Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Red-tailed Hawk (Close Encounter)

A sharply-focused and single-minded Red-tailed Hawk plunges to the ground. Something moved in the grass below and he's on it.

I imagine, if viewed from above, a mouse moving on the ground would be fairly easy to see, but catching it will take some expertise.

He's not flying now, he's dropping like a rock.
Spinning 180 degrees squares him to the target.

He halts to a brief hover, then drops into the hip-high grass.

I'm calling this bird a 'he',' but I really don't know the gender. He's a small juvenile Red-tailed Hawk... evident in his feather pattern and markings. And typically, the male red-tails are smaller than the female.

This brief 2-second event ended with his prey getting away.

He too, wasted little time getting away. But 'away' wasn't far. He flew, fast and low, past me to land atop a railroading relic of the Ozaukee Interurban Trail in Mequon.

Surprisingly, this was a very approachable bird.

As I walked slowly and quietly to the next pole, he paid me little to no attention. He barely looked in my direction. His focus was on mice.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The Ozaukee Interurban is a multi-use trail for hikers, bikers and other non-motorized people like dog walkers. This may account for his lack of skittishness and acceptance of me.

Here he's diving on a mouse he managed to capture 30 feet in front of me.

One little mouse was just a snack for this growing youngster.  But it was his mouse, so he carefully scanned the sky checking for any others who would steal it.

He gulped it down in a blink.

To get an eye level Close-Encounters-of-the-Red-tailed-Kind is a rare treat. He even gave me this
10-foot, fly-by parting shot as an acknowledgment... I wasn't disturbing him.

I was delighted to be so trusted.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Friday, October 12, 2018

Cedar Waxwings

If you also are 'easily entertained,' I would suggest visiting a park, open grassland, a forest edge or even a brushy garden to catch the out-migration happenings of the Cedar Waxwings.

Thousands of these sleek, svelte birds are leaving their breeding grounds in Canada and gorging on the abundance of berries along the route south. 

They are not particularly skittish, but an ounce of patience is important. Binoculars will help, too.

If you see one, you may see a dozen. They travel in groups as they're social birds.

The adults are escorting their first-year young and showing them where food can be found along the way. 

Cedar Waxwings are primarily fruit eaters. In addition to the fruits people eat, they also feast on juniper, ash, dogwood and honeysuckle berries.

You gotta go where the berries grow. Sometimes that's sideways, but no matter... this works!

A backyard flowering crabapple tree provides this juvenile sugary energy for the migration.

As fast as the tree relinquishes its fruit, they gobble them down whole.

The yellow-tipped tail and red-tipped secondary feather of the Cedar Waxwing are unique to waxwings.

There are three species of waxwings. The other two are the Bohemian Waxwing and the Japanese Waxwing of eastern Asia.

They all wear a bandit-like mask.

Not much is free in life, but bird entertainment is.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Great Blue Heron Fishing

Elegant, yet a touch prehistoric. 

A Great Blue Heron lifts off a log to search for a better fishing spot.

Common to fresh water and salt water marshes alike, they prefer to hunt alone.

 Although he'll eat almost anything including mammals, grasshoppers and amphibians, fishing is where you'll most likely find a Great Blue Heron.

Fishing fills his days, followed by grooming, resting and roosting in trees.

Hunting the shallow waters at the edges of lakes, streams or ponds, the Great Blue Heron either grasps its prey or spears it through and through with a dagger sharp bill. The headfirst lunge throws him off balance, but a few quick backbeats of six foot wings pull him upright again.

Speared through the belly, the fight is out of this northern pike. The long thin fish will slide down smoothly.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

A little 'panfish snack' is plucked from the Greenfield Park Lagoon as sunshine frames the capture. This is early morning theater for the early morning crowd. This happens daily near nearly everyone. Search out a Great Blue Heron where you live. They are widespread and common throughout North America. 


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


Raptors captivate people. And the Osprey is a premier attention getting raptor.

Common throughout North America, Ospreys live near water, allowing for great first-time raptor watching.

Size matters.

I suggest it's an imposing presence that makes the Osprey so interesting.

They prefer tall structures, whether natural or manmade, for their nests. Humans, thankfully, have provided the Osprey with thousands of towers, poles and buoys across America for their personal use.

It's a fair compensation for nearly wiping them out with DDT in the 1970's.

This trio lives a centerfield lifestyle in a Thiensville, Wisconsin softball park. They call out as people pass.

Listen to their call at:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Osprey/sounds

The chick shakes off early morning dew.

Seventy-foot lights tower over open spaces and the nearby Milwaukee River provides good fishing.

According to a local woman I met at the ball park, there were two chicks on this nest. But, as is often the case, one did not survive. An Osprey females doesn't lay all her eggs at one time. If food is scarce only the oldest, strongest chick survives.

Food seems to be plentiful for this pair though. Still, fratricide is a fact.

Ospreys look alike, but I'm assuming this is the male. He's bringing home some food, but it looks as if he had snacked on it beforehand.

