State your Name!

It’s not common to see a Northern Bobwhite away from the cloak of the under brush, and especially not too far off the ground. On occasion, I hear one calling in the woods at a height that tells me he’s either an exceptional ventriloquist, or he is in fact up in the branches of a trees. Still, they actually are quite adept at projecting their voices quite a distance, so the comment about ventriloquism isn’t that far off.

Male Northern Bobwhite.

Yesterday, I was provided the treat of seeing a lovely pair – and by the way I almost always see them together – out in the sun, just a couple of yards from the taller grass.

Male (left) and female (right) Northern Bobwhite.
Female Northern Bobwhite

Then, after I thought they had scurried away, the unquestionable call “Bob White!” resonated over my shoulder. I turned to see the male atop a fence post. He was proudly – and repeatedly – stating his name, “Bob-White!” It was quite a vision.

Male N Bobwhite on fence post in late afternoon.
N Bobwhite announcing his presence.

Hungry Mouths To Feed

On June 30 I posted photos of two Bluebird nest boxes which contained lovely blue eggs. Well, they hatched. I haven’t opened the boxes, but the parents of both nests are taking food to their young.

We refer to the next box in the front yard by the little orchard as Matt’s box. Matt is a client of ours who sent us a hand-made box when he learned that I enjoy wild birds. This photo is of the mother bird with a small insect in her mouth – a meal for one of her babies.

Female Eastern Bluebird perched a top the post that supports her nest box located in the front yard by the orchard.

As I was patiently waiting for mama Bluebird to show up, this Killdeer flew in to the yard, near the driveway, to nab a bit to eat.

Then, it was off to the meadows, where there are always interesting developments. But, I always make time to visit several specific locations where I expect to see certain birds – including different nest sites we have offered.

Sham’s Paddock South: This couple is very active near their box – they hunt within yards of it – so I always visit that location. As I was waiting on the birds to arrive, I caught these two brilliantly colored beetles on a clover flower.

The beetle on the right has been caught pooping! At least he used a leaf to catch it!

Next, I encountered a Bluebird couple that I often observe in a location where the only boxes we’ve put up were taken over by House Wrens. This is the area near the old Herding A trial field. It’s possible they are the birds that just recently started in a nest on the East Central box that I cleared of House Wren development last week. The following photo is that nest that I filmed yesterday. It doesn’t appear to be complete, yet. And, it’s a good 400 feet from where typically see these birds. So, it’s hard to say.

Bluebird nest under way in Central East box (east fence line.)

Oh, and if you are worried about the House Wren population around here, it’s doing fine. They are raising or raised broods in five different boxes that we offered, and I noticed a House Wren going in and out of a torn corner of the eaves of our old house the other day, too. I hear them singing constantly.

This is a House Wren that took up residence in one of the Bluebird boxes we put up this summer.

Here’s that couple that I see quite often in the by the old A field. The male has a large insect that he smashed on the fence post. It makes me think they have young somewhere. The female apperas to be supervising.

Male Bluebird on left, his mate is off to the right somewhat obscured in the shadow.
Male Bluebird smashes the insect. This can be done to kill it before consumption, but I also think they will do this to cut it into smaller pieces to feed their chicks.

Then, I was off to the North Central box. it’s a good 600 feet from the couple above. It in a very remote location – I suppose that is only my human perspective. It’s far from activity like a road, buildings our our house, for example. Through direct observation (opening the box), we’ve seen the nest and the eggs. But, except for one time when the bird flew out when we were just entering the area, I haven’t seen them. Yesterday made up for all the time I spent out there waiting in the sun (because there’s no shade in that location.)

First, it appeared that the couple was “excited.” They were flitting about together in the mature trees that are about thirty feet from their box.

The male can be seen at the top of the branches holding food in his bill. The female is at the bottom.
Female Bluebird at the North central box location.
Female standing atop the NC box.
Female (top) and her mate looking into the box.

“Ma’am Bluebird, Deploy Landing Gear!”
Perfect landing. Female bringing a small insect to the chicks.
Male arrives with food for chicks.

When I was in biology class in college, I learned that is wasn’t appropriate to anthropomorphize. That is the act of assigning human traits to animals. However, real life sometimes forces a person to take sides or reject previous dogma. I remember standing in a dark, cold barn awaiting the arrival of a little lamb. I watched that ewe struggle for hours. When her babe finally arrived and she heard its voice for the first time, well let me just suggest that it would be inhuman not to recognize the clear and obvious similarities between animals and humans. After all, humans are animals. We all share so much in common, it only makes sense to recognize those similarities. I saw that joy in the Bluebirds, yesterday. I saw their enthusiasm, for lack of a better term, over the hatching of their chicks. And, I saw a mother’s concern and care. So, let me simply be a human, here. Accept, tolerate or reject (but do not judge) my interpretation of what I observed – as a human is likely to do. My female human filter is presented to you in all its glory or abomination.

Mama: “You are NOT going to give that little chick that BIG insect without cutting it, are you???”

Papa: “I didn’t hear that. You’d think she doesn’t believe I can take care of my own kids.”

Papa: “Kids I brought you something to eat!”

Mama: “He never listens to me.”

Papa: “Kid’s open wide! This is delicious!”

Papa: “Dang, she was right. This isn’t going to fit into those small mouths!”

Mama: “Where are you going, hun? Something wrong with that food?”

I mean….. let’s face it. I think that really went down. I wish these new parents luck raising their little brood! I will be sure to keep an eye on progress and provide updates.

A Dead Thing With Two Birds

Two days ago, when I checked the Bluebird nest box at the east gate to Jaye’s pasture, I discovered something I did not expect!

Little field mouse hunkering down in a bluebird nest box.

It was a little mouse…and a bunch of his turds. I tried to encourage him to exit, but he retreated upwards where the pivoting front door prohibited me from any further ushering. I figured he would exit that evening when he felt more safe in the cloak of darkness.

I’m interested in that specific box because there has been a Bluebird couple hanging around that area – including the male singing from the top and the female entering it – since the day after we put up the box.

Eastern Bluebird couple checking out the box at the east entrance to Jaye’s Pasture.

I joked that Wifie Bluebird was not going to make a nest in that box if Hubby Bluebird didn’t take care of the mouse, and the mess he made. So, when I opened the box yesterday to find the mouse gone and no signs of his poop, I knew I would have to ask Robert if he did a little tidying up to encourage the birds to move it.

I closed the door and did a cursory scan of the environment before I pressed the pedal to continue on my way. I’ve found that a bird which may have flown off when I arrived into an area might just flit back. If I look around before I move, I might catch something special. As my examination moved further and further away I saw something that wasn’t normal. Off in the distance, a good 300 feet away, I saw something brown just topping the height of the pasture grasses and clover. It seemed static, but then, something moved. Two things moved. Two vertical things moved that seemed to be standing on the brown mass. Something had died and there were two birds picking at it. That was my best guess for the little bit of information I was able to glean. If you look about dead center of this photo, you will see the brown thing. That’s all I saw from my position.

