setting on eggs at this time.

The nest photos are fledglings I filmed about forty feet up a massive tree, about one hundred feet from where they were raised in box #15.

I’ve also seen Bluebird failures – specifically a female who I have named Raggedy Ann (the only wild bird I have ever named) because she looks a bit disheveled with feathers missing from her breast. When I first filmed her, Ann was feeding chick in Box #26. I am fairly certain I had seen a male at the box on the prior day. But, when I returned the next day to film, I only saw Ann. She was working hard to bring large insects back to the box, so I knew her chicks were fairly advanced in their development. The following day, again, I observed Ann. No male was in sight. I began to wonder if she had lost her mate and was struggling as a single parent. A week later Robert reported to me that he saw a dead chick hanging out of the box opening. I assumed Ann may have also perished. Perhaps she simply couldn’t raise those chicks on her own. Perhaps, she was killed by a predator or died from the root cause of her bedraggled appearance.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I spotted Ann and a male actively entering Box #19 (which is just about 150 feet from box #26.) It’s hard to say whether she paired up with a new mate, or if she was with her original mate (and I simply never saw him when I was observing their original box.) I was so excited to see her. She looked good and content with the new box – but she still sported the missing breast feathers. Robert checked the box and observed eggs. I was elated. But, a few days later, I failed to see either of them near the box. This lack of activity continued for a couple of days and I decided to open the box. Fearing that perhaps a House Wren had taken it over, I was happy to see no evidence of the wren’s twig nest. The lovely (typical) grass nest of a Bluebird was in the box, but there were no eggs. I’m not sure how that happened. Perhaps a raccoon was able to stick his paw in and steal the lovely blue jewels. Poor Raggedy Ann had failed on two attempts to successful raise a brood. But, it’s still early and I hope I see her again, soon.

The Tree Swallows arrived early and in large numbers this Spring. They began setting up shop and thus far I am aware of three clutches which fledged (boxes 5, 14 and 20.) There are also Tree swallow couples feeding chicks in four locations (boxes 10, 11, 21, 22.) However, House Wrens have displaced Tree Swallows in two boxes (boxes 16 & 24.)

House Wrens appear to have fledged chicks from box #2. They are incubating or feeding chicks in seven boxes (9, 13, 16, 17,18 and 24, 25.) There are large-twig nests in boxes 23 and 27 which I believe are the “pseudo-nests” associated with the wrens in boxes 24 and 25. This species has an interesting behavior of controlling nest boxes by filling them with large twigs all the way to the entrance hole, which they do not intend to use to raise their brood. I remember back in the 80’s when I lived in Chicago. During the snow season, on-street parking was limited (for snow removal services to have access to the larger streets.) Parking became prime, and when it snowed the spot had to be shoveled out. Folks would dig to get their car out in the morning so they could get to work. Then, they’d set up lawn chairs or other obstacles in that spot in a way to “reserve” the space for their return from work. Of course they had no legal rights to the specific parking spot, but after putting in all that work, they didn’t want to have to repeat the exercise again in the evening. I suspect that Wrens monopolize nearby boxes to thwart off nest box competition.

House Wrens have also displaced (taken over by removing nesting materials and eggs) from the boxes occupied by Tree Swallows. I can’t say I don’t have an intense emotional reaction when I discover the deed, but there is no morality in Nature.

Here are photos of the Tree Swallow pair that was occupying box # 18. At this point they had eggs. As I observed, they seemed to be quite intent (almost hyper-vigilant) on having one bird in the nest at all times. Perhaps that is because they were feeling the threat of the House Wren (shown in the series below – I caught a wren in the box the day before I shot photos of the swallows retaining ownership.)

The Wren that ultimately took over the box, removed the feathered nest and all but one egg that remained under the twig nest the Wren built in just hours.

