What Are They Eating?

We love watching the behavior of the birds at our front yard feeders. Each species seems to have a slightly different style for relieving a feeder of it’s contents. Chickadees fly off to a nearby branch with just one seed, then, while holding it between feet and branch, devour it before returning for another. It would seem that this method expends more energy than is consumed but apparently not. House sparrows are at the other extreme. They make expectant squirrels on the ground below happy as they gorge themselves, scattering seeds everywhere, and bickering with each other the whole time. However, even though we enjoy the feeders, we have found the foraging behavior of birds in their natural habitats to be the most fascinating.

Observers of golden-crowned kinglets know they are constantly in motion. They flutter from branch to branch, sometimes landing sometimes not, grabbing food items that are often too small to see. So on a winter day with temperatures well below freezing what are they finding on the many small nondescript branches, some less than a quarter inch in diameter? If they were probing crevasses in gnarly tree bark it might be easier to guess. Cornell Lab, All About Birds says; In winter the kinglets also eat small amounts of seeds and may forage in brush piles and under-story trees. .   .   .   Golden-crowned Kinglets forage in similar parts of a tree as Ruby-crowned Kinglets and chickadees.” Since, even when studied with the binoculars, the branches appeared to contain no seeds or dormant insects, the menu items were only obvious to them. A mystery not completely solved.

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Later the same day, we watch a downy woodpecker work over a small branch. In this case it was a little easier to see what was going on but in some ways no less mysterious. An obvious hole had been made in the branch but certainly no insects would be living below it’s very thin bark. Was the bird after tree sap? Again referring to All About Birds; Downy Woodpeckers eat mainly insects, including beetle larvae that live inside wood or tree bark as well as ants and caterpillars. They eat pest insects including corn earworm, tent caterpillars, bark beetles, and apple borers. About a quarter of their diet consists of plant material, particularly berries, acorns, and grains.”  Since tree sap wasn’t mentioned we’ll have to consider it an unsubstantiated best guess.

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A few days later, it was dull and drab but warmer. Perhaps warm enough to wake dormant insects. Along the rain swollen river bluebirds were perched on the low branches of a sycamore looking for any movement on the ground or in the air. They occasionally swooped to the ground and grabbed something (an insect or a seed?) and then returned to their perch. In the mystery, what ever they found was good enough because tomorrow we will see them again.

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Thanks for stopping by.

A Stage Perfectly Set

On a long urban hike to work off the transgressions of the holidays, the morning was dark, cold, and wet, with light rain trying to turn to snow, and wind periodically gusting to remind one that it was colder than originally thought. Heading for the park through quiet residential streets, I wondered if any of the small friends that often inhabit the trees and brush along the river, would be there to greet me.

Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, Easter Bluebird, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing.

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Perhaps it was the chill and dreariness of the day, kept at bay by the pace of my stride, until, pausing for a time, I was warmed by the sight of such seemingly delicate creatures “cheerfully” going about their business. I do not know for sure. But in the contrast of the moment I was captured by their magic. A play of pure joy and color acted out against the seasons dull colors of gray and brown on a stage perfectly set.

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Thanks for stopping by.

Thanksgiving

To get some exercise on a pleasant late November day and perhaps to see wildlife we wouldn’t if we just stayed in our immediate neighborhood, we decided to walk the length of Griggs Reservoir Park with only binoculars and lightweight cameras in tow. The binoculars would allow us to enjoy almost anything we happened to see but things photographed would have to be cooperative and very close.

Brown Creepers search for small insects and spiders by hitching upward in a spiral around tree trunks and limbs. They move with short, jerky motions using their stiff tails for support. Creepers have a high, warbling song; they also give a high, wavering call note that sounds similar to that of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. In the winter season, the species moves into a broader variety of forests and becomes much easier to find in deciduous woodlands. Ref: Cornell, All About Birds

Reflection, (Donna).

