Birds are coming in!
Yellow-rumped Warblers have arrived. The first one was seen on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. That same day, a Northern Parula was heard. Soon, we'll be seeing more neotropical migrants. The height of spring migration is upon us and the next four weeks will be busy!
An Eastern Phoebe was splash-bathing at the bubbler on a couple days. Now it seems these birds are busy gathering moistened nesting material. We've had some rain, which makes the muddy areas in the vernal wetland a likely place to spot this bird.
Hermit Thrushes have been coming in to forage. Some years they will overwinter and we see them more often, but not this year. Two were seen on Thursday, April 15, 2021.
A Brown Creeper found some tiny insects in the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). (Well, that makes total sense, a creeper in the creeper!) Pine Siskins stay in the trees most of the time now, but they still come to the feeders for a quick meal.
Another Winter Wren was here for a couple days. They are busy little birds and move so quickly through the vegetation. It stopped to check out the bubbler before going to the smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) and disappearing in the gooseberry patch (Ribes missouriense). A bumble bee was busy pollinating the tiny, pendulous flowers there.
This may be a first, I don't recall seeing a Downy Woodpecker getting in for a bath before! The female worked her way in carefully.
Back in 2003, I began to document the birds and other critters here and I'm still learning so much through this method. An exciting discovery this week was seeing the Ruby-crowned Kinglets feeding on reddish aphids in the Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium). In the last blown up photo, the bird has one in its bill and one clinging to its lower mandible! Wonders never cease, birds keep our native plants healthy!
The Bubbler is ready to greet the birds! Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and Red Buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) await the imminent arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Time to get those feeders up.
To see all the photos taken in April, open this gallery: 2021 Birds as Shady Oaks Apr-June
If you're mostly interested in warblers, look here: 2021 Warblers
Well, life is a miracle, and therefore infinitely of interest everywhere.
Sure signs of spring, the song of the Carolina wren and an Eastern Phoebe, resting in a blooming Spicebush (Lindera benzoin).
Our first warbler of the year and one that I missed last year, arrived on March 30. The Louisiana Waterthrush, with its slow sway and 'bubblegum' legs, foraged, finding insects for twenty minutes or so in the wetland. Another was heard singing a few days later, but it played hide and seek in the swale.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has been blooming and Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) will be in another week or so. The hard freeze of the first two nights of April caused no damage that I could find to our native plants. They're tough, resilient and built to endure these swings in temperature.
Ephemerals like Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) may have shivered and sneezed in that cold, but they look lush and ready to bloom.
While weeding, I discovered a new seedling Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia), a nice distance from its parent plant. Leaving the fallen leaves in the beds has provided the perfect conditions for the new tree.
At least one pair of Pine Siskins have been around continuously through the cold. Yesterday at noon, there were six briefly on a feeder.
American Goldfinches are going through their spring molt and looking brighter every day. They are often seen foraging on the American Elm seed clusters, along with the Pine Siskins.
Courting a female Northern Cardinal includes bringing treats, though this bird just wanted some private spa time!
This morning, our FOY #49 arrived, a tiny Winter Wren. Mouse-like and quick, it sure seemed to know its way around our woodland. Welcome, friend! More migrants will be on the move now so keep a lookout!
The question: Is this bird a pure Red-naped Sapsucker or a hybrid?
The answer: Jury is still out. Members of the Missouri Bird Records Committee are checking in with other experts on the species.
Why should this be a complex question? Truth be told, three species of sapsuckers were all thought to be the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker until l983 when their DNA was found to be distinctly different and they were separated out. To add to the confusion, the Red-naped will hybridize with the Yellow-bellied and the Red-breasted Sapsuckers where they come into contact with each other. Birds never cease to be interesting! So, we await a final decision.
Not a single sapsucker has been seen since 2-21-21 when that bird came in! There has been a lot of movement with birds heading north now. Have you noticed the Snow Geese flying over in huge flocks?
Nest material was found in the Eastern Bluebird nest box, but it didn't look quite right for a bluebird nest. I watched on different days to see which birds might return.
Definitely not Eastern Bluebirds! For now, we have removed the box. It may sound mean to some, but we don't allow introduced species like these Eurasian Tree Sparrows to nest here. We reserve the right to help our native birds where we can. These sparrows are just as determined as the notorious House Sparrows to take over any nest box.
A pair of Northern Flickers have been seen hammering on an oak snag adjacent to our woodland. We'll see if they complete the nest hole.
The pair of Red-shouldered Hawks have been in the yard frequently. They watch from a perch for movement in the leaves and usually come up with a vole to carry off for a meal.
The Carolina Chickadee with the deformed left leg has come through the winter and appears to be paired up with another bird. This little one is a perfect example of why perches are important at water features. The bird holds on, dips into the water and splashes about to bathe. It would be impossible to keep its balance on one good leg without that perch!
As birds move through during migration, we do see signs that others have had a difficult time this winter. This American Robin had feathers torn from its back, possibly due to a narrow escape from a cat or hawk. Perhaps the bird was weak due to lack of food. I'm just glad that the bird has found sanctuary here to recover before moving on.
A pair of Pine Siskins are still around. They seem to be feeding mainly in the trees now, but about lunchtime will stop at the feeders and fountain.
We have had fun watching a pair of Brown Creepers as they chase each other through the woods and around trees. This one was intent on scooping up tiny insects on the bark of a white oak.
