Category Archives: Birds

A bald eagle story

Yesterday, on the way to a wrestling tournament, I looked up and saw a bald eagle soaring high above the strip malls along Norbeck Road in Montgomery County. I immediately thought it was a bald eagle by the way its wings were straight out (not in a “V” like a vulture). Any doubt diminished when I saw the flashes of white on its tail and head as it rode the wind currents.

I was excited to see this eagle, even though they are not uncommon anymore. I don’t get out to places where they are seen very often — so seeing this one pleased me — and made me remember my first bald eagles.

It must have been the late 1980’s and we were spending Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve with my parents in their Wisconsin home. My dad was still my dad and he and I were on an errand to pick up some groceries in town. We’d just gone through the main part of Minocqua and were passing lake Minocqua. I looked over at the frozen lake and noticed ice fishermen. Then I noticed large birds flying over the fishermen and realized they were bald eagles. I let out a joyous curse word then immediately apologized for swearing in front of my dad. He laughed and pulled over so I could get a longer look at my first eagles. When we got back to the house I wrote, in large black letters on the not-yet-painted drywall “Dona saw her first bald eagle!” and the date of the siting.

Dad would often remind me of that day when we were together, but he may have forgotten about it by now. I haven’t forgotten though — it is a good memory I have of my dad.

My first Owl

The first owl I ever saw was in Southern California. (You do have them, Storyteller…)

My not-yet-husband had a summer job at the RAND Corp. and we got to stay in various homes of RAND employees while they were on vacation. We stayed in two Santa Monica homes — one was a condo and the other was huge and we stayed in a lovely home in the Santa Monica Mountains. Allegedly Peter Fonda was our neighbor but we never saw him.

When we were living in the house in the mountains we invited the owner of the condo to have dinner with us. As we sat on the patio, looking down at the sparkling coastline of LA a huge owl swooped down within inches of the table. I don’t know what kind it was — it was dark and we were too stunned to do anything but sit there with our mouths hanging open.

But it was memorable. Funny how some bird encounters are so memorable, while others are less so. Or maybe not funny at all.

Owl Story

A recent post on Birdchick’s blog about people mistaking a fake owl for the real thing reminded me of the time it happened to me.

I was 8 months pregnant with Clare and sound asleep one night. Suddenly, my husband, who’d been out taking a walk in the neighborhood rushed into the bedroom and woke me up to tell me an owl was perched on a neighbor’s fence.

I got up, got semi-dressed and waddled up the street and down the neighbor’s driveway only to see it was a fake owl.

It took a while to convince Dean, but when he could almost touch it, he believed me.

I was not kind about it — although I should have been. After all — he thought he had something special to show me.

Not much later, we did see a Great Eared Owl in a tree in a yard behind our house. So, it could have been the real thing. But it wasn’t.

Finally a Junco pays a visit

I used to get a lot of dark-eyed juncos at my feeders, then one year they stopped coming, or at least it seemed that way — but if they were there, I didn’t see them.

I set up the birdcam again — for how long? Who knows. Until my laptop is moved to a different room perhaps — but yesterday I had it going and a junco stopped by for a bit of seed.

I’ve got a brick of birdseed (supposedly for woodpeckers, but I’ve only had one woodpecker eating from it so far) set up on the air conditioner unit that is attached to the wall in my attic office. I’ve got a camera attached to my laptop and pointing out the window at the seed.

Yesterday I had the following visit the feeder:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Carolina Wren
  • Dark-eyed junco

Here’s the woodpecker I mentioned

New Yard Bird

So the other day I heard the blue jays making their jay noises. I hear them sometimes, but not enough to consider it normal, so I often check on what’s going on when they start their calling. Not long ago they alerted me to an interesting standoff between a  hawk and a couple of doves. This time, however, all I noticed were the jays in the tree. I turned to go inside when I saw a small bird in the branch closest to me. I stood still, barely breathing, and it turned full circle to let me see it’s yellow undersides, dark gray back and black necklace. I also took note of its white eyering. We stared at each other for a while, then it flew off to the other side of the yard. I flew into the house and found my Sibley’s Guide. I knew it was a warbler because of the shape and beak. I looked at the prothonotary warbler first, because I thought that is what it was, but the prothonotary warbler doesn’t have the black necklace. After browsing the guide for a while I decided I’d had a Canada warbler in my yard — although the back seemed too dull for the breeding male and even the female. They are migrating now, so I think I saw a Canada Warbler, but if you have other suggestions, let me know.

No ghosts, few birds, but lots of people

We spent the weekend camping at Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary’s County Maryland. The area is quite pretty and has an interesting, if somewhat depressing, history. Just after the battle of Gettysburg, the area was made into a POW camp for confederate soldiers. For some reason the men were pretty much left on their own, with little resources including food, water and shelter. Over 3000 died within 15 months. Because of this morbid history, many ghost stories have been circulated about this park. We saw no ghosts, however. Thank goodness!

Because this park is on a peninsula, it is a good resting place for migrant birds, and August is supposed to be the beginning of fall migration. I saw no evidence of that, however, but I didn’t really do much birding. I heard a few goldfinch flying overhead, but I don’t think they migrate. I did, however, see many ospreys. At one point I counted 7 between two trees and the sky. There was a time in my life when this would have been highly unusual, but now the osprey population has recovered around here.

