Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling

Karen, who lives near the water is attempting to protect the verge area from human modification by documenting the wildlife. She sent this photo in for a positive identification. Now I've not dealt with shore birds in decades, raptors having filled my life for the most part, but I ID this bird as an immature Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodius. Any nays from out there?

Photograph by Donna Browne

Dear Donna,

I am not a great birder but I do love them and every year I have several feeders outside on my deck, and I enjoy watching the activity there. I was thrilled to see a pair of orioles early this summer and went out and bought a feeder and stocked it up but never saw them again. I have seen a pair of scarlet tanagers (a first) and two male indigo buntings in the early summer, and one stayed around but I never saw mate or babies.

The usual suspects were here this summer: a pair of chickadees, a pair of titmice, 2 pair of cardinals, a bunch of house sparrows, 6-8 gold finches, a pair of hummers(and now I have a bunch of hummers that have air wars above my feeders); at least one pair of house finches; a new guy, a very lonely chipping sparrow who hung out with a pair of white throats who have come and gone all summer, and a Carolina wren who never seemed to have mate this year; I don't know what happened to her, they have nested every year and fed young in a box on a little tree outside the house, but I have never seen the babies fledge to my feeders or anywhere else. They stay very close to the spruce tree so perhaps I just never have seen them, and they do nest out of my regular view. Mr Wren-I love his song- stays around all year and occasionally comes near the feeder, more often he sits in the flower pot or chair back nearby and sings, but the female is not seen except in the spring of previous years.

The cardinals have had at least one clutch, a late one by the looks of the scraggly offspring that are still begging. The house finches had 2 babies with them at the feeder, but I have never seen baby chickadees or titmice although I have seen them making trips back and forth to the spots I think they are nesting in as if feeding young.

There are also a bunch of house sparrows and they had some young, too, I don't even try to keep track of them. My downy woodpeckers have not been around since winter, I miss them. I have a white breasted nuthatch and a brown creeper on occasion also.

This year and last year the birds had very late clutches, I assume 2nd clutches as I have no nests to observe but the begging scruffy fledglings are hard to miss in August-September. I thought that was really late for babies last year but I have them again this year, too. We had a very dry early summer last year; this year it was quite wet at that time but we have had a 3 week dry spell and are just now getting rain.

The Robins had 3 clutches last year but I have seen no activity this year; perhaps they moved their nest. I have a mature red shouldered hawk that feeds rarely at my ornamental pond (overgrown this year and has only frogs and lilies) which the deer also enjoy.

There has been a juvenile Cooper's on occasion out in the edge of the woods. It got something gray with flashes of white earlier this spring, and I hoped it was NOT one of my chickadees!. I see a juvenile every year but never the adult coop, so I do not know if they are nesting nearby or not. Mama deer showed up with two brand new tiny spotted fawns about 3 weeks ago, also late I think, but I have seen other moms, all with two babies with spots, along the highway in the past few weeks so it isn't just at my house! I have not seen any baby squirrels this year.

Don't know if that is of interest or not. I haven't noticed much change except the wren and the robins. The late clutches are what I find odd the past two years. I just am not used to seeing begging babies in September for goodness sake!

Sally Seyal, Prospect, KY (wooded suburb outside of Louisville)


I often see the juvenile Cooper's Hawks that predate the feeders but the adults are a different story. They have learned far more stealth and I rarely see an adult unless I come round a corner and they and I surprise one another over the wood pile for instance or the Crows and squirrels spot the hawk and their mobbing brings it to my attention.

I too see Orioles, both Orchards and Baltimores for a few days in early summer, and then they disappear. They prefer a more woodsy environment, than mine, though I have numerous mature trees, as do the neighbors, but evidently not enough. Or we don't present enough privacy for them, one never knows their individual criteria. I assume they are on their way through to woodlots and luscious local orchards. That may also be the case with yours, or perhaps they move into your near-by woods and stay there to protect the location of their nest. In that case you may yet coax them out in a hard year.

Young Black-capped Chickadees? They are so tiny and are supposed to stay hidden being fed by their parents while they learn to fly from the ground up. Though I always have one or two pairs that breed nearby, the young tend to go unseen.

