Posts Tagged 'birding'

More Purple Martins

Posh is the only word to describe the two Purple Martin housing units at the Great Swamp NWR Visitor Center. There are a dozen nest sites on each post. Not a single House Sparrow or Starling in the mix. And, whoa, were the martins busy. The martins glide more than our other swallows, and they are rather bigger. But it was the noise that was most arresting. (Here are some recordings from Cornell.) Blue Dasher is the prey here.Color is bee/waspy, but I’m not sure what’s for lunch here.There were still young to be fed.One of the red Meadowhawks has been captured by the… female on the right? (Haven’t honed my ability to separate the juveniles, of both sexes, from the adult females.)

Humming

Only one hummingbird species is regularly seen here on the East Coast, out of some nineteen species found in North America north of Mexico. This is the Ruby-throated (Archilochus colubris). Only the male has the nominal incandescent throat, but the lighting often makes it look dark.Hummingbirds also eat mosquitos, spiders, bees, aphids, gnats, fruit flies, even small caterpillars. Here’s a female.This feeder was at the Great Swamp NWR Visitor Center. Remember, if you’re feeding hummingbirds, don’t use red dye. Frankly, I’m skeptical that cane sugar is a perfect substitute for flower nectar (out of a plastic container, no less): better would be to plant the flowers hummingbirds love.
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Yesterday, Nazis and neo-confederates marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the President of the United States refused to condemn them by name. Other Republicans — members of a party whose modern power is built on a foundation of racism — could clearly see how far they’ve descended into the filth; a few of them called out the — swastika-waving, Hitler-quoting, posing with Trump in photos — shits for what they are. But Trump, in his silence, his “many sides” garbage, pissed on the graves and sacrifices of the more than one million American casualties who fought fascism in WWII. What an abomination. What a depraved piece of immorality. What an encapsulation of the man who lets racist scum like Sessions, Bannon, and Miller, not to mention Nazi-wannabe Gorka, pollute the White House and dishonor us all.

Tyrannus tyrannus juniors

Yesterday I noticed a large corvid being chased by something small. I couldn’t get on either of them quick enough tell who was who, but afterwards I noticed an Eastern Kingbird perched on one of the London planes lining the northern edge of Sunset Park. Could this have been the pursuer? They don’t call them Tyrannus tyrannus for nothing. Some minutes later, I saw the whole family. Some snapshots were the result. Above: adult on the left, fledgling on the right.Kingbirds aren’t uncommon in parks, especially perched over water or meadows, but I don’t recall seeing one from the home windows. Above are the two fledglings. They chirped incessantly for food, their pink-red mouths marking their hungry maws. (This was on the plane tree across the street; the same branch has also hosted mating Kestrels.) Youngsters above and below.

Raptor Wednesday

Young Red-tailed Hawks were being very noisy among the mature trees. When this one perched on the edge of the woods, the Robins, Catbirds, Blue Jays, Squirrels, Chipmunks, and all let up a hollering of their own.Soon after, three hawks were seen circling way up in the sky.

Monday Again?

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius). Shorebirds are already on the move, heading south from their breeding grounds.

I saw at least two of these in Green-Wood yesterday. Like the Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), this species is often seen away from the ocean shore, along freshwater shores.

In its non-breeding plumage, as now, the Spotted lacks the rich spotting on the breast that gives it its common name.

I was outside quite a bit over the weekend. Sunday’s mildness was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity that makes being outdoors trying to focus on tiny bugs sweaty work. My cameras are full of nature to share with you. So look out….

Wild Pigeons

“When an individual is seen gliding through the woods, it passes like a thought, and on trying to see it again, the eye searches in vain; the bird is gone,” so wrote John James Audubon on the Passenger Pigeon, which is of course now long gone. Audubon — who cribbed from Alexander Wilson more than once, including in his famous account of the three days passage of the birds overhead — was spot-on about this. Passenger Pigeons were rarely seen as individuals. They were an aggregate, a swarm. Ornithologists, for instance, hardly paid any attention to the bird until it was too late. There aren’t even that many skins of the birds in collections today.

