Making A Home

The House Wrens arrived last week. I could tell by their melodious song. Last year a pair made a home in a box near the Alleyway, which is centrally located on the property. This year, they are smitten with a new box we put up a few weeks ago. It’s not too far from the box they (I think it’s the same pair) used last year. The new box has a smaller floor size than the standard Bluebird house, but it is taller. I watched the Wrens investigate this new option for a few days. A couple of days ago, I filmed the male singing his heart out as he coached Wifie to complete the nest with the finer grasses.

A what?

This is a Dickcissel. It’s a very colorful, small bird that migrates into my area to breed in summer. They are known to make their living in alfalfa or clover fields. I suppose any grass pasture will do, since we have many of these little fellows (and their less colorful, but still yellow tinged mates) around the property.

I learned to recognize them because they would follow me as I moved along hedgerows – flying from the top of one tree to the next. As soon as the bird landed, it would begin belting out its song which is quite raspy, and tends to be three syllables long (like its name.) By the end of the summer, rather than saying “Oh! There’s a bird up at the top of that tree, I should take a photo,” I ended up saying, “Oh, it’s just a Dickcissel.” One day, perhaps, I will be able to recognize most of the birds with such familiarity.

This last photo is interesting. I was camped out near Nest box #26 filming the Bluebird feeding her chicks, when I spotted a bit of yellow about 300 feet away, in a tree. I took a few photos assuming it was probably a bird (but sometimes it’s a flower, a dying leaf or even a piece of light trash that had blown in during a storm. It turned out to be a Bobolink (a new bird for me – as of just a few days ago.) But, also there was a Dickcissel in the tree. They were both belting out their songs.

The colors of a Sunset

The Barn Swallows have returned and are busy making their mud-based nests under the eaves of my office patio, as well as above the door of Robert’s shop. These are the same locations the birds have used in previous years. I’m excited to keep an eye on their progress.

Yesterday, I was down at the pond quite late in the afternoon. All three swallows – Tree, Barn and the Northern Rough Winged – enjoy hunting for insects above the pond. Watching their aerial acrobatics is awe inspiring. But, it’s almost impossible for me to catch in a photo.

Wonderfully, I was privy to a real treat when a pair of Barn Swallows perched on a very low shrub just at the water’s edge and hung out long enough for me to focus and click. The sun was so low in the sky that it seemed to illuminate the brilliant orange color of their breasts as if it were the sun setting on the horizon. It was quite a sight and it makes me very happy to be able to share it.

There was some tall, dried grass in the foreground which somewhat obscured the image of the second bird in the background. I think that helped to highlight the bird in the front, which I was able to capture in the spaces between the sedge grass.

I also caught an interesting interaction between the birds. I was about to write “squabble” but that would simply be my human mind’s judgement of the event. It happened when the birds were both behind the grass and out of focus, but you should get the drift!

Within a minute the two birds were peacefully sharing the perches, again.

Welcome Back, King!

I’ve been waiting to see the first Kingbird of the season. I love, love, love these birds. On Saturday, I saw my first. It was in our front yard perched on the top of our mini-van luggage rack, of all places! I didn’t get a photo, not that it matters because who wants a photo of a bird on a car?

Yesterday, it was supposed to rain all day. I didn’t plan to go out looking around. But, by mid-afternoon, I began to see moments of sunshine and not long after that the sunshine began beckoning me outdoors. I made a plan to sit in a newly carved out hideaway that Robert created for me along the north end of the west side of the pond. The view of the pond isn’t spectacular, and it wasn’t meant to be. That is a place where I have seen lots of little birds flitting around, but they are too deep in the brush for me to even consider identifying, let alone filming them. The newly mowed area is surrounded by mature trees, and there are a few very young, volunteer trees in the center, that Robert left. I hoped they would provide a quick stopping spot for birds traveling from one brushing area to the next, and where the sun would illuminate them in the sparsely leafed out, little trees.

As I moved into the little clearing, the first thing I heard was an American Robin shouting a crisis. Clearly, it had a nest nearby, and I quickly spotted it based on the bird’s movements. It was about waist high in the crook of a tree that was about fifteen feet away. I was fairly certain that, as long as i held my position, the Robin and his mate would relax. They did.