I picked up my camera and got a few shots before it moved. The dead thing moved! The birds that were eating it didn’t fly off. This was strange. Obviously, this dead thing with two birds wasn’t that which I had supposed. I took a few more photos as it slowly traveled through the tall grass, then it hopped away towards the west. I put down my camera. That was a dog. No need to continue to track it.

I do not take my dogs out with me when I am looking to catch a glimpse of some beautiful gem in nature. I love my dogs, but they will scare up everything in their path. So, they stay home. But, I knew the brown thing was a dog and I figured out which dog it was. Just before I left to go on the drive-about, I had petted Bree. She is a dog we trained and placed as a Service dog for a local disabled man. When he was no longer able to care for her, we took her back and retired her. Bree is old – like fifteen years old! Robert takes her outside when he works on a project and she wanders around. I never knew she roamed all the way out to Jaye’s pasture, but she is exactly the color of that mass with the two birds. Mystery solved. Or was it? When I got back to my computer and plugged in the SD card I was surprised to discover I had been filming a White-tailed fawn.

White-tailed deer fawn staying low in the clover of Jaye’s Pature.

I wished I had followed it on its journey just to see where it might have gone, and mostly because I may have caught another good shot.

Just to recap, I did ask Robert if he had assisted that mouse to leave the box, but more so, had he cleaned out the turds? He responded that he had not. So, whether the Hubby Bluebird actually removed the poop to help his wife decide on renting the box for the season, or some little fairies cleaned house over night, I will never know. But I remain hopeful that these birds make a decision before it gets too late to raise a brood.

Lookie Here!

In my post, Who’s Out There? from July 6, I wrote that I hadn’t yet filmed the Great Blue Heron that I see quite often as he flies from the north end of the pond when I enter that area. His massive wings flap seemingly too slowly to hold his body in the air, but his quick retreat tells me otherwise. Trying to film a moving bird against a clear sky is a challenging feat. So, I have hoped to catch the big bird on land. The trouble has been that I’ve always scared him up before I ever saw him.

During my trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa, I learned that it’s not always easy to see an elephant. While they are huge, they are not necessarily obvious! The Great Blue Heron that comes to dine at our pond is splendidly camouflaged against the backdrop. A few times, when were were sitting at the pond’s edge for a couple of hours, he flew in and landed in his fishing spot. Fishing must have been pretty dismal for us. We had been so still that we became part of the scenery and the big heron wasan’t threatened by our presence. But, mostly, I have seen him as he is flying away.

Yesterday, I entered the pond meadow from the southeast and scared up the heron from the north end of the pond, again! I thought I might be able to capture a photo of him in flight. As he passed my position I snapped. Still, I was fairly certain the pictures would be useless. Then, rather than fly away – away from our property like he always did – he circled back and landed behind me at the south end of the pond. His gray-blue statue of a form stood out against the green backdrop of aquatic weeds and the grasses beyond.

Here’s where I need to explain some special circumstances that many people might not consider. I can’t get out of the golf cart. It’s too high for my failing knees. To get in-and-out, I drive it next to my patio deck which is about eighteen inches above the ground. The bird that I ached to film was behind me, over my left shoulder.

I also couldn’t just hit the gas pedal and pull a U-turn. Why? Because it is actually a GAS pedal. I drive a gasoline powered golf cart, not a standard electric model. It has enough power to get through the sort of terrain I negotiate around the property. It has large wheels and quite a bit of get-up-and-go. And, in exchange for those attributes, it’s loud. That’s the only drawback, really. I knew that the Great Blue Heron would take off the moment I made any movement, and adding the noise of the engine would foil my attempt to photograph him, completely.

The photos posted here were taken over my shoulder. I was able to slide on the bench seat enough to twist and face the bird that was about 300 feet away. The sun was shining on the LCD screen and I could hardly see what I was aiming at. At first the heron was facing directly at me. That bird has a very narrow front perspective. Yet, with time he walked a bit and provide a profile which was far easier for me to spot. I know that real photographers could evaluate everything I have written and offer their professional work-arounds for such a situation. And, one day, just like I will be better able to identify all the birds on our property I will be a better photographer, too!

I realize that my relatives in Florida are probably chucking about this whole presentation. After all, anyone can film a whole myriad of herons, including the Great Blue at the dock where fishermen clean their catch, or even at an outdoor patio of their favorite local eatery. But, my heron isn’t one of those birds – at least not during the months he fishes in our pond!

I’m sharing my experience because, well, this is a really spectacular bird and I have a blog and it’s worth sharing his magnificence. But, also because I was proud to have been able to pull it off and get some decent shots of a bird (and perhaps his relatives.) He has been our cherished guest for twenty years, and yet he typically only his calling card – never shakes our hand when he leaves! I feel like he gave me a bit more of himself – first by choosing to turn back and stick around, even in my presence. And, second by offering me his profile for sufficient time that I was able to capture his beauty.

Honorable Mention

It’s clear that I like birds. I love to watch, feed, photograph and listen to them. However, birds alone do not a complete experience make. Most trips I take with the intention of seeing and photographing birds, I bring home a few shots of other natural flora and fauna that truly bring sparkle to the landscape. I strongly believe that they require a big honorable mention. If I know the species I will post it in the caption of these images. But, this is designed more as art than science. Enjoy!

