Friday, June 29, 2018

Following Up With Families, and Other Assorted June Sights

Spring is such an amazing time of year, and this June has been full of interesting sights. The best part has been seeing so many nesting birds and growing baby animals in our yard! As far as I can tell, practically every corner of our property has had some sort of breeding activity so far this year.

Unfortunately, not all of the breeding attempts have been successful.... Of the five bird nests I've actually seen in our yard, three have failed: I mentioned the raided Dark-eyed Junco and American Robin nests in my last post, and unfortunately I have to add the Chipping Sparrow's nest to that list. So, sorry, I'll tell this sad story first. I never got a good look at the Chipping Sparrow babies (or possibly just one baby) in that little nest hidden in a small shrub right next to our house. But I got to watch the very bold mother bringing food to her nest. Here are some pictures of this lady on June 11 (I know she's a female because her mate is the male Chipping Sparrow with the distinctive white forehead):

She wasn't about to visit the nest while I was there, but she went as far as the garden hose next to the nest's shrub:

And then a few days after I took these pictures, I found the Chipping Sparrows' nest on the ground along with several pieces of some very adult-looking feathers and... a foot. I don't think the female sparrow survived, and I can't think of many things more horrifying than being on your nest while a giant monster (cat? racoon?) approaches, and staying there through the attack.... I also find this outcome particularly upsetting because this is the opposite of how breeding is supposed to work. Ideally, I imagine, you want to come out of the whole thing with more birds than when you started, and of course sometimes the nest is lost and you break even and have to start again, but losing an adult along with the nest is such a bad setback. Ugh, poor birds. I've seen the white-browed Chipping Sparrow since then (and other Chipping Sparrows, too), so all is not lost. But still.

OK, that's the only sad part of this post, I promise. There have been a lot of wonderful successes this month, too!

On June 6, the Eastern Phoebe babies were looking especially fluffy and cozy in their nest above our front door:

And on June 11, a pile of nearly-grown phoebes looked out at the world (I can't believe how quickly baby birds grow); I snuck a picture of the babies from a little ways away, because they were getting close to fledging age:

One of the adult phoebes (with a meal in its beak) kept a careful eye on me from a nearby tree:

And in the next day or so, the baby phoebes left their nest! (Last year, the phoebes in this spot fledged in early July; I wonder whether this year was an early schedule or last year was late.) And wonderfully, the babies have stuck around. I've seen the three awkward baby phoebes several times over the past few weeks, often calling plaintively while watching the adults hunt. Don't worry, babies, you'll get there. Here's one of the fledglings in the shade of our Tulip Tree on June 19:

The Tree Swallows also had great success (and hooray, the nest box we put up this spring seems to have worked really well)! On June 7, the baby Tree Swallows were still mostly naked, and so perfectly tucked into their feather-lined nest:

Just two days later, on June 9, they were looking much darker and prickly:

And on June 11, they were downright fuzzy (also, look at the mess they made on the walls of their nice new box, sigh):

Seeing the baby Tree Swallows up close and growing was wonderful, and I also loved getting to see the adult swallows tending to the nest. As it turned out, these birds were comfortable enough visiting the nest even when I was standing 10 feet or so away with my camera (they took a couple of cautious passes before landing, but still, they mostly went about their business as usual). On June 13, I watched the male Tree Swallow swoop up to the box entrance with a small meal in his beak (the babies always made lots of noise whenever a parent showed up):

Heading inside -- look at those wings!

And he was out again a few seconds later, carrying waste for disposal:

After just a couple of minutes, he was back with an impressive catch; I wonder how he managed to divide up this dragonfly among the hungry youngsters:

When he emerged from the box this time there wasn't any new waste to remove, and he paused long enough at the entrance for another portrait:

I kept away from the nest box in the following days, because the babies were getting old enough that they might fledge too early if I startled them. So I watched from a distance on June 20 as a young Tree Swallow peered out of the box:

And sometime in the few days after that, the swallows left the box, and that was that! They've been gone for a week or so now, with only fleeting appearances by a hunting adult or two in that time. I miss them very much. And now I just need to clean out the box and get it ready for any future potential tenants. :)

So, between the phoebes and swallows, only two out of five bird nests that I knew about were actually successful. That doesn't seem like a great ratio. But there must have been many more nests out there, hidden on and around our property, because I've seen a lot of baby birds in the last few weeks!

On June 7, a female Wild Turkey brought her group of chicks right through our back yard; these aren't the best pictures (I was aiming through deck railing and windows), but... baby turkeys!

