No Rest for Wrens!

Stick nest

The wrens use just their beak and claws to layer sticks and then feathers from other birds to make a cozy safe nest to raise young.

Just ten days ago the wren parents fledged the babies from the box on our deck.  After we knew they were safely gone, Rich unbolted and cleaned out the next.  What an amazing feat of engineering!  With just a beak and claws, the wrens fashioned a comfy, warm home to sit on eggs and raise young. All was quiet for the rest of the week. The birds had all dispersed.

The past few days we have noticed activity in the High Bush Cranberry, on the deck, around the pond and at the feeders.  Today, definite mating activity as up to five wrens competed for attention, displayed mating moves and two began rebuilding the box on the deck. In and out flew the wren gathering small sticks by the pond and placing them in the box. So, it looks like a pair plans to start one more brood.

Later in the year, the Carolina Wren will grace our yard.  Larger and more distinctive, it seems to fare well in Iowa even in cold weather.

Keeping A Bird List

A joy of inviting beautiful wildlife to a yard is the periodic chance to see something new. That happened recently at Winding Pathways. We were astonished to spot a Black Poll warbler in our oaks. It was the first of this species we’d ever seen anywhere. Another amazing sight happened on a clear March morning when sounds from above brought us outside. We were thrilled to watch a huge flight of snow geese winging north way over our house.

 

We’re not overly serious birders, but keep a running tally of species spotted each year. Lists are fun, especially for people with a competitive bent. We identify birds by either sight or sound, and use these clues in our count of yard visitors. We also include some species that fly over but don’t land. Winding Pathways is two acres. And, we’re fortunate. Just past our property line is 110 acre Faulke’s Heritage Woods.  Its large oaks and elms attract forest birds that might not normally visit our yard.

Here’s our running tally this year as of mid-May:

Wild Turkey

Seven woodpecker species (Hairy, downy, red bellied, red headed, sapsucker, pileated, and flicker)

House Finch

English Sparrow

Junco

European Starling

Native sparrows (white crowned, white throated, song, fox, chipping)

Indigo bunting

Warblers (black polled, yellow rump, yellow, palm, and redstart)

Oriole, orchard and northern (Baltimore)

Cardinal

Tufted Titmouse

Black Capped Chickadee

Hummingbird

Wren (house and Carolina)

Goose (snow and Canada flying over)

Ducks (mallard and wood)

Owl (barred and great horned)

Hawk (Coopers, sharp shinned, red tailed)

Turkey vulture

Chimney Swift

Nighthawk

Brown Creeper

Cuckoo

Goldfinch

Robin

Crow

Killdeer

Whip-poor-will

Mourning Dove

Bald eagles

As we continue to add a diversity of shrubs, trees, grasses, and wildflowers we’re creating habitats that should lure new species to our yard. We’ll keep adding species as the year goes on.

We use several references to help identify birds. Here are our favorites:

Printed books.  Real bird books:

The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America.  This 2008 book is fairly large and heavy, we keep it in the house to aid in identification.

The Golden Guide to Field Identification.  Birds of North America.  This classic bird book has been around for years. It’s small and easy to carry and is the book that stays in the car and gets carried when we’re walking a trail seeking birds.

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. This details the life history of birds. It’s a heavy large reference book that provides information on a bird once we’ve used other sources to make an identification.  A companion Sibley book helps with identification.

Electronic Identification Aids

Outstanding information sources come from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, both on their website and on their smart phone app called Merlin.  We use Merlin regularly when in the field.   Although it lacks some species our iPhone is easy to carry and the organization of the app makes it easy to identify a new species. The app includes several still photos of each bird, range maps, and the call and song of the bird. It’s Free!

When at home we often access the Lab’s Website. It includes more extensive information on more species than the iPhone app and has video clips. It is outstanding, and access is also free. We like it so much we joined the Lab and appreciate receiving its gorgeous and informative magazine called LIVING BIRD. The Lab’s general web address.

