If you build it, they will come

In this case, if you build tall enough platform structures near large bodies of water, you can attract nesting osprey.

Even though this osprey tower sits next to a rather tall tree, it lacks wide enough branches near its crown to support an osprey nest

Even though this osprey tower sits next to a rather tall tree, it lacks wide enough branches near its crown to support an osprey nest

Once extremely common in North America, Osprey numbers declined precipitously in the mid-1900s in the U.S. as the birds failed to successfully reproduce.  Chick production fell primarily because of widespread use of pesticides that caused egg-shell thinning and the loss of tall nesting trees near bodies of water due to rural and suburban development.

Many states started osprey reintroduction programs in the 1980s, bringing healthy chicks from remote locations where the birds still bred successfully and hand-rearing them in special “hack boxes” to fledging so that the youngsters would develop a site recognition and fidelity to that area.  And it seems to have worked, because numbers of nesting pairs in areas where ospreys had disappeared have increased exponentially in the last 30 years.

The birds will even use a tall pole that doesn't have a flat nesting platform, like the lights for a baseball field.

The birds will even use a tall pole that doesn’t have a flat nesting platform, like the lights for a baseball field located near a large lake in Maple Grove, MN.

Yesterday, I noticed that the osprey nest platform at Snail Lake (featured in an earlier post) was again occupied (it was unused last spring), and the pair of osprey that had set up housekeeping there was still adding branches to their nest.

One bird sat on the nest and did the stick arranging, while the other bird made several trips with a few odd-shaped sticks.

One bird sat on the nest and did the stick arranging, while the other bird made several trips with a few odd-shaped sticks.

osprey nest

tamping it into place...

tamping that stick into place…

One bird seems to be checking out the fit of the nest.

One bird seems to be checking out the fit of the nest.

and then they both decided to leave...

and then they both decided to leave…

But now that the lakes have unfrozen, hopefully they will finish nest building, lay their eggs and raise their chicks on the plentiful supply of fish in this marsh.

osprey with fish

new life

Chicks seem to be synonymous with Easter. So what could be more appropriate today than to feature a chick of a slightly different variety? My husband found a a Scrub Jay nest in a shrub next to the backyard patio yesterday. There seems to be just one nestling — a very sleepy one.

The nest was at the top of a 20 foot shrub, so all I could see was the head of this little guy.

The nest was at the top of a 20 foot shrub.  Shooting up through all the branches, all I could see was the gray head of this little guy.  The older they get, the more blue will show in their feathers.

Ma and Pa Scrub Jay spent a couple of hours flitting around the back yard, diving in and out of trees, perhaps in search of food for their youngster.  But they never once approached the nest with food.

Ma and Pa Scrub Jay spent a couple of hours flitting around the back yard, diving in and out of trees, perhaps in search of food for their youngster. But they never once approached the nest with food.

Jays have excellent memories for where they have stashed food, so perhaps they were feeding this youngster from their larder.  However, there certainly were a number of pollinators working the backyard flowers for them to capture and feed to this youngster.

the heron and the iris

When I visited Lake Temescal park in January, I saw several Black-crowned Night Herons perched along the shore.  The juveniles fledged long ago and probably left this small lake, so only a couple of adults remain.

Black-crowned Night Herons hid in the emerging cattails and yellow iris during their morning hunt.

An adult Black-crowned Night Heron hid in the emerging cattails and yellow iris during their morning hunt.

Bright yellow iris bloomed all along the shoreline of Lake Temescal.

Bright yellow iris bloomed among the cattails all along the shoreline of Lake Temescal.

With feathery plumes draped over its shoulder, this heron was not happy with me creeping up on it.

With feathery plumes draped over its shoulder, this heron gazed out over the shoreline, but was not happy to have his hunting time disturbed with me creeping up.

So I pretended to photograph the yellow iris instead.

So I pretended to photograph the yellow iris instead.

Not fooled by my attention to plants instead, the bird flew off to  a quieter area.

Not fooled by my attention to plants instead, the bird flew off to a quieter area.

See you next time...

See you next time…

A pretty place to look for herons!

A pretty place to look for herons!

Swallows playing in the mud

Barn and Cliff Swallows were swarming on the beach at lake Temescal in Oakland, CA today.  Apparently there was a particularly good site on the beach for collecting the type of mud used for nest construction.

A Cliff Swallow loading up with a mouthful of lake mud

A Cliff Swallow loading up with a mouthful of lake mud

Cliff Swallows once nested on the steep cliff faces of rocky canyons and river valleys, but more recently have taken up residence on the walls of buildings where a colony may construct a huge dormitory of adjoining mud nests.  These are the famous “swallows of Capistrano” that fly 6000 miles north each year from Argentina to the mission at San Juan Capistrano about the third week of March (usually on St. Joseph’s day, March 19) and leave again to fly south for the winter on roughly the same date in October.

