Bird Nerd: Big Game!

Much as I would love to get rid of Facebook most days, I can’t abandon the bird photography group where I’m a lurking member. I lurk because I have little to contribute aside from “loves” and questions. These people have giant cameras and a penchant for being in the woods at the crack of dawn. Their pictures are detailed, up close, and dramatic. I love them. I also love that this group gives me guidance on spots to visit.

Thanks to the group’s posts, I got to witness two major- major to me- birds in December: Sandhill cranes and a Snowy Owl. When I woke up to a post naming a specific pond in a specific metro park as a gathering point for a large group of Sandhill Cranes, I got Adventure Buddy on the road and headed out.

We had a short hike out to the site, but we got to observe the eagles’ nest on the way. The male was hanging out in a dead tree and the female was poised on the nest. A birder with a bigger camera said that they had just added another branch to the nest.

Of course, common songbirds are just as exciting and capable of dramatic poses, and far away swans are lovely too.

When we cleared the woods at the edge of the pond, it took a moment to spot the cranes. The largest portion were blending into the water’s edge and more were wandering through the grasses. We counted over twenty. At one point, a crane sounded the alarm or yelled, “everybody into the pool!” and the group in the grasses formed a conga line back to the pond.

Walking back to the car, we heard a crane call from another part of the park. Two rebels had broken off from the larger group and were conveniently hanging out by the duck blinds, but calling back to the large group.

Sound up!

I’d love to make it to one of the spots where hundreds of Sandhill Cranes land together during migrations.

However I have mixed feelings about the Snowy Owl.

Much of what I know about Snowy Owls comes from a series of posts by Julie Zickefoose an artist and naturalist from my home town area. Julie covered the story of a Snowy Owl that landed in a busy urban area, was injured, starving, and eventually captured for rehabilitation. Her photographs and first hand knowledge make a trip to her site worthwhile.

Snowy Owls show up in Ohio because they are juveniles who have been pushed out of their territory, oddly enough, due to an overabundance of food when they were hatched. They show up here, people swarm to experience the magic, and the owl potentially starves or encounters things like cars and electrical wires that are not a part of their habitat.

(My pictures are as zoomed in as possible with my camera and then extremely cropped during editing. With the naked eye, we basically were looking at a white blob against the rocks while visiting to maintain distance.)

The group posted and the local paper wrote articles about the owl’s location. Selfishly, I could not resist the opportunity to see it: Harry Potter’s Hedwig. While we were there, photographers came and went, staying back. Others had reported seeing the owl hunt in a nearby field. Of all the possible spots, it ended up at a large lake and wooded park so maybe there is hope for it.

Fluffy, feathery hope after cleaning its talons.

Hot Times at the Birdbath

We’ve officially hit the 90’s and it’s hot, hot, hot. I’ve seen many more blue jays this summer than I have in the past, and they love the birdbath.

I just want to do a little brag here on the water droplets. So entertained.

I watched as the birdbath hogging robin dive bombed the blue jay enjoying its bath and then jealously watched from the sidelines.

Pandemic naps and turkeys

I took my first nap since all of this bullshit happened! I have tried to nap; but as soon as I lay down, I can’t get my head to shut up. The same thing happens when I go to bed at night so I’ve also been afraid to nap because it might make it even harder to get to sleep.

However today’s combination of a good hike and weird eating schedule had me out cold. I woke up under two cats. That’s a good nap.

Getting out of the house and into the woods definitely helped my state of mind. Of course, everybody seems to have the same idea right now so the metro parks are full. However that didn’t stop the turkey population from getting out and looking for love.

I never noticed before how iridescent their feathers are. These guys are gorgeous from the neck down. That was the question of the day. Why all these elaborate feathers and then a bald head? I understand the bald head with vultures. They’re dipping their heads into carrion all day, but turkeys?

I guess the look works. These two toms were gobbling from across the lake, attracting our attention and that of the hen investigating bird feeder droppings. She didn’t giggle quite as much as I did every time they gobbled.

Little Adventures: Bird Nerd Edition

At the beginning of April, I decided to visit the eagles on the river. I had heard that they were back, had added to the nest, and had at least two eaglets. However when I arrived the male was on the nest and no fuzzy baby heads were visible. I amused myself watching the variety of birds arriving at the suet cake some avid birder had placed by the viewing site.

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mockingbird, cardinal, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker (I think)

In addition to the suet cake, the birders added a sealed envelope and notebook for people to add dated entries about the eagles. Pretty cool. After standing around for a while listening to the bird gossipseriously, this is how I learn now– the male eagle started screaming. Mom eagle came back empty-taloned, and then they both screamed about it for a bit. Nature is amazing.

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Part of the gossip I picked up was about the owlet in the cemetery.

Bird Woman who showed up with three kids: “I’m taking the kids to see the owlets next.”

Alpha Bird Woman (she is so the one in charge and her camera is massive):”You know it’s branching.”

I recently learned that “branching” is when fledglings take adventures outside the nest. That determined my next stop for the day!

Out of the nest! Boom! At one point a car drove by and his/her little “horns perked up.

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Look at the floofers on this dude!

DSCF4086a*** I started writing this on April 30 and it’s now June 5. Queen of procrastination! The “eaglets” have now filled out to their juvenile feathers and I need to visit before they leave! I think my master plan with this post was to add in two April adventures. Here goes!

Two weeks later, I took off on an early morning whim to re-visit the eagles. Miraculously, I was the only person in the tiny parking lot! Just me and some eagles.

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Me, some eagles, and this downy woodpecker who did not care that I was three feet away.

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I wasn’t alone for long and my best shot showed at least one fuzzy head popping up.

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Again on impulse, I decided to travel from there across town to another nesting site that I had seen a number of posts about: Pickerington Ponds. Given my current location, I was only 25 minutes away instead of the regular 40.

This park is a cluster of ponds and a bird mecca. I actually saw one of the eagles there land in a field as I drove towards the park entrance.

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Swallows…I think, a red winged blackbird, cormorants and a Canada goose

My first stop yielded lots of small birds, a couple who had no idea where the eagle nest was, and a terrifyingly long water snake.

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I was more successful at the next pond. This nest has… probably HAD at this point… 3 eaglets.

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Fortunately, it was beautiful breezy day and I spotted a fellow bird nerd in the form of  a tiny woman with binoculars and a mission. Not being familiar with the park, I trailed her around the pond to a prime viewing spot for the eagle nest. I am terrified and too paranoid to go into parks alone (Thanks, MomBert?). You’ll never find me hiking by myself; and if you do find me, it’s probably because you are the horribly violent, assault minded creature that I fear lurks on lonely paths. Even being alone on what was an open, sunny,  but isolated path would not have happened had it not been for my impromptu adventure buddy.

We chatted about the eagles and our various sightings. I shared my borrowed giant “moonoculars” with her,  and she gave me some tips on focusing. Another traveler stopped to talk to us about the eagles and said that he had just passed a giant turtle on the path. I asked what kind it was and he said he didn’t get close enough. I try not to roll my eyes and sigh at people I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure turtles are known for being SLOW.

Me: “Did it look like a dinosaur that wanted to eat you?”

He still didn’t know. From their size and slitted eyes to huge claws and spiked tails, I feel like snapping turtles are really easy to identify. Fuck it. I announced that I was off to see a giant turtle!

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It’s a leftover dinosaur! It was about 18 x 15 inches not counting tail length.

When I looked back, Adventure Buddy was behind me on the path. Based on the guy’s directions it took longer to find the turtle than I thought it would, but finally there it was by the path. We both admired it and talked to it about its turtle life choices: “Why are you so far out from mud and water? Do you need a hug? What’s going on with your left eye? If I hugged you and carried you to the pond, would you promise not to bite my fingers off?

Finally, I asked the really big question: “Have we been taking pictures of a dead turtle?”

The turtle had not visibly moved, blinked, or hissed, and I noticed that there were ants walking in its neck folds. This seemed bad.

Adventure Buddy offered to touch it and we both stepped back like we had found an exploding turtle. She tentatively tapped the turtle booty with the very tip of her tennis shoe, and the turtle immediately rose up about an inch and then went back to its position.

Relieved that we had not been talking to a dead turtle, we backtracked to the eagle nest, spotted an osprey in flight, and totally forgot to tell the park ranger we met about the turtle. Bird brains. Ugh.

Going by units of animal measurement, that was a four eagle one giant turtle day which is a very good day!

 

Bird Nerd!

Bird Nerd is what Adventure Buddy started calling me this weekend, but she’s the one who brought two different sets of binoculars!

Scioto Audubon Metro Park posted that the ospreys were building on their usual perch, but by the time I showed up on Saturday, they had moved on to other projects. I spent a lot of time on Saturday taking pictures of discolored and misshapen-ed trees that might have been disguised as birds. I got someone’s talons in a branch over the river; I’m going to claim it as osprey feet!

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Osprey nest sans osprey.