The House Wrens have not come out of this Spring nest building unscathed. After I filmed a Tree Swallow pair considering the center box in my office yard (#6), they chose to avoid the conflict from House Sparrows that routinely sat atop the box. The box design (with a top slot) is marketed as House Sparrow proof, but that has not been my experience. We remove House Sparrow nests, but they still cause native species to consider moving to a more hospitable location. We removed a few House Sparrow nests from box #6 and they seemed to give up spending resources on that location. Then, a House Wren began building a nest in the box. I have to say that I have some emotional displeasure associated with House Wrens because they employ a strategy of nest site displacement of both Bluebirds and Tree swallows. However, I honor the natural order and recognize it is part of the balance that has evolved over thousands of years.

The Wren in box #6 was dealt a blow when Mother Nature applied her ruling to maintain the natural order of song bird populations on our little farm. We endured a storm with extremely high winds and the door to box #6 was blown open. The nest with eggs fell to the ground. Still, as a whole the House Wrens are doing well this year.

Here’s a table of the status of the nest box dwellings on our retired farm as of 6/13/2021.

Box #1

On 4-11-21 I filmed a lovely Bluebird female perched atop and entering this box, but I didn’t seem much activity thereafter.

On 6-12-21 I observed a male and female Bluebird perched on either side of the box. I hoped it might be Raggedy Ann and her mate, but a storm was coming and I didn’t take the time to photograph the birds.

Box #2

This box is along the fence of my office patio yard and I observed a House Wren build a nest in this box. I am not certain whether chicks fledged, but the box was empty on 6/13/21.

Boxes #3 & #4

These boxes are along the east end of my office yard. They are relatively close to the house and House Sparrows find them attractive. I refer to them as the Planned Parenthood boxes as we remove the nests once they are well established to reduce the reproductive success of this species. They are currently empty.

Box #5

This box is along the same fence as #3 and 4 and is usually occupied by the House Sparrows. However this year I watched Tree Swallows use the box. Based on the behavior of the birds, I suspect they successfully fledged their brood, but I didn’t witness it. On 6/13/21 there were a few pieces of what appears to be newer grass in the bottom.

Box #6

This is the box that is centrally located in my office yard. As explained above, a House Wren established a nest with eggs, however a storm caused the door to open and the nest was destroyed.

Box #7

This box is located not far from the front porch of our home. Earlier this year, it was occupied by a Bluebird pair that successfully fledged chicks. The top photo is of the female of that pair. It was taken 4/7/21. I was excited to find four Bluebird eggs in the box on 6/13/21 (photo below.) I suspect it may be the same pair that used the box earlier.

Box #8

It appeared that House Sparrows were building a nest in this box. I have observed a sparrow atop the box, but that’s not definitive proof that the nest belongs to the sparrows. This box is not easy to access – as the way to open for cleaning is to unscrew the bottom panel. Today, Robert opened and confirmed it was House Sparrows and removed the nest.

Box #9

Last year this box was used last year by House wrens, and it is again being used by that species this year. I discovered eggs on6/13/21.

Box #10

We also refer to this box as “Matt’s box” as our friend Matt handmade it for us. It’s located in our young orchard. Last year a Bluebird couple fledged chicks from #10. This year a pair of Tree Swallows is raising their brood in the box.

Box #11

A Tree Swallow pair has assumed occupancy of this box after we had to remove House sparrow nests three or four times until they were sufficiently discouraged to use the box. The swallows have been experiencing a House wren knocking on their door (so to speak) but thus far they remain in control. Because of that added stress that I’ve observed with this pair, I did not move in to open the box. I am assuming they have eggs, but no chicks hatched yet. There’s a still shot from 6/13/21 as well as a video showing the House wren showing up from 6/9/21.

Box #12

Box #12 is a gourd designed for Purple Martins. We stuck it up in a woodsy area to serve the House wrens (or Tufted Titmice or Chickadees) so they wouldn’t use the boxes designated for the Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. However, it must be in a less than desirable location, as it has never seen any action.

Box #13

I refer to this as “unlucky” box #13 because last year a Bluebird couple began feeding their day old chicks (I was So excited to catch that) and the next day all the chicks were gone and a House Wren had taken over the box. The Bluebirds moved to the east end of the property and successfully fledged chicks from box #14 that year. This year, House Wrens have moved in again.

