Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pileated Woodpecker Babies

It's uncomfortable squeezed in an ever-decreasing space with an ever-enlarging brother.  Do you know what it's like to share a bedroom?  It’s crowded in here and there is little to do except look out the window.   It’s dull, I'm bored and my meals aren’t being served promptly either.

Sitting in a tiny hole and licking the wind is my only entertainment.

Where are you, Dad? Where are you?

Okay that’s better!

Where’ve you been?

Did you bring something to regurgitate for me?

                               Mmm good…what was that?   More!  More!  More!

Don't goooooooo! 

Come baaaack!

You're back!  

Now, what’cha bring me?

This little scenario played out at Keith and Sally’s Golden Glow Farm in Wild Rose, Wisconsin.  I'd been here earlier to photograph the resident Pileated Woodpeckers, but couldn't find their nest.  Keith found it in the woods and lead me to it. 

There are actually two baby Pileated Woodpeckers in this cramped little hole. The hatchlings are growing fast on a steady diet of insects. These could be brothers, sisters or siblings. Many bird species share the muted colorings of their mother their first year, so I'm not sure these are ‘brothers.' 

They would trade off sitting in the sunshine, although not always willingly.   Squabbles happened and feathers flew frequently over who got the window seat.

The nest hole is 30 feet high in a dead white pine tree.  Dead trees are important to a healthy ecosystem.  

Water, insects and time all combine to recycle a standing dead tree.  Water softens the wood making it spongy.  Insects attack the spongy wood for food and shelter. The wood softens even more to make chiseling easier for the Pileated Woodpecker.  

Consider briefly the wisdom of building your home into the side of a tree.   I wonder about the first woodpecker to come up with the idea of chiseling out a home with his head.  Which genius woodpecker figured this out?  What was he thinking?  To me, driving your head into a tree a thousand times defines the word mind-boggling. 

These babies look well-fed and healthy, but the parents may be withholding food in an attempt to draw them out of the nest to stretch their wings.  From 10AM to 4PM only the male returned with food and then only three times.  I never saw the female.  That resulted in long, boring downtimes for the brothers.  They looked bored when left alone, but when a parent returned they became excited again.

With continuing care and some luck, this hatchling will leave the nest soon to grow into adulthood.   Hopefully, he too will find the space and resources necessary to keep our largest woodpecker species thriving. 


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gray Catbird

She was quiet…just listening.

She hid in the thicket…a place Grey Catbirds prefer.

She liked his song and was interested in the singer.

The male Gray Catbird was fifty feet away and much higher in a tree.  He would have been interested in her, too, had he known she was there.

She returned his call.

She flew out of the thicket onto a low branch.  Now he saw her.  He flew down to meet her.

He wasn’t a bit shy.

He tried to get to know her, but he may have been too impatient.

He startled her.  

Whoa...not today.

Honestly, I have no idea what was going through their Gray Catbird brains.  The pictures tell a story…the interpretation is up to you.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Brown Thrasher

A Brown Thrasher can be common and rare at the same time.  Rare because they are so secretive.
I rarely see one.

The Brown Thrasher is a ground-hugging bird of the thicket.  They have no interest in meeting you and stay hidden as you pass by.   You have to look closely to find a Brown Thrasher.  If you're lucky, you'll find one that hasn't found you first. 

I was lucky and snuck up on this one.

Hopping along the path at Lion’s Den Gorge, this Brown Thrasher didn’t see me coming over a rise.  Thinking he was alone, his attention was directed elsewhere.  He was aware he was exposed on the path, but somehow didn't notice me.

Thrashers, as a family, get their name by ‘thrashing’ through leaf litter looking for worms, grubs, beetles and the like.  Sweeping the forest floor with sideways bill motions, they uncover their creepy, crawling meals while safely hidden, although an attractive arthropod could lure him out into the open.

Brown Thrashers build their nest close to the ground, making them accessible to nest predators like snakes, woodland mammals and domestic free running dogs. 

When I moved he turned a yellow eye towards me…saw me...flew into a tree. We played ‘cat and mouse’ through the leaves for a while, then he realized there was nothing in this encounter to benefit him, so he left.  I could have spent a lot more time observing this bold and beautiful bird, but that wasn’t an option. 

He made a rare appearance to me…my first Wisconsin Brown Thrasher.  I'm glad he allowed me a brief encounter.  I wish this 'rare' bird would become an even more common sight. 


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

House Wren

You’re likely to be scolded if you get too close to a House Wren’s nest.  They don’t put up with much, even if they are grossly out-matched.

The House Wren is a tiny bird with an 
out-sized attitude.  Willing to take on much larger birds, if it desires their nest sites or feels its own territory has been violated, the House Wren is a warrior.  Common throughout most of North and South America, the House Wren is a survivor, too. 

Cross a House Wren and you are likely to lose your nest site, your eggs and possibly your life, if you’re a bird.  They have been recorded evicting bluebirds, chickadees, swallows, and warblers…birds two to three times larger.

For all this aggressive behavior towards their neighbors, they sing a fairly sweet song...when not upset. That may be the key to getting on their good side…stay out of their face.  Watching from a distance could work, but it’s no guarantee. 

