Ok, I’ve been running into a lot of birds lately, so it’s time for some bird pictures! No, not as many (or as flamboyant) as I saw in Florida, but they are amazing nonetheless. (The birds, that is, not the photos).
I was out assessing our 2018 tree planting in the rain a couple weeks ago. I stumbled across yet another Red Winged Black Bird nest.
Ok, look a little closer…
They’re one of the most abundant birds in N. America. Flashy, loud, and not happy about sharing space! Mom and dad were definitely not happy with me being so close, so I moved on before getting pelted in the skull.
Very soon afterward, I was startled by an explosion of feathers from my feet, as an American Woodcock (I think) sprung up and away. I took a few paces backwards and another couple birds – juveniles – also fluttered away. I was pleasantly surprised to find this when I looked at the ground.
Hold on, let me get a little closer…
At least, I think it was a Woodcock. It might have been a Wilson’s Snipe. I really should be better at distinguishing the species, they are just so darn fast. Being that it was out in the rain without momma, I got out of there after snapping a photo.
More recently, I was checking our pastures and hay fields for breeding grassland birds. This guild of birds have been in decline for some time, and their habitat requirements vary by species, but most involve the need for a relatively undisturbed nesting period with a certain size and composition of grassland habitat.
We are fortunate to be hosting several grassland nesting birds, including Eastern Meadowlark, Dickcissel, and Bobolink. Click these hyperlinks to learn more about the birds’ ranges, vocalizations, habitats, etc. Although I usually just point and shoot with my smartphone, this time I trudged along my telephoto lens and digital camera.
I spotted several female Bobolinks (as is typical for most bird species, they are not as flashy as the boys), seen in photos #1 and #2. They were carrying insects in their beaks, which is a good sign that they are feeding newly hatched chicks. We usually have to use this as an indicator rather than directly monitoring individual nests, because 1) the nests are extremely hard to find, and 2) this avoids nest disturbance.
Bobolinks winter in Argentina and other places in South American, then fly all the way up to the upper Midwest and Ontario to breed again the following year. They have a high nest site fidelity, which means they prefer to come back to the exact field they were at last year. I think it’s because the males aren’t afraid to ask for directions (sorry, couldn’t resist a quick Dad joke there).
While walking through one of the pastures, I flushed an Eastern Meadowlark fledgling. The white tips to the tail are a giveaway for this one.
As in previous years, we have Sandhill Cranes hanging around. There is definitely one nesting pair off to the south. Additionally, there’s a loner that’s been hanging around Moontree Studios and collecting a little bird seed when available. Sr. Mary suspects it’s a one-year old bird who has emancipated his/herself.
A typical Sandhill nest has one fledgling that survives to migrate with mom and dad down south. “Mated pairs and their juvenile offspring stay together all through the winter, until the 9- to 10-month-old juveniles finally separate from their parents the following spring” (Cornell University). They don’t reach sexual maturity until they are 2 year olds, so if I might anthropomorphize a bit, I suspect this tween/teenager is perhaps spreading its wings to explore the wide world on its own, before it settles down for a domestic life in due time.
Lastly, an update from the Indiana DNR. They are now recommending that the public stop feeding wild birds, at least temporarily. There is an unknown illness that is spreading among several bird species throughout the region. Any site of concentrated food increases the transmission risk of disease among wild animals, hence the guidance. Hopefully we will get some clarity on what is happening. In the meantime, the birds can return to find their daily bread in the way they have known for a very long time.
Another reason to focus on protecting and enhancing the native ecosystems on which they (and we) depend.