Monday, December 31, 2012

Oatka Creek Park • December 31

Winter Wren. The snowpack is still in the vicinity of a foot deep along the unbroken portions of the trails in Oatka. This means food is a bit harder to find for foragers like the resident Winter Wren along the creek. However, it is still hanging in there and broke the silence to pop up in front of me for a brief photo-op.

Winter Wren. Actually, there were two Winter Wrens along the creek today. This one and one about a half mile away by the bridge.

Golden-crowned Kinglet. On my way back across the bridge over the creek, excited chip notes over my head drew my eyes to the willow tree that partially hangs over the northern end of the bridge. A pair of kinglets worked the branches for morsels of food and gave me an excellent photo-op for these always moving birds. Look at the feet of this bird: they are yellow! I never knew kinglet feet were yellow. To be sure, the only way you might know is with a picture like this as they probably wouldn't sit still long enough in the field for you to get a good look at their feet.

Golden-crowned Kinglet. Checking the field guides to learn more about the color of kinglet feet, Sibley does the best job of illustrating them, though no mention is made in the text. Kaufman's pictures do a fair job of showing the yellow feet, and Peterson (6th edition) has a rare lapse in accuracy with a painting that shows black feet. Crossley's otherwise magnificent pictures do a surprisingly poor job with the feet, though it wins a prize for the mention of "orange feet" in its text.

Golden-crowned Kinglet. Cornell's Birds of North America provide the terse description of "Legs And Feet: Tarsus [leg] long, slender, smooth, and booted (Roberts 1955, Gabrielson and Lincoln 1959). Tarsi and feet dark brown with yellow on soles of feet and lower rear of tarsi (Paulsen 1993)." The pictures here seem to show more than just the soles of the feet and lower rear legs being yellow, though the description of the feet appearing to be in boots seems spot on!

Golden-crowned Kinglet. It is nice to get a bit of blue sky in the middle of a usually cloud locked Great Lakes winter!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Oatka Creek Park • December 26

Eastern Bluebird. It was heavily overcast and cold this morning around sunrise. Despite the gloom, there was a lot of bird activity along the dirt road leading from the parking lot to the woods. Two bluebirds joined the chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, and goldfinches. Unfortunately, for the most part the birds were little more than silhouettes against the bright sky. Then one of the bluebirds dropped down and provided a bit of a photo-op.

Eastern Bluebird. Later in the hike eight bluebirds would fly overhead and low in a tight flock. The end of February when they start going to the nesting boxes and beginning a new cycle can not arrive soon enough!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Oatka Creek Park • December 23

Winter Wren. Our first winter storm of the season left barely an inch of snow on the ground in the park this morning. I got out a couple hours later than unusual, so morning bird activity was reduced even more than normal. The Winter Wren along the creek broke the silence at one point, however.

Winter Wren. When this bird arrived during the nice weather of late autumn, it was inclined to play with me a bit. Now that the winter has taken some of the fun out of finding food, the bird stayed well back in the tall grass, calling with its characteristic "dit-dit"s.

Winter Wren. It didn't disappear, however, just stayed concealed. I knew if I had tried to close the range, however, it would flee. So, I contented myself with a few pictures and then left it in peace.

Gray Squirrel. This hole is significant in that it is the entrance to a perennial Pileated Woodpecker nest. This squirrel, however, it just looking for concealment from my detection. Suburban squirrels who are acclimated to humans don't seem to have concerns with such close encounters. However, in Oatka such acclimation does not seem to exist and the squirrels there are highly cautious and evasive of human approaches.

Northern Mockingbird. As I was walking down the dirt road back to the parking lot I was admiring the flock of American Goldfinches perched at eye level on either side of the road. Through my binoculars I noted that despite the drabness of their winter plumage, their heads were still a sunny yellow. Then, they suddenly scattered as a bird twice their size dives into their midst and into my binocular field of view: the resident mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird. This bird was, perhaps, defending "its" buckthorn berry bush from the flock of goldfinches. It has certainly stayed extremely close to this area for some time now. My earliest picture of this bird in this area was in mid November. How do I know it's the same individual? See the next picture ...

