Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Eastern Kingbird Reigns Over my Yard

I enjoy sitting far out in the backyard to watch the birds fly in and out of my neighbor's dying Ash tree.  Don't get me wrong, I don't enjoy seeing the ash tree die, but lots of birds appreciate dying trees, especially woodpeckers.  Other birds like flycatchers enjoy the clear line of sight of provided by high, dead branches. In recent weeks, I've watched Eastern Phoebes and Wood Pee Wee's fly out from these perches to catch an insect "on the wing" and then return again to their post. Even Red-headed Woodpeckers, who also catch insects in mid-air, have visited this tree time and again. 

But this entry is about an Eastern Kingbird, one I saw on August 2 (yes, I'm late to post). I don't typically see the Kingbird, not in my backyard, so I took note as he flew from the popular ash toward dead limbs poking above some cedar trees. He sat there just long enough to let me catch this one image.  

Kingbirds have a reputation for being aggressive with other Kingbirds and birds, generally, during the breeding season, which I can definitely vouch for having seen two Kingbirds "slug it out." I'm inserting here an excerpt from my July 2011 post on the topic (yes, I said 2011 . . . I've been posting here for a long time):

"Then an intrusive shrieking filled the air as I watched two kingbirds, descending from above, wrestle in the air before me, about twenty feet away. A duo of furious flapping wings, they spun, descending through the air like a tiny tornado until one dropped, falling six or seven feet into the tall, thick bank grasses. Mesmerized I watched as the fallen kingbird flopped and flapped within the grass while my black lab Bridget rushed to investigate. “No, Bridget!” I demanded, my tone giving her reason to pause as the kingbird found its bearings and lifted into the air, flying toward a towering Norway Spruce. "

No wonder, they're called "Kingbirds" because they're in control! And, of course, they're regal in appearance with a white underside, a dark backside, and a neat white trim to their tail.  Oddly enough, these insect-eating combatants become quite friendly with one another once they return to their wintering grounds in South America, where they enjoy socializing in large flocks and supping on succulent fruits. I guess it's hard to be "hard-headed" on vacation. 

Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Red-headed Woodpeckers: My Summer Guests

On July 1, 2022, I had the good fortune to watch four Red-headed Woodpeckers (three adults and one juvenile) feeding in the sky above my backyard. Like most woodpeckers, red-heads hammer tree trunks for insects but can also catch them midair or “on the wing.” 

My visitors mostly perched on the high and exposed dead limbs of two black locust trees. From here they alternately swept into the air, catching this or that unsuspecting insect and promptly returning to the same or a new perch. I watched their aerial exploits for about twenty minutes before the group decided to move on—but not before I was witness to one adult feeding the juvenile. I did get a photo of the pair though not of the food exchange.  



Then, on July 4, two red-headed adults returned to my yard. Again, I grabbed my binoculars and sat down on the deck to enjoy the show. Today is July 10 . . . and I’m wondering if any or all will come back soon!

 

Till next time . . . Keep birds in your heart.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Red-Shouldered Hawk: Third Time Is a Charm

 

Today I took my two large dogs for a walk downstream on Marsh Creek (here in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania). I always see these "water walks" as mystical because of the many birds we see, including Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. But today, as we entered the creek we were greeted by a Red-Shouldered Hawk. Maybe "greeted" isn't the best word as he severely scolded up before flying away from the snag (a dead tree) from which he was fishing. Yes, fishing. Though small mammals are the meal choice of this hawk, it will take a fish if it can. Why else would red-shoulders hang out in riparian environments?

NOTE: Hawk pictured her is my photograph but not from today's sighting. 

Despite our rude reception by the hawk, who flew off, I knew that today's walk would be magical. The hawk seemed to promise us a lively reception down creek. At so it was. We heard and/or saw many house wrens, red-winged black birds, catbirds, crows, flycatchers, one solitary male mallard, and many others. But what most surprised me was that on our return trip up creek as we neared our exit location, who should be waiting for us? You guessed it--the Red-Shouldered Hawk!

More amazing still, as we climbed from the creek bank and through the road-side vegetation to access the quiet, No Outlet road, who do you think would provide us one last look . . . this time flying through the sky in the near distance?

I don't know if you believe in "signs" or omens, but I definitely do! And these three encounters with the Red-Shouldered Hawk was nothing less than a mystical charm.

If you'd like to learn more about me, an author who writes fictional stories featuring bird themes, check out my web site:

https//www.pkbutler.com

Until next time . . . keep birds in your heart!


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A Pileated Woodpecker Poses for My Camera


 Yesterday I took my big dogs Rosie and Henry out for a swim on Marsh Creek here in Gettysburg. (I won’t say exactly where because we’ve adopted the area .) Though I call myself a “birder,” I suppose I’m first a dog-walker and then a birder since I never go walking or hiking without the dogs. That said, birding isn’t easy with dogs along. 

Even so, I was lucky enough to spot an obliging Pileated Woodpecker who posed for at least two minutes while I fumbled with my camera. Most birds take flight as soon as you “eye” them, but not this crow-sized woodpecker, the largest species of woodpecker in North America if you don’t include the Ivory-billed, deemed extinct by most authorities but not all. (In fact, though no birding authority, I belong to the hopeful group, the one that insists that . . . the “The Ivory-bill is out there.” In fact, I even wrote about this elusive bird in book two of my trilogy Of the Wing.)

 

But back to the Pileated. This woodpecker is conspicuous for his large size and flaming red crest. The male (pictured here) also has a red cheek stripe that the female lacks. Otherwise, white facial stripes run down their necks. When hugging a tree trunk, the Pileated appears mostly black, but in flight the underwings are mostly white while the upper side of the black wings are traced with white moon-shaped crescents.

