Bird migration is in full flight. To check for any waterfowl and shorebirds that might be passing through, I head to nearby Silver Lake in Dayton, Virginia. It’s also a favorite spot for sunrise and sunset photos.
On a recent afternoon, I found this flotilla of ducks in the sparkle of the afternoon sun at the south end of the lake. Among this group were Ring-necked and Redheaded Ducks and Greater Scaups.
I’m thankful for birds. That’s one reason I spend the money, time, and effort to keep them happy most of the year-round. That’s never been truer than now.
Usually, my wife and I would be on Amelia Island, Florida, right now, enjoying the birds, wildlife, and strolls on the beach. The coronavirus, of course, changed all of that. We decided to continue to stay close to home. We also didn’t want to miss out on getting the vaccines to protect us from the virus.
So, instead of searching for great egrets, little blue herons, American white pelicans, willets, sanderlings, and black skimmers, I’m settling for mostly seedeaters this winter. I’m just as happy.
Watching the various birds interact, feed at the different stations I have set up in the front and back yards, and at the heated birdbaths helps the time pass. Like humans, food and water are essential ingredients for the birds and too many aggressive squirrels during the cold and dark days of winter.
I have the feeders placed where I can watch them from where I spend most of my time. I can observe the comings and goings from my office window facing the street or enjoy the multiple feeders in the backyard from the bathroom window. Those who know me well will clearly understand that logic.
Three feeders dangle from the front yard red maple, and cracked corn is spread around its trunk. In the back, a suet feeder attracts members of the woodpecker family, the neighborhood northern mockingbird, and Carolina wrens, to name a few.
A squirrel-proof tube feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds draws in northern cardinals, house finches, Carolina chickadees, a few tufted titmice, and white-throated nuthatches. Dark-eyed juncos peck the ground for what other birds drop or miss.
Most of these birds are relatively regular to the feeders. The more elusive birds, like the purple finches and pine siskins, are inconsistent with their visits. Still, I am delighted when they arrive, even if it is only for a brief time.
Of course, I miss heading to Spoonbill Pond on Big Talbot Island to see an everchanging variety of shorebirds, waterfowl species, and raptors. But an occasional strafe of a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk or a pair of bald eagles soaring overhead helps keep my mind focused.
Last year was a universally challenging year in nearly every aspect of life. A year into the virus, hope for relief grows closer by the day. The virus, however, has likely yet to peak.
In the meantime, my wife and I will continue to stay close to home and enjoy whatever birds come our way. I like watching the different habits and behaviors of the birds and their wildlife counterparts.
One particular white-throated sparrow prefers the confines of a hanging feeder made of a hollowed-out limb. This sparrow jumps and kicks at the safflower and black oil sunflower seeds as if it were on the ground scratching for food. That’s what the rest of the white-throated do.
Recently, a lone American crow began visiting. It feeds on the cracked corn spread beneath the red maple. I know it’s the same bird because of its persistent limp.
Despite their bossiness, I even enjoy the squadron of blue jays that loudly announce their arrival as a warning to the other birds. Then they divebomb onto the feeders and ground and gulp down dozens of seeds.
I miss Florida’s birds, but I enjoy the birds that fill each day here at home. They salve my soul.
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.
I spend a lot of time at my desk writing and working on photos. From that vantage point, I can look out a front window and watch the day unfold in our little corner of the world. That includes watching birds come and go at the front yard feeders that hang from the red maple tree 20 feet from the house.
Of course, my binoculars and cameras are at the ready when needed. When this male Northern Cardinal perched on a limb in the morning sunshine, I grabbed my camera and clicked away. This was the only shot where the bird was not partially concealed by the unfolding red maple seeds. I felt fortunate to capture the moment, especially shooting through a double-paned window.
Such encounters help brighten each day. “Red in the morning” is my Photo of the Week.