I think I see at least five (six?) babies in this next picture:

On June 13, I saw an adult Black-and-White Warbler feeding a recently-fledged baby in the brush at the edge of our meadow. These warblers must have gotten started with nesting right away, as soon as they arrived here in May, to have a baby out of the nest so quickly. Also, I can't believe I live in a place with breeding Black-and-White Warblers!
Other sightings of babies have been more frequent and obvious: Some very whiny baby American Crows have been a big presence in the woods and meadow in recent weeks. Common Grackles and House Finches have brought their awkward and begging babies to our feeders. And still other birds have given me reason to think that they have nests hidden somewhere, even if I haven't seen the babies yet. I heard lots of cheeping and saw two very agitated adult Song Sparrows whenever I walked past a particular spot at the edge of the meadow for a span of time. At one especially brushy back corner of our meadow, I've encountered agitated pairs of both Indigo Buntings and Common Yellowthroats. A Blue-winged Warbler was foraging and acting pretty worked up around our driveway on June 22... but I haven't seen him or her around since then, so either this bird has gotten much more stealthy, or there isn't really a nest nearby.

So really, the amount of bird breeding that's been going on right here -- just in this relatively small patch of yard and meadow and woods -- is awesome. From everything I've listed here (including the failed nests but not including the questionable Blue-winged Warbler), that's 13 species of breeding birds that I've encountered so far this year. Hooray!

It's not just birds with families here, either. The mother Groundhog with a burrow in our raspberry patch did indeed have babies, and we started seeing the little ones above ground on June 11. Baby Groundhogs are abundantly entertaining, with a wonderful combination of adorableness and mischievousness. We've seen up to three babies at a time, but there's almost always been one or two foraging and/or playing around the yard since they first started showing up. Here's one of the babies trailing after mom on June 13:

A stump near the garden has become a popular lounging spot for baby Groundhogs, with those big pieces of bark on top sometimes acting as additional seats and sometimes serving as an interesting chewing surface:

The big rocks below our bird feeders are also popular as what I can only think of as a baby Groundhog playground:

This baby seemed quite curious about what could be up that pole:

Here's a video of the baby hanging out around the feeder rocks; these actions sure look like play to me:

I've really loved watching all the various animal families that have made their home on our property this spring! There have been so many babies... and there's still time for more babies yet, with the whole rest of the summer to go.

Not every sight in the past few weeks has been about babies, though, and I do have a few other assorted things to share. On June 25, I was in the woods pulling invasive Garlic Mustard (sigh, that's going to be a very long battle) when, incredibly, a Ruffed Grouse flew up and perched right above our trail. I think the grouse was as surprised to see me as I was to see it -- I'd had no hints before this that we had Ruffed Grouse in our woods -- and we had a good several seconds of staring at each other before it flew off again (loudly). Wow!

I was also pleased to discover a couple of Maple-leaved Viburnum plants in our woods; among the more common and invasive honeysuckles and multiflora roses (thankfully these plants haven't invaded our woods too badly, yet), it was nice to find this native shrub with its little white flowers:

On the night of June 4, a Polyphemus Moth -- the first giant silkworm moth I've seen on our property -- showed up at our lights. I love giant moths, and it was such a treat to meet this wonderful creature (pictured here with my hand for scale):

That night was chilly, and the moth spent the next drizzly day camped out under a ledge on our deck:

I was a bit worried about this fellow (with those huge feathery antennae I think this must be a male), but he flew off again that night; hopefully he was able to find a mate and make more awesome big moths.

A couple of cool moths made daytime appearances in recent weeks as well. Eight-spotted Foresters are particularly striking for a moth:

And this creature had me wondering why a wasp was hanging out on my pea flowers for so long, until I noticed the fuzzy antennae and realized that this is a moth doing an extremely convincing wasp impression (I haven't been able to identify the species yet):

I can't believe that spring has ended, June is coming to a close, and summer is already in full swing! We've also now officially passed the one-year anniversary of owning this property. This first year here has been so eventful, often tumultuous, and always interesting. I love this place, and I can't wait to see what Year Two has in store!


  1. Love all your pictures and narrative. I live in Conn., so I don't get to see so many different birds, plus too much pesticide is used by my neighbors. Why don't people realize that pesticides kill more than insects. Keep sending us the love you have for nature, so do I.

  2. What a wonderful post. Thank you. I miss Central New York and love reading your observations.