Adventures in Birdland

I always enjoy spending time in God’s creation, especially during the spring when sun shines into my bedroom at 6:30AM and the insects are biting and the ragweed and pollen are out. I guess the flowers, trees, and animals make up for that. Here are some things I’ve experienced while birding and doing field research over the past few weeks. Spring migration is underway and birds are beginning to set up breeding grounds after spending the winter in the tropics or South America. Only 2.4% of what follows was made up just now.

My master’s research focuses on American Kestrels at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky.. Kestrels are small falcons with beautiful plumage that primarily feed on insects, small rodents, and an occasional bird such as a Golden Eagle. I’ve been following kestrels to observe their behavior and to determine the possible functions of tail-pumping. Kestrels often pump their tail while perched on a bare tree or a powerline. Kestrels are secondary cavity nesters, which means they choose cavities excavated by other animals. Kestrels will often nest in an old woodpecker hole. Fortunately for me, there are a number of nest boxes at the depot which I will be monitoring. Many of my kestrel pairs have laid around 5 eggs which will hopefully be hatching in a couple of weeks. Then I’ll get to see young kestrels!

American kestrel chicks in nest

American kestrel male at nest in Saguaro cactus

Is this nest comfortable?

I’ve gone birding several times in the last 2 weeks looking for the warblers which are migrating through Kentucky. Last week during an Ornithology field trip, I had the opportunity to witness a Sharp-shinned Hawk charging at a Great Horned Owl! This hawk preys on songbirds so many birds in the area became very agitated and started mobbing the hawk! The owl took that opportunity to fly to another tree, where it was murdered by crows (murder is the term for a group of crows). I also enjoyed seeing the Baltimore Orioles (not the baseball team, they’re not quite as pretty).

Sharp-shinned hawk resting on a branchGreat horned owl in flight

Left – Sharp-shinned Hawk, Right – Great Horned Owl

Adult male

Baltimore Oriole – © The Nature Nook 2009

Among the warblers I’ve seen lately are American Redstarts, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Cape May, Chestnut-sided and Magnolia. Below are some pictures of these warblers in alphabetical order.

Breeding maleBreeding male

Breeding male Adult Cape May warbler

Adult Male Breeding Magnolia Warbler Photo

Top left – © Linda Peterson, top right © Danny Bales, center left – © Kevin Bolton, bottom left – © Jim McCree, Bottom right – © Gerrit Vyn.

There is one warbler which has eluded my grasp for the past three years. I spent the past three summers doing point counts in southern Indiana and was never able to see a Black-throated Blue Warbler during migration. In fact, the black-throated blue has become my nemesis. Like every compelling story, the protagonist (me) must endure some setbacks and disappointments before rising up to conquer his nemesis. Yesterday I finally heard a Black-throated Blue Warbler for the first time! Of course I rushed up the trail and peered into the trees, only to be foiled by the foliage of leaves. I finally heard my nemesis but a visual still eludes me. Oh well, this will make my moment of victory that much sweeter.

Black-throated blue warbler perched on branch

My nemesis is very handsome and crafty.

More stories of adventures in nature will be forthcoming. Tomorrow I’m headed out to chase after some more kestrels and perhaps stumble upon a porcupine. Not literally, I hope. In the meantime, I’m going to create an artificial intelligence to protect the world from destruction. What could possibly go wrong?

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