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We’ve spent a lot of time in this particular park and the adjacent reservoir marking the change of seasons and noting the different birds and other wildlife seen throughout the year. As a way of giving thanks we always carry a small bag useful for holding any trash found along the way, and it always there. There are the regular visitors to the park so there’s usually a social component to any walk taken as we affirm old acquaintances and sometimes create new ones. We pretty much know every inch of the park, the best places to see certain birds, what plants attract certain insects, as well as the location of various species of wildflowers.

Female Ruddy Duck, too far away for a good photo, (Donna). Females and first-year males are brownish  with a blurry stripe across the pale cheek patch. They are a diving duck that feeds on aquatic invertebrates, especially midge larvae. Ref. Cornell All About Birds

Sycamore

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A number of years ago when we first started visiting the park the goal wasn’t to make it special in our lives. It was just a convenient place to be in nature without investing more time and gas getting to areas further afield. In doing this we realized there would be things we wouldn’t see but the idea of keeping tabs on one relatively small green space had it’s appeal. We’ve never seen a black bear in the park, probably a good thing as it’s right in the middle of the city, but what we have seen over the the last few years, from Song Sparrows to a Red-throated Loon, and Gray squirrels to Mink, is simply amazing.

Fungi, (Donna)

At reservoir’s edge, a glacial erratic catches the shadow of a nearby branch.

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Now, this rather ordinary city park has become a part of us. A place of connectedness. Not separate. In some ways like a favorite easy chair, but in others, especially in the context of the larger sphere of nature, a small window into a world of beauty and wonder. A portal into the awareness of something larger than ourselves that in some fashion will live on long after us. A place where time spent has resulted in empathy not only for the endearing Golden-crowned Kinglet but also the robber fly. Each for at least part of the year makes a living in the park and calls it home. We have come to realize that all deserve a place to be and complete the tapestry of life.

A white duck tries to take a nap at waters edge.

Seed pods, (Donna).

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After six miles we arrived back at our starting point tired but with a deep sense of gratitude. Other than the sighting of a Ruddy Duck and a Brown Creeper and some of the usual suspects, it had been a quiet day. But in the mystery of late November light we had had the opportunity to be, under a towering Sycamore as it’s few remaining leaves defied the season, along the edge of the reservoir with the quiet dance of waves as they played with shoreline pebbles, and next to the massive trunk of an oak as it’s gnarly branches wrestled with the sky. We were rich in a enduring way that transcends any monetary measurement.

Park road in November light.

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Thanks for stopping by.

Beauty In Transitions

It’s hard to think of the period between autumn color and the arrival of colder temperatures and a land covered in snow, as anything other than a time of transition. Ohio’s late November sepia-tone landscape makes one wish for somewhere else, past or future. If we find ourselves walking along a wooded trail or stream our curiosity is challenged in ways not encountered as spring unfolds into the warmth of an endless summer day. Better to be home in a favorite easy chair with the warm glow of a fireplace, a cat curled up on your lap, and a good book as the season’s birds occasionally visit the feeder just outside a nearby window. But the magic of late November is that, surrounded by muted color, the endlessly varied dance of birds not present or as easily noticed during other seasons, is hard to ignore. 

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A window into the future, wintry bare branches reflect on the surface of a small pool.

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A year round resident, the cheerful Carolina Wren comes into it’s own as the landscape darkens in late November.

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Tufted Titmice seem more common this time of year. Some migrants from the north?

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A Red-winged Blackbird confuses us by it’s presence. Shouldn’t you be further south?

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In perhaps it’s last “voice”, a oak leaf graces the surface of a small stream.

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Few leaves obscure our view as we watch the comical journey of a White-breasted Nuthatch as it forages for food.

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A tidbit (perhaps a spider’s egg sack) is found, (Donna)

Woodpeckers are noticed at almost every turn, some of which are undoubtedly also northern migrants.

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker, (Donna)

Red-belied Woodpecker, (Donna).