Northern Mockingbird. This bird has a "crossed bill", which is an abnormality. True, there are species of birds called crossbills that use such an arrangement for prying open pine cones and similar seed pods to get at the seeds. However, mockingbirds have no such dietary habits. During the winter they are significant fruit eaters with multifloral rose fruits being their favorites according to Cornell's Birds of North America. The crossed bill is probably of no impairment whatsoever to the bird, though it gives us humans an easy means for identifying this individual. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Oatka Creek Park • December 20

White-tailed Deer. Deer hunting season has ended in our part of the state. Even so, the deer are still showing extreme caution when spotted. Peeking through layers of brambles is about all they will dare at the moment.

Red-bellied Woodpecker. The bright red crown of these birds seem all the more colorful due to the drab winter surroundings.

Brown Creeper. These are one of my favorite winter birds. Though they generally don't sing this time of year, I did hear a brief snatch of song this morning.

Brown Creeper

Coyote. And here was today's five-star surprise! The presence of coyotes in the park is well documented by their footprints in the fresh snow and how quickly a deer's carcass is reduced to clean bones. I have encountered a coyote in Oatka before, though this was the first photo-op.

Coyote. This is a close-up of the previous picture. I was on the northern bank of Oatka Creek and the coyote was directly across on the southern bank.

Coyote. It was around 8:45 AM on a cloudy morning: seemingly rather late into the morning to be out and about for a nocturnal animal. However, the field guides suggests this is not really all that unusual.

Coyote. Despite having the creek between us, the coyote was not comfortable with my notice and was actively scrambling up the steep bank to get away into hiding.

Carolina Wren. This was a brief encounter along the creek. Otherwise, things were quiet this morning, bird-wise at least.

Carolina Wren

Mendon Ponds Park • December 19

Black-capped Chickadee. It was another fun outing feeding the birds by hand along Birdsong Trail! Note the crumbs on the bill of this chickadee from a previous trips to our hands. If you watch birds long enough you will notice a common behavior called "bill wiping". It's just what it sounds like: birds wipe their bills on the nearest perch to help keep them clean and free of debris.

Black-capped Chickadee. Peanuts continued to be preferred over black oil sunflower seeds. However, once the peanuts were gone, the sunflower seeds were just as acceptable!

Brown Creeper. The winter population of these birds are now in evidence in the area. Though these birds love sunflower seeds, they only seem to like them when they are found wedged in the bark of a tree by a chickadee or nuthatch. Notice how even when the bird is dominating the middle of the picture, it is somehow hard to see due to what is called its "cryptic" patterning. The faint cinnamon patch in the center of the back can be seen here. It is usually no visible.

Brown Creeper. These birds are always moving making them difficult photographic subjects.

White-breasted Nuthatch. Today's star of the show! This bird visited frequently, producing several very nice photo-ops.

White-breasted Nuthatch. You can see this bird's tongue if you look closely. (Click the picture for a larger version.)

White-breasted Nuthatch. This is my new desktop.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Oatka Creek Park • December 16

Golden-crowned Kinglet. It was an extremely quiet morning at the park today. A Great Blue Heron escaped the camera's view twice along the creek, but that was all the excitement until I came into the vicinity of the copse along Bluebird Trail. Quiet chip notes drew my attention to this kinglet that was nearly within arm's reach and at eye level!

Golden-crowned Kinglet. Always moving, having the bird so close was a mixed blessing as it was hard to get a shot with the entire bird in the frame, let alone focused! I then noticed a tenuous mixed flock of birds passing through the copse. Chickadees, nuthatches, and bluebirds were among the species that briefly announced their presence before moving on.

Northern Cardinal. Though most other sources of fruit in the park seem depleted already, Staghorn Sumac berries are still in excellent supply and will probably be a staple for many birds this winter.

