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:

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

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Rose-breasted Grosbeak


Up in the sky!

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak putting on the Superman pose.

This ounce and a half bird with an outsized attitude and a striking red breast can be found in the Eastern half of the United States along forest edges and woodlots.

These three adult males appear to be traveling together on a warm spring day through the Lion's Den Nature Preserve in Grafton, Wisconsin.

To get to North America they likely flew across the Gulf of Mexico in one single night all the way from Central or South America.

That's pretty Super... man!

Both males and females have a whistling, sweet song. Check out the music they make on Cornell University's website:

The aim of all the singing is to impress a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

She sings the same sweet song, but has arrived here in a far less showy fashion as is typical for female birds.

I found her hiding deep inside a tree full of spring pear blossoms and wary of my intentions.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are medium sized, stocky songbirds slightly smaller than the American Robin. They're widespread and common, yet, I'm surprised as to how few I get to see while birding. Grosbeaks are just one bird that seems to elude me.

'Super' or not, he is one distinguished bird.

With a bird feeder full of sunflower seeds and raw peanuts you may entice the Rose-breasted Grosbeak to visit you. The caveat being you must live in the eastern half of the United States.


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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted, Eastern)

A Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted) spreads its wings and shows you why he deserves his name.

We're at the Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Town of Grafton, Wisconsin, USA.

Another distinguishing feature of this male Northern Flicker is the black malar (stripe) on his cheek.

It's spring and the male's all consuming drive is to attract a female.

Looking spectacular in not enough, though. Finding a nesting site to offer the female is essential.

A preferred location would be 6-13 feet above the ground with a 3 inch opening. Last year's hole might be fine if it's available. But if she wants a NEW home, chiseling another hole will take some work.

Being woodpeckers, that task is possible.

A dead or decaying tree is chosen. The spongy wood fibers give way to repeated pecks. The pair will share this task of making a 13-16 inch deep cavity in the tree. It will be a little wider near the bottom to accommodate incubation and room for 5-8 hatchlings.

This place looks nice!

The male calls the female to inspect it.

The female Northern Flicker checks it out.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

She finds one thing she didn't like and tosses it to the wind.

Finding the perfect location to raise the next generation takes careful consideration... is the site too visible... too low, too high... accessible to squirrels, crows or other predators.

Later that morning I watched a European Starling enter the cavity, possibly looking for a meal.
It left within seconds.

Given that European Starlings eat just about anything, including trash, an unguarded egg would likely go missing.

I revisited this site several times to see if the flickers were building a nest. I found no continuing activity. That leads me to believe they've turned down this location.

I'm assuming they are searching elsewhere for a more suitable home to raise this year's brood.

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