The shorebirds are beginning to flock together, even as the summer songbirds are still plentiful. With the blue skies and bright sunshine, it was a wonderful day to spend at my favorite national wildlife refuge!
Several of the sunflower heads in the garden are going to seed, and of course, the neighborhood Goldfinches are visiting quite often!
They seem to enjoy perching and resting on the sunflower stems almost as much as eating the seeds.
More often than not, they play peek-a-boo with the camera among the sunflower leaves!
The baby Osprey at Almshouse Creek is looking more and more like his parents. He is about three-fourths the size of mama now. His looks differ only in the mottled appearance of his wings, all tipped in white, and in his still slightly orange eye color.
Mama is leaving the baby alone in the nest more and more, though this morning, she was watching protectively from the tallest mast on a nearby sailboat.
Meanwhile, the baby Osprey seems to be trying out his wings for size, though never actually leaving the nest. Over and over, he would flap his wings, occasionally getting a foot or so above the nest.
Ospreys have a long incubation and nestling period. The eggs incubate for up to 42 days, and they stay in the nest for up to 55 days. So this fella should be just about ready to fledge.
Meanwhile, he keeps trying his wings out…
… occasionally showing off what will be an impressive five to six foot wingspan. Go ahead, buddy, spread your wings and learn to fly!
I parked my car along Bear Swamp Pool, and just sat and watched for awhile this afternoon. An unusual movement in the reeds caught my attention. A Least Bittern was hunting for minnows at the edge of the water. Can you see him in the photograph above? Here… let me blow it up for you.
There he is, hidden away behind the first row of reeds. The Least Bittern is both one of the smallest bitterns and arguably, one of the shyest. They prefer to stay in dense reed thickets where they are surprisingly well camouflaged.
As soon as I took the first photo, this fellow immediately took off deeper into the reeds. These were the only two photos I could take before he scurried away.
One of the joys of having my children living with me the last couple of years has been watching my son’s garden grow. He took the little patch of front yard and turned into this garden. I spent some time out there this morning, just watching the lush life in this little 16’x20′ patch of heaven.
The Red-Headed Woodpecker, a checkerboard-patterned woodpecker, was once so common in the central to eastern United States that orchard owners and farmers paid bounties on them. According to allaboutbirds.org, in 1840 Audubon once reported that 100 of these stunning birds were shot from a single cherry tree in a single day.
Though they continued to be abundant to common through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the loss of nut-producing trees and the decline of mature forests with dead snags led to significant declines in their numbers. Scientists estimate that their population has declined over 70% since 1966. This decline has accelerated in recent years. Partners in Flights estimates a loss from 2,500,000 birds in 2004 to 1,200,00 birds in 2012.
Now the Red-Headed Woodpecker is uncommon and local in many areas of its historical range. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) identifies the Red-Headed Woodpecker on its Red List as Near Threatened. Currently, Partners in Flight lists them as a common bird in serious decline and they are included in the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List that identifies birds most in danger of extinction without serious conservation efforts.
It is a rare treat to see Red-Heads in many areas of the Mid-Atlantic States, but they tend to congregate in colonies and fortunately, there is one such colony that calls a grove of mature oak trees in a state park in Virginia that was once a plantation home. It is not unusual to see ten or more Red-Heads at a single time sitting along the edge of this grove of trees.
Red-Heads are unusual woodpeckers for several reasons. They are skilled at catching insects on the fly, spotting them from a perch on a snag, branch or fencepost. They also cache food by wedging it in cracks, crevices, or even their own woodpecker holes. They store live grasshoppers by wedging them so tightly in crevices in tree bark that the grasshopper cannot escape. They also cover their caches with bark or wood pieces.
What can be done to help the Red-Headed Woodpeckers? Audubon.org identifies the following best management practices to support this species:
* Focus on the creation and maintenance of groves of trees with multiple dead snags needed for roosting and foraging.
* Prescribed burning and understory thinning to create the open forest stands that Red-Heads prefer, presumably for increased fly-catching opportunities.
Sources of information for this post:
The baby Osprey at Almshouse Creek is getting bigger, but Mama Osprey continues to be a fierce protector. I watched them for quite awhile this morning, and most of the time, Mama was most busy protecting her chick from the mid-day summer sun.
Mama would stand with her wings just slightly flexed to create her own umbrella under which the chick would rest away from the sun’s glare. Occasionally, the chick would peek out.
But when a rival Osprey flew overhead, Mama became fierce.
It was hard to miss this little White-Eyed Vireo this morning. Although the body of the White-Eyed Vireo is no bigger than the palm of my hand, and although this bird was flitting about in dense brush, he made himself known by incessantly scolding me as he hopscotched from branch to branch among the Mimosa leaves.
The greatest challenge was the lighting, as the bird constantly moved from deep shade to bright sunlight. As a result, most of the photos were significantly over or under exposed. Thank goodness for photoshop.