Northern Cardinal. Moments after leaving this cardinal and walking on, I noticed a pair of Blue Jays near the base of Maple Hill. This area seems to be their chosen wintering site in the park this year. Suddenly, pandemonium! Four screaming Blue Jays dart across the trail in front of me followed in hot pursuit by a noticeably bigger Cooper's Hawk! The birds disappeared at top speed over the neighboring foliage.

Northern Mockingbird. This bird was not interested in giving me a clear view as I jockeyed for several minutes, each of my moves being immediately countered by the mockingbird. I was able to entice it slightly with whisper spishes, but this was the best shot I was going to get today!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Oatka Creek Park • December 15

Pileated Woodpecker. There were two Pileateds drumming away in the woods behind the lodge today. This one was quite a ways into the woods from the trail. I took a well-used deer trail to try and minimize the amount of noise I made as I approached, though it was quite clear from other pictures where the bird was looking directly at me that I wasn't fooling anyone today!

Pileated Woodpecker. This may be the young female woodpecker I have photographed and described in the past. The lighting was subdued as it was cloudy and just minutes after sunrise, reducing the colorfulness of the scene. However, the iris appears the same brown as before.

White-tailed Deer. Regular hunting season for deer in this part of the state ended last Sunday, though bow and muzzleloading season continues until next Tuesday. The sounds of gunfire around the park were noticeably reduced, though not 100% gone. This group of half a dozen or so deer were initially on my side of the creek, but when I was fairly close they crossed over and continued on their journeys along the far bank. No antlers seen today.

White-tailed Deer. It was quite obvious that this particular deer had guard duty, as it kept a watch on me as the rest of the herd grazed and milled about. (Refer to the previous picture.) Its face and small ears made it seem like a rather young deer to have such a responsibility, though that may be just an illusion as it also appeared to be among the largest members of the herd.

Carolina Wren. I did not find my Winter Wren today, though this Carolina Wren was close enough that I could see its throat inflate as it made its "cheer" call. ("Cheer" as in a vague similarity to the word "cheer" and not because the bird sounds like it is at a football game.)

Carolina Wren. As it finishes up its "cheer" call here, you can see that the white feathers on its throat are sticking out rather than lying flat. Some birds open their bills wide when they sing or call, but other birds, like apparently this wren, only open up a modest way. Even so, a Carolina Wren is among the loudest birds you'll ever hear!

Northern Mockingbird. This bird has become rather reliable on the midmorning walk down the dirt road back to the parking lot. It seemed to be cleaning up the remaining Poison Ivy berries in the area today.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Oatka Creek Park • December 9

Pileated Woodpecker. Winter, at least for birds, is in full effect. Perhaps due to the prevailing dry conditions, this year's small fruit crop is largely gone already in the park. Though the woodpeckers will still mostly subsist on overwintering insects, there will be little in the way of Poison Ivy berries and grapes to supplement their diets. Staghorn Sumac berries are fairly plentiful, however.

Pileated Woodpecker. Generally speaking, however, this bird, along with the other woodpeckers, will do well enough in Oatka this winter. The park's insect population is generally quite large, probably due to the presence of the creek and the area previously being farmland.

Pileated Woodpecker. Of course, bird feeders at the various houses that surround the park will also supplement the winter food supply.

Pileated Woodpecker. On a different note, the best time of the year for spotting these large woodpeckers is definitely at hand! Simply listen for the drumming, hammering, and loud cries throughout the woods. They are all over the place!

Mallards. The temperatures are not yet consistently cold enough for area ponds to freeze over. So, the creek has only sported these four ducks of late. However, they are now regulars and fairly easy to find, nestled somewhere along the bank in an attempt to avoid detection.

Oriental Bittersweet. This is an invasive species that is, however, not having much luck in Oatka it seems. There are only one or two isolated plants in the entire park, and this situation has not changed over the past few years. Still, the bright red seeds are a welcomed splash of color in a park that is otherwise dressed in its heavily muted winter colors.