Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Red-headed Woodpeckers!

For the second year, a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers are nesting in Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in close proximity to a road.  This is very special; they're uncommon in New York and to be nesting in plain sight is equally unusual.  They are not showing any concern with people being present, nor the light traffic on the road. 

On a recent trip there, they were still excavating the cavity in a dead tree. They are a striking bird with amazing red color on the heads.  Direct sunshine makes them nearly glow.

The birds are identical and seem to share the task of preparing the cavity. After a seemingly long time in the cavity, the bird will shift to removing the wood chips from the cavity.  It appears at the opening with a beak full of wood "dust".

Wham! There goes a cloud of "dust" into the wind.  Some of it ends up clinging to the dead bark, and the rest drifts away. The bird disappears down the hole for another load.

Now, these cavities are prized by a number of other birds seeking a nesting spot, so there can be conflicts.  I saw one such episode where the woodpecker was protecting the cavity from the much smaller Tree Swallow.

 In this case, the swallows quickly abandoned the plan.  Starlings have also been seen trying this with a more serious conflict resulting. 

One of my goals has been to capture the birds in flight at the nest. They are very fast when flying, but after many attempts I finally got one leaving the nest to the care of its partner.

I'll be continuing my attention at this nest and hope the pair is again successful in raising young this year.  


Orioles in Spring

Sometimes the mowing and such keeps me close to home, but that's okay.  On a recent day I went over to the small (and I mean really small) town park in my neighborhood.  It's so small they don't even have a set of swings, but I digress. That little park can have some nice birds in the spring.

While I was talking with a passing neighbor, I noticed movement in the adjacent power line.  Swinging the camera over to the action, I found a very colorful male Baltimore Oriole. There are a lot of dead weed stalks  on the power line. They are left over from last year.  These stalks are attractive to these Orioles because they  weave a hanging pouch for a nest. The dead stalks  have the long fibers that are ideal for their needs.

So it was that this bird disappeared into the tangle and reappeared with some fibers.  Almost simultaneously, a female appeared nearby.  She must have been on the same mission for good materials.

What happened next was the sort of behavior that draws me to watching and photographing birds.  The male laid the fibers on her back and proceeded to mate with her, while she still held her own set of fibers in her beak.  This all happened very quickly.

The male Oriole retired to a nearby bush and I could still see his set of nest fibers on her back.

She collected the fibers from her back. A moment later both Orioles were winging up the hillside towards some treetop to add to their nest. I've seen Oriole nests, and it strikes me that they must repeat this trip to find nest fibers a hundred times over each day for days to take the next step and deposit eggs into the nest. Such persistence!


Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Mystery Bird

I went to a nearby state park this morning looking for warblers with my friend Ray.  On arrival, the woods were alive with bird calls. There was this one rather large warbler that was always deep in the bushes and looked like nothing I could recall.  I kept referring to my condensed warbler guide and there was always one or two small details that did not fit. Could it be a Nashville Warbler?  Not with the yellow wing bars. 

So it went with this mysterious little bird.  I soon moved my attention to the large number of American Redstarts that were swirling about and engaging in dogfights among themselves. They were more cooperative than any previous times that I can recall.   They are a brilliantly feathered bird.

I forgot about the mystery bird until I spotted one perched at eye level on our return towards the car. Unlike earlier, this one was in a more exposed location.

But wait! Look at that tail and compare it with the American Redstart above it.  It's not a warbler, it is a female American Redstart.  And,... what is in its beak?  Nest material, likely.  Follow what happened next.

She flies to the crotch in a small tree, maybe a Hawthorn.

It is nest building time.  We've come upon an eye-level nest on a park service road. As the tree leafs out, she will have a nice hidden nest in a tree with serious thorns.  So cool!

Now, I understand why the male American Redstarts were so active. This is a nesting area and the females are preparing the nests before laying eggs.

It will be interesting to follow this location. I am curious if the male will participate in feeding the young. So many such nests are extremely high and impossible to see. With care, the nest can be observed.  

Not a mystery warbler anymore, but a female that looks markedly different from the male.