Box #14

If box #13 is unlucky, box #14 has been lucky this year. First, a Tree Swallow pair fledged a brood and then a Bluebird couple moved in and is tending to their eggs.

Tree Swallows Box #14 on 5/23/21

Bluebirds in Box #14 on 6/10/21

In this video the male arrives to the box with a large insect. It could cause one to believe they are feeding chicks. However, he flew over to his mate and fed her the insect (oh my how sweet) then she enters the nest. Based on other behavior, I’m fairly certain they are still setting on eggs.

Box #15

Another successful box this year. Bluebirds fledged their chicks from this box earlier. Then, I believe the same pair started a new brood which they are incubating. They have six eggs in the nest.

Bluebirds in Box #15 on 4/2/21 and 4/25/21 (first brood)
Bluebirds in Box #15 on 6/13/21 (second brood)

Box #16

I realized that this box sits a bit too close to a perfect House Wren habitat to do anything but attract that species. Last year Bluebirds checked it out and began building a nest, but the wrens overtook it. There are the remains of a massive tree that was felled by lightening not far from the box. That mound of dried branches is prime real estate for birds that love living in the bramble. This year, there’s evidence of wren ownership right in the entrance hole. The cavity is filled to the brim with twigs. But, as definitive proof, a wren flew from the box as I approached to film it.

Box #17

This is another Purple Martin gourd that hangs in a medium size tree near the old house. Again, it was placed where the wrens would find it inviting to detract them from the other boxes. In this instance, it worked. Last summer and this year, a House Wren pair is occupying the box. They were very vocal with “scolding’ sounds when I showed up to film it.

Box # 18

This box was evaluated by Tree swallows at the end of April when I observed several birds “practicing” (as I refer to it) landing on and entering the box for a couple of days. They were so preoccupied with their endeavor that they permitted me to remain quite close to them and film.

On 6/2/21 I filmed a House Wren sneaking about the box, including entering it. I also filmed the swallow couple coming and going quite frequently.

On 6/5/21 the House wren had executed a complete take-over. The feather nest and eggs that had once been in the box were replaced with twigs.

Box # 19

This is the sad story of Raggedy Ann’s attempt at a new start, which I described above. Here’s the couple occupying the box on 5/30/21, the first day I noticed they were in the box. The following day, Robert did a quick check and noticed eggs. Next there’s a video from 6/2/21.

June 3, 2021 was the last day I observed the pair at or around the nest box. A couple of days later I opened the box and found only a grass nest. The eggs were gone. We can only assume something like a raccoon or possibly snake entered and stole the eggs.

Box #20

Box 20 is located on an old utility pole near the barn. Tree swallows successfully fledged a brood earlier this Spring. The photos are from 4/2/21. The white barn roof and side truly illuminate these images I have not observed new activity at box #20 since they fledged their chicks.

Box # 21

Tree swallows also chose to use box # 21, which sits right on the property south side. I often see one of the pair using the overhead utility line as a great look out spot. The photo and video are from 6/7/21 (in the video the parent is removing a poop as he exits the box – a sure sign they are feeding chicks.)

Box # 22

This box is currently occupied by Tree Swallows, too! The video is from 6/10/21. They are feeding chicks.

Box # 23

Box #23 sits on the northwest corner of our property. It’s filled with large twigs. I suspect it may be a secondary / pseudo nest for the wrens in box #24.

Box #24

This is a REAL weird one. In March and April I found a single dead bird (which I suspect were both Tree Swallows) inside this box. The first one was mangled as if it had been attacked and then died in the box, or something tried to eat it after it died in the box from perhaps the cold weather. The second was more intact, but not in good enough shape that I could be definitive about the species.