Next I began to hear Catbirds. This is another species I was hoping to see for the first time this season. I had heard them for a few days, but I was excited to see a pair of them fly from the mature trees right into those smaller trees in the center of the space. Wow. it was as if I was receiving exactly what I had hoped for. Unfortunately, it was during a period of complete cloud cover and the dark gray birds were a challenge for me to focus upon before they flew to the brush at the other side of the clearing. The pictures are not worth sharing here, but I am happy to know that I have a place to perhaps locate them again.

Then, I spotted a Kingbird across the pond. It was perched on a curved branch, which was obscured by some tall grass on my side of the pond. That tends to show up as a blurry patch in a photo, and that’s what’s happened. But, I’m sharing this photo as a matter of perspective.

I knew that I was too far away to get a great image, but I was excited to have seen a Kingbird in his natural world. These birds hunt insects. That quality makes them fairly easy to film, as they perched for a bit while trying to spot their nest meal. They often return to the same perch after they catch the bug, which provides even more time to focus and capture the image.

I watched the Kingbird hunting on the other side of the pond, and figured that there was no reason to restrict himself to the East side. I hoped he would fly over to my side and land right in a patch of sun. Then, I was interrupted by an Osprey, flying over the south end of the pond. I was amazed when I saw it pull its wings tight to its body, and dive head first into the water. I only saw the tuck and drop until the trees obscured my vision. But, I heard the splash. Moments later, I saw the large bird rise up over the pond, again and fly north with a large fish in his talons! I decided to follow him in the event he stopped in the mature trees at the north end of the property to eat his meal. Unfortunately, he kept flying north until I could no longer spot him. But, hey, that was a very incredible experience to have had!

With Kingbird still in my plans to capture on film, and with the small hope that the Osprey might return for a second course, I moved over to the pond to settle and wait for great opportunities. On my way, I saw a bird in the top of a tree and nearly just passed it by. It looked like it might be a female Red-winged blackbird, but something told me it was worth the effort to shoot, even though it was into the sun. I was quite surprised to download the images and realize I had no clue what species it was. Yellow head? Maybe a Yellow-headed Blackbird. That would be incredible, as we are just barely on the edge of their migration zone. But, before I could scroll down to the letter “Y” on the list of Blackbirds in the guide, I reached Bobolink. This is a Bobolink! It’s a bird in decline. We sit on the edge between migration and breeding zones, so it would be great if this bird and his mate stuck around for the summer!

I settled in a spot on the west side of the pond, with the intermittent sun at my back. My experience is that it can take twenty or thirty minutes, sometimes longer, for the birds to come back into a zone when I first arrive. I drive a golf cart, which ultimately provides a good “blind” as I think birds are less concerned about vehicles, than an erect animal walking through their turf. But, there is still the initial exit when I drive into a location.

While waiting for the birds to return to my area, I observed some very interesting activity. First, there was the pair of what I am pretty sure were male, Blue Grosbeaks. They flew one-in-front-of the other back and forth across the small inlet many times. If one bird had been the cinnamon color of a female Blue Grosbeak I would have been certain. I had recorded audio and filmed that species in that same general area last year. But, they were both blue, deep blue not the slightly lighter blue of Indigo Buntings. I don’t know if one bird was chasing the other, but I got that sense. Perhaps, they were determining who was going to get what location to set up breeding territory. They were speeding by so quickly, I had no chance of catching them on film.

I was surrounded by Red-winged Blackbirds – both their calls and their activity. They are not easy to film because of their rich black color. But, this image is good enough to share, although not what I hope for when filming a bird that is not all that far away from me. Check out the thorns on that tree!

While I sat waiting for the birds to settle back into my zone, I breathed in deeply. I looked at all the beauty around me. The rain seemed to have brightened the already brilliant Spring green colors of the newly budded trees and fast growing grasses. The sky was blue, behind the quickly move-off rain clouds. The air was fresh. It all made me feel very much one with nature. I sense the spirituality of my life and my connectedness to “All.” In that moment I thought, “now, if only a Kingbird flew right here in front of me…” And, it did.

Based on the timestamps on the images I took, between 4:37 and 5:05 PM an Eastern Kingbird dedicated his efforts to modeling for me. He started out a bit farther away than I had hoped, and with more complexity in the environment than makes for a super easy shot. And, over the next near-half hour, I felt as if this bird was communicating with me. The conversation went a bit like this:

Bird: “How was that?”