A well-placed wren house in an area of thicket and cover could attract one for close observation.  House Wrens don’t require anything special when it comes to a cavity either.  You could nail an old boot or soup can to a post and they will inspect it as a possible home.

Then listen for what we call a song, but is probably meant as a death threat to other birds.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpipers enjoy their own company.

It’s how they got their name.  Rarely seen in the company of other shorebirds, they prefer to be alone.  They are not known to migrate together nor form substantial flocks.  They’re just loners.

                                                                                           I found this one, alone, probing a puddle for invertebrates in Mequon, Wisconsin. He was having good luck finding delicacies in the ankle deep water.

Patient and plodding, he was in no hurry to go anyplace else.  Walking slowly and stopping often to probe for food, he wasn't concerned with me only fifty-feet away either. He kept right on searching.

Relatively little is written about the Solitary Sandpiper because they’re solitary.  It’s difficult to find and study one solitary bird, compared to an entire flock of a species.  One interesting discovery relates to their peculiar nesting habit.  Instead of building a nest every year, they use an old abandoned nest…likely a blackbird, jay or robin nest from the prior year.   The female doesn’t add any new material and the male doesn’t bring any either.  She rearranges the existing material to her liking and lays her eggs wherever the nest is found.  They don’t feed their young either.  The young jump from the treetop nest to feed themselves soon after hatching.

Camouflaged from above by a spotted back, if threatened, he'd escape by flying straight up.  He didn't do that today…no need...he wasn't frightened by me.  When I left him, he just continued foraging...alone.


Saturday, June 8, 2013


Canada Geese are common and also cussed, for the mess they make on sidewalks and parks.
But, the goslings are cute.

As soon as I appeared over the crest of the hill the Canada Geese spotted me. I didn’t know they were there when I approached the pond and they didn’t expect me either. We surprised each other.  The adults lowered their head immediately in an attempt to hide.

Clearly concerned for the goslings, they took to the water. Water is their safe haven.

Eight goslings would be a large clutch for one female, so this is probably a ‘gang brood’ being guided to safety by a lead adult. 
The head-down posture and silent retreat indicated they didn’t want to be discovered.  The small pond wasn’t large enough to provide a comfort zone though.  They swam to the other side to hide in the tall grass.  When I got there, too, they retreated into the water again.   
I left them alone.  

The goslings can’t fly yet, but they can keep up in the water.  They are learning to watch for danger, too.



They were immediately upset when we arrived.

One Osprey was on the nest, the other one was circling it.  We were already within their comfort zone and only a hundred feet from the car.  

We hadn’t learned their boundaries, yet. Fred took cover behind the ball diamond’s dugout and I looked for a spot that would make them happy.

The sign informed us the Green Lake Lakers played baseball here.  It was quiet at 8:30 in the morning.  High atop the left field light standard two Ospreys had built a nest.  With their high angle view they saw everything coming or going.  We had no hope of arriving unnoticed.  I wondered about their choice of nest sites…busy town, ballpark, bright lights…seemed odd.  Not the ideal place to raise a family. 

It’s likely Ospreys don’t know anything about baseball.

Soon both were circling and calling in harsh grating voices, expressed their displeasure at us.  I wondered what they did on game nights with the lights lit and the crowd cheering.  

Oddly, after putting up with game noise, why would two quiet guys with cameras upset them so?

The Ospreys watched us intently.
They only quieted down when I moved further away from their nest site.  My friend, Fred, leaning on the dugout wall, was less conspicuous.  When their hawk-like vocalizations stopped I assumed they were satisfied.  
Osprey pairs look alike.  I can’t tell which is which, although one looks darker than the other. One bird is missing a feather on its right wing...noticeable in flight.  'Who's who' is known to them anyway…really.    I only became interested when it involved the sharing of a fish.   
Osprey #1 caught a fish and landed on a small manmade perch, nearby Osprey #2.  He/she landed with the fish and looked around, clearly in the mate’s sight.  The mate didn’t cry out for a share, but watched intently.  Osprey #1 proceeded to eat it. He/she ate the whole fish!  Bit-by-bit it was gone!  If he/she didn’t intend to share, why did he/she return to eat it in front of the mate?  Had the mate already eaten?   Maybe that’s putting way too much human emotion onto a bird, but for me it became an interesting observation…without an answer.  Now full of fish he/she made a couple of circles around the nest and disappeared for a half-hour. 

A possible answer came when Osprey #1 returned to the nest with a fish for the mate.  The transfer was made out of sight, but Osprey #2 leaves grasping a fish in its talons.  

Osprey #1 now settles down for a turn at incubating eggs. 

Ospreys are beautiful birds to watch.  They are sculpted, graceful and elegant in flight.

With a five to six foot wingspan they are not difficult to identify. They are mostly white under the wings, the 'armpits' and breast. 

Their wings make an M shape in flight.  

Capable of hovering, this unique species of hawk can wait for the precise moment to plunge into the water, feet-first for a fish.  They prefer shallow water, and can reach a fish three feet under the surface. 

Begrudgingly gracious in the long run, the Ospreys made Fred and I wait six hours for our pictures. 
We didn't complain though…not much.