The Osprey's territory overlaps the territory of a particularly aggressive Eastern Kingbird, who'd routinely harass him whenever he passed.

You have to hand it to the kingbird for attempting a feather pluck.  He's grossly out matched, yet, ready to teach a lesson to an ill-informed Osprey.

Whether he won the battle and lost the war is an open question.

He did make the Osprey loop around rather than passing directly through, so there was some victory in his fight.

Still, it'll be an ongoing battle.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

Seeing a bird with a nearly six-foot wingspan in your local ballpark is a special event. It's free for all who wish to partake.

That's nearby nature.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley's Guide to Birds

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Purple Martins

The Purple Martins are busy this time of year. The eggs have hatched and the young are hungry.

Condominium living suits them just fine.

In the western U.S., Purple Martins nest in old woodpecker holes, but in the east they choose manmade nest boxes almost exclusively now.

This nest box is at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, Port Washington, Wisconsin.

It stands just off the parking lot. It seems to be at or near capacity.

Probably roomy at birth, now the opening accommodates only one chick comfortably... two's a squeeze.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

Food deliveries are highly anticipated and thankfully frequent.

Mother Purple Martin is making this delivery. That prompts father Purple Martin to fly off for his turn. Purple Martins are year round insectivores, catching their prey on the wing.

They rarely land on the ground with the exceptions of gathering nesting material or bits of gravel to aid in grinding up insect exoskeletons.

All manner of moths and damsel flies were being devoured today.

Purple Martins are hook-billed, broad-chested swallows that fly high and hunt too far out of range for this ground-hugging photographer.

I must wait for him to return to show what he has caught.

Richly colorful in shades of purple, the Purple Martin could be a welcome addition in your back yard.*

They are common to open lands from Maine to throughout the Great Plains and Florida to Canada.


Credits: The Sibley Guide to Birds
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

*Purple Martin Nest Construction Plans:

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Barn Swallow Babies

Two 'pretty-new' Barn Swallows look skyward in hopes of a food delivery coming pretty soon.

New to this world and clueless as to what to make of EVERYTHING, they react in unison to each passing adult with an insect for another fledgling.

The parent Barn Swallows weren't ignoring their offspring. They were skimming the inner harbor waters of Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Darting back and forth, they'd snatch insects from the air and water.

The fledglings waited, not by choice, rather... What-choice-do-we-have? 

They struggled to remain balanced on the slippery, shiny chrome boat railing they had chosen as a perch.

Just when they felt secure, a ripple in the water sent them tumbling.

It didn't help, either, having a clumsy brother socking you sideways.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

The fledglings' demand for insects seemed without end, yet occasional rests were in order for the parents.

It's a good opportunity to point out the finer points of this male Barn Swallow: blue-black upper side, orange underside and a dark rufous throat.

The female Barn Swallow is similarly spectacular with a paler orange underside.

They are smooth, agile and swift flyers. Just watching them collecting airborne insects is entertainment in itself. 

Delivering a high speed mouthful of insects on the wing is a challenge.

Coming in fast and low, with no intention of stopping, the female lines up an open mouth.

In his excitement, however, the fledgling slips off the shiny chrome.

No problem.  Mother course-corrects and aces the youngster's food delivery.

Then she veers off smoothly to let the fledgling collect himself. 

This show of arial dexterity certainly goes on where you live. Barn Swallows are common along streams, lakes and ponds.

They live most everywhere in North America... Alaska to Mexico, East Coast to West Coast and so fun to watch!


Credits: The Sibley's Guide to Birds.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Baltimore Oriole (nest building)

Some birds go to elaborate extents to make a secure nests for their next generation. The Baltimore Oriole is one of those birds.

The tear drop shape is easily recognized as a Baltimore Oriole's nest in America, although other birds worldwide build woven hanging nest.

It's bewildering how this bird visualizes the process to begin with and possesses the dexterity to build this structure.

It surely starts somewhere deep in the bird's mind that straws and grasses are needed. The material must be strong, but of a manageable length.

Wrapping and securing long fibers starts construction. Using only her bill, she weaves and shapes the nest into a pouch.

It takes hundreds of fiber searching sorties for just the right properties of flexibility and strength.

Springy materials expand the pouch near the bottom of the nest to give the female space to incubate eggs.

The male Baltimore Oriole occasionally brings construction material to the nest, but his main focus is protecting the territory from threats.

The search for just the right nesting material is a week-long effort with countless back and forth trips.

There is a reason all this activity takes place in the spring... insects.

Food is plentiful or at least adequate at this time of year. High protein insects fill the air, providing a continuous buffet for the young growing chicks.

Just a few more trips are needed to complete this nest. Already plump and pendulous, a final touch will make it perfect.

(Click any  picture to enlarge.)

Soft cottony fibers are provided by the new spring trees. Collected with care and arranged at the bottom of the nest, the female will rest there comfortably secure for
11-14 days... expecting baby Baltimores soon!


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley's Guide to Birds