Tammie” “Not close enough.”

Bird: “Close enough?”

Tammie: “Yeah, but the sun was behind a dark cloud.”
Bird: “Is this better?”

Tammie: “Not really, there’s a leaf in front of your face.”

And so on and so on the time went by as I wondered, “how can this be happening?” and “is this a form of divine intervention?” Is it true that I just need to ask for something to receive it?

Remember, I don’t consider myself an experience photographer, and I don’t use fancy, post-photo enhancement software. I’m sure the true photographers wouldn’t find my images suitable for their moniker, but it was the experience more than the final product that truly inspired me.

The handsome bird first landed in a nearby tree. He stuck around for just sufficient time for me to take a few decent pictures when the sun was shining and I could capture the glint in his eye. At that moment, I felt very satisfied, but concerned as to whether I got anything in focus! Branches, grass, leaves anything that sits in front of the bird can wreck havoc with the auto-focusing and I’m not good enough to manually focus on something that is small and moving.

He flew off to nab an insect, but returned to a twisted branch on the water’s edge. The sun was tucked away under a cloud, but I was able to get a straight-on look in my eyes, which I found endearing.

After just a minute, he returned to land on a another small shrub near the edge of the pond, again under clouds. But, this photo shows that there is quite a bit of definition to his flight feathers. I had always thought this bird was a solid black color on the back – but, of course with the characteristic white tail tip. I call them “spats” since this bird looks to be wearing a tuxedo.

I heard the head-talk in my brain, “If only he would get a little close…if only the sun would stay out when he landed.”

Then, it happened. The Kingbird landed in a tree that was just about fifteen feet from me. But, it was on my left side. To get this shot, I had to lift the camera (and the attached tri-pod) over my lap and the steering wheel without spooking the bird. When I reviewed them, there was a large leaf covering his head in most of the photos. Here is one that, while still missing the sunlight, was worth sharing.

“Just as close, but without the leaves,” I thought. “Oh, and with full sun. That would be perfect.” Then, my request was answered…in the sequence I had asked.

I was thrilled to have captured one of my favorite birds in such close proximity with the late afternoon light illuminating all his beauty.

And then, he flew off and although I stayed in the area for another thirty minutes, I never spotted him again!

The End.

Nest Box Status

After several days of rain and dreary weather, I was able to get out in the brilliant sun on April 30 and May 1. May 1 was my birthday, so it was especially nice to experience the tranquillity and vibrancy of Spring.

I can’t believe the progress that our “tenants” have made with their nesting. Here is the latest – listed by Species. The photos may be from Friday, Saturday or a few from both days.

Eastern Bluebirds

After fretting for their safety due to the frightening images I saw on social media of whole Bluebird families succumbing to the deep freeze in February, I am super excited to share that we have three Bluebird couples well on their way to raising chicks.

BOX 15

Check out the size of the grub (figuratively – not literally) they are feeding their youngsters. Those chicks must be getting pretty big! Dad isn’t even chopping it into bits before offering it to the kids.

BOX 26

Not all that long ago, we bought a couple more of the round, “birch look” boxes that were on clearance at the farm store. Last year a Bluebird couple fledged four chicks from the same model that is located near my office patio. Robert put up the new boxes and the one in the alleyway was immediately inspected by a pair of Chickadees. They have not followed through with the lease and that box (as far as I can tell) still is not occupied. The second one of the same style, we put on a post behind our Training Building. I have kept an eye on it when I observe the Tree Swallows in box 20 on the repurposed utility pole. But, apparently, I wasn’t paying sufficient attention. On Friday, while watching the Tree Swallows, I saw movement around the round-birch box, so I staked it out for a spell. Dang! I observed a female Bluebird taking fairly large size food into the hole. I saw, but didn’t get to film the male. The mama looks a bit disheveled. Perhaps it was just the wind.

BOX 7

Robert alerted me to a third pair of Bluebirds that are occupying the box in our front yard, just about 20 feet from our front porch. I was able to snap these photos of the female in late afternoon light. I saw the male a few days ago perched near the box. I haven’t seen any food going in, so I think she is still incubating the eggs.