A half dozen swallows converged on one spot to harvest the best mud.

A half dozen swallows converged on one spot to harvest the best mud.  There was a great deal of conversation, fluttering, and general flying about before landing in just the right spot.  Swallows often communicate information about food resources to one another, and apparently they talk about the best mud as well.

Barn Swallows also participated in the mud gathering, but a couple of them took time out to impress a lady swallow.

Barn Swallows also participated in the mud gathering, but a couple of the orange-breasted males took time out to impress each other with some of their agility moves.

xxx

A little dance and flap…

Here is another bird performing a gentlemanly bow.

And then a deep bow…too bad there it wasn’t a female enjoying the show here.  Males usually have darker orange breast feathers than the females, and their outer tail feathers become quite elongate leading to a longer fork, which apparently is quite attractive to females.  You can just barely see the thin trailing spikes extending from this male’s tail.

Barn Swallows once nested in caves (or in barns), but now build their mud nests on a variety of human structures, like the housings for lights in a tunnel underpass.  This species is one of the most widely distributed in the world, migrating from the southern hemisphere where is overwinters to breed in the northern hemisphere each year.

We found this Violet-green Swallow on the ground near the lake.  It must have stunned itself flying into a window, but seemed to be in the process of recovering as my husband held it in his hand.

We found this Violet-green Swallow on the ground near the lake. It must have stunned itself flying into a window, but seemed to be in the process of recovering as my husband held it in his hand.

Violet-green Swallows are a western species, and closely related to Tree Swallows which they resemble in body form and habits.  Like Tree Swallows they utilize nest holes in trees, which they line with grass and feathers and prefer more open areas near woods for foraging.

Spring flowers

Spring is in full swing here in northern California.  In fact, the roses are spectacular, far more so than mine which get attacked by those infamous petal gobblers, the Japanese beetles.

A rose-lover's mecca

A rose-lover’s mecca

Heavenly aroma!  Brilliant colors!

Heavenly aroma! Brilliant colors!

I don't know what they are, but they sure are bright.

I don’t know what they are, but they sure are bright.  A few orange poppies were scattered among the bright pinks.

You know it's spring when you see wild poppies growing along the side of the road.

You know it’s spring when you see wild poppies growing along the side of the road.

Bright orange flowers close up at night and re-open the next morning in sunlight, but not in cloudy weather.  Fern-like gray-green foliage compliments the bright orange.

Bright orange flowers of the California Poppy close up at night and re-open the next morning in sunlight, but not in cloudy weather. Fern-like gray-green foliage compliments the bright orange.

Hummingbirds in the garden

The fruit trees and perennial shrubs are flowering in my mother-in-law’s backyard in California, and the garden is full of hummingbirds chasing each other from tree to tree.  The birds were amazingly cooperative posing near the blossoms.

An Anna Hummingbird perched near the not quite open bottlebrush flower.

A female Anna Hummingbird perched near a not-quite-open bottlebrush flower.

Cylindrical, brush-like flowers develop on a long raceme in this eucalyptus relative that is endemic to Australia.

Cylindrical, brush-like flowers of the bottlebrush develop on a long raceme.  Bottlebrush is a relative of the eucalyptus and endemic to Australia .  The red stamens project out radially, making the flower complex look like a brush used to clean narrow-necked bottles.   Red usually means a good meal to a hummingbird.

The bees were busily pollinating the peach three, and I thought a photo of a hummingbird surrounded by pink peach blossoms would look great.

The bees were busily pollinating the peach tree, and I thought a photo of a hummingbird surrounded by pink peach blossoms would look great.

And there it was, waiting for me to take its photo.

And there she was, waiting for me to take her photo.

Changing of the guard

A pair of Bald Eagles have established a nest at Eagle Park in Maple Grove, MN, (I wonder if that’s how it got its name?) and it looks like they are incubating eggs.  As I sat along the shore watching very shy and uncooperative Wood Ducks, one of the eagles flew into the nest and relieved the incubator of duties (temporarily).   Here’s the sequence of events, along with a narrated commentary.

"You-hoo -- incoming!"

“You-hoo — I’m back!”    It looks like the eagle is bringing a meal, but from what transpired next, I’m guessing it was nest material from the nearby marsh  instead.

"Wake up, I"m landing now."

"wake up I'm landing now."  "Yeah, yeah, I see you."

Eagle 1:  “Wake up I’m landing now.”  Eagle 2:  “Yeah, yeah, I see you.”

"Hey, look at this great fuzzy stuff I got to line the nest".

Eagle 1: “Hey, look at this great fuzzy stuff I got to line the nest”.  Eagle 2, not impressed, anxious to leave.

This nest is near the top of a large maple tree, about 60 feet up.  As seen in these photos, eagle nests are constructed of stout sticks, but lined with softer material, like the marsh grass one eagle brought to the nest.  According to the experts, Bald Eagles tend to nest far from human disturbance in a stand of mature trees near large bodies of water, but this pair’s nest is about 100 feet from an industrial complex across a small marsh from a golf course, and 100 yards from a busy road.  They must be quite tolerant, or very experienced breeders.

