Saturday, June 29, 2019

June Families and More

So much of June seems to be about babies. Many of my sightings these past few weeks have revolved around nests and eggs and growing creatures, many of them building on processes that started back in May. I have other sights to share, too, but let's start with the babies!

First, to recap where we left off in my last post (on June 5): an Eastern Bluebird pair had built and then abandoned a nest in one of our nest boxes; our Eastern Phoebe pair raised a Brown-headed Cowbird chick and had two of their own babies still in the nest under our back deck; and a pair of Tree Swallows had eggs in our second nest box.

Let's follow up with the phoebes first. I'm so very impressed with these two parents and all they've accomplished so far this year. With the cowbird chick gone but two young phoebes still in the nest and depending on their parents to feed them, on June 6 the mother phoebe started building a second nest in the old spot over our front door (where she's had a nest for at least the past two years)! I imagined her saying to her mate -- about feeding their kids in the back -- "you've got this, right?", as she took on the major project of putting together a new nest. And they did it! The two baby phoebes under the deck got bigger and fledged around June 14, and during that time the female phoebe finished constructing the second nest and started laying eggs. She ended up with five eggs (her second clutch of five eggs this year) in this beautiful moss-covered nest:

Now the female phoebe is focusing on incubation. She typically flies off of the nest when we go through the front door during the day -- we have to walk right underneath her, after all, and with a dog no less -- but she returns to the nest quickly, and she stays steadfast in her spot when we pass underneath at night. Really, I feel like these are just about the best phoebe parents there are, and I hope all continues to go well with this second nest!

The Tree Swallows are also having a great year. On June 18, I peeked into their nest box and found six babies crammed in among all those fancy feathers lining the nest (there are five faces on the right side in this picture, and one more set of wings facing the opposite direction on the left):

And now the nestlings are wide-eyed and (presumably) fully feathered, and they spend their time peering out of the nest box hole while the adult swallows swoop almost constantly above the meadow, scooping bugs out of the air and shuttling them to their waiting kids. The nestlings have been hanging out at the entrance hole for a few days now, and they seem to be in no rush to leave the nest box. Here's one of the young Tree Swallows this afternoon:

And here comes Mom... get ready...

Food! Yum.

These Tree Swallows have taken their time at every stage of the breeding process this year, first in settling on the nest box, then building the nest, and now in actually leaving the box. And I'm not complaining! I love having these beautiful bug-eating birds around, and I know they'll probably become less frequent visitors once the babies finally do leave the nest.

The first nest box -- the one that the Eastern Bluebirds claimed and then left -- has brought a wonderful surprise. On June 11, I looked into the box and found that Black-capped Chickadees had added a soft fur lining into the cup of the bluebirds' abandoned nest, and there were five perfect, tiny, speckled chickadee eggs inside:

I'm very excited that our nest box is helping to make more chickadees! Here are the nestlings (a day or two old?) on June 24 -- I think these little blobs are almost equally gross and adorable, and I suspect the "adorable" part comes almost entirely from the fact that I know they will someday be chickadees:

Yesterday (June 28), the babies were rather spiky, with all those feathers poking out; I'm looking forward to seeing them when they actually start to look more like birds:

The adult chickadees are very stealthy, and I hardly ever see them going to the nest box. (That's probably why I didn't even know they were making a nest in there until I looked and found eggs.) Here's a quick sighting of one of the parents today (while I was taking pictures of the Tree Swallows next door) -- this parent is leaving the nest box carrying a fecal sac, which it will throw away somewhere else:

Several other birds have also been making families in and around our yard. American Robins reused a nest they (or different robins) built under our solar panels last year. Here's an adult on the nest on June 4:

I don't know for sure whether this robin nest was successful, but there were babies, they got bigger, and now the nest is empty again. I hope they made it out safely; this is such an exposed spot for a nest, and the babies would be easy pickings for any flying or climbing predators.

Dark-eyed Juncos must have had a nest somewhere around here, because three young juncos have been hanging around our yard for about a week now. These stripey brown birds don't look much like adult juncos, but they do have that distinctive white-striped tail:

And here's the rest of the nesting activity I know about: Gray Catbirds built a nest in a shrubby area next to our house, but the plants there have grown taller and I can't see the nest anymore, so I don't know whether it's still in use. Mourning Doves built a nest (a pile of twigs, really) in the apple tree next to our driveway, but they moved on after we walked by and startled them too many times. Chipping Sparrows built a nest in a conifer in our back yard, and although I haven't seen any further activity in that particular spot, I did see a Chipping Sparrow carrying food recently, so it must have babies around here somewhere. Some sort of large dark bird -- I suspect American Crow, although I was never able to tell for certain -- was using a nest at the top of a tall White Pine in our woods. A young Common Grackle has been showing up at our feeder in the past couple of days. And a pair of Common Yellowthroats acts upset when I walk past a particular corner of the meadow. All together, that's 12 species of birds that I know have at least tried to breed in or around our property (and with all the birds that are regulars in our yard, I'm sure there are more). It's busy around here!

As for non-bird breeding, baby Groundhogs and their mother have been hanging out in the same area as last year's Groundhog family -- I guess our yard makes a good Groundhog nursery. And I was surprised and delighted on June 26 to see frog tadpoles (I don't know what species) in the shallow pond in our woods for the first time:

The past few weeks have brought many other interesting sights as well. On the morning of June 4, I watched a very puffy Chipping Sparrow trilling from its perch in a tree:

Sing it, sparrow:

On the afternoon of June 14, several very pretty insects were flying in the sunlight along the meadow path. Here's a fancy butterfly, a Little Wood-satyr:

And a male and female of some species of (I think) Azure (genus Celastrina):

And a male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis):

With a female Blue Dasher not far away:

On June 26, a male Black-and-White Warbler (looking like he could use a fresh molt soon) worked his way through several trees in our yard, singing the whole time:

And almost as much as I loved seeing the purple spikes of Wild Lupine flowers in the meadow, I now love seeing those same spikes with fuzzy gray seed pods:

And now June is coming to a close, and it's fully summer. I'll keep checking on the nests around our house, and I'll keep watching for other new and interesting things in this amazing place!

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