Friday, May 30, 2014

Tree Swallow Bullies Red-headed Woodpecker at Schlitz Audubon

Watching feeder birds at nature centers is always enjoyable. Sometimes, birders can see "rarer" birds up close. At Schlitz Audubon in Milwaukee County, Carolina Wrens and Red-headed Woodpeckers occasionally make appearances at the feeders.

This afternoon, I watched a male Tree Swallow aggressively chase a Red-headed Woodpecker off of a peanut feeder. Barn Swallows nest in the rafters of the building, and apparently a Tree Swallow pair shacked up in one of the new nest boxes that were placed in the same area as the feeders. The Tree Swallow did not harass any of the other feeder birds, which included a Red-breasted Nuthatch, chickadees, House Sparrows, etc. Something about the Red-headed Woodpecker set it off.

The first time, I didn't capture the action. I think I was in shock!

The second time, I was ready.

For a maybe a minute, the woodpecker enjoyed a snack.
Quickly, the Tree Swallow began whizzing closely to the woodpecker, trying to hint that the larger bird should get lost.

The woodpecker became perplexed but didn't immediately leave.

The Tree Swallow made another attempt to rid its area of the perceived intruder.

If birds think, "What the heck?!" surely the woodpecker was after the second swipe.
The woodpecker stood its ground during repeated attacks... until the Tree Swallow became nearly violent.
The woodpecker had enough.

The woodpecker retreated. 

I had a feeling that the lovely Red-headed Woodpecker wouldn't be back for awhile. Who knows if I was right. I could not help but feel badly for it. Their numbers aren't great; they don't need to be beaten up on Tree Swallows when trying to feed! I wonder why the Tree Swallow only went after the woodpecker--size? coloration? Perhaps there's no rational explanation, as is often the case in nature. An interesting experience, at least!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

WE Energies Grassland

Canada Warbler
The WE Energies Grassland is a birding hotspot just minutes from my home. I only found out about it a year or so ago. It attracts a variety of species, including prairie birds like Eastern Meadowlarks and sometimes Dickcissels.

Upon arrival, I checked a tree clump near a path that leads up to an embankment and was surprised to see and hear a male Mourning Warbler. Along with him were a Canada Warbler, Wilson's, Chesnut-sided, a few redstarts, and Common Yellowthroat female. Eastern Wood-Peewees sang, as did Red-eyed Vireos. A few Catbirds and gnatcatchers came out to show off as well.

 After I left the tree clump, I headed toward the prairie in hopes of finding a Dickcissel or rarer sparrow. I found neither, but enjoyed watching a pair of Eastern Kingbirds that perched low and allowed close views. I was standing on the side of one of the birds when it opened its beak quite wide. I thought that it was really going to start belting out a song. But it didn't. Instead, it coughed up a solid, roundish object. It reminded me of an owl coughing up a pellet! Do kingbirds expel pellets?

 WIDE OPEN...then....
 HACK! What the HECK is that?!
 Sitting calmly after relieving itself.

 Savannah Sparrows flew and sang, too. One perched on a pole that said HOT LINE, making for a cute photo opp.
 He knows he is hot, so he sings!
One of the kingbirds showed that it was a hottie, too.

Amidst the sparrow and kingbird action, I heard one or two Meadowlarks calling and singing. Sometimes one perched on a wire; other times, it sat low in the grass, making peent-like sounds.
A little while later, a pair of Turkey Vultures circled overhead, quite low. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher flew into a nest high above me, and I saw a pair of Baltimore Orioles mating! In just over an hour, I witnessed all of this activity--time well spent!
Turkey Vulture
Eastern Meadowlark in flight
Male Baltimore Oriole not long after mating.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Robins--one hungry and one learning to fly!

During spring migration, most birders are focused on warblers, but we shouldn't overlook our year-round residents because we might miss out on watching one find a meal or learn to fly! I watched the adult robin dig up and gorge on a worm at Warnimont Park and I watched the fledgling in my back yard!

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring Birds in Winteresque Surroundings

Birders throughout the Midwest have been lamenting the slow-coming spring. Many of us worry about how the cold temperatures will affect the birds' ability to feed and survive. A Say's Phoebe, a vagrant from the southwest, arrived in Ashland County during snowy twenty degree days a week or so ago. It was only seen for a day or two. Hopefully, it was able to find a more suitable climate, but it's possible that the bird perished.

More of us are just impatient--we can't wait to view our favorite spring migrants or a rarity, and we wish for prettier backgrounds when photographing warblers. In the southern portion of Wisconsin, at least all of the ice has melted from Lake Michigan. Insects like flies, bees, dragonflies, and even butterflies have been seen sporadically over the past view weeks. Yesterday, I was caught in swarms of midges (thousands upon thousands--and many of them were copulating, making for reliable snacks for passerines):
Birds like my FOY White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrows, a few Northern Flickers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and two Brown Thrashers, dined on the midges:

The above photos give the allure of spring since the grass is full and green. However, the trees are so bare, and elicit that winter feel, as evidenced by this photo of a male Northern Cardinal an American Goldfinch (only the sparse leaves and breeding plumage of the goldfinch indicate spring):
Then, there's the additional concern of how pollution and litter affect our birds. I spotted my FOY Sora Rail on Wednesday at Grant Park in southern Milwaukee County, but seeing the litter all around it made me feel unsettled and amazed. Birds go through so much to sustain themselves.
After seeing the Sora, I encountered this ridiculously tame raccoon, who approached me in the manner that mallards that are used to people feeding them do, without any trepidation. I wish that people would not feed wildlife.
However, in the midst of the chilly, gloomy days, signs of spring ARE here. There's a pair of House Finches building a nest above my porch light, and I've seen a robin and Canada goose sitting on nests, plus a pair of chickadees cleaning out a nest hole. I do hope that they all reproduce successfully and are able to feed their young.