Starting off to be a great day in Bird World

Looking out onto the garden in the morning is always a delight, even when it feels like rain or snow is coming. The sky is a white-grey. The trunks and branches of the trees are all manner of brown except for the Flame Willow which is the most striking orange-red. Our forecast is for three days of snow starting Monday. They are mostly wrong. Fingers crossed.

The Grackles are building their nest and the Starlings seem to have taken over the feeders while the Dark-eyed Junco are dancing around on the outdoor carpet finding any little seed they can. How many grains do they need to keep up their energetic activity?

“Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)” by Becky Matsubara is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“European Starling” by Becky Matsubara is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For the past four years, the European Starlings and the Dark-eyed Juncos arrive in the garden in early April. This year they came in mid-March. The Starlings are known to chase the sparrows away from the feeders but, in my yard, they seem to prefer to forage around on the ground. It is the Grackle family that causes the most mischief but I adore them. They always arrive around the end of March and did the same this year. Two years ago they fledged a single chick. The extended family arrived to cheer it on. It was the most amazing moment. I am going to get an outdoor camera! There were seventeen of them gathered. The fledgling and its family all left together. Last year Mr Crow raided the nest and ate the new fluffy chicks right after the Great Horned Owl threatened its nest. It is always a big saga during the summer. Things quiet down again in October when the visitors return to their winter vacation spots.

Speaking of migration, there is a lot of news. I have borrowed the image below from the Loch Arkaig FB page. I do hope they don’t mind. The credit goes to Hugh William Martin. The posting says it all. The much loved and long awaited male osprey who doesn’t hesitate to tandem feed with his mate, Aila, stole my heart last year for that single reason. He is an amazing dad and mate. Louis will fish day and night for his family and he will help Aila keep the kids sorted. No fears for JJ7 the third, the tercel, the smaller male named after Captain Sir Thomas Moore. You will remember Sir Tom, the war hero who, at nearly 100, pledged to walk 100 lengths of his garden to raise money for the National Health Service (NHS). His goal was 1000 GBP but his venture captured the hearts of people around the world and he made over 13 million GBP for the health services in Britain. Incredible. I hope that Captain’s (JJ7) life is as long and illustrious.

But for now we celebrate the arrival of Louis. There are more than 300 people at this moment watching an empty nest; Lewis is off on his roost or fishing. Hopefully, Aila will return shortly and we will be able to watch them again outfit their nest and get to raising a healthy happy family!

In other migration news, the book, A World on the Wing. The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds by Scott Widensaul arrived this morning in the mail. I cannot wait to grab some time and read it. Glancing I notice a lot of material on satellite transmitters.

The other day someone watching one of the nests that I check said they did not believe in banding or transmitters – the osprey are not endangered. I would argue, as they did at Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania in the 20th century, that you need to know when you are entering a decline to find out why. That is one reason that you want numbers. How do you really know if there are too many? Hawk Mountain is on the migratory bird route from the Eastern parts of Canada and the US and they literally count the birds. A research project coming out of the University of Montana at Missoula with Dr Erick Greene has to do with migration and the understanding of the perils the birds face. Dr Green is also interested in the mercury levels in the local osprey as well as foraging and how a colony of ospreys can help one another find more food versus a solitary osprey. Some of the Montana birds are wintering in southern Mexico. At Port Lincoln, Solly, the 2020 first hatched female, was fitted with a satellite transmitter and ringed. She has already changed what we know about osprey movements away from their nest in that area where Osprey are highly endangered. Lots to learn about the long and arduous trips that all the migratory birds make – not just Ospreys! The bird books are stacking up but I do hope to get to read them shortly!

There have been a few chuckles up at the Loch of the Lowes Osprey nest since Laddie (LM12) inadvertently gave a fish to an intruder sitting on the nest and not to his mate NC0 yesterday. To put it mildly, don’t get a female Osprey upset!!! Everyone wondered if NC0 would forgive Laddie – she kicked him off the nest. Everything looked as if it was going fine this morning. NC0 returned to the nest cup. Everything appeared to be rather serene. Is she preparing to lay an egg?

