Monday, May 27, 2013

An argument for keeping cats indoors!

While a friend was helping me - secondary to my gimpy knee - pull some weeds in my front yard, we came across a dead Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) at the edge of my lawn.  To me, the injuries that are apparent on this bird make it very likely to have fallen victim to a cat.  

Now, having two of my own, I'm a cat lover - but they never leave the house.  The closest they get to the outdoors is a bench that aligns perfectly with my front window where they can sit and watch the world go by.  During warm spring and cooler summer weather, I open the window for them and they enjoy the sounds and smells of the outdoors.

Recently I have seen a dark-colored tabby roaming across my yard.  I was concerned about its presence because of the newly fledged robins (see earlier blog entry).  I found the migrant Swainson's on Friday, May 24th. 

After picking up the dead bird and laying it on my patio table for photos, I looked in the trees at the back of my yard to see a second [alive] thrush.  The photos are terrible but the second thrush is probably a Swainson's, although I can't be completely sure it's not a Gray-cheeked. Since May 24th is nearing the end of spring migration, the presence of the second bird made me wonder if they were migrating together, or if the cool weather had caused a mini fallout. 

Just another plea, along with the myriad of others that we are so well-acquainted with, to keep cats indoors.  It's better for the cats and it sure is better for the birds.

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel and more

On Sunday morning, May 25th, Rodolfo and Miryam Palma and I took advantage of the cool, sunny weather to go around Willow Run airport near Ypsilanti to see what we could find.  With the exception of a few misses - e.g. Red-tailed Hawk, Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Bluebird and Grasshopper Sparrow -  I think we saw all of the Willow Run target species.  If interested, I have included our complete eBird checklist.

Wanting to remain in the car so as not to alert airport security, it was not a morning that yielded a lot of photographs.  We did, however, find a couple of pleasant surprises.

A first for all of us was this Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) along the roadside on the western edge of the airport drive.  A trip out west, especially to national parks and the like, will acquaint one with any number of these cute and industrious little creatures (I have included several in prior blog entries), but I was completely unaware that there were any ground squirrels in Michigan.  Upon arriving back home I plucked the Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America (2004, p. 74-75) from the shelf and quickly made the identification with the following account.  "Originally a resident of short-grass prairies, this distinctive and adaptable ground squirrel is now abundant in many places where people mow grass: golf courses, cemeteries, parks, yards and along roadsides throughout much of central North America."  To this list I'll add airports.  When I posted this off-topic sighting on a birding listserve, I received several responses that the Thirteen-lined has also been seen at Ann Arbor airport, U of M's North Campus, Kensington Metropark and even in a friend's backyard off North Territorial in Washtenaw County.  Michigan and western Ohio seem to be the eastern limit of its range.  Pretty little thing.  All photos were taken by Rodolfo.         

Finally, I cannot omit cuteness from this blog entry.  For all of the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) we have here in Michigan and for how noisily visible they are (the latin name says it all), I will own up to not often seeing Killdeer young.  I think the last I saw young Killdeer in Michigan was about eight years ago on the front lawn of a friend's house in New Boston.  After that I saw some in an uninhabited area of central Florida in 2009.  Perhaps this is because, to me, Killdeer seem to be such good parents.  I apologize for my anthropomorphism, but I think anyone who has walked in Killdeer habitat during breeding season knows what I mean.  It's one of the reasons I don't enjoy birding the Rouge River channel in Dearborn between the end of March through the breeding season.  

In total there were three of these little guys at the edge of the road just south of where we saw the ground squirrel.  The car was a good blind. They are no longer tiny fuzz balls, but still pretty darn cute. 

Successful and enjoyable morning outing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fighting Brown-headed Cowbirds

A real street brawl.  While looking for the fledged baby robins (see previous post), I was distracted by this squabble at the curbside on my street.  It all looked pretty dramatic to me.  Over the wind you can hear the birds' vocalizations.  The video starts out a little fuzzy, but quickly becomes clear.

Clearly one bird seemed to be dominating.  Good thing the school bus came by to break the whole thing up.

Incidentally, this is my 200th blog post since starting Into the Woods and Elsewhere on 09/30/2008.  I remember that back then I was inspired by other birding bloggers, especially Julie Craves and Jerry Jourdan.  I had no idea then the form my blog would take; I just knew that I wanted to try it.  Since then all Google bloggers have had to go through so many transitions Google has instituted to financialize their users. We all pay now (and it seems likely that this will also happen with YouTube users.)  Recently, it's been a challenge to add photos to my Picasa albums as, to me, Google has sacrificed functionality for competing with Facebook with their photo site.  I was just forced to update my YouTube channel for the same reasons.  

