I’m sure you will all be relieved to hear that the kids are still alright. 11 goslings with 4 adults were making the best of a cold morning by the pond. Luckily, the sun was out a bit. I heard much less singing today, although the gray catbird on the Oakleaf Trail did give a nice little concert and then even posed for me to take this picture.
The real surprise guest this morning, however, is this little guy, a “blue-gray gnatcatcher“. Seriously, I can’t make these names up.
He was busy flitting from branch to branch, hunting gnats I can only suppose, while singing his soft little song. This image was the best I could do in a dozen tries. I read he winters in Mexico and along the gulf coast and is now at about the north edge of his breeding range. This morning he might be wondering if he might have arrived about a week too soon. Well, welcome to May along the shores of Lake Michigan, Buddy. To check on the glacial toadshade progress, please go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewdressel/albums/72157713703616688
It was a perfect morning for pictures with a bright sun in the east and a crisp blue sky in the west. I set out to find a grosbeak, as one does, and these are the directions I had:
Listen for its song, like a robin’s, but better.
Follow the song to a tree
Look up in the tree
See the grosbeak
How could I go wrong? So I head out, and right off the bat, just behind the police station, I hear a beautiful song, look up, and spot a bright orange and black baltimore oriole. Boy, the early light really makes his colors pop, but meh, I got his picture yesterday at the pond. Next up, only a little further into the park, I hear another beautiful song, look up, and spot a bright orange, black, and white male eastern towhee singing to a female just a few feet away. Sweet, I haven’t seen either of them before.
Meanwhile, just to my right is a pair of little yellow birds flitting through the branches. I was tempted to chalk them up as kinglets because that’s what I discovered before after spending a half hour trying to catch one stationary long enough for me to aim, zoom, and focus, but what the heck, with the blue sky, it would still make a nice picture anyway. Well, it turns out they weren’t as flighty as kinglets because they were palm warblers! Noice! Another new one for me. A dozen steps further along the path, and I glimpse a couple of birds just sitting in the bush at eye level. Usually, as I slowly take out my camera, they would take off, but they must have really been enjoying the warmth of that morning sun, because they didn’t budge. Best of all, one turns out to be a white-crowned sparrow, and the other is the elusive white-throated sparrow I’ve been trying to capture for weeks. Just sitting there like two old guys on a bench. Ha! As I wrap up that photoshoot, I hear yet another beautiful song, and this guy turns out to be a song sparrow. I’ve even seen him before, but the lighting is much better this time.
Until now, I had only thought of sparrows as those little guys that make a racket in the bushes. I was totally ignorant of their variety. Welp, I haven’t even made it to the pond, it’s time for breakfast, and no grosbeaks yet. Maybe tomorrow. On my way back home, down the oakleaf trail, I hear one more beautiful song, and it’s really close. Here we go! I scan and scan and scan the tree right in front of me, but I can’t find a dang thing. Just as I turn to move on, out of the bush below the tree hops a gray catbird. You little stinker! Fooled again, and no wonder the sound was so clear. Man, I think I’m gonna need more detail than “song, like a robin’s, but better”.
A Baltimore oriole has been at the pond two mornings in a row singing quite a song and making me work for a picture,
a Jack-in-the-pulpit is up in woods with at least a dozen more on their way,
the white trillium are finally opening in several locations, and the toadshade is right on the verge of showing us what it’s got. Yesterday morning, the goslings gave me a scare when I could only find 2 sets of 3, but it seems the octet just got cold, and 5 still manage to fit under mom’s wings at nap time. In the afternoon, the octet paid a visit to the island and then had a little snack on the eastern lawn. Everybody seemed hale, hearty, and hungry this morning. I’ve tried to arrange these pictures and others in a pleasing fashion at https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewdressel/albums/72157713703616688
The air temperature was supposed to be 39°F, but with grey skies and the wind whipping out of the northeast, it felt like 32°F. The trout lilies, that close down in the night, didn’t even bother to open this morning. I stopped by the trillium, to check on their progress, and there was none. Then I stopped by the pond to see how the Goslings were doing, and they were hungrily enjoying their Kentucky bluegrass breakfast. As I snapped a couple of pictures just to document their wellbeing and maybe their rapid growth, I noticed a couple of cars slowing down on the road. No real surprise there, plenty of folks are noticing the goslings for the first time, and they sure are a sight to see. That wasn’t the reason, however. Instead, they were stopping because ANOTHER FAMILY OF CANADA GEESE WITH THREE GOSLINGS OF THEIR OWN WAS CROSSING THE ROAD! I kid you not. Once they got on the grass, not five feet from family number 1, there was what seemed to me to be a tense moment, but the gander who has been chasing off other canada geese for weeks kept his cool. There was some serious head bobbing and holding heads low but horizontal, by all 4 adults, but no honking or hissing. A couple of the goslings even checked out the new arrivals, but I was too dumbstruck to take a picture, and then everyone just went back to breakfast. Soon, family number 2 was starting to settle down for what must be a well-deserved nap, some wood ducks hopped up on shore, as if to keep them company, and family number 1 went for a swim. If this were in a movie, I’d be rolling my eyes. Instead, I’m just trying to keep them dry, what with the cold wind and all. Here’s a picture of the two families together. Family number 1 is in the foreground heading left, and family number 2 is close to the water getting accustomed to their new surroundings. I’m standing on the curb, and the road is right behind me.