Bright and warm days call the birds in to get all gussied up for Spring! We have gained over 2 hours of daylight since the Winter Solstice. Don't forget to turn your clocks ahead this weekend!
SPRING FORWARD ON SATURDAY, MARCH 13, 2021!
"God is in the details..."
It's important to pay attention to the tiniest things.
On Sunday, 2-21-21, about 8:35 a.m. I had just come into the breakfast room and saw two birds on the little oak by the Bubbler. Oh, nice! I watched them, as a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker chased an immature male around the tree. This brightly marked, gorgeous bird was the first adult male Yellow-bellied of the winter, or so I first thought. My initial ID would soon be challenged by the smallest of details!
"Hmm, and who do we think you are!?" I said to myself. This bird had a red patch of feathering on the nape, and white feathers on its chin. It clearly had two distinct parallel rows of white feathers down its back. These features did not point to a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Was this a Yellow-bellied x Red-naped Sapsucker (hybrid)? Oooh...my focus intensified as I tried to get as many images of every side of this bird as I could. The bird was so cooperative, and it enjoyed a wonderful bath in the basin as its only obvious reward.
The bird was seen for about 3 minutes total, then it left along with the younger bird. Winds had picked up from the southwest and neither bird was seen again. About 11 a.m., I began my study of the photos and field guides. I double-checked The Status and Distribution of Birds in Missouri, by Mark B. Robbins. There were only two records of this hybrid in the state, and none of the pure Red-naped Sapsucker species. "Rara avis" indeed. I filled out an eBird checklist with the bird as a hybrid, but added that it may be a female Red-naped Sapsucker. I needed help, it would take experts to decide for certain. My part was to provide the photos to document this bird.
These tiny details may be enough to confirm a pure female Red-naped Sapsucker. After my eBird checklist and photos were flagged and reviewed, and emails exchanged, I was asked to document the sighting as exactly that. The MBRC (Missouri Bird Records Committee) will review it and share with experts on this species and sapsucker hybrids in other states. It may be a year or more before this sighting is confirmed and if it is, it would be a new pure species for Missouri. In any event, what a lovely bird it was!
Map from allaboutbirds.org
The Polar vortex that brought our winter storm and the storm in Texas must have some bearing on the bird's appearance here, pushed by winds from the Southwest. Look where it's supposed to be spending the winter! I am so grateful that it somehow found its way to our Shady Oaks Sanctuary.
Now for follow-up from the last blog post. Remember the grim tale of the Rusty Blackbird that took the American Goldfinch? We were cleaning the bubbler area a couple days later and I found the carcass of the goldfinch in the snow. The blackbirds did certainly finish what they took. Two or three Rusty Blackbirds may have survived thanks to the sacrifice of that goldfinch. Brutal conditions brought out that survival tactic, it has only been recorded in that species in extremely tough weather situations.
Now for all the photos since the last blog post:
Spring is surely on the way!
CRUMBS TO THE BIRDS
A bird appears a thoughtless thing,
He's ever living on the wing,
And keeps up such a caroling,
That little else to do but sing
A man would guess had he.
A bird appears a thoughtless thing,
No doubt he has his little cares,
And very hard he often fares,
The which so patiently he bears,
That, list'ning to those cheerful airs,
Who knows but he may be
In want of his next meal of seeds?
I think for that his sweet song pleads.
If so, his pretty art succeeds.
I'll scatter there among the weeds
All the small crumbs I see.
Poetry for Children
By Charles and Mary Lamb, 1809
Birds like this Tufted Titmouse have been singing, tuning up for Spring. But February had wintry days in store for all the birds.
Feeding birds in winter is not for the faint of heart. One is witness to trials we would be hard pressed to bear. A White-throated Sparrow has lost all its tail feathers, making it more difficult to fly, to balance.
A European Starling attacked a Red-bellied Woodpecker, forcing it off the bark butter feeder. The woodpecker did recover to return later.
On Valentine's Day, this beautiful Northern Cardinal braved the snowy conditions to drink at the bubble, encased in ice.
Three mornings in a row a female Pileated Woodpecker came into the woodland, and investigated any dead branches to look for insects. It had its eye on the bubbler and feeders, assessing the lot.
A Carolina Chickadee has been seen at the feeders daily, hanging on, despite having one deformed leg. Its talons can be seen, but the leg is not of much use. We are glad to see the little bird every morning, knowing it has survived another night in this bitter cold.
Even when temperatures drop, birds will come to the basin to bathe. The de-icer in the pond keeps the water from freezing. It must feel a bit warmer than the air.
A Brown Creeper came upon a sleeping roadblock in the form of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Birds spend some time every day resting.
Eastern Bluebirds have been coming in to drink at the bubbler and at the fountain.
A disturbing scened unfolded before us just as we were going to go out and refill the feeders. An American Goldfinch appears in the lower left corner of the screen at 3:03:51 on the clock. A Rusty Blackbird dove in and grabbed it, making a meal of it. Two birds, possibly three partook of this meal. We waited for the scene to play out, then cleaned and sanitized the basin.
Brutal conditions force birds to take food in whatever form is necessary. Winter is cruel.
Today was bright and beautiful, just making it to 20 degrees. This beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk came in, looking about and soaking up the sunshine.
The last few weeks have been very full, full of birds and commitments!
To view all the photos since the last blog post, begin here: Photos since 1-23-21
One of the programs I've given recently was recorded by St. Louis Wild Ones.
You are invited to view it here: Why Our Gardens Are Vital to the Conservation of Our Native Birds
Take care and stay warm!