On 6/4/21 I opened the box to find a nest containing what I first thought was blue human-made material (like plastic), which there was. But then realized there appeared to be blue feathers; the blue coloring of a male Bluebird. Maybe it was just an artifact of the fuzzy focus. I assumed this meant it may have been a Tree Swallow nest since they are prone to use feathers. I worried that a male Bluebird had been killed by something and the feathers were then used by Tree swallows. But, there were eggs that looked like House wren eggs. I made the evaluation that this was perhaps a nest site displacement / take-over of the swallows by the wrens. On 6/6/21 I returned to get a better photo. What had appeared to be bluebird feathers didn’t look that way as much. But, the presence of feathers of a more natural hue was obvious.

Box # 25

This box is clearly occupied by very vocal House Wrens.

Box # 26

The aforementioned Bluebird, Raggedy Ann, was filmed feeding chicks in early May. A week after these photos were shot, Robert discovered a dead chick hanging out of the opening. This box has not seen any further activity since then. These photos were taken on May 1, 2021.

Box # 27

We put up this box near the barn (which is also near Box # 25) in order to encourage the House Sparrows that nest in the barn to enroll in our Planned Parenthood program. If they put effort into nest building where we can remove it, we can slow their reproductive success. We did have House sparrows enroll, and I even filmed a pair mating atop of the box! Curiously, they were overrun by the House Wrens from Box #25. The photos below show the wrens building a nest inside this box. But, I see the same wrens singing from this box, singing atop box #25. It’s a mere 20 feet away. I’ve read that House Wrens are fiercely territorial. I’m pretty sure this is just a fake nest owned by the birds from #25.

And that concludes today’s activities!

UPDATES

Raggedy Ann

The day after I published this post, I saw Raggedy Ann at nest box #26 with a mate. READ HERE.

Failed To Mention

After publishing this post, I realized I had not mentioned another cavity nesting species for which we offer nest boxes: our colony of Purple Martins. READ HERE for info on those lovely birds.

Grass – Roots

The header photo of this post is an Eastern Meadowlark singing the morning praises atop a newly rolled bale of hay. Hay is, of course, cut and dried grass (or alfalfa or clover or a mix of those plants.) For the meat eaters who need a comparison, hay is the equivalent of “jerky” for grass eating animals like cows, horses and sheep.

Our property, although small at fifty acres, is able to sustain several micro-environments. They offer food and shelter for hundreds of species from insects and worms to white-tailed deer and all the birds that make this their permanent home, their summer breeding ground or merely use our retired farm as a landing pad during their migration.

The saying ‘grassroots’ is a term that means the very foundation or source. Typically, that’s a figurative term – but at our home, it’s quite literal. The grassroots of the habitats we provide is…. grass!

What was once something so common I barely even noticed it, grass has become a subject of my photography hobby – which is especially true when I am waiting to spot a pretty bird. Here are some images I captured recently of the natural beauty of one of the most basic elements of our land.

Along with grasses, there are other plants which comprise the grassland / prairie environment. Red and white clover, for example are beneficial because they fix nitrogen in the soil. It’s like Nature’s own fertilizer. Red clover is larger and taller and its nectar supports butterflies and even hummingbirds. The white clover is one you may have seen in a yard. It’s low to the ground, and much smaller than the red clover. I’ve also included a few photos of wild flowers. The final photos are of Milkweed, a critical plant for the Monarch butterfly’s survival.

The Brown Thrasher, like the American Robin (and other thrushes) make a living by hunting earth worms and other critters that live on and in the ground. It’s easy to say that the true grassroots of an ecosystem is the soil. It’s hard to argue against such an obvious perspective. However, without the protection of a thick blanket of grasses, rich soil can become a barren desert very quickly.

Here are a few photos of a Brown Thrasher taking advantage of the mowed paths that Robert cuts around the hedgerows so that, when the grasses grow tall, I can still negotiate around the property. They thrive on worms that live in the soil – but the grass is critical to the soil’s health.