Now I obviously don’t know the story behind this new family, but there’s only one other place that I’ve seen geese nesting all spring, and that’s down on islands in the river. Thus, the simplest explanation, amazing as it sounds, is that these three goslings walked with their parents up the bluff, through the woods, across the road, and to the pond. Oh, those poor little feet! We’ve even seen a candidate family, with three goslings, crossing the river a week ago. https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewdressel/albums/72157713703616688
It is a very gray and cool morning, with a breeze off the lake, so I’m in no hurry to get out there. Luckily for all of us, I finally caught a glimpse yesterday afternoon of my first warbler in the current migratory wave, about which I keep hearing. Give a hearty welcome to the Nashville warbler, on his way from Mexico to breeding grounds that start just north of here. Note the little “chestnut crown patch” just visible on the top of his head. It looks more like magenta to me, but I’m no ornithologist!
I read “The Nashville Warbler does not regularly breed [nor winter] near Nashville, Tennessee, but was first observed there in 1811 by Alexander Wilson, who named the species.” I was walking home after checking on the geese, who are all fine btw, when I spotted this little guy in the grass beside the road that cuts through the park. I was just walking along and nearly stepped on him when he only flitted a few feet away. I thought to myself “Oh no! Maybe he got clipped by a car and can’t fly right. Poor little guy. Why is this a through-road anyway? Darn cars! When will it end?” As I pulled myself together and tried to decide what, if anything, I should or could do, he continued to alternate between flitting just a little further way, just hopping through the grass, and appearing not to be in any kind of distress at all. I finally realized he was completely fine, simply unintimidated by me, and merely intent on finding dinner. Ha! So I just took out my camera and tried at least 25 times to capture an unblurry image. I think I got 2. Then I was all excited to get home and look this guy up. The Merlin App, by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which has usually been excellent, struggled mightily. There are plenty of small grey and yellow birds, but none looked quite like our little guy here. It turns out I needed to fib a little and say I saw him “in trees or bushes” instead of “on the ground”, where he obviously was. Then the Nashville Warbler comes up at the top of the list. Meanwhile, the trillium is almost open, I finally found one grape hyacinth, and a seemingly endless variety of narcissus (described by various common names including daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil) is on display throughout the park. Image of these and my one other good Nashville warbler image are online at https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewdressel/albums/72157713703616688
It pays to get up early, it seems. Who could have known? As I approached the pond from the south, I spotted the geese and goslings on the lawn just to the west of the south end, so I headed in that direction, merely to say hi. Then, as absolutely amazing blind luck would have it, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, this guy, through the brush, right on the southern shore.
I froze, slowly got out my camera, and used the gimmicky little feature that lets me rotate the image display semi-independently of where the lens is pointing. Without even looking in his direction, I was able to capture this nice little closeup through the sticks. Then I slowly backed away, while still avoiding eye contact, and headed up the east shore until I found I path through the brush down to the water that let me take this unobstructed shot.
