Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Birds Songs saving me from the Doldrums of Summer. Here is Quiz #2

I know it's time to take the feeder down, but I am still getting loads of visitors, especially Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, five males yesterday afternoon, along with several females and juveniles.  I have been taking lots of pics, but the one I like best, I took a couple of years ago. It shows the underside of the wings.

Bird songs have saved me from the doldrums of summer. Birds may have disappeared from view, hidden by dense foliage, but they are still audible and still present a challenge to identification. So here is Bird Song Quiz # 2:

The first two birds are almost identical in appearance and are often told apart only by their songs. (false, see correction in comment section) Both are found in brushy moist habitat near streams or in bogs or marshes. They are usually solitary.



Three: This one is a mystery to me - haven't been able to figure it out. The song is difficult to hear, extremely high pitched. I heard the bird singing from a thicket near a cornfield and next to a river trail.

Four: This one is a plain bird with a pretty song, usually solitary in a large tree near water.

Five: A small bird, reddish brown overall, with long whitish eyebrow, recorded singing from a tall oak tree in my backyard.

I am going to post the answers to the quiz in the comment section in two days, except of course song #3. I hope one of you can identify that one for me!

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Celebrating my One-year Anniversary! Bird Song Quiz

First of all I 'd like to thank all of you who are reading my blog, who have commented on it and who signed up as followers. Having an audience makes the blog come alive for me --  I am not just talking to myself. Of course, I reciprocate by visiting your blog and leave comments. I am happy to be a member of this great worldwide birding community.  

I started this blog a year ago after I witnessed the terrible toll taken on Northern Gannet chicks and adult birds by abandoned fishing nets. Until then I had just been posting my bird photos on my website, but with the blog I had hoped to make more people aware of the plight of these sea birds.

So, I started it as a pure birding blog, but lately I have also included some observations on nature and art. These are the two poles of my life: art and science. I started out as a free lance artist, before switching to medicine. Now it's time again to attend to my creative side, not in painting and drawing as before, but in photography.

Although identifying warblers by their songs continues to be a tremendous challenge, sometimes I luck out in getting a photo of one. This Blackburnian Warbler was sitting on the weathered top of a conifer basking in the morning sun.

But most of the time, with the foliage so dense, all I can do is trying to identify birds by their songs in the recordings that I bring home. It's a challenge; I try to match them up with birds most likely to be present. Over the past year I have collected a number of recordings and thought it would be fun to post some of them as a quiz. Some of them are quite easy, others are more difficult. The last one is an unknown to me. My answers are in the comment section.

First, a bird announces his approach to my feeder:

Second, heard from near the top of a neighbor's tall trees

Third, heard deep in a conifer forest.

Fourth, not a song but the call of a colorful bird at home in the upper reaches of a deciduous forest.

Fifth, the plaintive call of a mother looking for her chicks.

Sixth, heard near a pond in a forest.

Seventh, heard in a wooded area. It sounds easy, but I can't figure it out. If you have the answer, please let me know what it is!

On Hogback Mountain a field of ferns

Thanks for stopping by and please leave a comment, whether in answer to the quiz or just because...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Garden of Eden

People hunger for nature. This is shown in a hilarious yet thought-provoking study undertaken by two Russian artists, Komar and Melamid, who polled people in various countries all over the world to find out what type of painting they would most like to hang on their walls. They set about constructing schematic paintings based on these polls. In their book "Painting by Numbers, a Scientific Guide to Art" page after page shows groups of people in bucolic scenes with lakes, blue mountains, trees, and animals. Their Garden of Eden. Two examples:

America's Most Wanted

Iceland's Most Wanted

But I am being sidetracked.  I wanted to talk about a SVAS guided walk with Marlboro College biologist Bob Engel a couple of days ago on the beautiful trails of Hogback Mountain, a defunct ski resort which closed in 1989 and  has gradually been reverting back to wilderness.

Overgrown Ski Trail

The air was filled with bird songs, but we only caught brief glimpses of the  warblers darting through the dense foliage as they gleaned small critters from the leaves and bark.  Species included  Ovenbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler... .  I was able to record a couple of songs:

Black-throated Blue Warbler song and Spectrogram:

And here, the Ovenbird's emphatic "Teacher Teacher Teacher" song

I confess, this walk showed me up as a complete newbie in bird song identification. There is so much to learn! I am finding out  my ears are not very good at picking up the warblers' high-pitched buzzy sounds.