But, as this soap opera continues, no more had everything appeared to be settled than the intruder arrived and Laddie flew in to assist. Didn’t someone say that there are eight Osprey males in Scotland needing mates?! or is it also this prime piece of real estate?

A female osprey has returned from her migration and has, for the past couple of days, been hanging around the Llyn Brenig nest in north Wales. It is the home to male Blue HR7 and female Blue 24. Please note the wind turbines. Some chicks have been killed in them. Spotters are hoping to identify the bird by her tag. She is being very mysterious and teasing us and not revealing anything, not even one number!

This morning I decided not to get up and check on the Achieva Osprey nest in St Petersburg- at least, not first thing. Some days my whole body seems to go on a food strike in support of Tiny. But I seem to have helpers these days -wonderful ones -and I was told right away that Tiny was eating after 10am. So coffee in hand, I decided to go back and check. I am happy to report that although he ate last, Tiny did get 88 bites (call me obsessive) between 7:46:22 and 7::52:27. Diane offered him the tail at the end and he mantled it. Great work Tiny Tot!

Here he is with fish flakes around his mouth at 7:50 having a private feed:

And here is Tiny mantling the fish tail that Diane gave him:

Tiny had a crop, in the image above, at 8:01. He dropped that crop prior to 9:30. Note: Dropping food from the crop sends it to the stomach. It is like a holding and processing tank. At 9:40:39 a second fish was delivered to the nest. At 10:04:20 Tiny is fed. There is a lot of skin but Diane is also finding flakes of fish. Tiny had 97 bites. Diane offered him the tail. At 10:16, Tiny had a crop again. In the scheme of things anyone watching would realize that the amount of food to fill Tiny is insignificant in the face of what the two older siblings eat.

Someone asked if Tiny would catch up in size. That is an interesting question. I have not gone through all my notes but it appears that from 12 March to now, Tiny missed seven (7) complete days of food. And we know that he has not eaten nearly the amount of fish as the others on the other days. A real reveal would be to compare meals and length of feeding times since we cannot weigh the food. Still, skin or not, I was glad that Tiny was rewarded by 97 bites on that second feeding. It is nearing 4pm on the nest. Hopefully two more fish will come in before dark – two more fish that are large enough for all.

Diane trying to provide shade on a hot 26 degree C day in St Pete’s.

The three siblings on the Achieva Osprey nest. From left to write 1, Tiny Tot, and 2. Everyone hopes that any intruders that may be in the area will leave so that Diane can go fishing, too. We wait and hope. It is all anyone can do.

I want to leave you some close up images of Iris, the world’s oldest osprey. She returned from her long migration to Missoula, Montana yesterday. It wasn’t long til she was over in the river and had caught herself a whopper. Apparently, Louis has been around for a visit today. Louis became Iris’s mate when her faithful companion Stanley died. Louis has been around for 4 years with no breeding success. He has another family so food and nest security are all left to Iris who also has to lay the eggs, incubate, and eat. Last year a raven stole her egg. Prior to Louia, Iris has raised, it is believed, anywhere from 30-40 chicks to fledge. All are hoping for a devoted partner. Hopefully she will kick Louis from the nest for good!

And a quick peak at the two Great Horned Owlets in the Bald Eagle nest in Kansas. They are growing and growing and Farmer Derek’s snake population on his farm is declining! If you can’t get mice, snake is an excellent second choice! It is hard to believe but these two will be branching soon. They look like little people with those big eyes all wrapped up for winter. Adorable.

Take care everyone. Thank you so much for joining me and the birds in ‘As the Nest Turns’. I hope you have a great end of the week wherever you are.

