Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring Birds

Photographing birds is nearly always unpredictable. So, this year I have had to work hard to convert observed birds into photographs. I've had Ruby-crowned Kinglets very close- once when I was walking the neighborhood with no camera - but never where I could get a good image. But, it is still a delight to see the male Kinglet flare his ruby colored crown into view.  So, enough with excuses and on with some new photos.

First up is a Yellow-rumped Warbler that was foraging in the bushes below a huge willow.

I am always amazed when I see how slender a warbler's legs are. 

Carolina Wrens used to be an unusual sight here in the Finger Lakes, but they have become more common. (Global warming, anyone?) They are great singers and very approachable.  So, I spent a good part of Sunday morning listening to this chap. How can such a small package make so loud a song?

But, sometimes he had to pause from the song to do a little feather upkeep.

Sometimes I discover a bird that I have not been paying much attention to, but find deserving more interest. Usually this happens when I see some interesting behavior  as in the next subject. I had this little House Sparrow foraging in front of me, and I saw something new to me. He was feeding on the small buds of bushes and vines. Never really paid much attention to that.

I find the grey cap with the rich red sides attractive along with the mottled bib.  Sometimes, a bird exhibits what I can only call "character". This Eastern Towhee was a persistent "loudmouth", mostly voicing the phrase "drink your  tea" over and over. Like the Wood Thrush, he understood that he had to broadcast  his message in all possible directions.

So, that is all I can show for my efforts in the bird area. The wildflowers are abundant right now, so I'll be reporting on them soon.

Paul Schmitt

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring (Bird) Displays

Spring brings out all sorts of colorful and sometimes intricate displays, all controlled by each species' genes driving its host to perpetuate those genes.  This is true for flora and fauna.  For animals, the genes can drive the parent to pretty extreme behavior.  So, I've recently come up with a few interesting displays in the bird world.  Most were seen at a waterfowl park devoted to public education and breeding of rare wild waterfowl.

On a snowy March morning, this Hooded Merganser is displaying his hood to his mate.

Naturally, there are rival males that fly in to offer an alternative. Sometimes the competition is display, and in some species it can also be in vocalization.  This guy was eager to display.

The male's display can take many forms.  This Ruddy Duck, with his beautiful blue bill and rich red feathers puffs up his breast and bobs his head up and down to cause the water to bubble and shake.  It is an amazing sight, comical to me but surely impressive to Ruddy Duck females.

Now, the competition among males is not always restricted to displays.and song.  It can degrade into battle as these two Ruddy Ducks showed.  The water flew for minutes as they fought.

It appeared (to me) that once a pair was bonded, the male-on-male fighting subsided.  ( At times, the bonded female became aggressive to other ducks.)  An intricate dance was sometimes shown as with this pair of Common Goldeneye Ducks. She was showing a submissive attitude with her body low in the water suggesting she was ready to accept the male.  He was displaying his robust colors. 

The male also displayed his strength with wild "dancing".  Pretty impressive fellow, I'd say.

As the courtship continued, he came close and she eventually took a gentle hold on his wing by the white "bars". They spun around in a slow way, as he displayed his opposing wing.  All very interesting.  They mated under water as is probably common for diving ducks.

Naturally, all of this is a precursor to laying eggs and the female sitting on them for weeks before hatching the ducklings.  

It seems that the larger birds have more ability to keep eggs warm in cold later winter.   So, many are already hatching eggs as is the case for Bald Eagles, Great Horned Owls and some swans. These two (non-native) Black-necked Swans hatched the first of four eggs on March 30.

The male (cob) initially patrolled the island keeping the ducks at a distance, but soon he came in to examine the cygnet.  Note one of the three remaining eggs is to right of the cygnet.