TREE SWALLOWS

We have an abundance of Tree Swallows on our property this Spring. It’s actually hard to fathom how many pairs of these lovely birds are using the boxes, but I read that Tree Swallows are most likely to return to the place they were hatched when they begin breeding. Since we offer plenty of options, I suppose they feel able to stick around and start their own nests.

Box 6

This is the box in the center of my office yard which I can view from my desk. Two years ago, Bluebirds used the box, and last year a pair of Tree Swallows fledged chicks from that box. Because it’s located only about 40 feet from the patio, we struggle with the House Sparrows and play a game of cat and mouse with them in early Spring. By that I mean, we allow the sparrows to start a nest, then we open the box and leave the door open for a week, then shut it and allow them to start a nest, again. Eventually, they give up – and around that time the Bluebirds and/or Tree Swallows show up. This year, it’s Tree Swallows that are – in my hopeful opinion – are about to commit to the box. This is an interesting situation because one of the pair seems to be a juvenile, based on the brownish color. I have tried to find out if Tree Swallows breed in their first year, but I’ve not found the answer, yet. Needless to say, there is a small group of four or five birds that seem to be related (perhaps parents and kids from last year?) that are spending much of the time on and in the box.

Box 10

We also refer to this box as “Matt’s box” since our friend Matt hand made it for us. It’s positioned in our small, young orchard that lines our driveway near the road (which is about 175 feet from the house.) Last summer, a pair of Bluebirds used the box. I discarded a House Sparrow nest from the box a couple of weeks ago. Over the weekend, I was happy to see a Tree Swallow sticking her head out of the hole while her mate perched at the top of the T-post on which the box is secured.

Box 14

This box is on the East fence line of our property – towards the north end. Last year, a Bluebird couple made a nest and fledged chicks in Box #13 which is on the north fence line about 400 feet from Box 14. Sadly, within a couple of days a House Wren killed the chicks. Although it was late in the season, the Bluebirds moved down to Box 14 and were successful there. This year, I noticed Tree Swallows in the box a week or so ago. I suspect that the female is incubating eggs, as she seems to be spending most of her time in the box. Last year, as watched the Bluebirds rear their chicks, I grew to love this location. It reminded me of a quaint little cabin because pretty, purple wild flower grew up around it and butterflies visited it frequently. It was such an endearing place to sit and watch the Bluebirds raise their babes. The now spent and brown remnants of the wild flowers remain – I can see them gently wrapped around this box. I hope the flowers bloom again this summer!

Box 18

I’m not considering this a sure-thing, but I spent a nice bit of time with a little group of very friendly Tree Swallows at and around this box on Friday afternoon. Number 18 sits in the center of the property on a post that once supported a gate for livestock. There’s a length of fencing that remains, as well, and the birds were perched on the top wire when I moved into the area. Curiously, they didn’t feel compelled to fly off when I approached and I was within twenty feet of them while I observed and evaluated their intentions regarding this nest box. Last year, it was overtaken by a House Wren that laid her eggs in another nest, but felt compelled to cram large twigs in two other nearby boxes. I have read that it is a competitive strategy that species often uses. Time will tell if these birds lock in on the box. This group also contained a juvenile appearing bird (more brown, less of the iridescent blue coloring) and a couple of obvious adult birds. The proximity these birds permitted allowed me to get a few really nice shots where it’s almost possible to see their unique personalties.

Box 20

This is the nest box that is located on a repurposed utility pole. Although this couple has been well established in this box for a while, apparently they still feel it necessary to do some modifications to their nest. I filmed them taking pieces of grass both in and out of the box.

Box 21

This box is along the south property line, near the road. The male often sits on the electric line far above the box. The pond is just about 75 feet from this box, which is a favorite place for the swallows to feed. Because I hadn’t seen the birds for several days, I did open the box last week and saw two white eggs. I’m assuming she’s now incubating them.

Box 22

I wasn’t expecting to find anything in this box when I approached it at the end of the day on Friday. But, a bird flew off the top of the box when I got closer, and the two of them flew up to perch on the power line across the street. This box is on the west property line, along the road that our house sits on. I moved off a distance, and in just a few minutes, they returned and I was able to film this pair. Although they held onto the front of the box by the hole, and perched on the top of the box and the pole it’s secured to, in the short time I stayed to observe, I didn’t see a bird enter the box. It’s possible they were just there checking it out as an option. Time will tell if they sign the lease.