Thanks to the following for their streaming cams where I grab my images: Farmer Derek, Montana Osprey Project and Cornell Bird Labs, Friends of Loch of the Lowes and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Friends of Loch Arkaig, Scottish Wildlife Trust and People Play Lottery, Friends of Llyn Brenig, and the Achieva Credit Union. Also the Friends of Loch Arkaig FB Page.

Migration. Spring is coming!

A very wise person told me not to watch the calendar. The birds know when spring is coming and when the ground will warm and the icy waters of Manitoba will melt. My friend’s name was Hector Gray. The village of Graysville, Manitoba where I had my pottery was named after his family. The Grays – Hector, Wilma, and their son, George – were my best friends and always there when George Toews rang for me to come and pick up meddling lambs. George carried the orphans downstairs to the cellar for me and my kids fed them with bottles of milk from our cow until they could safely go in the barn. Spring lambs! The low flying honking geese abounded. They landed on the farmer’s fields looking for leftover grain from the harvest in the fall. ‘Back then’ the geese arrived after 1 April. Today, however, is 4 March and sightings and photographs of the first arrivals from their winter migration brought joy for many in the Manitoba Birding community yesterday.

In the southwestern corner of our province, Gary Bajus caught sight of these Canada geese on a farmer’s field and posted the images for all to enjoy on the Manitoba Birding & Wildlife Photography FB page. Thanks Gary!

3 March 2021 Southwestern Manitoba @ Gary Bajus
3 March 2021. Southwestern Manitoba. @ Gary Bajus

And in Winnipeg, photographer, Andrew Standfield, took the images of this Bald Eagle in Charleswood and posted them on the Manitoba Birding and Wildlife Photography FB Page. I am posting these here because the local group is seeking information about the band. Can you help identify this majestic raptor?

3 March 2021. Charleswood, Winnipeg, MB. @Andrew Standfield
3 March 2021. Charleswood, Winnipeg, MB. @Andrew Standfield
3 March 2021. Charleswood, Winnipeg, MB. @Andrew Standfield

In Manitoba, the adult Bald Eagles tend to return to Lake Winnipeg congregating around Hecla Island. Soon the Ospreys will be arriving, too. A public utility, Manitoba Hydro, built nesting poles for the Ospreys after many had been electrocuted on the hydro poles in an area south of Gimli. This is a great ‘birding’ area of Manitoba.

Just twenty kilometres north of Winnipeg (at the bottom of the map), near Selkirk, is Oak Hammock Marsh. The Wetlands of this Nature Center are renowned for the diversity of the species that visitors can see. Besides the other wildlife, there are over 300 species of birds alone. And like all of us, the first arrival of a Canada Goose signals spring! And that goose arrived today, 4 March, at 1:05 pm.

First Canada Goose arrived at Oak Hammock Marsh, 4 March 1:05 pm. Image from Oak Hammock Marsh’s Streaming Cam.

The Manitoba Bison herd at Fort Whyte Alive on McCreary Road in Winnipeg is always there – rain, snow, sleet, and sunshine. The wetlands area of this beautiful nature area are also home to hundreds of species of birds and the lake is awaiting the arrival of the geese and ducks. What you want to bet one arrives today or tomorrow!

Bison herd at Fort White Alive

Oh, and spring means that the geese and ducks will be coming back to the park near to where I live. The Dark-Eyed Juncos will be back picking the threads out of my carpet while the Grackles will be hoping to have a successful clutch with no interference from the local Crow family. Of course, Sharpie will be keeping an eye on all of the garden activity.

Dark-eyed Junco

Take care everyone. Spring must be here! It will be +9 degrees Celsius in Winnipeg on 6 March 2021 – or that is what the weather news is promising.

It’s Cold out there

The Polar Vortex has come down to the Canadian Prairies. Outside it is -33 with a wind chill that makes it far colder out there. Today, two BlueJays appeared at the feeder along with the chickadees and the sparrows. The sparrows were floofed up to keep warm, so much so that they were the size of those amazing navel oranges I got as a child in my Christmas stocking. Mother Nature seems to take care of the birds.

