Friday, July 1, 2016

Birding during the spring in Maryland

There are only a few interesting stories to relate from the spring of 2016. We had horrible weather during the first three weeks of May, barring weekend expeditions into local forests. I also had a few walks that were good for revitalization and while great to smell bark and have cooling breezes, provided a dearth of good bird watching.

It was not all for want of interesting experiences so I’ll do my best regaling of my spring experiences now, starting with the yellow crown night heron rookery near the Stieff Building in Baltimore.

I’ve been tracking the ups and downs of the nests that appear there every year for the last 6 or 7. Sometimes they are the fledging place for up to twelve new birds and sometimes they collapse in utter failure. This year on June 26 I could easily see two young birds perched in branches and a mother heating eggs on another. They have been very difficult to photograph for the branches and leaves that obscure the nests. There might be more nests and offspring. I was just satisfied to see two fledglings that have survived to the extent of near certain viability and life.

The nesting started later than in most years, in fact I was worried that no herons were even going to return this year but one bleak day in May I was able to find a couple re-invigorating last year’s nest.

It is not a great picture but you can easily see their activities. I’ll keep tracking them and report back after Labor Day.

Upon reading Lyandra Haupt’s book Ordinary Birds I was provided with a new concept of bird watching. Like me she is less interested in how many different species one can see but rather in how they behave. She suggested a different version of what birder’s call a “life bird”-one that is seen for the first time. Her suggestion was to select a bird using some personalized metric and to study that species behavior in detail. For instance when you wake up on New Year’s and look out the window, make the first bird you see be your subject matter. Examine them with scrutiny and a deft eye for the following year and record your data if only for your own benefit. My choice was to pick my species the morning after I completed the book and what I saw was a European starling. One of the country’s most prolific birds.

In the late 19th century a German-American industrialist with too much money and even more ego determined successfully to import all birds mentioned in Shakespeare plays to Central Park. I have read that starlings were mentioned only once in all of the bard’s works and the passage used referenced nothing about the bird itself. None the less, this innocently invasive species has taken well to our climes and inhabit close to 100% of our mainland.

Lots of people don’t like them. They are viewed as pernicious and while watching them their aggressiveness towards other birds is obvious. Yet they are actually beautiful birds. Their sharkskin like black/green/blue feathers shimmer and in the right season, the gold flecks make them look like the brocaded kepis worn by military muckedy mucks. This spring they were plentiful in my yard and were randomly selected for observation based on what I have said.

What I watched one day surprised me but I saw it too often to ignore. While the young (they must be nesting nearby) are flying and appear viable, they still squawk for food and their parents oblige them. I provided sustenance to my teen aged children but they had to use their own forks.

I tried to get a good photo of the actual feeding and failed but in this one the youngster is whining for some suet which the adult has in its beak and a second later provided it to its offspring.

Lastly as far as curiosities go, while talking to my daughter on the telephone, I looked out the window and saw two common yellow throat warblers alit on the old yew branch I use to let birds perch where I will see them. A few times over the years I had imagined I saw a warbler in my yard but could never confirm that. This time they were only a few feet from my window so there was no doubt.

So that’s it for this seasonal report.

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