"I'm outta' here"

Eagle 1:  “Enough sitting, I’m outta’ here.”    Both male and female incubate the eggs, but the female puts in the greatest proportion of incubation time.  The male relieves her to go hunt for her own food, but she relies on her larger body size and fat reserves to make it through the month of incubation.

"Move this stick over here, and I'll be more comfortable."

“Move this stick over here, and I’ll be more comfortable.”    Eagles re-use nests over a period of four to five years, or until they blow down or fall out of the trees.  They bring in new material each year, and keep adding structure to the nest where it seems too flimsy.   Bald Eagle nests can be as much as 13 feet deep, 8 feet across and weigh more than a metric ton (1000 kg).

"Still two eggs there?  Yup."

“Still two eggs there?   Yup.”

"OK, gotta sit own on these babies without breaking them..."

“OK, roll them over and then I gotta’ sit down on these babies without breaking them…”    All birds turn their eggs over every couple of hours to insure even incubation of the embryos and to prevent the blood vessels that cover the yolk from sticking to the egg’s inner shell surface.

Incubation time -- sooooo boring.

“Incubation time — sooooo boring.  15 down, 20 days to go”.  (A rough guess, but these birds have been incubating since I first saw them here on March 30)

I’ll be gone out of town for a while, but I’ll be back to check on the chicks in late April. They might have hatched by then.

Sap-lapper

There are woodpeckers that specialize on obtaining nutrition from tree sap, like the four species of North American sapsuckers.  Typically, they bore a hole into the cambium layer beneath the bark to get to the sapwood where sugary fluid is moving up from the roots to the developing leaf buds in the spring.  But sapsuckers aren’t the only birds that enjoy the spring sap flow.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker found this sap flow on a small maple tree, and enjoyed several minutes of sap-lapping.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker found this sap flow on a small maple tree, and enjoyed several minutes of sap-lapping.

It's possible that a sapsucker created the hole through which sap was actively dripping.  But perhaps other woodpecker species know how to do this as well.

It’s possible that a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker initially created the hole through which sap was actively dripping.  But perhaps other woodpecker species know how to do this as well.

I could see the bird retracting its tongue after each probe into the hole in the bark.

I could see the bird retracting its tongue after each probe into the hole in the bark.

Seeing this bird make use of a fairly rare event in the forest (sap flow in the spring) raises the question of how it learned to utilize this resource in the first place:  trial and error, watching other birds, or was it attracted to the flies that were on the sugary sap?

When you can’t have what you want…

Photoshop it.

I spent a couple of hours tromping around Rice Creek after those pesky Belted Kingfishers yesterday, but they always saw me coming from quite a distance away. So, I had to resort to some serious photoediting to get something moderately useful for the blog.

Before editing.  Why is it that birds insist on perching behind branches?

Before editing. Why is it that birds insist on perching behind branches?

This seems to be a favorite spot of this male Belted Kingfisher (no rusty brown belly-band beneath his slate blue collar indicates his sex), as I have found him perched here several times now  This is one of the few species in which the female is actually the more colorful.

After removing the branches from around his bill and eye -- with some critical pixel cloning.

After removing the branches from around his bill and eye — with some critical pixel cloning.  This is actually another, sharper photo than the first one — and the wind had ruffled his wing feathers, making a larger dark shadow than in the previous photo.

Belted Kingfishers might stay all year in MN, but only where there is open water.  A pair will maintain a territory along a stream, nesting in the cut of the riverbank where they excavate a long tunnel for their nest.  I’m not sure there is sufficient height in the bank of this creek to allow them to nest here though.

Downstream about 1/2 mile from the site where I found this male was another kingfisher, a female that also had a preferred perch site on a beautiful snag overlooking the creek. Having missed the perfect shot of her on this perch, I had to settle for her silhouette in the tree where she teased me by rattling the familiar kingfisher call over and over.

Naturally, she also turned away from me on the branch, but I was able to catch a glimpse of her rusty brown sides.

Naturally, she also turned away from me on the branch, but I was able to catch a glimpse of her rusty brown sides.

With their big head and oversized bill, these birds look sort of top-heavy.  However, they capture a wide variety of stream critters with their big bill-pincer, including fish (mostly minnows), amphibians, crayfish, molluscs, insects, even some small mammals.  Unlike the diving ducks, kingfishers close their eyes as they enter the water, diving blind toward prey they have visualized from above.  But they have surprising success.

Now that I know where they hang out, I’ll keep trying to sneak up on them for some better portraits.  In the meantime, have a look at Sparky Stensaas’ clever method for capturing kingfishers close-up.  At the end of the video, he has some good suggestions for setting up the camera for wildlife photography.