Archive for August, 2009

July Nests, Chicks, and Fledglings

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When I was about 6 my family spent a summer in Sorrento, Maine, across Frenchman’s Bay from Bar Harbor. In front of our cottage along the road was a tall hedge of bush honeysuckle—those typically thick sprawling shrubs chock full of bright red and wet berries that kids just love to mash into each others hair. One day I discovered a bird nest in them and for the next several weeks I watched and watched fascinated as the adults fed each other berries affectionately, and the female brooding her clutch and then feeding her naked little chicks I eventually saw fledge in the yard, and in those short summer weeks I fell in love with birds, and most particularly the Cedar Waxwing.

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This female I found on Seapont was just getting started though. She was still fussing with the details of trim and had laid only one egg by then and hadn’t yet begun to brood in earnest. Finding her called up all those dormant memories of carefree seaside summers and beginning to discover the natural world. From a distance or against the light, Cedar Waxwings can appear a drab brown, but up close and personal the colors are rich and silky, especially the delicate grading of of rich brown breast to a pale lemon belly. Then there’s the bright yellow or orange band across the tail, the brilliant droplets of red wax on the tips of the wing feathers from which they get their name, the active crest, and that sly black mask bordered in white. They are still one of my all-time faves and their familiar thin whistles and trills never fail to turn my head to see if I can spot them.

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While not closely related to the waxwings, a Northern Cardinal fledgling is superficially similar though somewhat bigger and fatter billed. Cardinal fledglings are also brownish with a crest, but lack the mask of Zorro or yellow band tipping the tail of waxwing fledglings.

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Above is a nest with 3 Eastern Phoebe chicks, perhaps about a week old. Phoebes often nest near, on, or even in buildings and bridges and as I climbed a stepladder to photograph these under the eaves of a garage, the noise of my approach led the chicks to think supper was ready. But mama was in the wings waiting nervously for me to beat feet. Phoebes are the earliest of the flycatchers to arrive, around here in late March, which inclines me to believve this was her second clutch of the season.

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In the same building but just around the corner and tucked into deeper eave pocket was another nestful of youngsters mere days from fledging and I could hear the unmistakeable burbling phrases of a House Wren. At first I thought there were just 4, then another look said 5, and finally in this shot I was able to count 7 of them all packed together like sardines. 2 are pointing at 10 and 11 o’clock, another 2 point to 1 and 2 o’clock, and a final trio pointitot 6, 7, and 8 o’clock. Talk about overcrowded!

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Here’s mom, or dad, hard to tell since House Wren sexes are alike. I didn’t see any evidence in my photos but these clever little birds are known to deliberately weave spider egg sacs into their nests so that when the spiderlings hatch, they can feast on mites and other parasites that have been infesting the nestlings. Note that both the Eastern Phoebe and the House Wren use mud to anchor their nests in the eaves.

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Enough brown birds, here’s a grey one—a Tufted Titmouse—that catches a bit that nervous peepy cheepy uncertainty you gotta love about just-fledged birds.

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Next year the darker grey on the forehead between the eyes will become a rich black and the flank under the folded wing will develop a saffron streak which you can see in the next year’s calendar page for March.

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