I believe this is called a Black Swallowtail butterfly
One of 98 dragonfly species found in Illinois! Who knew there were so many dragons among us?
This is a Monarch – I am fairly sure. It was designated the State butterfly of Illinois in 1975.
Monarch butterfly.
We planted this apple tree near the herding training arena almost twenty years ago. I recently rediscovered it while traveling around on the golf cart. I never saw fruit on it in the early years when we worked the dogs in that part of the property. Nice to see! I’m looking forward to taking a big bite out of that juicy apple once it ripens!
Lovely bee on red clover. I’m so happy that we planted the red clover the first spring we were here. I contracted a local farmer to put it in on the twenty acres on the western end of the farm (which is now where our new house sits.) We planted an orchard grass mix in the other pastures. Over time the clover has taken hold in all the fields. It’s good for the soil as it fixes nitrogen. Clearly the bees, butterflies and even the hummingbirds enjoy the nectar it provides.
I believe this is a yellow Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.
Black Swallowtail?
The benefit of living in the country on acreage is that when a tree falls, unless it is presenting a safety hazard it doesn’t have to be removed. Just like a piece of driftwood can become the basis for an entire ecosystem in the ocean, a fallen tree (and its dead branches) can be used by small animals as both food and shelter. I happen to find this particular fallen tree to be quite beautiful.
This is a bee on red clover. I visited www2.illinois.gov/dnr/education/ and discovered that there are approximately 400 to 500 species of native bees in Illinois. So, let’s just go with “bee” on red clover.
I’m thinking this is a moth. I did a quick search, but I couldn’t find one with that white pattern on the wings. We’ll just say it’s a handsome creature.
Species #2. Dragonfly. Lovely green and yellow face!
These are wild raspberries, or maybe blackberries. The blackberries will appear red before they ripen to a deep purple.
These plants are found all over in the hedgerows. One person’s weed is another person’s wild flower. I’m the latter sort of individual.
Species #3 of the dragonflies.
This tree has “volunteered” to grow in a large patch of weeds that was once the herding A field. We haven’t mowed that space in many years, and for some reason the hay guy excludes it. It has become natural experiment, and this tree is just one of the study subjects. The leaves look like s sort of locust tree. Yet, the extreme thorns appear to be something out of Africa!
This is a milkweed plant in bloom. If you look closely, you will see beetles that are obviously attracted to it ( for food, protection from predators, who knows?)
An old “hedge tree” post that once secured the cattle that were grazed around the pond – years before we bought the place.
These are the flowers of a “weed tree” for lack of a better term. The trees grow in hedgerows of fenced areas.
Queen Ann’s Lace – oh, and there’s a little insect on the top!
Wild flowers. These bloom in late May. They can take hold across an entire yet-to-be-plowed crop field. When that happens, they look as if they are the crop.
Wild blackberry bush.
Milkweed
The foreground is the grass around the north (shallow) end of the pond. Just beyond is the meadow around the pond, then the hedgerow trees that took hold along a fence line that has long been removed. Next is Jaye’s Pasture (nearly 20 acres of grasses that have naturalized over the past two decades.) The hay bale was harvested earlier this year. Beyond Jaye’s Pasture you can see the east property line which runs along the neighbor’s field of corn. All these areas provide different small environments for a variety of plants and animals to make a living.
Wild blackberries growing in the hedgerow of a fence line. To me, this image captures the essence of our property in many ways.
Bunny. Most probably an Eastern cottontail rabbit.
Cat tails. They only grow where there’s sufficient moisture in the soil. You might think these are near the pond. But, these are growing in a two acre corner of the west hay field. The hay guy quit cutting in that area when we dumped several large tree stumps there. In preparation of building our new house in 2016, we had to cut down a couple big trees to create a driveway access. We hauled the stumps in this area because it was out of the way. Now, after only four years of “going wild” these cat tails have taken over one corner and there are even trees growing in this patch of land.
There are three or four massive ponderosa pine trees north of the pond. I love that space because it is so unique.
These are blackberries. You can tell because there’s one fruit that has already ripened
The blossom on one of the hedgerow “weed” trees.
This is one of the trees that has grown since 2016 when this little corner of the west hay field was allowed to grow natural.
Looks like the same species as previously displayed… but photographed a different day.
I call this the “old man with outstretched arms” tree. It dead or dying. Woodpeckers have excavated many pits – perhaps even nest cavities, in the head and arms of this massive tree. I suspect it was hit by lightening, lost its top and slowly gave up.
I think this might be the forth type of dragonfly I filmed. He appears to be holding on for dear life.
I don’t know what this is…I’m assuming it’s an insect nest.
Nice to have filmed him, glad I didn’t meet him in person.
Unknown, but not unappreciated, butterfly.
I know this isn’t supposed to be a post about the birds, but I wouldn’t have taken most of the above shots if I weren’t out looking for Bluebirds.

My Favorite Color

“What is your favorite color?” I don’t know why we feel so compelled to ask children to identify a singular hue as their best one. But, as a kid I always answered, “Blue!” Eventually I realized that there’s more to life than the primary colors, and I began to proclaim that purple was my fav.

Soliciting Purple Martins to grace our farm by erecting a housing unit was exciting. Yet, once I began watching them, I had to admit that these birds aren’t really purple. Yeah, I suppose they aren’t truly black, either, but they might as well be.

I’ve known for years – actually since I acquired my first dog – that black dogs are not easy to film. Stella, my second pup, was a yellow Labrador retriever and she always seemed more photogenic than Macho. He was a mutt with a bit of white trim, but his lovely facial expressions were dampened by his dark coat. So, when I began filming the Purple Martins that chose to make our address their home, I was reminded how challenging it can be to get a great shot of a dark colored animal.

My photographic issues were exacerbated by the fact that the background behind the Purple Martin house was also very dark. Most often, I shot from my patio, which was the easiest place for me to hang out and film. There’s a stand of mature trees behind the house that just sucks up an finer details in the birds. Then, there’s the grumpy facial expression of the birds themselves, which is caused by the downward curving bills that are clearly designed more for snatching small insects on the wing, than to land a top modeling job, or earning the “cutest bird” contest. So, it’s hard to get a big response, “Oh, what a beautiful picture!” of a Purple Martin.

The other day I was able to shoot the birds from a different position, and I share those images here. The blue sky background helps the birds “pop.” The lighting was right so that I was able to capture the glint in the birds’ eyes in several of the pictures. That is my own personal standard for determining whether I accept the photo as worthy. I’m sure there are professional photographers who could critique my pictures in many other ways -but I’m not a pro and I am not an experienced birder. Still, I have expectations for my own art. That is really all that matters. Whether it is in work or play, I feel it is important to establish a standard, then strive to achieve it. You can up your expectations as you gain knowledge and skill – and I to grow, you should continue to move out the benchmark you hope to attain. That is my philosophy.

You will notice that many of the birds have their mouths open. While it was quite warm that day (ok… it was HOT) I don’t think they were panting. Purple Martins chortle and call to each other constantly. They vocalize when perched on the house and while in flight. I also believe that some of these birds are recently fledglings that may be communicating to their parents for a snack. I hope that you enjoy this new perspective of the Purple Martins that soars in the sky we share with them.

Our “Red House” is the original Purple Martin abode that we put up last year. The Gourd Tower is new, and it was populated after the red house. At first, I wasn’t sure that the birds would actually assume occupancy of the gourds. But, they did and the parents who raised chicks in the gourds are a couple weeks behind the ones that already fledged their chicks from the apartments in the red house. Below, you’ll see a female Purple Martin that is still tending to her brood.

I believe the next photo is of a chick that is checking out the big, beautiful world he will soon enter.

Who’s Out There?

There’s a site called e-Bird that encourages “birders” of all levels to upload data about the birds they encounter (https://ebird.org) When you input your location, it provides a checklist of the birds you are most likely to see in your area. I recently used that list to create a spreadsheet and then I color coded the birds into one of four categories.

A. I have taken a photo of that bird. B. I have seen, but haven’t taken a photo. C. I have heard that bird’s vocalization, but not seen it. and D. I haven’t seen or heard that bird.

Obviously, since I am an At-Home Naturalist, I don’t expect to see some species like shore birds that would only be found around large areas of water. For example, White Pelican is actually on the e-Bird list in my zip code but there’s probably no chance I’m going to see one show up in our pasture.

I plan to make this a page that I update as I gain new information about the birds our our farm. To start off, here are the birds I have photographed. You may view many more images of these birds by looking through my CATEGORY of WILD BIRDS.

SWALLOWS

Swallows make their living by catching insects while in flight. I absolutely love watching swallows soar. We have three types of swallows at our home. All of them nest near our house, which makes them easy to observe. If I were a swallow, I’d be the Barn Swallow because it is the one with the most adept aerial acrobatic aptitude. They are absolutely brilliant in flight.