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Before being caught by the wind and carried away, a lone Sycamore leaf catches the morning sun.

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Gray Squirrels are common and always easy to spot but they’re not always so busy eating.

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Almost invisible when trees are fully adorned with leaves the nervous movement of Golden Crowned Kinglets catches our eye.

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***(Donna)

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On  mudflats left behind as a nearby reservoir is lowered for the season, a solitary oak leaf comes to rest.

Oak leaf

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With feeders out, other birds brighten the day with their presence.

House Finch

American Cardinal

Blue Jay

Carolina Chickadee

But not far away, a Cooper’s Hawk waits.

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Autumn’s fading color comes to rest among stream-side rocks.

Scioto River landscape.

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In the chill of the morning, birds enjoy the river without complaint.

An American Robin takes a bath.

Cedar Waxwings stop for a drink.

Blending into the bark, unless your eye catches it’s movement, the Brown Creeper is almost impossible to spot.

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“Snowbirds”, the presence of Dark-eyed Juncos alert us of what is to come.

***(Donna)

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Transforming place, an ephemeral first snow blankets the ground.

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As a metaphor for life, the passing seasons, particularly early spring and late autumn, may have something to teach us when in the midst of life transitions we wish for somewhere else. Perhaps the key is to look closer, be open to the beauty of the present time and place, and then in that moment allow ones self to be caught in it’s embrace.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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Just Outside Our Door

Golden-crowned Kinglets are a favorite bird to observe this time of year as northern migrants move into central Ohio. Unlike warblers, some kinglets will spend the winter in the area. To date it had not been a good autumn for Golden-crowned Kinglet sightings.

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Yesterday as we left the house to visit local park with the intention of seeing these elusive little birds, and what ever else was lurking in the trees and bushes along the river, we noticed nervous movement in trees next to our driveway; and after closer inspection:

***, (Donna)

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Entranced for almost an hour, we watched these small fascinating birds forage in the trees for insects, and in that time, without even trying, they transported us out of ourselves on a journey into the larger world of nature’s wonder.

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Thanks for stopping by.

A Rare Duck

Based on a reported sighting we recently we found ourselves at Prairie Oaks Metro Park gazing intently out across one of the park ponds looking for Long-tailed Ducks. It’s a species that breeds in the far north and is otherwise usually found along the Atlantic and Pacific coast and if seen would be a new bird for us. After a tip from a fellow birder, and with the use of a spotting scope and binoculars, one bird was located without too much trouble. It must have found something to its liking in one particular location because after numerous dives it always surfaced in the same general area. While I enjoyed watching the bird’s behavior through the scope my wife did her best to get some shots despite the less than optimal light.

My wife managed to get some shots showing the long tail.

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While observing the Long-tailed Duck a pair of Horned Grebes made an appearance.

Horned Grebes, (Donna).

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As a bonus just a day before while looking for migrating waterfowl a Bufflehead proved to be unusually cooperative.

Male Bufflehead, Watermark Quarry.

At least for a while  .   .   .

Taking flight.

Airborne

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But as if the Long-tailed Duck wasn’t enough, the most magical moment may have been right after seeing the Bufflehead when a much smaller but no less charming bird appeared in a bush not far away.

While it appears larger, the Golden-crowned Kinglet is about the same weight as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Too cute for just one picture.

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Several years ago we were paddling on a reservoir just northeast of our home when a Bald Eagle flew overhead. They were not all that common in central Ohio at the time. A few minutes later, hugging the shore, we entered small cove, and the very next bird we saw was a hummingbird darting from flower to flower. To see an eagle and a hummingbird in such close proximity in time and space left us in awe of the incredible diversity and beauty of birds.

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Thinking about what nature means to humankind and considering for a moment the size, shape, behavior, habitat, and abilities in just the world of birds stretches our mind beyond what we ever thought possible and I believe beckons us to hold all that is part of nature sacred.

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

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