You might also be feeling some of this Arctic air where you live. So stay safe and warm!

The eagles at The Duke Farm in Hillsborough, New Jersey got hit by the same storm that dumped rain on the Northeast Florida eagles. More snow arrived progressively through the early hours of the morning and the day. And, just think, everything had melted for this Bald Eagle couple and the nest was drying out.

Despite all of the snow, those eggs must be toasty. My only concern is when there is the exchange of incubation duties and the snow falls down on them. The new parent’s temperature will certainly thaw that snow and, let us all hope that the pores of the eggs do mot get clogged.

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For Bald Eagles, the time between the egg laying and hatch is 35 days. There are three eggs under our mom at Duke Farms. The first was laid on January 17, the second on the 20th, and the third on the 23rd. So, there are approximately 22 days left until we hold our breaths for the first egg to pip.

And speaking of pipping, Gabby and Samson got drenched with all of the rain in Northeast Florida. This was the same system that sent snow into New Jersey (or so I am told). The rain did not stop their first egg from pipping at 5:31 am yesterday. I will bring you updates as they are available.

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2pm 7 February. Pip is now a crack.

The nest that Samson and Gabrielle use originally belonged to a long time mated couple, Romeo and Juliet. For ten years, they fledged every eaglet that hatched. That was nineteen eaglets in total. Then something tragic happened and this is why I always mention intruders. It might be all well and good to think that eagles lay their eggs, find food, raise their babies and life is simply golden but, it is not. By now you know many of the things that can happen. In 2018, several eagles tried to take over the nest of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet was injured in one of the battles trying to protect her eggs just days before they were due to hatch. Romeo was left, just like Daisy the Duck, to take care of everything by himself. That is, as you will imagine, an inordinate task as he has to feed himself and the eaglets, brood them so they are warm, as well as protect the territory and chase off intruders. The little eaglets are very vulnerable in this situation once they hatch. On Christmas Day, 2018, the first of the eggs hatched. Almost immediately a female eagle appeared when Romeo was away and snatched the eaglet taking it away. Romeo was so distraught that he left the nest like Juliet and never returned. Neither Romeo or Juliet have been seen since.

The intruding eagles did not take up residence on the nest. Eventually a male eagle appeared. My heart skipped a little beat when the was identified as one of the eaglets born on this very nest to Romeo and Juliet. It is always terrible to see such a pair of wonderful eagle parents be injured and driven off their nest. If there is a silver lining, it is the fact that one of Romeo and Juliet’s children will raise their grandchildren on the nest. The male’s name is Samson and he was born in 2013.

There were a lot of females that flitted in and out of the nest trying to get Samson’s attention but he was not interested until Gabrielle appeared. And, if it couldn’t get any better, Gabrielle was not the female eagle that attacked Samson’s mother, Juliet. This is Samson and Gabby’s second year together as a mated pair. Both of their eaglets in 2020 fledged! This year they also have two eggs – and as you know from above, one of those is pipping right now.

By early afternoon, the rain had stopped. Gabby was getting hungry. Samson first brought her a little fish which she ate right while incubating. It really was that small, like an appetizer! Gabby must have been disappointed. But not long after, Samson came in with the main course, a nice fresh possum!

Did I ever warn you that people who love raptors wind up trying to identify a lot of prey brought to the pantry?

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Gabby was quite impressed and jumped off the eggs and tucked in.

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She stopped long enough to check on the progress of the pipping before settling down.

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Back to incubating those eggs!

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We can’t see Samson in the image below but he is on a branch just out of the picture frame watching over Gabby while she gets some sleep and protecting the nest from intruders.

Isn’t it amazing how they can bend their neck and tuck it under their wings?

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Gabby asleep.

