Sunday, January 28, 2018

Rusty Blackbirds at Symphony Woods; Other Town Center Birds

Counting in the Howard County Bird Club's Mid-winter Count yesterday: At the end of a long day of counting, I found a flock of rusty blackbirds in Symphony Woods Park. I've noticed large numbers of Canada geese and American crows (and a few fish crows mixing with them) foraging there recently, but the rusty blackbirds were a surprise. They are one of the species which I hear from more experienced birders that are not seen as much as they were in the past, thanks at least in part to loss of habitat to development. So here were rusty blackbirds in the middle of Town Center -- at least 39, which was flagged as a high count requiring further documentation on eBird, and they were the only rusties found during yesterday's county-wide survey. One usually has to head to wilder parts of the county to find this species, and then they are still seldom seen there these days.

Besides the rusty color, the pale irises visible in some of the birds in the photo below are another identification mark for rusty blackbirds.

Above: The color and form of the new Chrysalis stage in Symphony Woods continue to intrigue me. The park is not considered a productive birding location, because there is almost no understory (shorter vegetation to provide food and shelter); however, the mature trees do attract some birds, and flocks obviously are finding something to eat on the ground during the winter.

Following: More birds seen during yesterday's count. The bird club's seasonal counts are a test of species diversity and abundance in a given area; they are fun to do; and there's a social event at the end of the day -- a potluck and Tally Rally at a member's house. The day's counting yielded 86 species found in the county, and a few more might be added after late lists come in. I heard that we average 88 or 89 species for the Mid-winter Count.

Above: View of a red-shouldered hawk near Lake Kittamaqundi.
Below: The lake still had some ice on it. Mallards were the only waterfowl I had to count at this location.

One of the song sparrows seen along the lake path -- above.

Checking the pond on the Howard Community College campus, I found no water birds, but this beautiful red-tailed hawk was nearby. Visible perching in the photo above; in flight over the campus below. (I kept my distance from the perching hawk, but it lifted off when it became aware of me.)

In the Howard Community College Arboretum overlooking the pond, I found the only flicker that I saw or heard all day. Not photographed -- it was too fast -- but another woodpecker common in the area was hanging around the grove, a male red-bellied woodpecker....

Friday, January 26, 2018

Piney Run Lake

In Piney Run Park, Carroll County, earlier this week: about 2000 Canada geese and one snow goose.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Gateway to Art

On Saturday, I revisited an old haunt, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. My ultimate destination was the Walters' current exhibit of Faberge and other pre-revolutionary Russian decorative arts, and I did a little exploring and re-familiarizing in the museum's amazing maze of art. The photo above shows a sample of French wrought iron work, an altar gate salvaged when the cathedral in Troyes, France, was remodeled in the 19th century. Today, it serves as a stunning passage between sections of the museum.

Other snapshots of Baltimore's Mount Vernon Historic District, where the Walters is located...Baltimore has architecture!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Scenes from an Eastern Shore Birding Trip

On the Howard County Bird Club's annual winter trip to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and other points on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Saturday, January 13, 2018: First two photos here show the famous waterfowl flock at the end of Oakley Street on the Choptank River in Cambridge.

Snow geese at Blackwater NWR

Scene with bald eagle, Hooper's Island

The glorious start and glorious finish of the sunset viewed from Shorter's Wharf

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Centennial Duck in Happier Times (Update); Other Creatures in Winter Cold

As noted in my post yesterday, the white Pekin duck which was a familiar sight at Centennial Lake for many years was found dead this month, a victim of the recent severe cold weather. I learned from other birders that around 12:30pm on January 9 it was seen standing on the ice near the boat ramp with its head tucked in. It appeared to be sleeping, but around 4:00pm that day, other birders found it lying dead on the ice.  (Sleeping, but freezing to death.) My photo above shows the duck seeming to be thriving on December 30 (2017) -- and pointing me to the rare goose just to the left, a greater white-fronted goose. Why would that one duck succumb to the cold while all the other birds around it survive? Perhaps, it was a combination of age and the cold (as the duck had been at this lake for many years). Perhaps, being a domestic breed had something to do with its vulnerability.

