Thursday, May 21, 2015

Magee Marsh

I've been hearing a lot about the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area recently, and especially about its reputation as an amazing hotspot for migrating birds in May. This preserve is on the southern shore of Lake Erie, and as the high concentrations of birds pass through the area in the spring, so come the birders! There was a huge birding festival at Magee Marsh all last week. Since I'm not a big crowds person, I waited until this past Tuesday morning to go check this place out. And yes, it was pretty great; a bit crowded, but still fun! Long boardwalks wind through marshy forests with lots of low bushes that help bring birds down to eye level. It was cold, cloudy, and windy when I visited, and there weren't insane amounts of birds (it wasn't one of those heavy-bird days at Magee Marsh that I've read about, when birds are practically dripping from the trees). But there were many, many cool creatures to see!

One of the most interesting parts of the visit for me was getting to walk around in an area entirely populated with birders: all these people with their soft voices and reserved movements, pointing their lenses at spots of interest in waves. I walked by one clump of people who were all staring at the base of a tree and passing around the word "Gray-cheeked Thrush," and yes, there it was (a bird I'd never seen before and would've had trouble identifying on my own). A few yards further along the boardwalk, another group was muttering "American Woodcock" and cooing happily whenever a new person managed to see the well-camouflaged bird; it was all super adorable, both the people and the bird:

An adult Bald Eagle perched in a nearby tree got a few points and exclamations, but it was much less of a celebrity than the woodcock:

So yeah, there are definitely some benefits to being around groups of other people looking for birds; I almost certainly wouldn't have noticed this slowly-moving woodcock on my own (it was trying really hard to stay hidden)! Most of the time, though, I did what I prefer to do, which is just wander around quietly on my own and see what creatures I can see.

Gray Catbirds were all over the place in these woods. This catbird was singing directly overhead near the boardwalk's entrance, and I got a clear view of the rusty feathers under its tail:

Gray Catbirds are quite handsome birds, and I'm glad they've returned for the summer:

This Eastern Kingbird was hunting for flying bugs at the edge of a small pond; I'd never noticed how beautiful these birds' wing feathers are, with those white outlines, although this individual's normally white-tipped tail was quite bedraggled:

Is it just me, or are those feet really small?

I love this bird's wide flycatcher beak:

Another Eastern Kingbird was hanging around on the beach. I think flycatchers look really cool:

Hordes of iridescent Tree Swallows were swooping through the air all along the beach, and this one paused to pick at something in the sand:

A flying Great Blue Heron strangely touched the water for a moment on the open lake, as if it thought about landing and then changed its mind; I love this dangling/dancing pose:

A male Baltimore Oriole lit up the overcast woods:

And I was surprised at how bright this American Robin looked; it's no oriole, but it's not too far off:

With so many leaves on the trees now, the smaller songbirds were pretty difficult to see! This Red-eyed Vireo only showed itself briefly:

And this is the best picture I got of a male Blackburnian Warbler who was working his way quickly through the trees:

Male Blackpoll Warblers showed up a few times, hunting for bugs in low branches:

It looks like this guy found something:

I love this warbler's stripey back:

Yellow Warblers were all over the place, males with their fancy striped chests:

And plainer (but still very bright) females:

This female was being chased by a couple of males, but she still managed to do some foraging:

Yellow warblers can look so cute from some angles:

My visit to Magee Marsh didn't yield the most birds I've ever seen, or the most amazing/impressive diversity, but it was still a great trip with lots of awesome creatures! I'm very glad I got to visit this place while I'm still living in the area.

Monday, May 18, 2015

May Yard Birds: Week 2 (Plus Driveway Bunnies)

May is just zooming by! The second week of May brought more avian visitors to our yard, and the resident birds have been busy establishing territories and raising families.

Our Eastern Phoebe neighbors have babies in their nest now! I haven't seen the chicks myself, but I've watched the parents travel back and forth from the nest with food, so I can only assume there are hungry little creatures hiding in there:

One of the adult phoebes perched for several minutes near one of our windows, giving us a great chance to admire this handsome bird:

That's definitely some sort of small meal item in its beak:

Even aside from the fact that there are Eastern Phoebe babies on the back of our house, it's been such a treat to have these adults constantly flitting around and catching bugs nearby. I do love these charismatic little birds.

I've seen a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on the power line along our driveway a few times now; this looks like such a strange setting for this tiny bird:

But I guess it's a nice vantage point from which he can survey his territory and flash around his super-bright throat feathers:

The Barn Swallows are back (probably nesting in a neighbor's barn) and I love watching them zoom around in the open air above the fields:

Swallows are so cool (and so hard to photograph!):

Speaking of birds in flight, this adult Bald Eagle made quite a sight wheeling over our yard:

At ground level, I watched an American Goldfinch nip a dandelion stem so it fell over:

He then proceeded to munch on the dandelion seeds; I didn't know that goldfinches made use of this extremely common and early seed source, but it's cool that they do:

Song Sparrows continue to sing their frilly songs:

And I was delighted to meet this gorgeous White-crowned Sparrow, an uncommon visitor to our yard, and presumably just passing through on the way to its northern breeding grounds:

Veering off the topic of birds, at least two Eastern Cottontails have become regular visitors along our driveway. I was surprised at how long this bunny stayed put while I walked by before it finally bolted:

The rabbit in this next picture is desperately hoping that you can't see it:

What a flat bunny:

I can't believe May's already more than half over! I'm very curious to see what happens in the rest of this awesome month.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sheldon Marsh in May

Apparently the southern edge of Lake Erie is an amazing place to see birds during spring migration, because northbound birds often pause in the neighboring woodlands to refuel before heading off across the lake. So now that we're in the middle of May and migration is in full swing (yay!), I'm taking as many opportunities as I can to go check out some of these areas. On Monday morning, I visited Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve -- a park with woods and marshes on the shores of Lake Erie -- and there were animals everywhere. I ended up seeing 54 bird species (which is really good for me), including 11 species of warbler. Basically everywhere I went, something was moving around in the trees!

A male Indigo Bunting was showing off his astonishing blue feathers in a small clearing in the woods:

Indigo Buntings are awesome, of course, but I got super excited when a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers showed up nearby!

Oh my goodness, what a beautiful bird. I've never seen a Red-headed Woodpecker before, and I love that sleek costume, so different from our other woodpeckers. And how cool to see two of these birds at once!

I wonder if they'll be raising a family here:

Near the marshes, a male Baltimore Oriole paused, panting, after a chase:

And an immature male Orchard Oriole (I don't see these birds very often!) was foraging not far away:

These flowering willow trees were a big hit with many of the smaller birds. Several Tennessee Warblers were going after these flowers:

Tennessee Warblers are very vaguely patterned (by warbler standards), but I was able to identify these guys because they were singing pretty much nonstop. Here's a video of one of the Tennesee Warblers at work:

A gorgeous male Yellow Warbler popped out of a bush for a quick picture and then went right back to his foraging:

This male Cape May Warbler (so pretty!) spent some time hunting directly above my head:

Hey, nice catch:

I didn't mean to take this flying-away picture, but I think it looks pretty cool:

A pretty little male Wilson's Warbler (another new bird for me) lurked in the undergrowth:

My favorite warbler sighting of the day was a male Chestnut-sided Warbler who was nice enough to come down to my level to hunt. I absolutely love this bird's costume, with those fancy brown sides, yellow-and-gray striped wings, black mask, and yellow hat:

Hello, beautiful bird:

This creature looks almost fierce from the front:

But from other angles he's just handsome:

Yes, Chestnut-sided Warblers are definitely some of my favorites:

There were some big birds hanging around, too, like this Red-tailed Hawk who soared overhead:

The birds were awesome, but there were tons of other interesting creatures around as well. A couple of Eastern Chipmunks had a standoff in the middle of the path:

And there they go!

Speaking of strange things on the path, I didn't expect to find this Crayfish making its way along the pavement; I hope it safely got where it was going:

Giant fish churned the waters of the marsh; I think these are some sort of non-native carp:

And there were turtles everywhere! Painted Turtles piled up on basking logs:

Some of the Painted Turtles were particularly small and cute:

This little turtle objected to the arrival of a bigger fellow:

It's OK, little guy:

I was also excited to see more Blanding's Turtles, which are listed as a threatened species in Ohio:

How adorable is this big Blanding's Turtle's face?

It was nice to meet you, lovely turtle:

It was quite an eventful morning! With May not even half over, here's hoping I can make it back up to a park next to Lake Erie sometime soon!