TREE SWALLOWS

These lovely birds with the iridescent blue backs and pristine white bellies nest in cavities. A nest box provided by a human is just as good, if not better than the natural option – which might be a hole excavated, but no longer used by woodpeckers. I find it easy to film Tree Swallows once they have set up a nest in one of the boxes we provide, and have posted many photo-essays of the Tree Swallows that live near us.

A Tree Swallow flying from the nest box where it had delivered food to the chicks inside.

BARN SWALLOWS

Barn Swallows make a mud nest which they attach to structures, like (yeah, you guessed it) barns. They also make their nests under the eaves of houses, or any other building that provides some relief from the elements. We have dozens of these little gems flying over the meadows, snatching insects. They often accompany me as I drive around in the golf cart. I believe the vehicle scares up the bugs making it easy pickins’ for the swallows.

This Barn Swallow is flying up to its recently fledged chick to deliver a meal.

PURPLE MARTINS

Purple Martins are part of the Swallow family. East of the Mississippi these birds tend to use man-made houses as their singular method of nesting. We put up our first Purple Martin house in 2019 and immediately saw occupancy. This year (2020) we added a Gourd Tower and have seen chicks fledged from both the standard-build house and the gourds. They are very vocal, chortling constantly to each other, both while in flight and also when they congregate on their housing.

These birds include some of the recently fledged Purple Martin chicks – I believe. When I took this photo, there were still parent birds feeding hatchlings within their gourds.

THRUSHES

Thrushes are small to medium-sized ground living birds that feed on insects and fruit. E-bird lists three of them for my area. Here are photos of two that I have filmed. The third is the Wood Thrush, and while it may exists in my zip code location, we don’t have sufficient thick forest on our property to attract them. I could be wrong, and if I see one I will certainly try to document it with a photograph.

AMERICAN ROBIN

Who doesn’t know a Robin? They migrate to warming climates in the winter, and are considered the First Sign Of Spring when they return.

I think I took this photo in April, which makes sense as there aren’t any leaves on the tree.

EASTERN BLUEBIRD

I would like to recognize the Eastern Bluebird for my current infatuation with the birds around our property and for restoring my general happiness and well-being. When we moved to this fifty acre farm we took up residence in the fifty year old, 900 square foot house with every intention of expanding it. That was just a couple months before the extreme terrorist attacks on our great Nation occurred (referred to as 911.) Our plans were squelched, but our dreams were not. We endured the next fifteen years in that house out of which we operated three businesses. My desk faced a dark wall in an 8×10 room that was piled with boxes containing Service Dog vests, published books, and lots of other stuff because there was nowhere else to keep it. After years of working towards our goals, we built a new house which I designed – mostly around my office. Now, my desk faces glass french doors which offer a view of the pond meadow and Jaye’s pasture beyond that. We put up nest boxes the first spring -one which I can see from my desk – and a few days later our first Bluebird couple flitted between the options and finally chose one. All the struggles of the past washed away as I watched them carry long pieces of grass into that hole and position them, just so. When I first observed them taking bugs and worms to their newly hatched chicks, my heart soared. Since then, we have not slowed down our dedication to surrounding ourselves with the inspiration and beauty that wild birds bring to one’s soul.

The female is on the box and her mate, who remain vigilant as she builds the nest, is flying off.

HUMMINGBIRDS

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

The only hummer that resides in our part of the country is the Ruby-throated. Second only to Bluebirds for boosting my personal joy-factor, the visitations of hummingbirds truly enhance my life. Just days after we hung our first feeder, the tiny jewels began to arrive. What I learned was that they do not fear humans. Rather, I suspect they live in a different time phase (like one might learn about during an episode of Star Trek.) Sitting on the patio where the feeders are hanging can make me feel as if I am watching a game of Quidditch, the flying broomstick sport observed in Harry Potter movies! They zip and zoom and chatter to each other while performing feats of flight that seem, at times, impossible. We learned early on that males will claim the territory containing a feeder, so we now have many feeders positioned all around the house. I have also been visited by hummingbirds when I am driving around the pastures. And, by visited, I mean face to face encounters, not just a fly-by. They whiz up to me, hover for a spell, then zoom away. I’ve thought that I should hang a feeder off the top of the golf cart because it seems they are wondering why there isn’t one!

This is a male Ruby-throated Humming bird. My goal is to catch that glint in a bird’s eye – which isn’t easy when it has such a small one!

FINCHES

We have two finch species listed in our location on E-Bird. Finches are smaller sized birds, with conical shaped bills which help them to eat seeds and nuts. We provide nyger (thistle) seed in feeders at our backyard feeding station. It works well to attracts these lovely birds.

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH

Male, American Goldfinch

HOUSE FINCH

This is a male House Finch.

CARDINALS & GROSBEAKS

E-bird lists seven species in this category, and I have filmed four of them. These birds have heavy beaks which they use to crack seeds. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see them at backyard feeders where seeds are often the most likely food source offered to wild birds.

NORTHERN CARDINAL

Who isn’t familiar with the image of a Cardinal. The males sport a brilliant red color. They have a distinctive song that alerts me to their arrival. I love that they often travel in pairs – the female donning a muted shade of orange – but still with the lovely head plumage that distinguishes them even beyond their color.

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK

These are striking birds – well, at least the males are. Their mates are a very dull, drab brown with a gold stripe around the eye that helps me to identify them.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the seed feeder.

INDIGO BUNTING

It’s a fast flash of brilliant blue, then they are gone. That’s how I describe the Indigo Bunting. However, I have been fortunate to capture a couple of them before they flitted off.

I took this a few days ago, just as the sun was going down. But, since then I’ve seen Indigo Buntings in that same location. Perhaps I will be able to catch a image during better lighting.

DICKCISSEL

Little bird with the weird name, once I learned to identify them, I found them to be all around. They love to fly to the very top branch of a tree and sing. At times, I feel like they are following me as I drive around the farm.

Male Dickcissel singing from the top of the tree.

FLYCATCHERS

This is a group of birds that I particularly enjoy mostly because they make themselves obvious. They hunt insects, often from a stationary position. As they remain fairly still, they tilt their head this way and that until they spot it! Then, they make their move, zip to the ground and nab the critter. This action, that is contained in a fairly confined space, makes observing them fairly easy. They often retreat to the spot from which they took off to eat their meal.

EASTERN KINGBIRD

After Bluebirds and Hummers, I think that the Kingbird is my next favorite. First, you have to love the name. It’s such a regal designation, it’s hard not to make some noble assumptions about this bird. He looks like he’s dressed up in a tuxedo, with a black back and white belly, and the tip of his tail feathers appear to be spats on a pair of formal dress shoes. I have seen these birds hunting from a tree in my front yard, the fence top in my backyard, on a tiny branch by the pond, a fence post near the road and from the lower branch of a tree in the pasture. Yet, I never seem to get the great shot that this bird deserves. I will keep trying!