 

Pileated Woodpeckers pound the trunks of dead and dying trees with their thick pointed bills in search of hollow cavities containing carpenter ants and other insects, but they also eat fruit and nuts. You can identify a Pileated’s handywork by the size and shape of his/her holes—large and rectangular. Otherwise, these woodpeckers drill circular openings with deep holes for nesting. Then, after the kids “leave the nest,” other birds . . . or even bats . . . can move in! That’s what I call hospitality.

 

Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart . . .  and check out my middle grade trilogy Of the Wing at  . . . 

 

https://pkbutler.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Ring-necked Ducks Searching for a New Name

 









This morning I took my two dogs out for a walk on the Emanuel Harmon Farm where we spotted four Ring-necked Ducks (three males and one female). These ducks are notorious among birders for having the wrong name. For instance, can you identify a ring around the neck of males pictured in these photos? True, the photos are a bit fuzzy (I'm not a photographer), but trust me, you'd be hard pressed to find the chestnut or cinnamon band even in a sharp image. The light and angle of such a photo has to be just right.

 If one marking IS conspicuous with these ducks, it's the white ring around their bills, in both male and female. (In recent years, the American Ornithological Society reviewed a proposal to change this species name but declined.) But enough on this rant--ha!


The drake has a glossy black head and back and handsome gray sides, punctuated with white shoulder patches. A real classy guy. What lady (or hen) could resist such a fellow, especially with his dreamy deep golden (or orange?) eyes. However, the hen has her own bragging rights with burnished brown sides nicely contrasting her grayish brown back. And who doesn't love white eye rings? 

Ring-necked Ducks are diving ducks, but this species doesn't plunge too deeply for their meals. In shallower ponds, just a few feet will take them down to where the leeches hide in the murky mud and submerged vegetation. They also like snails, earthworms, dragonfly nymphs--you name it! Most aquatic invertebrates will do. They also snack on submerged plants and tubers of various kinds, including water lilies. 

Ring-necked Ducks are mostly migrants, flying through Pennsylvania to their breeding grounds throughout Canada and northern North America and then flying south to winter in our southern and western states as well as Central America and the Caribbean. That said, you'll find Ring-Necked ducks wintering in a few southeastern counties of Pennsylvania as well as Erie,  our state's most northwestern county. Go figure.

As I live in Adams County, I think myself lucky to have spent some time with this migrating  band of diving ducks. Good luck on your journey!

Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Close Encounters of a Blue Heron Kind

This is an image taken by me (April 2011) of a heron at my pond.

About 10:00 am this morning, I was driving home with my two dogs after a good walk around the 100-acre tract of what used to be the Gettysburg Country Club and is now a part of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Along Mummasburg Road to my right, I spotted a Great Blue Heron who appeared to be hunting fish in a roadside culvert. On approach of my car, the heron flew up and over the road before veering back to the pasture, where he flew low to the ground directly alongside us.  The heron flew for such a good stretch, maybe a hundred feet, that it seemed we were being escorted. When the long-legged wader finally settled to the ground, my sense was of an old, hunched man, cold and hungry. 

Once home, I visited my ‘go-to’ web site for information on the birds of Pennsylvania to see if this heron had “missed the bus” in heading somewhere warmer for the winter.  That site is    https://www.pabirds.org

 

and hosted by the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology. There I followed the menu tab for ‘Birding’ with a dropdown menu that takes you to a running list of all the birds of Pennsylvania, including resident birds (year-round), breeding birds, wintering birds, and those migrating through. A color-coded map is provided for each bird, and here’s a screen capture that tells the story of my cold and hungry heron. 



 

While most of the state welcomes heron for breeding (red area), apparently a few southeastern and southcentral counties (including Adams) host herons in the winter! I didn’t know this but am glad to know it now, because it means that this heron most likely knows what he’s up to, after all.

 

Till next time . . . Keep birds in your heart.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Belted Kingfisher: Punk Rocker of Birds

I have a confession. (What a way to start the New Year!). I am reporting today, January 1,


2022, on a bird that I spotted on 12/10/2021 (three weeks ago). Also, the images presented here were taken of a kingfisher that I photographed more than ten years ago. What can I say? That I’m a procrastinator? True. Maybe I can work on that in 2022. That I’m not a photographer. True. I’m more a dog walker than a photographer. I sometimes carry a camera but seldom catch the image of a fast-moving bird and this kingfisher was fast as he/she flew from the bank of the pond to a bush. By the way, I did get the bush—ha!

 

But enough of me. What about this Belted Kingfisher?

 


Even though I couldn’t get a good look, I knew the bird by his/her vocalizations, to my ear, a clicking rattle sound reminiscent of an antique tin rattler (look it up on Google). But louder, much louder, which is part of the rationale for my heading: “Punk Rocker of Birds.” You can say that a kingfisher makes a lot of racket. (Please forgive me, punk rock fans). The other rational for my “punk” label is this bird’s “rad” crest (am I using this adjective correctly?).

 

The admittedly dark photographs
are of a male (who has a blue-gray breast band) while the female has both a blue-gray breast band AND a chestnut belly band. You can see good images at allaboutbirds . . . and while you’re there, check out the audio to see if my interpretation rings true.

 

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Belted_Kingfisher/id

 

If you take the time to review all the information provided, you’ll find more than one interesting fact, but here are two in case you’re too lazy to bother. Belted Kingfishers catch fish by diving headfirst into the water and grabbing their prey with that super big bill. Another use for his bill is to help prod the ground that he burrows out with his front claws to create an underground nest, usually within the bank above a pond or creek. But you can get all the details at the link above. 

 

Here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year in 2022!

 

Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart.