To stretch my legs and get some fresh air during our self-quarantine time, I took a short drive to a local park. I was the only one there. As I walked along the paved path, I found this female Mallard resting on a limestone boulder in a small stream near Dayton, Virginia. She looked pretty contented to me.
I caught this male northern cardinal chowing down on safflower seeds that I had set out for the few birds that will eat them. European starlings and common grackles won’t touch the seeds. So if they are hogging the other feeders that contain black oil sunflower seeds, the cardinals and other songbirds help themselves to the bleach-white offerings.
The timing couldn’t have been better. With the late afternoon sun shining brightly, this shrimping trawler headed for port to unload the day’s fresh catches. Clearly, the boat and its crew weren’t alone.
An assortment of gull species, Northern Gannets, and other sea birds followed along, hoping for an easy meal as the crew pitched unwanted catches overboard. It was unusual for the trawler to be close enough to shore to zoom in for a decent shot.
Birding and photography go hand-in-hand. Binoculars and a camera are essential tools for me to hone my dual hobbies. I heard the Red-winged Blackbird singing before I spotted it in this dead tree with its tangle of branches. I have always considered the blackbird’s song a harbinger of springtime. To hear its melodious song in January was music to my ears. Of course, it was a warm afternoon in Florida, not Virginia or Ohio. A look through the bins confirmed the pair of Eastern Bluebirds that sat silently behind the blackbird.
I knew full well that the photo would produce only silhouettes since I was shooting into the southern sky with the sun an hour from setting. The crisscross of dead limbs immediately brought to mind the Walter Scott quote of “Oh what tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive.”
Well, there is no deceit on my part with this photograph. “A Tangled Web” is my Photo of the Week.
This beautiful male pileated woodpecker was only concerned about one thing: breakfast. The early morning sun, low in the southeastern horizon, brightly highlighted North America’s biggest woodpecker just before the winter solstice of 2014. The angle allowed the bird’s shadow and that of the peanut butter suet feeder to be cast on the trunk of the old sugar maple in our backyard near Mt. Hope, Ohio. The pileated woodpeckers came to our feeders year-round, even bringing their young to our home in Ohio’s Amish country. Those birds would be in the top 10 things that I miss since we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley two and a half years ago.
I have lived long enough to know that photography is as much about timing as it is photographic skills. Had I not looked out the window at precisely the right time, I never would have seen this male northern cardinal feeding alongside this lone red maple leaf. The yellow of the scattered corn that attracted the bird served as a lovely, contrasting background for the shot.
May is for the birds. Thousands of bird lovers young and old clearly would understand what I mean.
Birders live for spring migration. Birds large and small that headed south for warmer winter climes return north to their annual breeding grounds. May is the peak month for such movement.
Birders clamor for any and every chance to find rare birds or to compile as many species as they can see or hear in a day or week or month. There is no better place in North America to do that than a small state-managed wildlife area in northwest Ohio called Magee Marsh. Birds and birders both flock to the estuaries, marshlands, and small woodlots that abut Lake Erie’s southwestern shore.
Even if you don’t count yourself among the aviary flock, it’s worth a trip just for the experience. Cruise through the expansive parking lot, and you’ll find vehicles of all shapes and sizes with license plates from across the country and Canada. Human participants even fly in from foreign countries for the spectacular migratory happening.
The “week” is actually multiple days in early May. This year it’s May 3-12. Many species of birds, especially warblers, use Magee Marsh and surrounding protected wetlands as rest stops before winging it over Lake Erie into Canada. The first landing spot for many is Point Pele near Leamington, Ontario, just across the lake.
The colorful songbirds sometimes hang like Christmas tree ornaments from tree branches. Birders ogle from boardwalks that wind their way through the trees and along ponds and wetland habitats.
Workshops and lectures are also held to inform interested parties about the latest findings on bird populations, behaviors, and dwindling habitats. Guided field trips are also available. Of course, you can also buy birding supplies, books, and equipment.
But it’s the birds that matter. Youngsters and oldsters, groups and individuals ply their skills at searching for the latest arrived species. Word of a Canadian warbler, a secretive bird with a quiet call, spreads quickly among the birders. Just locate the crowd with spotting scopes and binoculars aimed in search of the prize.
If by chance a real rarity shows, like the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, the crowd suddenly shifts to add to their life list of seeing this worshiped species. Only a small number still summer in the jack pines of the Lower Michigan peninsula.
Cameras and bins.
Searching for a Kirtland’s Warbler.
Yes, that is a Kirtland’s Warbler, and another one was spotted there yesterday, May 3, 2019.
Of course, northwest Ohio is not the only migration hotspot on the continent. Cape May, New Jersey, southern Arizona, the coastlines of Florida and California to name a few also host migrating birds and curious birders. Coastal regions and contiguous topography with natural waterways, ponds, and habitat provide flyways for the returning birds.
Birds need cover, food, water, and safe spaces to rest and refuel to continue their journey and reach their destination. In the fall, they’ll repeat the process in reverse, only dressed in more camouflaged colors.
In many species, it’s the flashy colors that birders love to view, if only for a few precious seconds. Some of the species call northern Ohio home for the summer.
School groups, church groups, family groups, young birder groups, birding clubs, and just curious individuals celebrate these early spring days searching for any shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey that happen to be passing through.
It’s spring migration after all when May really is for the birds.