Eastern King Bird perched near the north end of our pond

EASTERN PHOEBE

This little brown bird seems fairly comfortable around human activity. Last year we had one build a nest in the eaves over a back door. Below, you will see her with grass or moss in her beak that she added to the nest.

Eastern Phoebe

GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER

Here’s another bird with a name that tends to elevate it to a higher level than, say, Lesser, Least or Common. But, I have to say, I struggle to tell it apart from some of other birds in its category like the Wood-Pewee or Eastern Phoebe. One day, i suspect I will laugh at such an undiscriminating eye. After all, I can tell three Golden Retrievers apart from each other, when some people struggle telling a Labrador Retriever from a Golden.

Great Crested Flycatcher

GROUSE & QUAIL

The Greater-Prairie Chicken is listed in my area under this heading, but I truly would be amazed to see one. However, I have seen but not photographed wild turkeys and ring-necked pheasants on or near our property. The one bird I have filmed in this category is the Northern Bobwhite.

NORTHERN BOBWHITE

It is far easier to hear the presence of this bird than to see it. They sing their very characteristic song from underbrush and hedgerows, but rarely make a trip into the open. However, I’ve been fortunate to snap a couple of shots of a nice couple that was venturing into the clearing.

Northern Bobwhite

WRENS

There are four Wren species that could be observed in my location, but I’ve only seen one. I’ve also heard the Carolina Wren many times, so I know it’s out there. But, the Marsh Wren probably wouldn’t find our pond ecosystem sufficient for its needs. The forth species, the Sedge Wren is described as small and secretive! I suspect it would be a real find to see one on our farm.

HOUSE WREN

CATBIRDS, MOCKINGBIRDS, THRASHERS

Well, lookie here! It’s a category in which I have filmed each of the species that I might find in my location.

GRAY CATBIRD

Like the Flycatchers, the Gray Catbird eats insects. That trait can make a bird easy to spot, if he selects an open space up which to perch and hunt. I really like this bird, even though he may seem a bit drab in color. He does have a few deep red colored feathers under his back tail feathers! I guess everyone needs a little sparkle in their life, even if you hide it well.

BROWN THRASHER

This is a fairly elusive bird, but I was fortunate to catch him pressing his head into the sun where his light brown eyes became obvious. They are described as omnivores, but the only times I’ve observed them, they were moving from one place to another. I have not see them feeding. This is another bird with a name that can make you “feel” something about its intentions… for this bird, they aren’t good thoughts, and the crazed expression I captured in this photo makes me feel that he lives up to his name.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD

I have seen Mockingbirds in several locations around our property. The very best vocalist – the one with the most expansive repertoire of songs – resides in our front yard. The other night I recorded that bird for nearly five minutes before a my husband started up the mower and I had to press pause. It’s amazing how many different sounds that bird produced – and with such gusto! However, this bird isn’t without some “issues.” When we lived at the original house there was a Mockingbird that routinely dive-bombed our unsuspecting cats, our dogs and even people!

BLACKBIRDS

I find this category quite interesting because most of the birds aren’t black – or at least not completely black. There are seven species listed at E-Bird for my area. I’ve never seen or heard a Bobolink. But, I’ve at least seen (if not filmed, the remainder of the list.) I know I took a photo of a Grackle this year, but apparently I never processed it beyond the multi-digit file name designated by my camera, so finding it will be challenging. I suppose I will need to sit focused on the bird feeder and I’ll be able to catch one, again. I also have seen a Baltimore Oriole stop by during migration to drink from a hummingbird feeder, but I’ve not seen one on the property during breeding season. However, the remaining birds in this category are posted here.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD

This is not a scarce bird. We have a large pond and they love to nest all around it. The males sing at the tops of trees while the females remain incognito in their drab colors near the ground where they nest.

Male Red-winged Blackbird

EASTERN MEADOWLARK

These birds are very plentiful around our place. They sing constantly and can be found nabbing insects off the ground from our mowed yard to the taller grasses in the meadows. They often take a position atop the large, round hay bales when the “hay guy” leaves them in the field. I rarely see them in the trees, but the photo I am choosing to post is of a Meadowlark in a tree. I just happened to be filming a House Wren nest that was in that same tree, so I was fortunate to get a good shot of this bird in a face-to-face orientation, rather than a shot towards the ground.

This brilliantly yellow bird is an Eastern Meadowlark

BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD

This species is native to our area, but it gets a bad wrap for a strange method of reproduction. Rather than using all those resources to build a nest, incubate eggs and then feed all those hungry mouths, the female of this species chooses to lay an egg in the nest of an unsuspecting bird. The “foster” parents then raise the cowbird chick, which apparently can out-compete the rightly kin of the fosters. While typically she only lays one egg per nest, I’ve read that she lays a lot of eggs in many nests of other species. It’s hard to say why Mother Nature designed this bird to become such a ‘low life scum’ as some might refer to her. However, it’s not the only parasitic behavior in the animal kingdom; not by a long shot. Compared to invasive species that never evolved in a specific ecosystem, the behavior of the Brown-headed Cowbird is far less ruthless. The photo below was identified for me as a female Brown-headed Cowbird. I’ve seen male birds around (which actually look like a blackbird with a brown head!) But, I have never filmed them.

ORCHARD ORIOLE

This is such a lovely bird. I didn’t know whether to post the male or the female (as they are so different.) I’ve decided to post both (male on top.) These birds love nectar and fruit, so we put out a grape jelly jar to attract them. If you would like to see a good-plan-gone-bad, you may read about that HERE.

Male Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Oriole. I think this photo looks like a painting from an Audubon book.

JAYS & CROWS

I’m not sure why the Fish Crow is listed in my area on E-Bird, since it’s not listed as local in AllAboutBirds.org There are two others listed for my location, and I’ve seen both and filmed one. I love Crows. I even have a life-sized three-D decoration of one hanging over the door of my office. When I was a child an America Crow happened into our yard. He was clearly distressed and drinking from a dripping hose. My mother fed him from a small tin. After a while, he would arrive with that little pan in his beak and demand his breakfast by tapping it on the back window! He was quite friendly and sat with us when we played in the yard, he stood on our heads and acted like one of the kids. Crows and Jays are very intelligent birds, which I find very endearing. After all, the breed of dog I relate to the best is the Border Collie.

BLUE JAY

Blue Jay – this bird flew into the territory of parent birds and got more than he expected. You can read about in the June 19, 2020 “Not In Our Neighborhood” post.

PIGEONS and DOVES

The Rock (feral) pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove and the Mourning Dove can be found in my area. I have seen Rock pigeons fly over. They can be quite common on farms where a lot of grain is spilled. But, they don’t make a living here. I hear and see the native Mourning Doves often, as they enter the yard looking for food under the feeders.

MOURNING DOVE

This male Mourning Dove is all puffed up following a female. Shortly after I shot this picture, they mated.

