Wednesday, June 23, 2021

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The hatch continues as the first Western Grebe hatchling was photographed riding on the back of one of the adults at a nearby lake.
Birding surprises are always welcomed, such as this yearling Orchard Oriole.
An “anting” Baltimore Oriole was an unusual photo subject.
An Upland Sandpiper landed on a prominent rock facing the setting sun near the end of its calling flight display.

The hatch continues as I sighted the first Western Grebe hatchling riding on the back of one of the adults at a nearby lake Wednesday, and was even able to get a nice documentary photograph. I’m hoping for some similar but closer, better-quality photos in coming days. I viewed 3 more newly hatched Mallard broods this week, numbering 7 or 8 ducklings each, and sighted my first Ring-necked Pheasant brood Thursday evening that was maybe 4 days old. I also checked on a Ferruginous Hawk nest to find 4 half-grown nestlings.

I’ve been keeping almost daily track of the American Avocet brood at the edge of Melody’s Marsh, and the 3 hatchlings remain actively feeding at 10 days old while under the protection of the adults. About a hundred yards away I pulled up to a group of very active Ruddy Ducks with a disjunct pair of Eared Grebes among them. As I positioned my mobile blind between the sun and the shore, the Ruddys spread out a bit, showing that most were attentive to mates of the opposite sex, with about a dozen drakes displaying to attentive females, surrounded by exquisite calm blue water.

Male Ruddy Ducks are so beautifully colored during the spring and summer set off by their stout sky-blue bills. There are few other ducks that have such animated displays, and I had several within range of the Tamron zoom lens that I photographed with zest. Other photo subjects that evening included a number of Dicksissels, a very trusting Common Nighthawk, and a foursome of Western Grebes.

New Oriole Recruits

A fun surprise found me Friday: While writing, my attention was drawn to my feeding station where one of the female Baltimore Orioles was feeding on grape jelly. Suddenly, a second yellowish oriole with a splash of black on its head moved quickly across my 4 bay windows, then back again, making it tough to identify which of the regular orioles it was – but I never expected it to be a new bird.

Eventually it perched on one of the window sills and peered inside inquisitively – and that’s when it was quickly obvious this was a yearling male Orchard Oriole with the most yellow plumage I can remember seeing. The beautiful petite yellow oriole with a distinct black facial mask that extended across its neck perched among the ash tree leaves nearby feeding station and sang. It returned a number of times, perched above the feeders, but never fed there or drank at the birdbath; yet it sang and picked up a few small insects in the ash tree time and time again.

I was happy to have a chance to document the lively young male with my camera, and I was surprised when it selected a photogenic perch and background among the lower ash branches. Not only did he provide extended photo periods in the low light, but he also rose into song a few times adding a little action and melody to those moments. His visit was way too short, lasting only about 15 minutes as he foraged in my front yard trees and returned to the feeding station ash, but what a great new addition to a somewhat predictable feeding station crew. C’mon back!

The next day, he did, or so I thought. That was my first impression when I saw a yearling male Orchard Oriole fly to one of the feeding station perches; but when I had a better look, it was clear that this was a second young Orchard Oriole as indicated by the smaller mask of black feathers on its face and neck. How exciting! But neither of these surprise visitor has returned.

Actually, the adult Orchard Orioles appear to have moved on now, but the regular 4 Baltimore Orioles – 2 males and 2 females – make regular feeder and birdbath stops. The females keep me wondering if they are incubating clutches of eggs in their down-hanging nests, and I tend to believe the older female probably is nesting. Wonderful; I’m hoping fledglings will join the bay window parade soon. Saturday, I watched the weird activities of a male Baltimore Oriole “anting” on the ground outside my window; in fact, I photographed it in the process. It always seems as though anting birds are somewhat mesmerized by the process when they get a rather strained look, similar to when some birds are “sunning.”

It’s always nice to see periodic visits to my birdbath from colorful American Goldfinches, and it was very unusual to see a Pine Siskin perch at the birdbath Saturday – what was he doing here at this time of year? I haven’t had any hummingbird visits the past week, until today (Tuesday) when I spied a sipping immature Ruby-throat.

Feathery Clouds

Monday evening was favored with a few picturesque high clouds being blown feather-like across the bright blue sky. The big surprises for the evening were 2 adult Caspian Terns fishing along the shallows of a deep but small area lake. I rarely see Caspians in this region, and the big terns dwarfed the local Common and Black Terns – even the Ring-billed Gulls. The prairie songbirds included several singing territorial male Dicksissels, Bobolinks, and Western Meadowlarks; and I appreciated the chance to see 2 different Upland Sandpipers display calling as they landed with spread wings held over their back – an action I have long wished to photograph, and I managed a few images of one displaying sandpiper.

Other sightings of note included an aerial feeding flock of about 35 Black Terns, and a couple flocks of about 40 Redheads, which made me wonder: Are these late-nesting ducks still in pre-nesting mode, while flocks of Mallard drakes numbering from 3 to 50ish indicate many Mallard hens are finished initiating nests or re-nesting attempts? The ducks are definitely running the gamut of the nesting season from Ruddy Ducks and Redheads in pre-nesting mode, while Northern Pintails and Mallards are raising broods or at least incubating eggs, with other species in the incubating mode too I’m sure.

To end my Monday birding drive I pulled over at Melody’s Marsh and noted how excited the birds became – very unusual, with many ducks, avocets, and godwits taking flight and an armada of Giant Canada Geese showing alarm. Then I realized the birds were reacting to an adult Bald Eagle flying fairly high overhead. Again, what was this adult Bald Eagle doing here during the height of the nesting season? There must be a new nest site that has escaped my attention, possibly to the east, possibly in the lowlands of the adjacent Drift Plain. Hmm, I hope to answer that question and many more during the upcoming weeks of our summer birding season. Enjoy every summer day!

Article and photos by Paul Konrad

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