We are fortunate to be out of the city and in an area where open space is available. Of course on a nice day these spaces attract lots of people and thus are no longer attractive — this is all a very sad state of affairs isn’t it? What a surprise to find that our traditional escape locations can be so easily tainted and our usual haunts (stores, restaurants, bike paths, and such) rendered downright scary. For some it is oppressive; for a birder and nature person there is always an outlet, even out is just the backyard bird feeders. I am going to stick in a couple pictures that are not mine but show what might happen to any of us. One sister-in-law is working from home and able to look out at her bird feeder on a regular basis. This was a feeder in a small yard in a tightly developed neighborhood that was filled and emptied often without seeing the birds. Off to work early and home late meant little time to enjoy the feathered diners outside the window.
So one day she texts and asks “what is this bird”? Her image showed an Indigo Bunting. The next day another text with a photo and this one is a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak! Can you imagine? Two days, two stunning birds. Just for being home and looking. The great philosopher Yogi Berra since said “you can observe a lot by just watching”. Here are images of her two birds – pretty cool.
A Rose-breasted grosbeak will brighten up your day!
These two birds at your feeder, at your window, in your yard — wow.
Well that is just an example of what can happen. Here are a few things from my wanderings yesterday. Enjoy. Again the captions will contain the information.
One of the first things I did was drive to the municipal building where that white robin (leucistic) was hanging out to see if it was still around. There is was. Yea. It was hanging around near a full and bushy holly shrub/tree under which it ran whenever anything startled it. The more usually colored American Robin (below) was also there.
This American Robin seems to have eyebrows. In fact there are white eyebrows and a narrow yellowish eye ring. It is richly colored underneath and has a very black head – making it a male. The white that shows on the belly continues under the tail and the corners of the tail are also white. For a bird we think of as reddish it has a lot of black, gray, and white on it.
The European Starling is not the prettiest of the starlings – a worldwide group with some pretty spectacular representatives in Africa. This is not a native bird to North America. And a matter of fact it was intentionally introduced (several times) by Shakespeare enthusiasts who felt that all species mention in Shakespeare’s work should be world wide. So they released them in several US cities, several times, in the 1890s. Despite being immensely common and often a pest it is respected as a hardy, intelligent bird that has succeeded in most every part of the US.
The state bird of Massachusetts is the Black-capped Chickadee. This is a small bird in a group that is widespread throughout the world with representatives all through the Northern Hemisphere and some to the south as well. This image shows an interesting bit of our springtime – there are at least two strands of spider web in the image. Spider eggs hatch and many species will then have the tiny babies exude a single strand of webbing which acts like a kite and floats away carrying the tiny arachnid to its destiny. There are spring days where the sky just glistens with floating webs.
We have two nuthatches – the White-breasted and the red-breasted. This little guy is, of course, the latter and is smaller than the chickadee. As a nut hatch it spends a great deal of time hitching up and down trees – always leading with its head. Headfirst up the tree and headfirst down the tree. They take black oil sunflower seed from the feeder and jam it into a crevice in the bark and then attack the immobile seed. Probably pretty wasteful but apparently successful.
Many bird species feature a well-dressed male. The male is often a striking array of colors where the females are brownish, grayish, or otherwise subdued. Such is the way with the Northern Cardinal. The bright red male gets on the covers of magazines but the female is pretty cool in her own way. A bit subdued perhaps but a soft gray-brown with reddish touches can make for a pretty nice looking bird. In fact, if the male were toned down a bit we all might think the female is pretty fancy looking. The red bill, perky crest, and the red in the wings and tail are pretty nice.
Our warbler migration can be patchy at best out here on Cape Cod. But we can count on the Yellow-rumped Warbler to both be around and to brighten an outing. They winter with us as dull grayish birds foraging on old sumac and poison ivy berries. As spring approaches they start to change. Slate blue-gray, ebony black, and bright whites and yellow begin to appear. Before they head north we are treated to a pretty splashy, if rather common, bird. The other warblers will come through in mid-May but the Yellow-rump is our earliest avian transformation. There is, in fact, a bright yellow patch where the tail and back meet- hence the “yellow-rump” name.
We are pretty familiar with the Baltimore Oriole – either as a bright yellow/orange and black bird or a s a pretty mediocre baseball team. It may be a bit of a surprise to learn that we have a second oriole in the area as well; the Orchard Oriole. This bird has a brick red/brown where the Baltimore has bright yellow/orange. It is a bit more somber I guess. The chestnut brown body feathers are expensive to make so it isn’t until the second year that a male will create this look. As a first year bird it will be like a female Baltimore but have a black, feathered, beard under the bill for about an inch. This one is a male in its second year at a minimum (hatched in June of 2018 at the latest).
On the Cape we have a lot of sand – that moveable gritty fluid that flows from the land into the sea. Around here it is a fluid. The edges of Cape Cod are worn away and the sand floods all sorts of locations just below the surface. It is always a new springtime learning experience to see what has open or closed the previous winter. Boat traffic is rearranged in many harbors each year as shoals and bars come and go. The dredging business is ongoing. But what I was going to get at is that we have the ideal passage habitat for many of what we call waders or shorebirds or sandpipers. The coastal flats are not replenished every year with little creatures, that will take time. But each year there is some place that is just right. Next year it might be just a bit further north or south. These areas can grow in with beach grass over a few years or they can wash away and be good only for fish. It is along these ever changing strands that plover, sandpiper, oystercatcher, sanderling, and many others feed as they head north in the spring and again during their southward passage in the fall. We have a few birds that nest on our beaches or in our dunes, usually the more remote the better. We have Piping Plover, American Oystercatchers, and Willet – that is about all. Most of our birds we see along the coast are migrants. They are rather speedy nesters once they get into the appropriate habitat and we often see southward migrants in mid-July. So they come and go along our shore but as the timing suggests many are actually residents of lands much to our south.