WOODPECKERS

Of the six woodpecker species that I could observe, I’ve only seen one *. It’s important to note that until this summer (2020) I was fairly housebound due to serious orthopedic issues that caused me great pain. My shoulders were so sore that I cringed when we drove over a railroad track in our vehicle. I couldn’t even turn the steering wheel of a car. But, last year I had both my shoulders replaced, and my life is significantly better. I still have two knee replacements in the future, but at least I can get in and out of the golf cart to ride around the place with independence. Up until this summer, the bird species I could observed needed to enter the yard outside my office patio. Now, with the ability to travel around the farm, I can see birds like woodpeckers that typically remain in the more wild, remote areas of the property.

RED HEADED WOODPECKER

* UPDATE: 7/6/20 I saw a Hairy Woodpecker at the north end of pond meadow! Curiously, it happened a day after I proclaimed that I really wanted to see any other woodpecker species that might make a living here. The Hairy and the Downy are very similar so I relied upon some expert birders to confirm it was, in deed a Hairy. I’m posting the outrageously horrific photo here. I believe it will be prudent to set up a feeding station with suet (fruit and nut varieties) near where I saw the Hairy woodpecker. Perhaps they will come down out of the darkness and I can snap a better shot.

HAIRY WOODPECKER

VULTURE & HAWKS

Just yesterday, I saw a red-tailed hawk circling in the sky. He was too high to film, and I couldn’t identify him by sight. But, I know the vocalization, and I came back inside and listened to the sample sounds at bird sites to confirm. We have seen Bald Eagles within a mile of our property, and everyone in the area is familiar with the location of their nest “down at the bottoms” a couple of miles northwest of here. Many summers ago, Robert and I were fishing at our pond and an Osprey swooped in, landed about 15 feet from us, grabbed a massive large-mouth bass from the water’s edge and took off again. I don’t think he even realized we were sitting there. Conversely, I’ve not seen a Broad-winged, Cooper’s or Red-shoulder’s hawk, nor a Northern Harrier here. The only photo I have is of the most common bird in this category.

TURKEY VULTURE

These massive black birds with the unattractive faces, can be seen standing in the middle of the country roads eating the carrion of car impacts. I was fortunate to get a photo of a pair of them circling above the pasture.

SHOREBIRDS

It seems strange to think there would be any shorebirds in the middle of the country. But, when I took a trip to Saskatchewan, Canada many years ago, I was surprised to see gulls flying about in the middle of that massive country, too. We do observe huge flocks of various shorebirds congregating during migration in a flood plain along the Kaskaskia river in the spring, as well. That’s about five miles from here. But, the only bird in this category that I have seen and filmed is the Killdeer.

KILLDEER

This species is quite common in flat agriculture areas like our. We often see them standing in the middle of a country road at night. The car’s headlights catch them taking off far later than seem optimal for total safety. I’m not sure if they are seeking the openness to avoid predation or they enjoy the warmth giving off by the blacktop after sunset. Earlier this year I was sitting on our front porch filming a pair of Tree Swallows that were using a nest box. I saw the two Killdeer in the gravel driveway and turned my camera their way. They were far and I wasn’t paying much attention. But, when I opened the files at my desktop I realized they were mating! Who knew that a gravel drive could be such a romantic location.

FALCONS

I was driving the golf cart and Robert was in the passenger seat. We had stopped so that I could observe whether the Eastern Bluebird in the north central nest box might appear during her incubation. Robert had a pair of binoculars up to his face. “Take a photo of that bird on the hay bale,” he said. “What bale?” I asked as there were about six in the field. “The second one, the one with the bird on top,” he replied. I scanned the bales with my 60 year old eyes and saw nothing. After clarifying the bale upon which he saw the bird, I focused and snapped. Once back in the office, I realized he was right. There was, in fact, a bird on top of the bale. I had to get some expert feedback to confirm the species.

AMERICAN KESTREL

This is the only falcon that I might observe in our area. And, I’m happy to see him. Back in Wisconsin, there was a Kestrel that hunted around my little farm. They are daring little birds of prey. The photo is quite grainy because that bird was probably 400 feet away when I took the photo.

HERONS, IBIS

On the original date of this post, I had seen but not filmed the Great Blue Heron that frequents our pond. In typical nature of “if you build they will come” or “the power of intention,” just two days later I was able to film the great bird as he flew from the north to the south side of our pond. The remaining herons and ibis that could reside in my zip code are probably going to be significantly more challenging to encounter at our farm. However, I have seen a white egret type bird that I assumed was a Cattle Egret only because it was the only white egret I knew at the time. It was probably during the migration season. I’m thrilled to be able to present the heron that fishes in our pond.

GREAT BLUE HERON

SPARROWS

There are currently seven sparrow species displaying at E-Bird, but one that I have filmed during migration -the White Crowned Sparrow – is missing. Apparently the E-bird lists are updated by the season and I’m not supposed to see a White Crowned Sparrow, now. Here are the sparrow species I have seen and filmed.

WHITE CROWNED SPARROW

These cute little birds migrate north and breed in northern Canada. But, before that, they arrive here and spend a few weeks eating the seed we offer.

SONG SPARROW

We have several pairs of these pretty, little birds.

CHIPPING SPARROW

The only images of an adult Chipping Sparrow I found (without an exhaustive search of old drives) were terribly out of focus. However, I posted a photo of a nest with eggs to the Cornell University “Nest Watch” Facebook group and was told they belonged to a Chipping Sparrow. Of course, I had seen a pair of Chipping Sparrows in the area a week earlier but didn’t put two-and-two together. This nest, which includes hair in its construction, is located in our Rose Tree just off our front porch patio. And, now the chicks have hatched!

WARBLERS

Until a couple of days ago I had never seen a Warbler. To me, they were always elusive because they are small and they live in the deepness of large trees. And yet, one evening I sat down at my computer, plugged in the SD card I had extracted from my camera, and began to look at all the images for the day. Too blurry. Too dark. What the heck was I trying to film? I have to say that of the hundreds of photos that I take, less than ten percent end up to be anything of value. The crappy pictures outweigh the good one so disproportionately that I often fail to truly examine an image before I slide to the next. The photo below, of the only Warbler I’ve ever seen, almost dropped to the cutting room floor, too. But, there was this flash of yellow that caught my eye. As for all the warblers that I might encounter – well EBird tells me there are twelve others! Fortunately, a highly experienced Birder has informed me that, while they do exists in my part of the country, most of them make a living in more specialized habitats than our probably offers.