Bob Engel is a gifted guide and teacher with a vast fund of knowledge. During our walk he commented on the polygynous nature of male Red-winged Blackbirds, on why scat deposited prominently on a rock, was probably left there by a Gray Fox, and on many other subjects prompted by what we encountered. He pointed out a small, rather drab looking plant which upon a closer look turned out to be a Horsetail (Exquisetum), one of the most ancient plants going back to the age of dinosaurs and  predating the appearance of grasses as ground cover and understory plant. It has a world-wide distribution. I remember playing with a plant like that as a child, pulling sections apart and sliding them back together.

He pointed out the most invasive species in the Northeast, the Japanese Knotweed,  which was forming a dense thicket at the edge of a field, sending out satellite colonies far into the field by deep rhizomes. Because of its extensive root system herbicides are required for eradication.

We looked at a meadow made more beautiful by dainty yellow Buttercup intermingling with the grasses. But Buttercup, it turns out, is poisonous to livestock. Once it takes posssession of a meadow the grass can no longer be used for hay. Of course Bobolinks, threatened by habitat loss, building their nests in high grass, benefit from fields being left uncut.  

Vermont is beautiful any time of the year, but it is truly glorious in June.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Luna Moth, Moon Moth

While watching for a Veery that had shown up in my backyard, I rescued a Luna Moth. I saw it as something light green and tissue-like fluttering in the grass with a Gray Cat bird picking at it. I ran out and beating back the bird which did not want to let go of its prey, cupped the moth in my hands, feeling the wings beating weakly against my palms and fingers, and looked for a safe place to set it down. It ended up resting on the wood siding of our deck. The tail was damaged, but otherwise it seemed to be intact.

Double click to appreciate full beauty of this moth

Luna moths are mostly active at night. They are one of the largest moths in NA, having a wingspan of up to four and one half inches. The caterpillar goes through 5 instar stages before pupation. They emerge from their cocoon only to mate, and usually do not live for more than a week.

He is gorgeous - the feathery feelers indicate it's a male. To me he looks like a miniature piece of silken tapestry with a trompe d'oeil design to fool any predators into thinking these are twigs with buds and leaves. Two eyespots on the long hindwings are not well seen on this photograph.

He stayed on the siding  for the rest of the day, but was gone in the morning. I'll hope he'll make it and find a female to mate with.

Yes, and the Veery, it apparently was gathering nesting material. I used the wrong camera settings for the first photo:

But I got it right the second time around:

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Friday, June 4, 2010

What's it about birding?

The other day I was clambering about in a kind of no-man's land, a neglected, overgrown lot between an auto repair shop, a self-storage business and the interstate, picking my way around poison ivy, treading carefully over unstable mounts of sand and pushing past small pines and brambles, all in pursuit of an elusive Prairie Warbler. I could hear him sing but as much as I searched I could not catch sight of him. However between the noise of trucks rumbling by on the interstate I did get a recording.

I finally went home. Another lost morning. I should have felt frustrated but I really didn't. So what is it about birdwatching that keeps us going? I believe it's more than the thrill of the hunt. I believe it's because watching birds allows us to enter into an untamed, unregulated, natural world which still exists within our urbanized lives. It nourishes our primeval yearning for our place in nature. Fortunately birds have little if any economic value and this probably saved them from becoming manageable assets in our corporate culture. They are still free. There is a term for this yearning: biophilia, a love for life, which makes us find time to lose ourselves in nature. E.O. Wilson wrote a very readable book entitled "Biophilia" exploring this concept.

Anyway, I brought home some pictures from my recent walks.

Yellow Warbler

A Veery - I have been wanting to see this bird for many years, having listened to its haunting evening songs in the woods behind our house. However whenever I have looked for it it has stopped singing. Finally I was lucky, utterly unexpected, in a shrub in plain daylight.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing from the top of a tree

Male Common Yellowthroat

Male American Redstart

Male Indigo Bunting
On one of my walks I came upon a small pond and was startled to hear this foghorn sound coming from the weeds and thicket on the opposite shore:

My dog was transfixed as was I. I half expected to see a huge ungulate pushing through the undergrowth, but it was just a couple of bullfrogs calling back and forth. Well, by that sound they got their name.

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