Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Birds at Home, Birds at Work

Today was one of those days. You know, those days where your wife's spring break schedule doesn't map with your daughter's and your usual child care (mom) isn't available to cover you so you creatively put together an off-hours work schedule for the week. You know what I'm talkin' about, yeah?

Happily, I found myself home for the morning with a rambunctious four-year-old who, also happily, is easily entertained when outside. We spent some time checking out the newly-emerging plants, listening to the singing birds, overturning rocks and logs to find insects, and even found a bit of time to photograph the birds that are around. Spoiler alert: I didn't get any amazing off-course migrants, but noted some interesting sights for our yard.

First off were a couple new visitors to the pond. The Wood Ducks from a couple of days ago, whom we hoped were scoping out the nest box we erected last fall, left. Maybe because of these visitors? Maybe because we were a little too interested in their comings and goings? Maybe for reasons we can't understand - they were committed to a walk-up in a neighboring village, maybe they were passing through on their way to some balmy northern areas. Maybe we only offered a smorgasbord of the right invertebrates, seeds, and vegetables, but not a permanent housing situation.

Oh, well, now we have Canada geese checking out our digs. They've been here before, they often spend time on our pond between March and May but never attempt nesting. That's fine, I assume most of what they have to offer would lead to algae blooms and generally foul pond water, as well as the suspicious disappearance of newly-added native plants. Like moderately-close relatives, it's fun to have them spend some time with us, but not to overstay their welcome.

More interesting was a bona fide visitor to the nest box. I assumed, since it was surrounded by water, it would remain empty (most likely), or attract some waterfowl (if not Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers). I entertained the outside possibility an owl wouldn't mind nesting over water. This morning, however, I watched Tree Swallows check out the potential.

All told I counted seven swallows monitoring the pond area, with at least four spending time on/in the box. Seems a little big for what they usually need, but we're not judgmental about upscaling if you can afford it, environmental consequences be damned! OK, not really. But their energy consumption better stay in line with what they truly need.

I also watched a group of Brown-headed Cowbirds interact under our feeders. I have to admit, probably tracing back to my chocoholic genes, I find cowbirds beautiful. Though they typically arrive in mid-March, their numbers peak in mid-April. Right on time.

Unhappily, all fun things must come to an end. My wife relieved me at lunch time and I made my trek to Ithaca to work the "B shift," hopefully getting out around 10:00. I took a dinner break and walked around Sapsucker Woods a bit, hoping to track down the small flock of Rusty Blackbirds that was seen earlier in the afternoon. No luck in seeing any, but at least one was still audible off the boardwalk somewhere. While staking out their favorite area I watched an American Robin forage in the small grassy islands and leaf litter.

A pair of American Kestrels is nesting in a box mounted on Kip's Barn, a historical structure neighboring the Lab building. I assume this is one of the occupants.

I was excited for the way home, driving my Blue Highway in the dark, stopping to listen for any nocturnal bird activity, especially owls and flight calls. But with the exception of a dog barking here and there, nothing. Clear night, bright stars, and very still, except for barking dogs. All in all, a wonderful day - but what day isn't wonderful when birds are involved?


Anonymous said...

The cowbird is also a thief however, as it steals other birds' nests. That kind of gets to me.

noflickster said...

Hey Scienceguy288,

As you mention, the cowbirds definitely have some unflattering qualities. I won't get into some of the details here - I have a post about my take on their reproductive behaviors mostly written. I got too distracted before I could finish it, so look for it soon!

Thanks for dropping by!

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