A Soggy Bird Walk at Shaver’s Creek
I went on a bird walk this morning at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. The weather was foggy and spitty and not especially conducive to birding, and leaving the house at 6:30 a.m. is not my idea of a good time, but it was the last of this spring’s “Migration Morning Bird Walks,” so it was now or never.
Plus, there is just something about taking a stroll through the woods before you go to work. It reduces the stress levels, if only for a few drizzly hours.
So Doug Wentzel ’89, one of the program directors at Shaver’s Creek, led a group of about eight or 10 hardy souls to see what sorts of winter birds haven’t left for parts north yet, and which summer birds have just arrived. Doug says the winter residents like juncos, white-throated sparrows, and pine siskins are mostly gone now, but we’re starting to get peewees, tanagers, and cuckoos.
In the picture here, Doug is doing an excellent whistled imitation of an Eastern screech owl, in hopes of getting the birds to come out and see what’s going on, thus making themselves more visible for us. He didn’t have any luck. “Apparently they have better things to do,” he said.
Because it was a little chilly and wet, a lot of the birds were probably hunkered down in their roosts, so we heard a lot more than we saw. But that’s part of the fun of birding: learning to recognize the birds by their songs and alarm calls. If you hear, for example, “CHIP-burr … CHIP-burr,” you know a scarlet tanager is around. “Drink your TEEEEEEEEA!” is the classic sound of the towhee. Doug taught me a new one today: “Trees, trees, murmuring trees” is the call of the black-throated green warbler. But there are just too danged many warblers; I know I’ll never remember that one.
Every time I go on a bird walk at Shaver’s Creek, I learn stuff I never knew before. Here’s a sampling from this morning:
—Crows and blue jays are pretty smart, as birds go. Their ratio of brain-size to body-size is bigger than that of other birds.
—What used to be called rufous-sided towhees are now considered eastern towhees. Apparently whoever’s in charge of this taxonomy stuff decided to divide the rufous-sided towhees into “eastern” and “spotted” towhees. I’m a little fuzzy on the details.
—Blue jays have extended families (including offspring from last year) that stick around to help with this year’s nesting tasks.
—Birds like Carolina wrens and other songbirds are altricial, meaning that they’re fairly helpless when they’re born—they need their parents to feed them and keep them warm. By contrast, mallard ducks and shorebirds are precocial, meaning that they come out of the egg pretty much ready to rock’n'roll.
—The large numbers of pine siskins we saw this winter (I regularly had a bunch on my windowsill at work) are very susceptible to salmonella, which can kill them—and other feeder birds, too, I think.
—If you travel a lot and want to check out the birds someplace where you’re going, you can go to birdingpal.org and arrange for a personal tour with a local volunteer.
I didn’t get very many good photos this morning. I did get somewhat close to a grey catbird and caught him singing, above. But probably my favorite photo is this one I took of a Carolina wren that has made a nest in a Shaver’s Creek donation box affixed to an outdoor bulletin board. You can see her sitting on her nestlings here (the babies aren’t visible)—those are her eyes and beak just above the hole.
Click on any of the photos to see them bigger.
Here’s a list of what we saw and/or heard this morning, for you bird nerds. Thanks to Doug for e-mailing the final list.
Great Blue Heron … Mourning Dove … Ruby-throated Hummingbird … Red-bellied Woodpecker … Downy Woodpecker … Eastern Phoebe … Great Crested Flycatcher … Blue-headed Vireo … Red-eyed Vireo … Blue Jay … American Crow … Black-capped Chickadee … Tufted Titmouse … White-breasted Nuthatch … Carolina Wren … House Wren … Blue-gray Gnatcatcher … Wood Thrush … American Robin … Gray Catbird … Brown Thrasher … Pine Warbler … Ovenbird … Common Yellowthroat … Scarlet Tanager … Eastern Towhee … Chipping Sparrow … Song Sparrow … Northern Cardinal … Pine Siskin.
Tina Hay, editor
Entry filed under: University Park campus. Tags: altricial birds, bird migration, birding by ear, Carolina wren, Doug Wentzel, eastern towhee, gray catbird, pine siskins, precocial birds, rufous-sided towhee, scarlet tanager, Shaver's Creek Environmental Center.