Waterfowl and wading birds limited to looking for food in the water during winter can suffer, although geese can fly to nearby fields to forage. Smaller songbirds might have a better chance with access to bird feeders when the ground is frozen or under snow. When colder weather is setting in and snow is falling, you'll see more birds visiting the feeders, because they endure the cold by filling up on high-energy seed and suet and burning the calories. In my photo below, a ruby-crowned kinglet visits one of my suet feeders again yesterday. I had one (the same bird?) coming to that feeder for around a week at the beginning of the month, then I didn't see any further visits until now. It's the first time I've seen this species at my feeders, though the bird is common enough in the local woods. Other people are reporting kinglets at suet, too. (Will the other kinglet in our region, the golden-crowned, also come to suet?)

And below, also yesterday, another creature safe from the cold weather...

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Warning: Grim Photo -- A Casualty of the Cold at Centennial

More and more awful headlines -- both about the Fake President and local incidents in different regions. We spend time birdwatching or communing with nature for some relief and down time. Yesterday at Centennial Lake, I came across the body of the Pekin duck, which had been a fixture at the lake for many years. Apparently, it was a casualty of the severe cold weather, while its wild cousins on the same lake are thriving. Other birders had documented its passing a few days ago. So you can't escape....Nature sometimes reflects awful times....

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Lakefront in Ice Mist

The influx of warm air is hitting local lakes and ponds still covered with ice today and creating dramatic effects.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Walk Around Lake Kittamaqundi Today

Here's a look at the lake this afternoon as subfreezing gives way to temperate weather.

Mallards find open water in the spillway stream while the lake is still under ice.

Above: A red-shouldered hawk preens in the sun.
Below: One of several fussing Carolina wrens.

On patrol....

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Look at Wilde Lake in the Freeze // A Flicker Visits

Photos of Wilde Lake were taken yesterday afternoon. The only birds on the "water" were the usual ring-billed gulls (with evidence of geese).

Yesterday morning, the suet block attracted another irregular visitor to my feeders. This is a northern flicker, a woodpecker common in our woods which forages on the ground for insects. The bird's tongue is visible in my photo as he enjoys the suet. (The black malar or cheek stripe indicates a male.)

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Kinglet Visits

The extreme cold discourages me from walking over to the lake -- it's frozen over completely any way -- so I watch my bird feeders for anything different. Certainly, the regular customers are coming in larger numbers, especially while snow covers the ground and reduces access to foraging -- cardinals, white-throated sparrows, juncos, mourning doves, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, etc. This morning, however, for the second time in a week, a ruby-crowned kinglet showed up. It's coming to the suet (a favorite of the downy woodpeckers also). This tiny bird is common enough in the local woods at this time of year, but I've never seen one at my feeders before this week.

Photos were taken this morning. That ruby "crown" is not always visible. Kinglets are difficult to photograph because of their activity -- but not so difficult when one is chowing down on suet!

(About the freezing heron in my last post: Apparently, it stood in the same spot on the shore of the lake for about four consecutive days last week, unable to fish on the frozen lake and trying to save energy in the cold. The bird has moved on, hopefully to better fishing.)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Centennial Goose Review (and the Swan at Elkhorn) -- Rare Species for Howard County

Above: Snow goose, dark morph adult, at Centennial Lake.

A massive flock of Canada geese often offers the opportunity to see less common species of goose. Mixed in the flock currently at Centennial Lake, birders found individuals of three species besides Canada. The dark morph snow goose above is also called blue morph. Usually more white than dark, snow geese can be found in flocks of thousands on the Delmarva Peninsula this time of year, but a few sometimes show up further inland. Photos of the other goose species at Centennial follow, interspersed with views of the flock in general (taken on December 30). Note that while they are at the lake, these geese occasionally fly away during the day along with their Canada relatives to feed in fields.

Above: The main flock, including the less common geese, was concentrated near the area of the boat ramp, where there is still a large stretch of unfrozen water.

Above: Greater white-fronted goose.

Below: Cackling goose. Not rare, but hard to spot among similar Canada geese. More cackling probably were present, but this one was right up front and easy to distinguish. It's about half the size of a Canada goose and has a stouter bill.

Above: Cackling goose (center) next to Canada goose.

Below: The tagged female trumpeter swan continues at Lake Elkhorn. Photo taken yesterday.


Lake Kittamaqundi note:

My regular lake for birdwatching, Lake Kittamaqundi, is completely frozen over now. I am monitoring the status of a great blue heron, which I noticed standing in the same spot for several consecutive days. Unable to fish, it must conserve energy until it can feed again, if it makes it through the severe cold. The heron is pictured below, and it's the same heron photographed in the same spot in my previous post. It's not a good idea to approach and spook a heron or any other bird in this condition while it's trying to save calories between infrequent winter meals.