A New Adventure in Birding

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Almost two years ago, I began this blog with two purposes in mind: to learn how to identify birds and to learn how to photograph the birds I identify. In the process, I also learned a disturbing fact. Songbird populations in North America have declined over 40% since I was a child. Shorebird, grassland birds, and waterfowl have faced similar declines. Some species have lost 90% or more of their population. It’s just not enough anymore to document the birds I see. It’s time to advocate for the birds.

So today, my friend Annie and I began monitoring Eastern Bluebird boxes at a local environmental research refuge.

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That’s us, with one of the 23 Bluebird boxes we will be monitoring. The Eastern Bluebird is one of the success stories in the efforts to stabilize populations. From 1920 through 1970, there was a dramatic decline in Bluebird populations. The Bluebird went from being as common as the American Robin to being extremely rare. There were many reasons for the decline, including the loss and fragmentation of habitat, pesticide use, dead tree removal, and the introduction of the House Sparrow and the European Starling to North America.

In 1978, the North American Bluebird Society was formed by citizen scientists and birders determined to reverse the Bluebirds’ trajectory to extinction. They established a network of Bluebird box trails across the historical range of the Eastern Bluebird, carefully monitoring the Bluebirds. As a result, it is once again a common sight to see these beautiful birds.

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So, what’s our job? Every week, we will open each of the boxes and record the species, nests, details about the nests, eggs, and fledgling age and health. We will make minor repairs to the boxes, inspect for ants, spiders, or wasps, and clip brush growth from around the boxes.

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Our boxes are spaced approximately one hundred yards apart around the perimeter of this field, and the field on the other side of this hill.

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The property was once a colonial estate, built in the 1670’s. Those chimneys are the ruins of the original estate home, and are at the crest of the hill overlooking the fields where we will be monitoring the boxes.

I’ll keep you posted. Hopefully, in a few weeks from now, we’ll be taking pictures of active nests and bluebird eggs. In the meantime, as I post about the birds I see each week, I will be reporting about the many threats to our bird populations. I hope you join me in this adventure to advocate for our natural world.

The Osprey at Almshouse Creek

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I’ve been watching an Osprey nest not far from home, driving by every day, checking for evidence of habitation by this year’s Ospreys. This morning, four Ospreys were hunting Almshouse Creek, and this stunning bird spent a good bit of time sitting on the nest. I’ll continue to watch in the weeks ahead to see if they make the nest home to lay eggs and fledge their young. Meanwhile, today I just enjoyed watching them hunt the creek and rest on the nest.

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This particular tree seems to be a favorite perch for this beautiful Red-Tailed Hawk at Blackwater NWR. I’ve seen him several times waiting patiently for an evening meal to fly by along the canals in front of the freshwater impoundment.

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He watched warily as Red-Winged Blackbirds and Canada Geese flew by his perch.

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The Red-Tailed Hawk is the most common hawk of North American. Especially this time of year, even a short drive will reveal these birds sitting on telephone lines or tree branches along the road, or soaring in circular pattern over farm fields.

I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together…

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It’s hard to believe, but it’s time for our winter waterfowl to head back to their breeding grounds. The last few evenings, just as the sun sets in the west, I hear a rising and falling cacophony as a large gaggle of geese approach, fly over, and continue towards the north star.

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These Snow Geese were gathering together at Bear Swamp Pool at Bombay Hook Sunday afternoon.

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A Harrier Hunting

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Harriers are a common sight above the fields and marshes at Bombay Hook. That doesn’t mean I’ve gotten a lot of photographs of these beautiful birds. But Sunday one Harrier, hunting one of the abandoned farm fields along Wildlife Drive, soaring right along the edge of the road, providing the opportunity for several in-flight shots. They really are beautiful raptors.

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Why Do They Call Them Ring-Necked Ducks?

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After all, at first glance they look much more like Ring-Billed Ducks, with their williamsburg-blue bill ringed in white. But we have to remember that many birds were named prior to the 20th century, when ornithologists identified them by killing them in order to distinguish their identifying characteristics. It wasn’t until binoculars began to be used in the field that birds were identified through observation.

So what was it that made biologists name this duck the Ring-Necked?

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Not often seen in the field, the Ring-Necked has a chestnut-colored ring at the base of its neck. This morning, this beautiful bird at Bombay Hook was stretching from time to time, exposing that chestnut-colored ring.

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In fact, the female has the same ring, only one her subdued brown plumage, the ring appears as darker brown.

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White Pelican

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It’s hard for me to believe that White Pelicans are found this far north along the Atlantic Coast, especially in the recent cold weather, but a single White Pelican has been hanging out at Blackwater Refuge, foraging in small patches of open water.

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The White Pelican typically winters along the southern tier of the United States and in Central American. They migrate through the plains states and breed in the northern plains of North America.

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The Pelican uses his enormous bill to scoop small fish from shallow waters.

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A long, lazy stretch shows his enormous 8-11 foot wing span. The White Pelican is one of the largest of North American birds.

Check Out Those Talons

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This third or fourth-year Bald Eagle was hunting along the marshes at Blackwater Refuge during our late winter cold snap. The picture above shows the massive expense of wing span on these magnificent birds.

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Bald Eagles take five to six years to fully mature. As a fledgling, they have brown plumage, brown eyes, and a black beak. Slowly, their heads and tails transition to the white plumage for which they are famous, their eyes turn yellow, and their bodies and wings go through a period of mottling, with their brown feathers interspersed with white.

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Blackwater is a wonderful place to watch for Eagles. I’ve seen as many as a dozen at a time, and there are known Golden Eagles who call Blackwater home, though I have yet to positively identify the Goldens. Sometime soon, I’m sure!!

Northern Pintails at the Duck Pond

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A mixed raft of ducks swam in the little pond along the road at Blackwater Refuge: the flamboyant Wood Ducks, the regal Wigeons, the common and beautiful Mallards, the flashy Green-Winged Teals, and the most elegant of all, the Northern Pintail, with their long, graceful necks, their intricately patterned backs, and their razor-thin tails.

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With his icy bill pointed toward the sky and his every feather arranged just so, the Pintail was definitely the aristocrat of the pond, swimming among the commoners.

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The Pintails are winter visitors in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States, and they will soon be taking their leave to fly to the far northern reaches of Canada to breed and raise their youngsters.

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