 

Spring Symphony

After an unusually mild winter we were hardly surprised by the early onset of spring’s symphony.  At Winding Pathways in Iowa it usually starts on clear cold  February days  when male cardinals begin their beeker beeker beeker call. They  were close to their normal schedule this late winter. Then red winged blackbirds arrived fully two weeks early and added their voices to roadside ditches and wetlands.

On March 7 we heard the glorious sound that truly harkens spring – Chorus Frogs and Peepers!   We were driving a dirt road through southern Iowa’s Shimek State Forest when Marion heard the voices of dozens of tiny frogs coming from a puddle the size of our car.

Chorus Frogs

To naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch singing peepers heralded a true resurrection and marked the start of the warm season. Living in Connecticut he noted that they always began singing in the period of time in which Easter can fall. In other words between March  22  and April  25 .

That’s usually true in Iowa but this year they are earlier, much earlier.

Most people have heard peepers and chorus frogs but have never seen the tiny amphibians that sing with magnificent enthusiasm. The two species often live in the same places and can be easily told apart by their calls. Chorus frogs sound like a person running his finger along the teeth of a comb, while peepers make the “peep peep peep” calls that gives them their name.   To hear recorded peepers and chorus frogs log in to Manitoba Frog and Toad Calls.

Frogs are far from the only animals that begin calling as winter transitions into spring.   Migrating birds are already beginning to appear in yards, woodlands, and wetlands across America and often they are easier to hear than see. Some of the most melodic singers are the hardest birds to spot, and identifying them by sound is often more efficient than trying to spot a bird in thick brush. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has excellent audios of bird calls for mobile apps.

Experienced birders   (and froggers for that matter) use both ears and eyes to identify species.  Like many birders we started out using printed bird guides to help us learn species. Only much later did we begin learning their calls.  It’s been a rewarding hobby that has a cruel catch.

Each  Rich  would learn  new bird calls when  history caught up with him. Probably due to intense noise of  heavy machine guns in Army training decades ago his ability to hear many sounds, particularly those of high pitches is fading.  Marion can hear birdsong he can’t.  He’s investigating hearing aids that should help him continue this fascinating means of identification.  Stay tuned.  He’ll report on hearing aids later.

USING THE MERLIN APP

For years we lugged around bird books that were either large and heavy or compact but limited in the information they provided. They were the best way to learn new species in the field.

That’s changed thanks to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. We loaded their free Merlin App into our smart phones. It makes identifying 400 bird species a snap. At the touch of a few keys  several photos of each species appear, a range map, and……best of all…… recorded sounds of  each bird.

We still carry and refer to a paper bird book but the Merlin App has become our favorite field tool for identifying birds, especially by their call.

ABOUT THE LABORATORY OF ORNITHOLOGY

We joined the Lab a few years ago and love its colorful and informative magazine, LIVING BIRD, and the many bird tips posted on their websiteChorus Frogs. The Lab has been a leader in bird science for decades and they’ve helped us become better birders and gain new insights into the lives of these fascinating animals.

Winter Scenes

Christmas Bird Tree!

Christmas Tree

De-light the tree if you must and adorn it with seed for greater natural delights!

After the holiday cheer fades and ornaments are stored away the Christmas tree can enjoy a second life alive with birds.

Nothing makes a better bird feeder than an upright fir. We take our old tree outside and set it upright. We either use the stand to hold it, dig a hole in the ground deep enough to hold the tree upright, or pound a tall stake into the ground and tie the tree to it. A few strings going out to stakes in the ground will keep it standing in high wind.

Then the fun starts. We pour a couple of cups of birdseed on the very top of the tree and let it settle down into the needles. Larger seeds, like peanuts and gray striped sunflower, work best.

So many birds flock to our tree to find seeds within its branches that it quivers with life and color.

Good sources of seeds include your local feed and wild bird stores,  Amazon, Kaytee Products, and Pine Tree Farms, Inc, and of course, many others.