Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bob White!

The Blackacre Nature Preserve, near Jeffersontown in eastern Jefferson County, KY, protects 170 acres from a farm dating back to 1785. Part of their mission is to re-establish the native Kentucky grasses and other plants that would have been abundant in those days. A butterfly walk on the grounds was advertised in the paper on Friday morning, and approximate 80 people showed up this afternoon, overwhelming Alan Nations, the naturalist on staff.

The wind was a bit stiff, and the butterflies decided to wait it out somewhere else for the most part. After the official walk ended, Bob Lenning, Chris Knopf, Dick and I decided to walk around a bit on our own. We had the thrill of our lifetimes. Bob said he will remember it as "The Day We Saw the Quail!" When I was a girl, we heard Bob Whites whistling in the neighboring farm fields on a regular basis, but I never saw one. Now, I hear them far less, since their habitat is filled with houses and shopping centers.

As we walked along the edge of a large field, we heard a Bob White in the grass, and even saw it stick its head out for a second, then disappear again. On the way back, we heard two different birds whistling their names, and stopped to see if we could join the conversation. Suddenly, we saw some small brown birds peering out from the grass. Is it safe? They decided it was, and walked under the fence for a dust bath in the horses' feeding area. This is a community dust bath and they were joined by many of the neighborhood female Red Wing Blackbirds.

This pair left for the field again, and the second pair came out for their bath. Bob commented that they probably come out like this about the same time every day, and we should return for more observation. The second pair went off under the other fence when finished with their bath. So often, we only look for the male bird, since it is more easily identified. Today, the female Red Wing Blackbirds were abundant, and the female Bob White (Bobbi White?) came right out to be admired too. We even caught their Sunday Afternoon stroll as a movie. Watch how they know just where the break in the fence is. This is a path they must take regularly. What a thrill!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

lightning strike
the approaching promise of
summer rain

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Bird Who Wanted to Sleep In

"Wake up, it's morning."


"You heard me, it's time to wake up. Hear the birds singing?"

"Why do I have to get up so early every day? It feels like I just went to sleep. The sun isn't even up yet."

"Because the early bird gets the worm."

"But I don't like worms. You don't make me eat them."

"It makes no difference what you actually eat. All the other birds in the neighborhood are up and singing. Their nestlings don't complain about getting up early. Your siblings get up without complaining. Do you want to make us look bad to all the neighbors?"

"Can't I just sleep late once?"

"Not while you live in our nest. When you grow up and and find your own food and fly on your own, well....."

"OK, I'll get up. What's for breakfast?"

"Some nice fresh bugs your father just caught. Open wide..."

"Bugs again! Why can't we have mice once in a while? I really, really have a craving for mice."

"Your tastes in food have always been a little strange. I don't know where you get it from. Not my side of the family certainly."

"I need a bigger nest too. It's getting too crowded in here."

"Then practice your flapping so you can fledge."

"Whooooo was that strange bird I heard last night?"


"I heard someone asking Who cooks for you? Then someone else wanted to know Who's awake? I want to know WHHOOOOO that was."

"Never mind. It isn't important to our family."

"But I do give a HOOT!"

"Don't ruffle your feathers at me! I'm not scared by your big ears! Wait, no one in our family has ears. Or even just feathers that look like ears. What is going on here? I've heard of Cowbirds laying their eggs in someone else's nest, but you don't look like one of them, even though you are certainly big for your age. And your eyes look funny too. All big and round. Could it be?? Maybe you actually are a night owl, and not just a troublesome teen."

"You mean maybe there's a reason I can't wake up in the morning? Whooooo am I really?"

"Son, every bird has to discover that for himself. It may take you a lifetime of sleepless nights."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

It's a Hard Knock Life

It's a wonder that we have new birds every spring. The parents build a nest, lay the eggs, and try to keep them warm and protected until they hatch. During that time, the mother (usually) spends most of her time on the nest, through heat or cold or storm, often dependent on her mate for food. The young Osprey couple on the Osprey Cam at Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve in Maryland left their eggs to seek shelter during a bad storm, and the eggs did not survive. Last year, their nest was attacked by crows who destroyed the eggs.

A pair of Carolina Wrens have used our garage as a nesting site for years. One time, we found the nest in an upside down bicycle helmet belonging to one of the children. Last year, they just built in the eaves. We normally leave the rear windows open about an inch and a half, and the wrens fly through at full speed. This year, I heard some chirping, but did not quite locate the nest, until last weekend. Mama Wren hopped around on the yard tools as we started to get in the car. Then I heard the faint chirp of the baby bird. Following the sound, I found the fledgling hanging upside down with his leg caught between two wire coat hangers above the nest, which was in a small cardboard box hanging from the shelf. Apparently the baby hopped out of the nest to the nearest perch, and the hangers moved, even with only that slight weight, trapping that fragile leg. Despite the mother's protests, we loosened him from the trap, and he fell back into the nest. We hoped that his little leg hadn't been broken.

This evening I went to the garage for something and heard a soft chirping again. Hasn't that baby found his way out of the garage yet? I tracked him down to a box on the floor, and went for a camera. You think birds in general are a hard target to photograph? Well, just try taking a picture of a bird only 2 inches big, in a box, on the floor, behind a bunch of other boxes, in the dark! A flash will illuminate the subject, but only if you can find and focus on it in the first place! Both mother and baby chirped, scolded, and jumped from spot to spot in the mostly dark garage. I got some great shots of the garage floor, but nothing worthwhile of the baby bird.

Maybe he just can't get through the narrow crack of the open window. With the garage door closed, that's the only way out, and a baby wouldn't have the skills to aim itself at that small target. I opened the window a few more inches and left the door open as well. At least, Mama Wren is keeping an eye on him, and maybe she'll show him how to get out into the world. After all, even a baby bird has to face the dangers of outside to grow up.