HOUSE WREN

I just started hearing House Wrens singing about five days ago. Last year they occupied four different boxes. This year, a bird is showing interest in a new box in the alleyway, and another has built a nest along the east fence of my office yard. It’s only about 100 feet from Box 19, which is where a Wren had a nest last year. Perhaps this is the same bird and she has decided to go for an upgrade.

Box 26

This is the new box we put up when we added the new new, round birch-look boxes. It’s a bit smaller in floor space than a typical Bluebird box, so it makes sense that a House Wren fancies it.

I’m amazed at how many boxes are occupied or on the verge of that. Imagine this: We built this house in 2016, and moved in on Christmas eve that year. In May 2017 we put up our first bird house, and a Bluebird couple moved in a few days later. We put up the center box that summer, too. In 2018, we added three more boxes to create our “planned parenthood” strategy for the House Sparrow. 2019 I had two major surgeries and didn’t do much. Only last summer (probably in mid to last June) we put up several other houses around the property after I learned about the concept of Bluebird trails. Now, this year, there are birds in or nearly moving into twelve boxes!

Additionally, there are a few other boxes that I’ve recently checked. One, (the unlucky #13 where the Bluebirds lost their chicks to the Wren) show no signs of activity. However, four others that I checked over the weekend all have a little beginning of a grass nest. I suppose that could have been started then abandoned by either Bluebirds or Tree Swallows. But, I’m guessing that at least one of them may end up with a pair of Bluebirds. That would be so splendid!

ORCHARD PEAR TREE

This isn’t a nest box, but it’s still worth sharing. I noticed this characteristic nest in a young pear tree in our little orchard. I was fairly certain I knew to which bird it belonged. Like I expected, it didn’t take long for a Robin to show up – albeit I will say that it would have been a bit more magical if it had been a partridge!

It’s A Coot

A couple of days ago, around sunset, in a light rain with overcast skies, I traveled by the pond. I didn’t have a camera, and I was just trying to get out of the house for a few minutes before dark after an exacerbating work day.

I did toy with the idea of taking my camera, but I didn’t want it to get wet and I told myself that it would be good for me to just relax, breath in the cool air, and see without recording what I observed.

As soon as I entered the pond area I saw it. It was a duck at the water’s edge. I cursed my decision to have gone out without a camera because I could tell, immediately, it wasn’t a species I had seen before. Then, I remembered I had a cell phone with me. In the waning light, I pointed it at the bird that seemed to be listing back and forth in the marginal grasses. It was useless. I was too far. I decided to take a short video, in the event that it might provide a bit more information than the black blobs that were the subjects of the camera shots.

What I did do was try my best to recall any unique features so that I might look up the possible options for identification. Black. That was obvious. It as a black duck. White beak. That was obvious, it had a bright, white beak. I rolled my eyes and figured there were going to be a half dozen ducks that met that description in the bird guide.

Even before I went back to the house, I did a quick search of “black duck with bright white beak.” Wow! There was one bird that was listed over and over again. American Coot. I tried to compare the little image in my cellphone video to the description and I was 90% certain I had seen a Coot.

That night and all through the next day it rained, and rained. Finally, in late afternoon, I noticed a bit of sun. I packed up the camera and headed off to the pond, hoping that the single, American Coot had stuck around. It had! While the clouds still outweighed the short bursts of sunlight, I was able to get a few photos.

This bird is not a duck! It is a Rail. It’s in the same family as the Soras that visited a week ago. It doesn’t have webbed feet, but it has the same type of long toes of other birds in the Rail family. I suppose that is why it appeared to list back and forth a bit more than a duck might in the shallows.

This bird was eating – a lot! It took large beak-fulls of the green vegetation that ends up consuming our pond in certain years. My husband suggested we order in a couple dozen Coots to tend to that unwanted growth of the stringy plants.

And, here I present to you the American Coot!

Mama and Papa

This is exciting! The Bluebird pair in Box #15 on the East property line are feeding chicks. Here are a few photos as well as a couple of videos at the bottom.