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT

So, here’s that “what’s in a name” situation, again. What’s so common about this bird? It is really more common than a red-winged blackbird or a House Sparrow? Does the fact that it is common – if it really is – make it any less incredible to encounter? I’m just going to have to say, no. It was incredible to see my first Warbler, especially because that very morning before I saw it, I had created my spreadsheet of possible species I could encounter. Who makes a spreadsheet if it’s not important to do so? By that I am clearly including the importance of having a hobby – which for some people becomes the most important thing about which to create a spreadsheet. Once I finalized that spreadsheet I realized that there were lots of warblers that I might see, and I hadn’t seen ANY of them. Then, I went on a look-see that afternoon. I took a photo of a bit of yellow movement in a bush, and it’s a – yeah – a Warbler. Isn’t that a curious situation? It’s curious like the fact that we put up a a bluebird house and a few days later bluebirds showed up. It’s curious like we hung a nectar feeder, and those incredible little ruby-throated gems arrived. We erected a Purple Martin house – that we acquired on a whim while at the Farm Store – and a couple days later Purple Martins showed up. The first evening we took a drive around the property in the golf cart, we saw the female Orchard Oriole and then ten minutes later, 400 feet away, we saw a strikingly handsome male Orchard Oriole. And, not only did we see them, I was able to take great photos of them. Curious? Yes, because I never knew they even existed. Nothing is common around here. It’s all magic, spiritual intervention or good fortune. But, it’s not common. Nonetheless, I present to you the Common Yellowthroat warbler in all its elusiveness.

WHAT REMAINS?

The number of bird species that might just show up even if I am not looking is enormous. There are species I’ve heard or seen that I’ve not filmed….yet. Besides those that I’ve already mentioned above, that list includes Black-capped Chickadees, Canada Goose, Mallard Duck, Tufted Titmouse and the Great Blue Heron (seen but not filmed, or heard but not seen.) UPDATE: 7/8/20 I’m excited to say I filmed the Great Blue Heron

Species that I am hoping to encounter most: Owls. I’ve recently purchased two owl boxes from a craftsman on Etsy. They may not be used this year (especially since we haven’t put them up, yet!) but perhaps next year. Perhaps the Kestrel might enjoy nesting in one of those owl boxes. Cedar Waxwings. I have a soft spot from this bird. When I was in college, the Cedar Waxwings would come to the campus in the fall and eat from some of the fruit bearing shrubs. There was an elevated, glass enclosed walking path between two buildings and the birds often flew into that and fell to the ground. It was suspected they may have been a bit drunk on fermenting fruit. I would pick them up, take them to my dorm room, offer them water and pieces of apple, and then let them sober up before releasing them in the morning! I’d also like to find out how many other woodpecker species might be around, and film the crows and the hawks I hear. I may have to wait for winter to learn about some of these species.

I plan to update this page as I capture additional birds during my rides around the property. I might also update the photos if I find better ones, or if I take a new one that best shows the species.

If you would like to read more posts about the wild birds I’ve observed here, you may look through this CATEGORY.

We’re Expecting!

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, we have recently added ten new nest boxes to the property. I’m happy to present the future generation of Eastern Bluebirds.

First is the couple at the Southeast box, at the entrance to Sham’s paddock. Every time I go by there, I see the birds, so we haven’t opened the box since we saw that they had built a nest. Yesterday, I got a couple of shots of the female perched in the tree that is right near the box, and just missed her entering the box. But, got a glimpse of her tail as she went in!

We also knew there was a nest in the north-central box. When we showed up, the bird flew out. Robert took a photo to reveal that there are four beautiful eggs nestled inside.

At the west entrance to Jaye’s Pasture, north of the pond, we have seen Bluebirds since the day we put up the box. There isn’t a nest, yet, but when we checked a wasp flew out. Robert pulled out the nest it was building in the corner. I don’t know if a wasp nest will deter a Bluebird couple from starting their own nest. Here are photos from yesterday (the female) and this evening, the male. They seem interested in this location. I hope they made a decision! I feel like a pushy future grandparent.

Then, there’s the box that our client, Matt, hand-made for us. It’s in the orchard in the front yard of our house. Robert had been watching Bluebirds investigating that box, but we hadn’t check the status until yesterday evening. Surprise! Four lovely eggs in that box, too! Bluebird Happiness abounds!

We’ve only been in this house since 2017, so the “orchard” trees are young. But, while we were sitting near the box observing, I took a couple of photos of apples we can anticipate in a couple of months.

I also caught some early evening (so a very low sun in the sky) photos of another pair of Bluebirds perched on header posts of the old herding trial pen corridor. A male was on one post, the female on the other. They remained there for a good long while. This location is at least 300 feet from the southeast nest, 900 feet from the north central box, and probably more than that to Matt’s box in the front yard of the house. So, perhaps this is a forth couple. It’s hard to say.

We are left to wonder what these two lovebirds (or not) were doing on those ultra tall posts for minutes on end. I wish I had more light, but it was sufficient to know these were Eastern Bluebirds. Such loving little creatures.

The At-Home Naturalist

Let’s get one thing straight.  I’m not an ornithologist.  Yes, I played one in college.  That’s accurate.  In 1982 I spent six months in Monte Verde, Costa Rica studying the “Nest Site Displacement of Hoffman’s Woodpeckers by Emerald Toucanets.”  That was a long time ago. 

I’m not sure that this is exactly a Hoffman’s Woodpecker. But, it’s the closest, royalty-free image of a Costa Rican woodpecker I could find! On the other hand, the title photo of an Emerald Toucanet is accurate, and cost me twelve bucks to legally acquire.

The Toucanet vs. Woodpecker analysis was recommended by my college mentor who had spent the previous spring semester in that same location.  Dr. Harlow Hadow was an ornithologist and naturalist.  On the other hand, the mentoring professor in Costa Rica during my term was keen on ctenosaurs (you pronounce that without the c.)  Many of my peers joined his research on the iguana-like reptile or the more interesting Howler Monkeys that tossed their own scat your way if they were so inclined, while I flew (no pun intended) solo in the cloud forest. 

My study subject wasn’t born out of intense passion to research a specific natural event or species.  It was an opportunity to arrive on-site with a pre-planned project spearheaded by a professor I admired and trusted.  But, to be completely honest, I viewed my semester in Monte Verde less as a scientific quest and more as a brilliant expedition.  And it was.

During my stay, I acquired at least as much knowledge about Costa Rica’s people, culture, food and gracious spirit as I did about the birds.   Nonetheless – and this is the remarkable part of the journey – I did observe a feisty pair of Toucanets tear open a woodpecker’s nesting cavity.  I knew, as did my advisors, that it would be a long shot to be present for such an event.  Yet, after spending days traipsing around the edges of the rain forest, listening for the specific vocalizations, catching glimpses of their scalloped flight, I eventually identified eight active nests owned by Hoffman’s woodpeckers.  One day, after weeks observing the birds’ comings-and-goings, my effort was rewarded.  I witnessed what I had endeavored to see.  It took everything within me to refrain from throwing a rock (as if I could a. find one and b. throw it seventy feet in the air) to stop the incident.  Watching those big green birds with the massive yellow bills ripping the baby chicks from the hole, snatching them in their long beaks and tossing them back the way a Canjun consumes raw oysters on a Saturday night was almost too much for me to bear.   While the chicks’ parents swooped about screeching their protest, I remained a noble scientist and I simply recorded the event in my notebook while I listened to head-song, “Let it Be,” by the Beatles.