We’ve gone camping with our friends and their children a number of times. They have a son Andrew’s age and a daughter Clare’s age and the boys are good friends as are the girls. However when you get them all together there is lots of whining, arguing, shrieking and talk that makes me cringe.

This trip was no different — the boys made fun of the girls and the girls complained to their parents. Sometimes the complaining and arguing drowned out the Hip Hop and Salsa music from neighboring campsites.

We were not alone in the park. Several sites were being used by a group that was using a generator to power all of their sites.  Two other sites held nine tents between them — a differnent group.

I’m not complaining — it was nice to get away, the weather was great and I enjoy the company of our friends. Next time, however, I think we should go to Cape May. And stay in a Bed & Breakfast. And leave the kids at home.

Back to birding – maybe

I need to get back to birding. I mean really birding. Not just the incidental kind of birding I’ve been doing for nearly two decades.

I’ve not been on many real bird walks with real birders — once I went to Huntley Meadows with a bird group and that was educational. I’m over my reluctance to be around people who can identify birds faster than I can (I used to not allow myself to add a bird to my lists if I didn’t ID it myself). I think that being in the company of other birders would be good for me in a couple of ways. I’d certainly learn a lot more about birds than by learning on my own. Being in the company of like-minded people is always a good thing.

I’ve subscribed to a few birding weblogs and the adventures that people are having make me want to be out having adventures too, instead of reading about other people’s adventures.

I think I’ll look into joining a local birding group. I think Montgomery County has one.

Parenthood

For the past several springs, we’ve had house sparrows nesting in our terracotta nest box that is attached to an outside wall of our screened porch. While I’m not a huge fan of house sparrows, any nesting activity is fun to follow. This year, however, the nest box was taken over by house wrens. For a while there was quite the turf war going on between a pair of house sparrows and the house wrens. The wrens built a nest, but the sparrows insisted on entering the next box with out permission, causing the wrens to make all sorts of noise and attack the intruder. It was apparent later that the female wren was on the nest, because when the sparrow tried to enter, it immediately flew away — and often the male wren would chase it even further away.

This morning I realized that the eggs must have hatched because both wrens were busy flying in and out of the next box carrying various tasty bugs. It was entertaining to watch them take turns bringing the food to their young. One would sit the back of a chair that is just below the nest box. It would burst into a trilling song, often with difficulty because its mouth was full of bug. Its mate would then fly away from the nest and the singing wren would fly to the nest. Soon the mate would return with a mouthful of insect and sing, to let its mate know it was there, with food. This went on during my two cups of morning coffee and I suspect it is still going on, because I keep hearing the trill of the wren. I wonder when they sleep!

Our neighbors have a bird house in a small tree, just over the fence from us. I remember watching them put it up and doubting they’d get any birds in it. I was mistaken. They have a pair of Carolina chickadees, and judging from the sounds coming from the bird house, the chickadees have a few offspring to feed. I noticed that one of the chickadees (perhaps both — they look alike to me) was flying up to my office window, where I have a feeder full of sunflower hearts. Just now I’ve seen a very disheveled chickadee come and go from the sunflower feeder several times. Definitely a new parent. I remember that look.

I’m pretty sure a pair of Carolina wrens are nesting somewhere nearby, because I’ve heard one singing its “Judy Judy Judy Judy Judy” song so loud it woke me up the other morning.

A pair of Northern cardinals built a nest in a thorn bush outside our kitchen window earlier this spring, but abandoned it soon after. I think they were concerned about all the people coming and going along the path between the house and the bush. Its a shame, because it was a pretty smart location otherwise.

Of course, there are the American robins whose nests I never see until well into the summer, but whose blue eggs I usually find either intact (probably dropped by a predator) or broken and empty (probably dropped by a one of the robins, protecting the nest from predators).

The other day my son and I saw a frantic tufted titmouse at the empty bird feeder outside the window on the other side of the office. I’d not filled it because it was making a mess on the ground below, but clearly one of the birds who’d been visiting that feeder expected it to be filled. He sat on the top of the feeder and squeaked, shaking his wings like a fledgling. He then jumped onto the screen and squeaked even louder. If I didn’t know that birds don’t see in front of them, I would have thought he was looking right at me, demanding dinner. So, I wonder if it was a parent who’d temporarily been driven insane by the rigors of parenthood. I remember that too!

Soon I expect to see fledglings of many of these birds flapping their wings and making their demands for food and attention clear to all within earshot.

Ahh, the joys of parenthood.

Finally! The mystery is solved

For the past several years I’ve been puzzled by a bird sound I hear in the spring. For a while I thought perhaps it was not a bird, but a delivery truck with squeaky wheels, but why was I only hearing it in the spring and early summer?

Yesterday I caught a glimpse of what I thought might be the bird, high in the tulip poplar that looms over my house. I knew it was a warbler, by its bill and the way it was moving. It was black and white with a bit of yellow.

I ran into the house and Googled warbler images and found the bird on a web site — Myrtle Warbler. Then I tried to locate a myrtle warbler on the Cornell Birding site, only to be redirected to yellow-rumped warbler. Hmm, seems like more names have been changed…

I checked out the sound of the yellow-rumped warbler and yes indeed, that was the sound I’d been hearing.

As much as I love my worn copy of Peterson’s, I have to love the internet for helping me quickly ID the bird.