Mostly I got turtles hanging out

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I stopped at the nature center desk to ask about the eagle nest that I watched last year. Sounds like they are back and have kids. In the course of the conversation, one worker pointed me to a local bird photography Facebook group—I now have major camera envy; their photos are amazing!— and told me about a Great Horned Owl nest with fledgling in Greenlawn Cemetery which to my mind was basically around the corner!

While the nature center volunteer told me that they had marked caution tape in a wide perimeter around the owl tree, I neglected to ask in which part of the cemetery which is 360 acres. Three cemetery workers got to explain it to me and draw a map. I don’t think I was the first one to ask about this.

It was easy enough to find, and I lucked out that the fledgling was sitting up. Sadly I could not see it well, and texted Adventure Buddy, “Can’t tell if I’m looking at an owl or part of a tree impersonating an owl.” It wasn’t until I loaded the photos on my computer that I could really see the results and started screaming, “I GOT THE BABY!!!” The cats did not thank me.

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Mom Owl was in a nearby pine tree. A guy with a bigger camera than mine showed me her belly feathers.

Adventure Buddy was so impressed that she willingly met me back at the cemetery on Sunday evening. It was a little colder and drearier than Saturday, choosing our moment of arrival to rain. The fledgling was a barely visible ball of fluff squished into the tree cavity. Mom was no where that we could see though we suspected that she was watching us.

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However it occurred to me to photograph the base of the tree from the backside, looking for owl pellets. There is a collection of mysterious lumps and feathers there.

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With that minor success, we went “right around the corner” to check in with the ospreys. There were three circling the nest area. the volunteers had told me on Saturday that the couple was building a nest but a third osprey kept showing up and causing trouble. I did not have any major photo success.

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Three filters later, this bad picture kinda looks cool.

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Winter Feast

Overnight we went from “Holy shit, it’s cold!” to “Holy shit, it snowed!” While it’s no longer in the extreme negatives, we know have about 5 inches of snow just laying around. Activity at the feeders has been minimal, but finally somebody took notice of my homemade suet cakes.DSCF3772

I mean look how pretty! I couldn’t blame one of my Facebook friends thinking I had crafted a new human treat.

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suetShe thinks I eat healthier than I really do. Quinoa! Ha! (Yea, I own some.) It did smell good while I was blending it. What’s the one thing peanut butter fudge is missing: bacon. It’s something to consider.

I also have other squirrel treats like this bone that conveniently hooked onto the tree branch. It came from making slow cooker carnitas. Squirrels are rodents and like to gnaw on bones to file down their ever-growing teeth plus there are nutrients and what not.

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Bird feeders, suet options, bones to chew on and heated birdbaths at the front and back of the house. I’m ready for flocks.

Maybe because it warmed up a  little today, there was more traffic at the baths. I saw the squirrel take a sip before returning to the suet and this robin stopped by a few times. The world made more sense when these doofuses just migrated south. I expect cardinals, but if your main diet is bugs and berries this is a tough time. Try the suet!

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Resolutions: Birdie

Today was the first winter hike if mud, standing water, and 48 degrees means winter. Last year during this hike, it was so cold my phone shut off. The warm weather brought EVERYONE out. It was kind of a shoulder to shoulder hike in the woods.

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Today was also National Bird Day. Avian awareness, y’all! I told the Evil Bird that it was National Bird Day. And she was like “Of course it is!”

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No, no, I saw feathered birds. Some chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmouse, downy woodpeckers, and red bellied woodpeckers. Birdie is actually named Birdie because of her woodpecker-like chirps.

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To quote Bill the Cat, “THHHBBBPPPPTTTT!”

Anyway… she resolves to continue to give everyone shit, and to continue her love affair with my comforter.

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Drama at the birdbath

So far this summer, the robin has been the king of the birdbath. Suspension of disbelief: I firmly believe that it is the same robin who shows up multiple times a day and completely loses his mind in the bath. (Meanwhile this freaky sparrow just likes to watch.)

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The robin is the reason I sometimes need to refresh the water a couple times in a day. I was happy to see a cardinal tentatively investigating the bath today in weather that said 94 but “feels like 101.” He went all the way around the edge eyeing the water before sliding in. Meanwhile the robin watched him–jealously?– from the lower birdbath.

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The robin tried to interfere, but the cardinal gave him the same treatment he’s been giving other birds. Bath. For. One.

 

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Cardinal “me time.”

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And a graceful exit much to the robin’s delight.

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Much like the robin, the cardinal wanted another dip and there was a brief standoff.

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Cardinal won.

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