Hatching is one of the first survival tests the little eaglet goes through. If the chick is not strong enough to break out of its shell using that special tool called the ‘egg tooth’, it will not be strong enough to survive in the wild. And speaking of hatching, E24 hatched and E25 has its egg cracked all around. Congratulations Samson and Gabby!

Oh, look at that little fluff ball cuddling with Gabby. It can melt your heart instantly!

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E24 and Gabby.

E24 looks straight at us and is a sweetie. E25 is working hard to get out of that shell. Gabby and Samson are going to be busy tomorrow feeding these little ones. Oh, I hope that there is no bopping.

And for those of you not quite familiar with the egg tooth, see that white bit on E24’s beak – that is the egg tooth!

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Samson is busy stocking the pantry with fresh fish! Best way to stop any bopping that might start, fill the kiddos so full of fish they pass out!

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One of the real heartaches is watching these little ones grow up and then poof – they are gone and we never know what happens to them! It is only if there is something so unusual about them, like the torn wing of WBSE 21, that makes them instantly recognizable, that we know if they are alive or dead. It is very difficult to get permission to band the birds. And it is even more expensive to both band the birds and put satellite trackers on them. There is some headway being made in the use of trackers especially with the Albatross and the Ospreys. Many are using trackers on the Albatross to plot their interaction with the large international industrial fishing vessels. People are working diligently to try and get laws passed that would apply to all fishing vessels no matter what flag they fly under. For example, the laws would regulate the use of specialized hook covers (or other methods) so that the Albatross do not become bycatch. Those trackers are also allowing for the discover of illegal fishing vessels and they also allow an understanding of how far these amazing birds fly.

Eastern Osprey are severely endangered in Australia. This year three were born at Port Lincoln in a nest on a barge. Two lived to fledge: Solly, the oldest and female, and Dewey, the male. Both were banded with metal identification tags and coloured bands. Solly wears an orange band and Dew has a burgundy one. The research team at Port Lincoln were able to get permission for two satellite trackers. One was attached to Solly. (The other went to a male that had hatched in a different nest.). Solly took her very first flight off the barge on 24 November 2020. On 3 February 2021, Solly was 136 days old. She made history as the tracker showed that Solly travelled more than 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the barge at Port Lincoln. Even more surprising was the fact that she flew inland, not along the sea where she would catch fish! She stayed at Mount Wedge for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday before flying to Streaky Bay.

But wait! Don’t let that term ‘inland’ make you think that Solly would stay in a place for two days if it didn’t have fish. Solly loves her fish. And there are some very beautiful lakes up on the peaks. She’s a smart girl.

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Solly with satellite tracker at the barge at Port Lincoln.

The map below shows the Eyre Peninsula. At the point and just to the right is Port Lincoln. This is the location of the barge where Solly hatched. Today, the tracker has her heading north up at Streaky Bay. The closest named town near Mount Wedge is (I believe) either Kyancutta or Lock.

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To give you some perspective on where Port Lincoln and Streaky Bay are in relation to the rest of Australia, here is another map. If you locate Adelaide, Port Lincoln is not marked but it is across Spencer Bay to the left at the first blue anchor. Solly is heading north from Port Lincoln. I wonder if she will begin to head north west and wind up in Perth? Will keep you posted as Solly continues to make Osprey history.

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In the image below, an individual riding their bike along the shore at Streaky Bay came across Solly! The individual was David Lewis and he only had his iphone with him. But, does that matter? While we can’t see Solly very clearly, it is always – and I do mean always – a relief to have the bird spotted.

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Photo by David Lewis posted on Port Lincoln Osprey FB page, 8 February 2021.

Every time I look at this image from Australia, it reminds me that spring will be coming to North America in a few months. All of the birds will start migrating in. How grand! It will be nice to even see the Dark-eyed Juncos who, for some reason, like to tear the threads out of my outdoor carpet for their nest. Who cares?! It is going to a good cause.

Have a wonderful rest of your day everyone. Thank you for stopping in to catch up with the birds! See you tomorrow.