I still cannot quite describe my blog other than being a platform for my photos and narrative for field and travel experiences and memories.   In any event, overall I have enjoyed the blogging experience.  While I don't quite believe that birders actually read narrative blogs, I hope my blog visitors have also enjoyed it.

Baby robins fledge

In the past several days since I've been laid up, I've been following a baby robin drama in a tree in my neighbor's back yard directly behind mine.  Two baby robins have been exercising their wings and begging from a sturdy nest built at the end of a needleless conifer bough.  Both parents fly in and out to take turns feeding at which point the nestlings excited squeaks can be heard.  Over the nest a bough full of needles offers some protection from above.

This morning the nestlings became fledglings - well sort of.  One is perched just inches to the left of the nest and the other is perched on the edge of the nest.

A couple of nights ago I worried that the strong winds and thunderstorms that were predicted, but never materialized, would toss them from the nest.  

Early this afternoon the ventured over and further from their nest. Strong winds, but no rain yet, have been going on all afternoon. 

The next step for them is to figure out how to flutter down from their tree limb for a soft landing.  I went out again later in the afternoon and neither fledgling is on the limb.  The sharp clucks of one of the adult birds can be heard, but I did not locate the babies.  Fortunately, in my neighbors' yard, as in my yard, there are plenty of good hiding places for them.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Handicapped birding

In my blog titled, Sora and non-birding in Georgia, I wrote that I fell on April 20th and injured my left knee.  I didn't know that I had an extensive tear of my quadriceps tendon until an MRI revealed this on May 6th.  Given the potential for bad to get worse with this injury, it was treated as urgent and I had surgery to repair my quadriceps tendon on May 7th. 

After ten days of near total confinement, I had my first post-op visit and got my staples removed on May 17th.  On Thursday, the day before this, my birding friend Rodolfo Palma called to ask me if I wanted to go birding by car on Saturday, the 18th.  My first inclination was that I had better not but I begged for a little more time until after I had seen the surgeon.  The surgeon gave me some exercises to do but mentioned very little in the way of restrictions.  With this I called Rodolfo and said, "let's go birding!"  

As we had already done twice in April, Rodolfo selected Magee Marsh for this outing.  The Yellow Warbler above perched and sang for this photo-op on the drive in. 

Shortly thereafter this Willow Flycatcher, above and below, did the same.  

Upon arriving at the boardwalk we set out lawn chairs to bird the edges of the woods near the parking lot.  This lasted for a second; with my crutches I wanted to go on the boardwalk before it became too crowded.  

The back end of this House Wren was photographed along the approach of the lookout tower.  I did not attempt to ascend the stairs to the crowded platform where a Blackpoll and a Northern Parula were singing at the edge of the trees.  I tried for photos of the Northern Parula from the approach, but failed.

We continued to see warblers especially, but others too, and comments of good birds just missed were passed along while the board walk steadily became more crowded.  Less than halfway along I calculated how much longer I still had to go and thought better of it.  I could feel my knee tiring.   I turned around and headed back to our lawn chairs by the car.

Rodolfo positioned our chairs where we would have good lighting for the Baltimore Orioles coming to the oranges that were put out for them. I haven't looked back all the way to 2008, but these may be the first Baltimore Oriole photos I have posted on my  blog.

Me, with crutches and leg brace, soldiering on for the 2013 spring migration season.  Will likely be the last birding I do this spring, perhaps even all summer.

The orange gives the photos above and below a contrived appearance, but these also happen to be in the category of my best shots for the day. In the photo above, I particularly like the way the oriole is perched on the orange.

On the way out this Black-crowned Night Heron flew in without obstructions in the way.

We sat on the bench at the headquarters for lunch and I found it amusing that this single House Sparrow was carefully guarding his condo amongst all the Purple Martins.

The 18th was the third Saturday of the month when the Ottawa NWR is open for driving.  We drove this to end the day.  We hoped for Red-headed Woodpecker and possibly a rail or a bittern, but alas did not see any.  I can never resist a beautifully perched Eastern Kingbird.  

There were lots of Dunlin in a couple of muddy/wet areas along the drive.  We also saw Semipalmated Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Handicapped birding at its best.