This daddy takes his job very seriously. He remains in constant contact with his mate, he brings food for the youngsters, and he is seen dicing it to the proper proportion for the chick’s size by wacking it on the top of the box. In the second video, you can even see him on his way to the box, then he performs a complete 180 degree pivot. A few seconds later, the mama arrives. I can only imagine that he changed his intentions to land on the box when he saw his mate arriving. Watching this couple is actually a lot like watching a good marriage.

Mama is all business when it comes to staying in the nest with the new hatchlings. But, she does go on hunting forays and brings back food for the chicks.

They seem to work so well together. This is the same box that a Bluebird couple used late last summer. I suspect it is the same pair and that may be why they seem so experienced. There’s a second female that I have seen hanging out with these two. I assume it’s a daughter from last year’s brood.

The first video is a quick, 30 second snippet of the male arriving with food.

Noteworthy moments in the second video include a Field Sparrow vocalizing, the male “processing” a grub on the house top and the male flying in and back out – presumably because he saw the female on her way back to the nest.

Frequent Visitors

From my office doors I can view the north end our of pond meadow. I sometimes witness the Great Blue Heron or the Blue-winged Teal coming and going. Recently, I’ve observed a pair of Canada Geese that fly in from a location northwest of here. I’ve seen them flying over our property from a location southwest of here, too. I can only speculate that they use several different farm ponds in the area for their needs.

Yesterday, I was filming the Song Sparrows feeding their chicks when I heard the Geese honking on the wing. I looked over my shoulder to see them slowly drop altitude and land gracefully on our pond. I made a note to attempt to film them on my way back to the house. I had very little confidence I would accomplish that goal as these birds are fairly flight.

However, I was able to just barely get to a position where I could snap a few photos before the larger bird (I assume the male) began honking. Less than thirty seconds later, they took off together.

Let’s just address this little detail; if you live in an industrial area where Canada geese use the man made ponds, you probably think it’s silly to even waste one’s time to take pictures of this species. I guess it’s a bit like taking a photo of a Robin.

Many years ago I worked in a suburb of Chicago at a very large company. The extensive property (which was like a University campus in many ways) had a number of ponds. They were used to handle rain water run-off and to compensate for all of the land which is paved in parking lots. Canada Geese were all around – too much around. They pooped everywhere. They made nests in landscaped entries to buildings and then attached employs who attempted to enter. It would have been easy to get super high quality images of those birds, both standing around on a sidewalk, and as they landed and took off of the ponds.

But, like I have said before, we have country birds here. They have large personal spaces, and they don’t co-habitate with humans with the same level of comfort that city birds might. Hence, these are not the greatest quality images, but I’m quite surprised that I was even able to acquire them. I love how the water splashes demonstrate how these big birds actually run over the surface of the water as they take flight.

Darling Discovery

I’m not going to lie. I feel a bit silly, perhaps even dumb to share this story of discovery. But, the outcome is more worth sharing than the embarrassment I felt when I realized what I was observing.

First, I had just spent 45 minutes perched patiently outside Bluebird Nestbox #15 because it was obvious they were feeding baby chicks. I could tell based on the frequency the parents were entering the box. And, well, let’s face it they were carrying small morsels of food. It was a no-brainer, and it was exciting – especially so, since I had been so worried that our Bluebirds may have died during the extreme freeze during February. I’ll upload photos and videos of those new parents in a future post.

Once I left the Bluebirds, I traveled over to an area just east of the old barn. There are posts which remain from which the fencing has been removed. Robert keeps some of the grass there mowed down so I can move with the golf cart through that space. It is a great place for insect hunters to look for a meal. They will land on a post and scan for bugs, then drop down, snatch it, and often return to the same post to consume the meal. It makes capturing images of these lovely birds fairly easy. I have filmed Bluebirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Mockingbirds and a few of the flycatcher species working that area.

Right off the bat I saw a small, brown bird – clearly a sparrow species. I often struggle to identify a bird when I’m out in the field. I have distorted vision in my right eye. The image that I see is larger and crooked compared to what I see in my left eye. Vertical lines are warped and horizontal lines are not level. It makes for a challenging “in field” species identification. When I asked the ophthalmologist what could be done, she replied, “you have one good eye.” So, yeah. I just deal with it and accomplish the identification step once I download the pics to my office computer.