I recall last autumn, the first in years when I was able to move freely about the property. I observed many different species take advantage of the bounty of grass and other seeds (from weeds aka wild flowers) that had been produced throughout the summer. While sitting along a path that was cut through large stands of hip-high grasses, I actually found myself contemplating if it was billions or trillions of individual grass seeds that we produced in a single season. Then, I wondered how many seeds per day a bird might eat. Without a calculator, It was a “mind blown” experience. Still, I’m happy I didn’t have that calculator or I might have missed a lovely bird land right before me.

The other day I was sitting patiently at my citrus lure (orange slices hung in a tree to attract the Orioles) and I began to notice a pair of small birds flying into a patch of tall grass next to the old barn. A few minutes later, they would fly (almost always together) back into the mature trees behind the old house. While my camera was aimed at the brilliantly juice oranges in the apple tree, my mind was focused on catching the little birds as they flew back and forth. At one point, the male bird landed atop a fence post and the sun illuminated his brilliant color. It was an Indigo Bunting.

“I have plenty of photos of Orioles eating the oranges,” I said to myself. But, what’s the chance I could actually film through that tall grass and capture a clear image of the Indigo Buntings, I asked. I moved to a position near where I had seen the Buntings, hoping to get close enough to achieve my goal, but not so close that they would pull the rip cord and look elsewhere for their meal. Here are a few shots that illustrate both my failures and my successes. Look carefully – a couple of the photos include the male and female noshing in the grass together (the female is brown.)

My hat goes off to the professional photographers who are able to focus through such a jungle and capture crisp images of their intended target. Although they are not press worthy, I give myself a B+, because we all have the right to set the standards of our hobbies! Clearly, those pros would toss these images to the cutting room floor. I still feel compelled to share.

Insects utilize grasses in many ways. Without insects there would be no birds. In a passive way the grass sustain the bird as much, if not more, than in an active way of producing seeds and the fiber that many birds use for nesting materials. Here’s a spider that seems to be busy creating a web on the head of a grass stem. Incredibly, when I took these photos I had no clue there was a spider or any bug on the grass. I found it once I began reviewing the images on my computer monitor!

As my final gift in this post, I offer you 90 seconds of my tranquillity. This was shot at the edge of our pond (you will even hear a bull frog vocalizing towards the end.) The image of undulating grasses hopefully helps you “feel” the sensation of a cool breeze.

The plethora of bird songs often reminds me of the vastness of nature and (in a healthy way) helps me recognize my very small place within it. Still, it makes me feel infinitely part of it all. I hope you enjoy it.

the Birds

I’ve been feeling like I’m behind on updating this blog. I have dozens of photos and videos that I want to share, but time seems to be eluding me. I have a handful of topics to share like the day that a “committee” of Turkey Vultures descended to the Pond Meadow. Yes! I looked it up and a group of Turkey Vultures is called a committee. With this single image I think you can understand why the group is so named:

There’s so much to tell about their arrival, so I will leave that topic to its own post.

Then, there’s the nest box update; which birds have successfully fledged their (first) brood, who has subleased the space and is currently sitting on eggs, and the heart wrenching stories of the couples that failed due to nest box take-over by other species, Mother Nature’s wrath or perhaps poor planning. That’s a very extensive post that I envision with many lovely photos and video clips. Here’s a quick image that captures that concept.

While scouting out the birds, I have also been capturing the flora that supports the fauna. I want to share some images of the grasses and wild flowers that are the roots of this ecosystem.

But, for now, I will share some of my favorite images from the past couple of weeks. Enjoy.

Baltimore Oriole snacking on oranges I offered.

Northern Cardinal (what a cutie)

Eastern Kingbirds (I love these birds)

Eastern Bluebirds (my “heart” bird)

Tree Swallows (we have many of them this year)

Brown Thrashers (last year I captured one images of this species, and this year they seem prevalent)

Dickcissels

Red-winged Blackbird (Creepy Crawlies for dinner, kids!)

Honorable Mention – nice of her to smile for the camera!

The Duck Box

Our Duck Box, located on the east side of the pond, has been a happening place. We initially put it up to entice Wood Ducks and/or Kestrels or small Owls to make a home and raise a brood.

