Well, it is time for my periodic, irregular update with pictures of birds. Why knot?
Hang with me… it’s a drama in many acts!
Act I: A puzzler! This February Sr. Mary sent me this photo and we were wondering what the heck it was.
I submitted the photo to the iNaturalist community, and user “nsharp” quickly identified is as a leucistic version of the very common Dark-Eyed Junco. Well… I didn’t know what that was, so I looked it up: “Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal—which causes white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticles, but not the eyes. Unlike albinism, it can cause a reduction in many types of pigment, not just melanin.”
As you can see… birding is just how adults get away with playing scavenger hunt!
Act II: May 5th, Sr. Mary and I were walked through a field that was planted to trees in 2018. The growth of annual weeds has made for lots of nectar and pollen for pollinators, as well as grassy habitat for nesting birds. We flushed a Song Sparrow and walked over the area where it sprung up.
Ground-nesting birds always seem so vulnerable to me. And indeed, nest predation is high. If I recall, only 10-40% of Wild Turkey nests are typically considered successful. But then again, it’s not their first rodeo. Someone, they’ve managed to make it for many millennia with this strategy, so who am I to judge? The camouflage is certainly impressive.
Act III: We were happy to see Eastern Bluebirds nest in our backyard this spring. It’s like seeing old friends. Here they were on April 26:
With as much as we have going on in the spring, I’ll admit my monitoring is pretty haphazard. I checked in again on May 6:
And again on May 12:
Some days later, however, I saw that the nest hole was plugged up with sticks. Uh-oh. Upon inspection, I found a layer of sticks covering the body of the mother bluebird. I’m not sure what became of the chicks, but they were nearly fledged, so I’m hopefully. It is undoubtedly the work of their arch-nemesis: the House/English Sparrow, which competes for nest space & has a physical advantage in combat. I monitor bluebird nests and destroy House Sparrow nests if I find them. The good news is that the bluebirds tried again and appeared to have successfully raised a 2nd brood. The struggle continues.
Act IV: I was walking the roadsides recently, spraying invasive Poison Hemlock. It’s been greatly increasing in abundance throughout Indiana in recent years. I flushed a female Red-Winged Blackbird and made a bee-line to where I thought she emerged from:
Red-Winged Blackbirds are an extremely common site in the Midwest. We often worry if they are too common… but like Canada Geese, they have simply adapted to the habitat we have created, so we can’t really point the finger. And they certainly do play a role in the ecological landscape around us.
Of interest to me was the habitat where the nest was located (the star indicated the nest location).
How resilient! Even in the scraps of habitat we haven’t drained, plowed, mowed, or poisoned, there is something trying to make a living. As I was walking around, I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity and type of native plant species that I saw hanging on in the ditch (for now).
This is why ecologists get concerned with the widespread medical condition that flares up in Americans this time of year… Recreational Mowing Syndrome (check out this great Purdue Extension document that details the condition). RMS is characterized by “sudden urge many landowners get to ‘clean’ up their property by mowing the ideal fields, field borders, and road ditches around the farm during the summer months.” There is a legitimate need for roadside mowing in certain rural contexts, but we could certainly be much smarter about it (see Iowa).
A couple days after I took the above photos, the county came by and mowed half of the width of the grass pictured.
Act V: I was picking up eggs and maple syrup at a farmer friend west of Plymouth. As I was waiting outside, I heard a very exciting sound:
Yes, a Northern Bobwhite (quail)! Click on the link if you want to hear the sound clearer than my phone video caught it. Their populations have declined 85% since the 1960’s. Fencerows continue to be removed to this day, continuing to shrink their habitat. But there are a few yet scattered around. Not enough to hunt, but they are there.
Of course, I submitted the observation to eBird. This allows me to see the spectrogram of the call. Pretty cool! The signature is pretty clear for this bird which says it’s own name. “Bob [pause]… WHITE!”
More recently (late June/early July), I’ve also heard Bob White calling around Moontree Studios.
Act VI: While driving into the Moontree parking lot, I flushed a bird off the ground (sense a theme here?). I saw that an adult Killdeer was spooked. Cornell described their habitat like this:
Killdeer inhabit open areas such as sandbars, mudflats, and grazed fields. They are probably most familiar around towns, where they live on lawns, driveways, athletic fields, parking lots, airports, and golf courses. Generally the vegetation in fields inhabited by Killdeer is no taller than one inch. You can find Killdeer near water, but unlike many other shorebirds, they are also common in dry areas.
They frequently nest in gravel driveways. This is, to say the least, perilous, but… it keeps happening. I went back to where the momma flushed and looked down.
Here’s another angle. Got it?
Two eggs! Turns out my car tires perfectly straddled the nest. Close call! I let Sr. Mary know right away. By the next day or two, she observed an additional 2 eggs
Update June 26: the chicks have hatched and fledged! Onward marches the summer.
Act VII: Sandhill Cranes
Earlier this year, I wrote about the Sandhill Cranes painting themselves with mud behind Moontree Studios. What more can I say? These birds are amazing.