Bluebird Boxes Update

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Baby bluebirds are here!! We have two boxes with baby Bluebirds, though you wouldn’t recognize them as Bluebirds quite yet! In fact, it’s rather difficult to recognize them as birds just yet!

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The first Chickadees to hatch, sometime between May 11th and May 15th, are beginning to develop the characteristics of Chickadees. You can clearly see their black caps and white bibs. The Chickadees have a nestling period of 16-19 days. By next week, these babies will only be a few days from fledging.

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Here’s a second box of Chickadee babies, hatched a week or so after the first brood. Particularly on the bird at the top of the picture, you can see the bird’s mouth, beak and eyes, even if the photo is a bit fuzzy. These birds hatched from their eggs between May 15th and May 22nd.

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Finally, here’s a photo of the Tree Swallow nest. Mama was sitting on her nest when we arrived, and flew off before we opened the door of the nest. Tree Swallows incubates their eggs for up to 20 days. Mama Tree Swallow laid these eggs sometimes between May 9th and May 15th. I’m curious to see how much longer before they hatch.

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Meanwhile, I met a young woman from Pennsylvania who is serving as a research intern with the environmental research center. She will be conducting research on the data we are submitting, and will be developing the web page site on the Bluebird trail. I look forward to seeing what she will be doing during her internship.

Common Birds In Uncommon Poses

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05 16 15 Bombay 207 Blue Grosbeak

I didn’t see any unusual birds at Bombay Hook today. The ones who showed up, however, showed up in their finest attire, finding the best branches on which to perch, set against the best backdrops. All in all, it was a glorious day for birding.

05 16 15 Bombay 007  Female Blue Grosbeak

05 16 15 Bombay 048  Common Yellowthroat

05 16 15 Bombay 165 Female Black-Necked Stilt, putting the final touches on her nest.

05 16 15 Bombay 217  Eastern Screech Owl

We Have Our First Babies at the Bluebird Boxes!

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It was a picture-perfect evening as I walked through the research center, checking the Bluebird boxes. And we saw our first babies.

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Five of the six Chickadee eggs hatched in one of the boxes. They had to have just hatched, as you can see in the photo above.

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The Bluebird box that had three eggs in it last week, had five eggs this week! Hopefully, we’ll see Bluebird babies next week.

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We also saw our first Tree Swallow eggs, nestled in a grass nest lined with bird feathers.

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And we had one nest with another six Chickadee eggs.

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Overseeing it all, Mama Osprey watched from her nest on top of the chimneys of the old mansion ruins.

Seaside Sparrow at Dupont Nature Center

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05 10 15 Bombay Prime Hook 017

I drove over to the eastern shore of the Delaware Bay to look for Red Knots, the famous long-range migrants who specifically stop at the Delaware Bay each may to feast on horseshoe crab eggs before traveling on to the Arctic circle. No luck with the Red Knots, but as I was surveying the shoreline along the marshes, I saw a sparrow that I knew immediately was a new bird for me.

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I saw an unassuming greyish bird with a white throat, it’s only distinctive markings were the small yellow spots in front of it’s eyes. This was a Seaside Sparrow, a specialist of saltwater marshes. They live in a narrow band along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coasts, from New England to Texas.

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There are 9 recognized subspecies of the Seaside Sparrow, one of which, the Dusky Seaside Sparrow went extinct in 1987 and another of which, the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, is endangered. Habitat alteration and fragmentation are the primary threats faced by this species of bird

New Life at the Bluebird Boxes

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We have eggs in the bluebird boxes!! This box first held a moss Chickadee nest that seemed to have been abandoned for a couple of weeks. This week, a Bluebird built a grass nest cup inside the moss nest and lay 3 satiny, pale blue eggs.

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Two of the nests held Chickadee eggs. Both of the Mama Chickadees were actively sitting on the nest and only left while loudly reprimanding me for disturbing them. Chickadees lay 3-10 whitish eggs with brick red dots or splotches, though most often they lay 6 eggs, just as in this nest.

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The most interesting box was the box in which we saw six Chickadee eggs last week. This week, the six eggs were still there, along with a seventh, larger, blue egg with brownish splotches. A Brown-Headed Cowbird egg! Brown-Headed Cowbirds are brood parasites, meaning that it lays its eggs in the nests of other species. The Cowbird egg has a shorter incubation period, so that it will usually hatch first, grow larger quicker, and dominate the host fledglings, commanding most of the food.

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Another grass nest was lined with bird feathers. Near the nest, two Tree Swallows perched on an overhead power line. We’ll see if we have Tree Swallow eggs next week.

I checked on 16 out of the 24 boxes we monitor each week. Annie will check the remaining boxes tomorrow. Each week we compile our data on an electronic spreadsheet that will be submitted at the end of the breeding season. Here are the notes from today’s observations:

24 – grass nest, no eggs
5 – empty
4 – moss nest now filled with a grass nest inside. 3 solid blue eggs.
2 – empty
1 – empty
6 – chickadee nest with 6 chickadee eggs and 1 brown-headed cowbird egg
25 – chickadee nest with 6 eggs
23 – little bit of grass
20 – grass nest lined with feathers, no eggs. 2 Tree Sparrows perched nearby on overhead lines.
18 – grass nest no eggs
17 – little bit of grass
16 – empty
15 – empty
8 – little bit of moss
21 – little bit of moss
19 – empty

There’s No Place Like Home

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05 03 15 Davidsonville Park 032

This morning, I watched a pair of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers flitting about near a knot in the branch of a White Oak tree. Only it turns out the knot was no knot. It was the birds’ nest, cleverly camouflaged with flakes of lichen and held together with spider web strings. The birds were in the process of building their nest.

05 03 15 Davidsonville Park 038  (If you enlarge this photo, you can see a fine piece of spider’s web in the bird’s beak.)

Quite a process, it is. Though only 2-3 inches in diameter, both the male and female Gnatcatcher spend up to two weeks on this construction process. They use fibrous plant material, such as pieces of bark, plant stems and grasses to build the body of the nest. The female then lines the inch and a half cup with downy materials, like bird feathers, hair, or plant down.

05 03 15 Davidsonville Park 042 (Here, the female Gnatcatcher brings a downy piece of plant fiber with which to line the nest cup. If you look carefully, you can see the spider web strings where the nest attaches to the tree branch.)

I watched these birds for over a half an hour, as they flew back and forth from the surrounding trees, sometimes tearing the fibers from the seed balls in a neighboring sycamore tree, sometimes traveling a bit further in search of their construction materials, always coming back to the nest within 30-90 seconds. It’s hard to believe they keep up this pace for two weeks.

05 03 15 Davidsonville Park 037  (Enlarge and look very carefully. The bird is using a piece of spider web to attach the topmost layer of lichen to the nest.)

In this nest, the mother bird will lay 3-5 blue eggs with reddish to dark brown spots. She will incubate the eggs for another two weeks, after which she’ll feed the hungry brood for another two weeks before they fledge. At that time, the parents will build a second nest, often using pieces from the first nest, in which they’ll raise a second brood of babies.

05 03 15 Davidsonville Park 040  (Trying it out for size!)

American Bittern

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05 03 15 Davidsonville Park 016

introverted bird

weary soul needs solitude

two kindred souls

05 03 15 Davidsonville Park 013

While walking on the path around the pond at Davidsonville Park, I startled this American Bittern. This stocky heron prefers freshwater marshes. One of the shyer herons, the Bittern is a solitary soul, and spends most of its time hidden among the reeds and tall grasses.

05 03 15 Davidsonville Park 017

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