Beautiful bird, beautiful song

Dickcissel, Shenandoah Valley
When a friend posted on social media audio of Dickcissels singing at dusk, I wanted to see the birds. Dickcissels are rare here, according to birding records and range maps. Dickcissels are listed as scarce for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley breeding maps.

With my morning and early afternoon tightly scheduled, I knew I had a small window of opportunity to find this beautiful bird with an even more beautiful song. Severe storms were forecast for the area for the early evening. I headed north 10 miles as soon as I could. When I reached the intersection where the birds’ song had been recorded, I immediately heard them upon exiting my vehicle. Finding them was a different story.

I had seen my first Dickcissels in similar habitat in Ohio. Unfortunately, they are drawn to alfalfa fields dotted with weeds like ironweed that grow taller than the legume the farmer planted. Sure enough, using my binoculars, that’s where I spotted the first male Dickcissel. I felt pressured to photograph the birds. Thunder rumbled in the distance near the Allegheny Mountains 20 miles west.

To my surprise, a Dickcissel rose out of the thick foliage and flew directly towards me, landing on a tree branch right above my head. As I raised my camera to capture the bird up close, it took flight and perched on an ironweed plant nearly a football field away. I clicked away anyhow.

I scanned the field in the direction of other Dickcissels that I heard. I found a pair about 50 yards south of my location. Just as I started to walk south, a male and female flew to the woven-wire fence that surrounded the hayfield.

I immediately stopped and found a place to brace myself to steady the camera. Even before I could get off my first shot, the female flew, leaving the male to sit along, singing eloquently. I clicked away hoping for some decent results. A light rain had already started obscuring the sun, which gave me less light to work with.

Finally, when a car approached from the south, the beautiful bird flew in the direction of its mate. I headed for the car, happy to have witnessed both the bird and its enchanting song.

“Beautiful bird, beautiful song” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Enjoying spring’s aviary adventures

Amish farm by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical springtime scene in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country near Mt. Hope, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We are fortunate to live where we do here in northern Ohio, especially in the Holmes County area. Our manicured farmlands, brushy fencerows, dense woodlots, numerous lakes and the wetlands of the Killbuck Valley provide an abundant variety of habitats that attract an equal abundance and variety of birds.

In our busyness, we should stop, look and listen to the free show that is all around us. The many birds, some just passing through, others that will make their summer home here, can fill our senses with amazing music, incredible color, and entertaining activity. No admission charge is needed.

A Canada Goose and a lone gosling glide in the marshy Killbuck Valley north of Millersburg, OH.

Even before sunrise, the chorus of songbirds begins to warm up like a pre-concert symphony. Usually the American Robins are first to welcome the new dawn with their varying songs. Soon others like the Northern Cardinals and Song Sparrows join in. By first light, a cacophony of warbling fills the morning air. Everyday brings a new chorus.

Once the morning brightens, the birds mix a paint palette of colors into the recital. Now at their height of intensity for procreation purposes, the colors of the birds are positively stunning. Their appointed markings are a pleasure to behold.

White-crowned Sparrow by Bruce Stambaugh
A White-crowned Sparrow stopped for fuel on its way north.
The male White-crowned Sparrow, with its alternating bold black and white stripes atop its head, could serve as a referee amid all the commotion and scramble for seeds at the backyard feeders. Instead, it is intent on fueling up for its long flight deep into the Canadian northlands.

Pairs of Cardinals forage for their breakfast of cracked corn and oil sunflower seeds. Like two teenagers in love, the bright red male feeds his adoring but duller mate in their courting ritual.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Bruce Stambaugh
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are regular visitors to backyard feeders.
Without hesitation, the impressive Rose-breasted Grosbeak sallies onto the feeder hanging only inches from the kitchen window. Even in a brief glimpse it is easy to see how this bird got its name, its rosy breastplate all too obvious. The female, on the other hand, is awash in rich creams and browns, all for protection against hungry predators.

Baltimore Oriole by Bruce Stambaugh
A female Baltimore Oriole enjoys frequent visits to the bird grape jelly feeder.
The Baltimore and Orchard Orioles enjoy quick snatches of a grape jelly concoction housed in upside down bottle caps on the porch railing. A couple of quick gulps and they are gone, but never far away. Their liquid warbling says they’ll be back later for more.

The regal Red-headed Woodpeckers command attention from humans and aviary audiences alike. Without being bossy, they clear the feeders all to themselves. No doubt their brilliant red, white and black attire and their size have a lot to do with that.

Red-headed Woodpecker by Bruce Stambaugh
A male Red-headed Woodpecker visits the peanut butter suet feeder several times per day.

The Red-bellied Woodpeckers are bolder, both in sound and behavior, their iridescent red head stripes as flashy as strobe lights on patrol cars. Their noisy chatter serves as a warning siren announcing their arrival.

Even the little Black-capped Chickadees come dressed for the dinner party. Their tuxedo-like coloration is fresh and ready for the spring prom. They zip back and forth from tree branch to feeder, neatly holding the seed with their feet, while their tiny beak chisels for the main course, the sunflower heart.

Chipping Sparrow by Bruce Stambaugh
Even the little Chipping Sparrow is a joy to observe.

One hates to turn away from the aviary activity to see what might be passing overhead. An American Eagle, a Great Blue Heron, flocks of Mallards? It’s springtime in Ohio. All options are open in this intermingled habitat.

It is amazing what we can observe, especially when our feathered friends enter our life space. We just need to stop, look and listen.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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