Through the use of a Trail Cam, back in April, we’ve recorded a pair of Northern Flickers checking out the option. We’ve seen Starlings in and around the box quite often, but when we check we don’t see a solid nest being built (which, we would remove to discourage that invasive species.) At the end of May, the Trail Cam filmed a single Great Crested Flycatcher a day or two after I had seen a pair of them investigating the box. And, our resident Red-shouldered hawk has been observed using the box as an observation perch and Robert say it eating a kill atop the box.

We’ve been quite busy with business things lately, and the weather has been less than inviting to explore outdoors (lots of rain.) However, Robert stopped by the Trail Cam at the Duck Box yesterday to collect the SD card. We were surprised to see the various activity.

Great Crested Flycatchers

It was interesting to see that the pair of Great Crested Flycatchers visited the box. Their behavior suggested that they may still be considering using it. I worry that it’s a bit too deep for their needs, but I am pretty certain they are aware of what will work for their needs.

Please recognize that the images are from the Trail cam, which are not the highest quality.

Red-shouldered Hawk

A single Red-shouldered hawk stopped on the box. While the still shot camera captured the whole bird (see below), the video cut off the top of his / her body. But, not long after the first bird arrived, there was a second video capture of another hawk arriving. Fortunately, in that video (below) it’s possible to see it in it’s marvelous entirety. I am not certain if this is a mated pair, or a parent with juvenile. The bird on the top of the box seems to have a lighter colored underbelly, which is an indicator of juvenile status. It also seems to be making the vocalizations, which again may suggest it’s a youngster.

Unexpected Visitor

A White-tailed deer was caught milling about under the shrub just behind the Duck Box.

Seriously?

House Sparrows are cavity nesters. They are also an invasive species that we do our best to discourage through our “planned parenthood” protocol of 1. putting out many nest boxes (to reduce competition) 2. keeping tabs on who is using which box 3. allowing the House sparrows to build a nest and perhaps lay a few eggs 4. discarding their nest which forces them to start all over again. Still, they have found plenty of other places (like in the old barn and a shed next to the old Milk House) to procreate. But, we do our best with the birds we can spot. And, to be frank, it’s not hard to spot when they have decided to take ownership of a nest box. They camp out, perched atop the box with proud proclamation. They are a determined species that seems to have more “chutzpah” for their size than just about any other bird. I suppose that is why I wasn’t terribly surprised to see this image on the Trail Cam!

Natural Model

This Spring has been a bit disappointing from a weather perspective. There have been many cold and overcast days which make for a less than perfect day to explore the flora and fauna around our property. Mostly, the cloudy skies reduce the chance for a good photo, even if the opportunity presents itself.

The weekend promised clear skies albeit still chilly temperatures, but we were committed to teaching a two day class. I assumed I would miss the chance to spend time outdoors. Lucky for me, Robert was gracious to fly solo with the clients on Sunday afternoon and I took advantage of the time to see what was going on’ around our farm.

It doesn’t happen often, but several times in the past year I have encountered a bird that seemed truly dedicated to model for me. On Sunday, it was a female Red-winged Blackbird. She moved from plant to plant showing her true colors – which, I must say are nothing like her male counterpart. She’s neither black nor does she sport brilliant red wing patches (unless you count the little splash of crimson that only pops under certain conditions.)

I’m incredibly dazzled with a couple of the images I took of this lovely creature when she perched precariously at the top of last years spent grass-weed stalks. The curves of the dried plant emulates the movement of the bird as she attempts to right herself. It adds movement to a still shot – which is often quite challenging to capture.

This pretty Red-winged Blackbird hen, also took positions on blooming wild raspberry (or blackberry?) branches, which delighted me.

Next she moved to another shrubby plant and her deep, rich chocolate tones were highlighted between the fresh green color of the leaves.

Finally, she took a position on a dried stalk; perching on an angle, which offers such a natural-artistic shape to a photo.

I would like to thank this darling bird for offering me the opportunity to film her.