I stayed there for a while, watched him scratch his ear, step up out of the water, step back down into the water, and just as I looked away, I heard the splash of him grabbing a fish. Luck giveth, and boredom taketh away, I guess. So the geese and goslings were still doing fine, the turtles were already climbing out of the water into the sun, and I hear there are warblers everywhere. I’ve uploaded these images and a few others to https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewdressel/albums/72157713703616688
WIth all the avian excitement yesterday, I didn’t even get to show you all that the recent April showers have brought. First up is the yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum), a distinct species from the slightly-smaller and much-earlier-opening white trout lily (Erythronium albidum), which continues to bloom in big patches and has begun attracting bumblebees and other pollinators.
Meanwhile, hepatica blossoms are wide open in both white and purple, some variety of white trillium is just about ready to open, and the toadshade seems to be waiting for June. I’ve uploaded these images and others to https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewdressel/albums/72157713703616688 Finally, the goslings appeared to be just fine this morning, and I hear the owlets have moved even up Newton towards Downer, but have not confirmed this myself.
We have some very exciting new surprise guests this morning, but first, let me set the scene. There was frost, at least on the cars, but maybe for the last time. We can hope, right? It’s May, after all! The bright sun did warm things up quickly, however, and by the time I got to the pond, the Gosling family were all energetically munching on the grass beside the pond. I was busy taking a few nice and bright photos when suddenly all the goslings made a beeline for either the pond, or the tall stalks and reeds sticking up right on the edge of it. At the same instant, I noticed a shadow gliding over the grass and looked up just in time to see a great blue heron drift to a silent landing just out of sight in the northeast corner of the pond. I doubt herons eat goslings, but I bet there are plenty of raptors who gladly would, so that’s probably a pretty good instinct on the part of the goslings. I thanked the goslings for the heads-up and started to move north in hopes of capturing an image of our spectacular new visitor, but before I could even catch a glimpse, something or someone had already spooked it, and off it went, leaving me only with this slightly-blurry snapshot:
Note the slightly visible “head plumes” that help distinguish it from other herons. Anyway, with my heart still all aflutter, I tried to focus back on the task at hand, and soon bumped into a fellow park goer who asked if I’ve heard about the sighting over at Newton and Prospect. As you already know, I try to focus on signs of life within the boundaries of the beautiful Estabrook Park, but this opportunity sounded too good to pass up, so I made my way over there. Holy Moly, was it worth the walk!
That’s right! A brood of great horned owlets! Apparently, they hatched a few weeks ago high up in a nearby pine tree and are already able to fly, at least as far as this branch just up the block. When I entered the particulars into Merlin, the app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, just to be sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing, it even indicates “UNCOMMON”. An adult, with the “large ear tufts” that confirm the identification, was perched on another branch of the same tree, perhaps keeping an eye on things or just waiting for the next take-out delivery. I’ve uploaded that image and others to https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewdressel/albums/72157713703616688
First things first, the pair of canada geese and all 8 goslings are still doing fine. I checked on them yesterday afternoon, and the goslings were out munching on the grass in the drizzle. Today, they were all dried out and catching some zzzs in the sun.
I also spotted a pair of cowbirds, which surprised me a little. The last time I saw them, there were three females working across the lawn looking for tasty morsels, and three males sitting in a tree entertaining themselves. I didn’t even realize they were the same species until I got home and looked them up. Given their habit of laying their eggs in the nest of other birds and not participating in raising their young, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d see a male-female pair doing something so mundane together as just searching through the grass for something to eat, but here they are:
The Pedia of Wik reports: “The brown-headed cowbird eggs have been documented in nests of at least 220 host species, including hummingbirds and raptors. The young cowbird is fed by the host parents at the expense of their own young. Brown-headed cowbird females can lay 36 eggs in a season. More than 140 different species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds.”
The hourly forecast does not dip below an 80% chance of rain all day today, the ducks will be loving it, I bet, the geese and goslings will at least enjoy the lack of visitors, and the pilgrims should be arriving any day now.
Fortunately, I managed to visit the park again yesterday afternoon before the rain came, and the canada geese and 8 goslings were all still doing fine. Chipmunks were everywhere, seriously, I saw them four separate times, the trout lilies are really opening up en masse,
and I finally captured an image of the surprisingly elusive white-throated sparrow that I hear all the time now singing his iconic song. It’s worth a listen if you don’t already know it. You’ll probably say to yourself “so that’s where that comes from!”
He and his merry band were quickly but diligently working their way across the forest floor leaving nary a leaf unturned.