Fast forward nearly forty years.  For the first two decades after graduating, I used my degree in biology to assist in basic auditory research (on goldfish – yeah you read that right), partake in clinical oncology and work in applied research, development and product support of medical diagnostics in a fortune 500 company.  Since 2001, in partnership with my husband, I launched and operated three small businesses as a professional dog trainer, instructor and author.  No birding.  No nest boxes.  No bird seed.  Dog poop and dog hair, dirty dog blankets, scattered dog kibble and some crazy-ass clients with their wayward pooches.  But, no bluebirds, meadowlarks or song sparrows.

Some serious orthopedic issues slowly debilitated my body, leaving me in significant pain on a daily basis until I had both of my shoulders replaced in 2019.  After my final physical therapy in early 2020, I began to feel alive, again.  While I am still in queue for two knee replacements and have limited mobility, the freedom I gained after the shoulder surgeries has breathed new life into me.  For the first three years in our new home I spent much of my time viewing nature out my office windows and on my office patio where I have a koi (goldfish) pond, flower garden, bird seed station and hummingbird nectar feeders.  We put up nest boxes and have watched several broods of Eastern Bluebirds, Tree and Barn Swallows fledge. 

Now, I can travel via golf cart anywhere on the property – all by myself!  With Robert’s assistance, we have fashioned a wonderful ecological setting for the local wildlife.  And while I am excited every time I discover a new species that resides here, I am not an ornithologist and I am not even a “birder” in the official sense, although I respect folks who are and rely upon their expertise to help me learn more about my world.  I love seeing photos of birds from all around the globe.  But, I cannot envision traveling long distances on a birding adventure.  I know I will never run out of learning about the plants and animals that share my space.  I am content here.  This is my home.  I suppose that means that I am an At-Home Naturalist. 

The Jelly Jar

When I discovered that we had Orchard Orioles on the property, I decided to makes their lives a bit more juicy by offering sliced oranges in several locations where I had seen them. We encountered the male in the now-overgrown former herding arena and the female was seen a few hundred feet away at the west entrance to Jaye’s pasture. I also put a couple orange halves where I hadn’t seen them, just to see if anything might snack on the citrus. The next day, I found that the slice at the gate to Jaye’s pasture had been picked upon. It made me happy to know that the local birds were able to get such a delicacy.

I also ordered an Oriole jelly jar holder and an Oriole nectar feeder, which isn’t much different from a Hummingbird feeder except the ports are a bit larger and the attracting color is orange. When they arrived, Robert and I went out to put up our new wild bird snack stations. We hung the jelly jar on a lovely, handmade feeder that one of our clients, Matt, created for us. Located on the edge of the former herding arena (and where I had recently seen the Great Crested Flycatcher), the feeder also contained a meal worm block and two suet slabs, one with cherries and the other with peanuts. Robert secured the nectar feeder to the top of a post, about eight feet from the feeder.

The following day, to my minor disappointment, it appeared as if the jelly had not been touched. However, while I was quietly observing the location, a hummingbird arrived for a drink of the nectar. I have come to realize that hummingbirds are all around our property – not just at the feeders we hang on the patio by the house. I have been visited by a hummer while out on the golf cart in nearly every corner of the property.

A few more days elapsed and there wasn’t any evidence that the jelly at Matt’s feeder had been discovered. So, I chose to move it to the location where the orange slice had been picked at; the gate to Jaye’s pasture. The next day I found that the entire jar was empty! Clearly, a few birds did not lick that thing clean to the bottom. We had a mystery to solve! But, first I went back to the house and fetched the “good” preserves (no-sugar added, only fruit deliciousness – for human enjoyment) and gave it up to the wildlife, only to discover it sucked dry again the following day.

This is an old fence post at the entrance to Jaye’s Pasture in the north central part of our farm. It’s been here since we purchased the property in 2001. The previous owner had cattle that he grazed in the meadow around the pond. The fencing kept them from entering the crop land which we put into pasture grasses when we arrived. As I look at it in this photo, the fence appears so ominous with the barbed wire and the old electric fence wire. Still, I don’t think that the wildlife perceive it that way. They maneuver around it like it’s just part of the environment, as it has been for decades.

A trail cam was in order for this job. Below are video clips of the various critters that visited that jelly jar, including birds that picked at the dregs left after a nighttime of ravenous creatures nearly emptied the contents before sunrise.

Here’s the Gray Catbird that I shot with my camera as we arrived to set up the trail cam. I had filmed him in that spot a few days earlier, but I was able to get closer to him on this day. For a fairly nondescript bird, I find him nonetheless quite handsome and interesting.

I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me that the Catbird chose to check out the jelly jar since it was in the same location where I had filmed him, twice. But I was. This video segment shows him hopping about and even vocalizing.

Other avian visitors that we caught on tape were a few Ruby-throated hummingbirds. The first video is a female. It is followed by a quick visit by a male.

“The Cutest Visitor” award goes to these mice that were brave and entered the cavern of the jelly jar. This clip combines three 30 second segments that were tripped by the mice.

Late yesterday afternoon Robert headed off to the hardware store for some supplies and stopped in to Walmart to purchase a new jar of grape jelly. I chauffeured him to the jelly jar feeder and he filled it up (better his hands get all sticky than mine, I say.) Like a child on Christmas eve, I waited for the new day to dawn to see what surprises we might find. I had thought that perhaps a white-tailed deer was the culprit, but logic told me it was most probably a raccoon. Well, it was a raccoon, and a couple of other species, too!

Below is just 90 seconds of a raccoon that completely relished his access to the jelly jar. I am not including many more minutes of this guy and another, smaller chap that visited much later in the evening. But, I suspect most folks would have guessed that a raccoon was a significant contributor to the consumption of the jelly.

And, how could I forget the opossum? Clearly, they live all around us, and to think they wouldn’t seek something sugary was a complete oversight.

And, while my first guess was that a deer had licked that jelly jar clean, we didn’t catch such an event. However, we did capture a doe walking within striking distance of the motion detector in the trail cam. She isn’t easy to see. Look slight left of center. After a few seconds of standing still, she walks to the right and under the Ponderosa pine trees. Since we decided to offer our pastures to the wildlife that we enjoy so much, we have had several deer move into our zone. Robert has discovered several “bedding down” spots along the perimeter of our property, under the mature trees.

And, what of the jelly jar? First, let me say that yesterday, after we rode out to fill it and restart the trail cam, we visited Matt’s feeding station and found the Oriole nectar feeder smashed to the ground. Who knows which critter did that. But, with new insight in what transpires during the midnight hours, I suggested that we (I use the word we lightly – as I’m certain it will be a task accomplished by Robert) mount the jelly jar on a thin, metal pole with a hefty baffle to prevent unwanted diners to indulge. I also think we need to hang the nectar feeder from a similar trapeze. Don’t get me wrong. I like raccoon and opossums well enough. But, I don’t think my pocketbook is deep enough to support their sweet tooth.

I’d love to catch the Orioles indulging in feast we provided most specifically for them. Perhaps that will happen and I will be able to share that victory at a point in the future.

Enjoy a bit of time outdoors. It’s truly a revitalizing experience.