In 2007, I heard from a neighbor that one Chickadee fledgling had taken refuge in her garage, cared for by her parents, and stayed until it looked like one of the adults. Therefore who would know that she had just been recently fledged.

In 2008, I found the Chickadee chick pictured above and featured in the blog, begging his brains out from the rhubarb patch. His parents were desperately attempting to lure her to a small sheltering evergreen across the park path. After numerous adventures, they eventually succeeded and I presume he survived as there are currently more Black-caps visiting the sunflower seed feeder now, than when the season started. They are tough to keep track of as they tend to be virtually identical, not to mention teeny. D.B.

I too have been seeing evidence of fewer and later young this season. For instance, last week a mixed flock of migrating birds blew in following the trailing edge of a storm.

Within the flock was a male Robin with juveniles, one of which he was still feeding. Obviously the youngster was not fully weaned yet (up right in photo) but also obviously as of the sighting he was keeping up with the other migrants, at least so far. Fascinating.
In 2006 the local Robin's nest had a perfect season: 3 clutches with 4 young each who fledged. In 2007, their success was also respectable. In 2008, there was Garage Boy, (see Wednesday, June 11, 2008 but by late July as things became very dry, there wasn't a Robin to be seen in the area. They had moved on.
The Cardinals produced one male fledgling in the territory that I saw. Though in 2007, as a first year pair, they produced none successfully.
Doorstep Dove and Friend, the Mourning Dove pair who have been featured on the blog since they first bonded in 2006, raised 3 chicks to maturity that year. In 2007, by the end of the season, they and 5 well grown young could be observed. The family group could be seen gathered together every evening at sunset, sometimes for as long as an hour--grouped round the edge of the birdbath, taking in the last rays of the sun.
In June 2008, Doorstep and Friend had an unusual rare brood of three young though they weren't nearly as apparent as their young had been in previous seasons. Now Friend and Doorstep briefly appear at the bath come evening for a drink and then briskly depart. Though two or three other Doves visit the feeder with them during the day. The change of behavior may well be due to the lurking Cooper's Hawk that arrives in late afternoon. I don't have a true count of their success this season as they, like most of the breeding birds in the area have become far more wary of foraging in the open due to the hawk. I tentatively put their count at 3 surviving young.
Unfortunately there is a hunting season on Mourning Doves in Wisconsin which makes me quite heartsick. The report from the Wisconsin DEC for hunters, reports the Mourning Dove population is far lower coming into hunting season than it has been for the five previous seasons. I do so hope Friend and Doorstep will still be there when I return to Wisconsin.
The Chipping Sparrows who ordinarily produce a brood before being heavily predated by Cowbirds for the rest of the breeding season, missed their first clutch. One Cowbird chick was fostered and then they produced five chicks of their own in late August when the Cowbirds had already moved on.
(Interesting how nature deals with this sort of thing isn't it?)
The Wisconsin Turkey observers report that many first clutches were unsuccessful and some hens have second clutched, with the poults being currently only the size of Grouse as opposed to the almost mature sized young that would be usual for September.
As in Kentucky, the deer were still on the move in late Spring and young arrived much later than usual with a high incidence of twins.

The White-breasted Nuthatch has returned from breeding and is busy hatching sunflower seeds into the bark of the Maple trees in the backyard.

One of the winter WI birds, a Dark-eyed Junco, came by for one day, fed up and then continued on his way.

Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling
And the mammals?
Fluffy the Opossum, hasn't been caught under the feeder in the middle of the night all summer. I fully expect her/him to return to the feeder come cold weather.
Though "someone" is yet again eating the ripening tomatoes before I can. The still growing 8 inch watermelon that was on the vine disappeared a week and a half ago.
It occurred to me that I may have been unfairly blaming Fluffy for all these garden predations. Last week before by return to NYC, I flipped the back light on in the middle of the night looking for him and what should I see? A very fat raccoon bottom complete with lush tail heading rapidly out of the circle of light. A first! I turned off the light, whipped out the door, and heard raccoon claws scrambling on tree bark. I then took photographs, blindly in the dark of course, of all the trees in the direction of the sound. Bringing them up later with the adaptive lighting mode of the photo editor, brought no joy. That chubby bottomed mammal had eluded me.
Squirrels? The breeding female in the territory produced two broods this season. Of the initial litter on first appearance, the three young had very very sparse fur. Their skin was completely visible through their coats. It was unclear as to whether the issue was some kind of parasite that had infested the nest, a dietary deficiency or what? The afflicted squirrels would appear and lay flat on the picnic table in the sun for long periods. Unable to pin down the problem, beyond the usual fare from the feeding area, I began offering more nuts, and fruit. Eventually, for whatever reason, their fur slowly began to thicken and now their coats look normal, though their tails are still on the skimpy side.
The second litter of four appeared with normal fur and proceeded in maturation.
New this season is the appearance of the resident Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel, Pancake. And now and again, a new phenomena, one of the shrews periodically goes for something on the ground of the feeding area.
Chewy the Chipmunk is still in residence and another smaller Chipmunk has also appeared sporadically to feed. I did not see a sudden influx of a Chipmunk litter under the feeders but that doesn't mean there wasn't one. Litters have occurred before and the only reason I realized they had occurred was that two young did themselves in by youthful indiscretions. Chipmunks tend toward the solitary and are seldom seen together, at least in my feeding area. Though I did see a group coming out of the hedgerow to feed at Thresherman's Park.
Nature tends to take care of herself if allowed what has unfortunately become the luxury of being allowed to do so.
Donna Browne


Anonymous said...

Donna, I laughed--Sally starts out with "I'm not a great birder" and then goes on with this fabulous description of many birds and their activities--not much of a birder!
People around here call the srub jays "Blue Jays" Great reports.
Betty Jo

Donegal Browne said...

Hello Betty Jo,

What's the bird word from California?

As to your comment concerning Sally's report, I thought the same. Sally is a wonderful observer of birds. Not all great birders are twitchers. :-) Great birders also come in the behaviorist category as well and we shouldn't sell ourselves short. I'm a behaviorist and proud of it!

Sally said...

Dear Donna,
As you talk about your doves, I realized that I have had an occaisional pair of doves under my feeder-it hangs at the edge of my deck, which overhangs the rarely used patio below, thus other birds might be feeding there that I don't see-and now all of a sudden I have 5 "adults". Perhaps some are actually offspring fromt his year?
I also wonder if the hummers are family or not, a male and a female do patrol the entire yard from a tree near the deck and DO NOT want to share anything from the 4 feeders with others, so do I assume the others are migrating interlopers, not young? I have seen as many as 7-8, I think, flitting about, and I am sure I have at least 6 fighting on a regular basis for the past month or so!
I have done Project Feeder Watch for the last several years; it is great fun! I do not know if I have Carolina or Black-capped chicadees, I tend to think they are Carolina as they seem smaller and less black-capped than the ones I knew in central Illinois as a child, but since there is a category for "Black capped-Carolina" on their form I cheat and use that one!

Donegal Browne said...


Your extra doves are most likely the offspring of your pair from this season. They do tend to hang out in family groups at this time of year. As things turn cooler, and feeders become more tempting if natural food becomes scarser you may find the group will grow as outlying doves come in to share the ground feeders bounty on the patio.

You no doubt have dealt with the difficulty but for those who don't know, Carolinas and Black-capped Chickadees are nearly identical when it comes to looks. Yes, BCC's can be bigger, but a BCC on the small end of the species size range is the same size as a CC. The other visual differences can help but not always. Sometimes one can see a defined white area on the wing created by the white feather edges of the BCC. Also their bib is slightly longer.

A CC has a shorter bib which has a sharper line of demarcation. (Something better suited for investigation on a bird skin than with magnification on a bird at a feeder, in my opinion anyway.)

You know Sally, you probably do have a number of ground feeding species down there on the patio that haven't been apparent.

It's nearly amazing that hummingbirds ever manage to mate and make more hummingbirds they are so hostile to other hummingbirds. Hummers stake out food sources and battle all comers for superiority. They can get downright vicious. To tell the truth, I don't know for sure, but it seems likely from their behavior that once a brood is well weaned that when it comes to food sources, it's every bird for him or herself. Though perhaps a parent might go a little easier on their progeny, but as to migrants, they'd better fly fast and hold onto their tail feathers.