The little sparrow landed multiple times on top of the posts and I was pretty certain I got some good shots. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for having the opportunity to film the bird in fairly close proximity – that’s something I covet. However, I really prefer a natural background. While the posts added a rustic farm-y element, I had my hopes set on that dry, perfectly tilted piece of last autumn’s grass. The little bird was frequently landing on it. The stem shot up at an “artistic” angle from a clump of new, green grass. And, for some reason, that little bird was dropping down from the fence post to cling to the fine, brown stem nearly every time that it took flight. It would have made for a lovely photograph.

Here’s one shot where the bird landed on a spent, dead wild-flower stem – lovely and natural. Unfortunately, the grass in the foreground that obscured the bird’s head.

I tried to simply focus on the spot where the bird was landing most often and wait to click the shutter. But, of course the bird would not oblige me. It landed higher, lower, or not even on the stem. With each failure, I worked harder to get one good shot of that pretty, little creature with such a natural backdrop. I was laser focused on the task.

The sound of crows in the background broke my concentration. I love crows, but I haven’t had the chance to film one except in the tree tops. When I returned my attention to the goal at hand, everything came became clear. I took the time to ponder: why is this bird dropping down to that same, dang clump of grass over and over and over again? All of a sudden, the answer was obvious. The bird had a nest and it was taking food to the chicks. Yeah, Tammie, just like you were just watching over at Nestbox #15 with the Bluebirds for nearly an hour! Well, that was a bit disconcerting. How did I miss that? I will admit that I was not able to see that the bird had a mouthful of snacks in its bill when it flew to the spent grass. That only became apparent when I returned home.

There’s a phenomenon in humans; when we are ultra-focused on one task, we can utterly fail to see other activity that is staring us right in the face. I scoffed at myself. Howe could I have allowed my focus on the single, perfect picture cause such a failure to see the the obvious? More shortsighted was the fact that there were two parent birds feeding their chicks, and I hadn’t even noticed or evaluated that fact.

Once I sat back and just watched their behavior, I was able to see the process which was being repeated with great regularity. First, the bird perched on a post and looked for bugs below. Next, the bird dropped down to the grass, hunted down and nabbed the insect. Third step, the bird returned to a post, sometimes to readjust the grub in its beak or otherwise mince it in some fashion. Then, it dropped to a thin, grass perch near the nest, often for many seconds. Finally, it hopped into the nest and disappeared. At each stage the bird was diligently evaluating the environment for risks before moving to the next position. Smart, little birds.

I was ultimately successful at capturing the Song Sparrows as they delivered food to their chicks. Based on the size of the insects and the frequency of the feedings, I suspect the chicks are fairly well developed and it’s possibly a large clutch size.

This is the only shot I captured of a bird entering the nest. My attempt to focus on that stem and wait for the bird to land on it were never successful. But, at least you can get a sense of the mound of grass that protects the nest inside.

It’s staggering to know that there is a little, bitty nest with baby chicks hidden on the ground in a clump of grass. I’m not interested in breaking the natural sequence of the wildlife around me by investigating closer than I need to learn about them. If I want to see what a Song Sparrow nest looks like, I’m sure I can look it up on the internet. For that reason, I didn’t attempt to pull back the grass to expose the nest for my own pleasure or to post a photo. However, its mind-blowing to think that building a nest on the ground can be successful when you consider all dangers that loom. Still, Song Sparrows are very numerous around our property. I will treasure having witnessed, so up-close-and-personal, the industrious and determined parents tending to their young.

The most remarkable aspect of watching birds harvest insects for their chicks has to do with what I refer to as beak dexterity. I marvel at how they can accumulate a mouthful of many insects during a hunting expedition. In contrast, consider a bow hunter who is holding in his hands a few rabbits he just shot, while he continues to use the bow to hunt additional game. Then consider that we have fingers and thumbs while a bird only has a beak! Crazy mad skills those tiny birds possess!

Woodpecker Housekeeping

Today, I checked in on the Red-headed woodpecker I had observed (and FILMED) last week. So, I have learned a little about Woodpecker housekeeping. It exists. And, it’s appears to be a grab and toss strategy.

I suppose if you watch this video on a small cell phone screen, you may not see the fine wood shavings being flung out of the now-much-deeper hole that this bird has excavated. But, if you can see it, I hope you enjoy this little film as much as I do. Also a note: It appears that this bird flings equally over his right shoulder as his left. Ambidextrous – perhaps.