Rather unexpectedly in the catalog of Notting Hill Editions, an English publisher of handsome editions of the art of the essay, I found John Wilson Foster’s excellent history of and meditation upon the Passenger Pigeon: Pilgrims of the Air. The book was originally published in 2014, the centenary of the very last pigeon to die, and is now being distributed here in the U.S. I strongly recommend it.

By now you probably know the tale: incomprehensible numbers of Passenger Pigeons flocking across the landscape of North America well into the 19th century. Then, in mere decades, literally just about twenty years, dwindling to near nothing. And now, for more than a century, nothing… not a single human-damned one.

Foster’s slim book gives us a very fine pocket history of ornithology in America, with some surprising appearances, such as the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather, FRS. Audubon you probably know, but how about Peter Kalm, who described the pigeons in 1759, and Nicolas Denys, who wrote about them in his 1672 memoir?

Not every year was a “Pigeon Year,” mind you, but they came sporadically, tremendous booms that crushed woodlands with their weight. Of course, they also seeded forests out the other end…. They terrorized farmers and thrilled hunters and overjoyed the hungry, including the pigs that would be set loose on the killing fields and woods. There were, for instance, a dozen years between visitations of the pigeon horde in the Massachusetts colony (1631, 1643), “soe many that they obscured the lighte, that it passeth credit, if but they truth should bee written.” After the Civil War, the slaughter became industrial, aided by railroad, telegraphy, and bottomless urban markets. And when the birds stopped coming to be killed, the pigeoneers made all sorts of delusional excuses to point the blame elsewhere: the birds had all flown to South America; they had all drowned; and so on. Indeed, Foster notes that this nonsense echoed Cotton Mather’s old notion that the birds came from outer space.

Foster writes “early reports betrayed a similar ambivalence about the abundance of wildlife that both stretched credulity and in a disturbing way threatened preconceptions of an orderly world.” Even within the rich context of the New World’s flora and fauna, especially as seen by Old Worlders who came from lands already scoured of species, the Passenger stood out. Foster’s chapter on the overwhelming abundance of life in North America is hard to read, for now, verily, ’tis like we live in the aftermath of a plague… of ourselves: the two-legged locusts.

These birds were wanderers, nomads, opportunists, chasing down food (acorns, beechnuts, maple samaras, fruits, grains), not north-south migratory in the standard sense. Thoreau wrote in September, 1854 about their most famous food, acorns: “These are found whole in their crops. They swallow them whole. I should think from the droppings that they had been eating berries. I hear that Wetherbee caught ninety-two dozen last week.”

Thomas W. Neumann’s thesis was that these enormous flocks were freakish, the post-Columbian result of the removal of competition for mast. That competition had included humans, turkeys, deer, squirrels, etc, all tremendously reduced by the Europeans. Foster introduces this idea on page 108, after approximately 100 pages of evidence of enormous flocks dating almost from the first European contact. In 1634, for instance, when there were an estimated 6,000 Europeans in the colonies, the “Ayerie regiment” of these birds were flying in the “Millions of Millions.”

Benedict Revoil, otherwise quite unreliable, did have this distressingly accurate forecast in 1859: the Passengers “will eventually disappear from this continent; and if the world endure a century longer, I will wager that the amateur of ornithology will find no pigeons except in select Museums of Natural History.”

Well, precisely. I’ve seen ’em stuffed at the American Museum of Natural History. That is all.

Raptor Wednesday

Ran into a family of four Bald Eagles at Mt. Loretto on Staten Island. Haliaeetus leucocephalus: this is one of this year’s youngsters. The white head and tail feathers come in fully by age 4 or so. The bird was making a racket, calling its parents for food. Big, but still learning. An adult flew in with a fish; this one joined it, and then the other youngster, unseen and unheard before this, did as well. Eventually, both parents perched over the pond. There was something rather curious going at the other end of this pond. It looked like a mostly submerged, dead Canada Goose was being jerked about in the water (primaries were occasionally seen) and chomped on by at least two large Snapping Turtles. I do not think this escaped the eagles’ eyes. They are great scavengers. Probably the closest I’ve ever been to one of these birds. Looked so much bigger on the ground and in the water than up in a tree. From the back, I was reminded of a Turkey.The bird was poking at things in the water, picking some of them up.

We urged it to drop this (plastic bag, mylar balloon?). It did, luckily. The first year is fraught with hazards.


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