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.

It’s 3 for Big Red and 4 for Dahlgren

The Guardian ran a story, ‘All my eaglets: pandemic audience spellbound by saga of nesting bald eagles’ in its Wildlife section this morning. While the story focused on the growing number of people watching bird streaming cams during the pandemic, it chose to use the example of two nests. The sadness of Jackie and Shadow at the Big Bear Bald Eagle Nest in the San Bernadino Valley and the joy of Liberty and Guardian and their three chicks at the Redding Bald Eagle nest. Richard Luscombe really caught the moment – the joy celebration, the sadness and loss. Jackie (9 year old female) and Shadow (7 year old male) are two of the most popular Bald Eagles on streaming cams and yet, their story encapsulates great sadness. For two years they have tried to raise a chick. This year in their second clutch there was a hatch. Heartbreak came when that chick died trying to break out of the shell. Jackie and Shadow continue to care for the second egg which watchers know will never hatch. Last year they sat on two eggs for sixty days before giving up. In contrast, Guardian (7 year old male) and Liberty (22 year old female) are raising triplets and Liberty has, in her lifetime, successfully fledged 22 and outlived two mates. Like human families and stories, every bird nest is different.

Over the past year, I have received (or seen) letters, comments, and testimonies about the birds. It is clear that the ‘bird’ families streaming into our living rooms have become ‘intimate’ friends whose daily lives we share – their joys and their challenges. One woman wrote to tell me that she knows ‘her bird family’ better than her own human family! She is not alone. From the infertile eggs to the cheeping of the hatching chick, people have watched the birds and their loneliness and pain have been diminished. Many of you have written to me to tell me how the birds have saved your lives, including several with stage 4 cancer and partners who have died from COVID. Caring for the birds has lessened the impact of the isolation and has given us something to focus on besides ourselves. ‘A distraction from our lives’ a woman from The Netherlands said.

When the pandemic ends, I hope that all of you will continue to watch the lives of your favourite bird families unfold. And I would encourage you to talk to your children and your grandchildren or the neighbour’s children so they will become interested in wildlife. They need all of us to help them have better lives.

Jackie and Shadow continue to incubate an egg that will never hatch. Many wonder if there is not DDT still present in the soil or something causing this lovely and entering couple so many issues trying to have a little one. Clearly the thinness of the eggs that have broken could indicate that. 1 April 2021.
The triplets at the Redding nest being fed. There is plenty of food and all are lined up nicely.

I received a very touching letter from a woman from New Mexico who commented on the tragic events unfolding at the Achieva Osprey Nest in St Petersburg. She was reminded of a news story where a family went into a cafe for a meal -the parents, a young girl, and boy. The parents fed the young girl and themselves. The boy watched the others eat while he was offered nothing. The boy appeared to be bruised as if he had been physically harmed to the wait staff. The waitress wrote on her hand ‘Do you need help?’ to the child who, eventually, shook their head yes. The waitress phoned the authorities and the children were taken into care immediately. The boy had been abused and food had been withheld for a long time. The woman from New Mexico said, ‘Humans do it, too’. As sad and angry as I am at the Ospreys in St Petersburg, for them it is a matter of having at least one healthy fledgling. The biology books stress the survival of the fittest! Someone who has filmed birds said to me and I have reiterated it many times, ‘If they cannot survive on the nest being fed, they cannot survive in the wild – it is brutal out there’. This morning a huge fish came in but the middle Osprey made sure Tiny Tot did not get anything to eat. Tiny was too weak to fight. I had hoped that his suffering would be taken away in the night.

UPDATE: Tiny Tot was fed at 9:27 this morning. His crop was about a third full. The saga continues.

After my tirade on birds laying too many eggs to care for if they all hatched – and hence, having the situation of the St Petersburg nest – Jack and Harriet of the Dahlgren Osprey Nest in Machodoc Creek in King George County, Virginia laid a fourth egg! You might not immediately recognize the osprey nest that I am talking about but if I said to you that Jack is the one that brings in the most toys to the nest, often covering it while Harriet has to keep busy finding space for them, I think you might know the nest that I am talking about. There was a toy shark or dolphin the other day. As it happens, the first egg is either lost in the nest or broke – there are three eggs being incubated despite four being laid. Last year the couple successfully fledged three and all of us join in hoping that happens this year! Unless there is a problem in the river, this couple has their nest in a prime location for fish!

And to add to the jokes that go along with April Fool’s Day, Big Red and Arthur not only woke up to snow this morning but also to their third egg.

Big Red is eighteen years old. She was ringed at Brooktondale New York, about eight miles from Ithaca. She has known this weather all her life and can deal with it. Her and her mate, Arthur, do not migrate but stay in Ithaca all year long. They have a prey rich territory and both work like a well oiled machine. Unless there is some strange surprise, I expect we will see three eyases fledging in June.

All is well over at the Great Horned Owl Nest on the farm in Kansas. Both Tiger, the eldest, and Lily, the youngest, are growing. To the delight of viewers, Bonnie brought in a very large rabbit to the nest in the Cottonwood Tree. Everyone wondered how she managed. Great Horned Owls can actually carry prey three times their weight – an advantage over Bald Eagles who can carry only 66% of their weight. Besides rabbit, the owlets have had a diverse menu. One food item that might not have been expected in such quantities has been snake. Farmer Derek probably had no idea he had so many snakes on his property! Using March 7 as a date for hatching, we should be watching for Tiger to fledge around 42-56 days which would be 18 April to 24 April. Tiger’s extremely soft feathers – they look like mohair to me – mean that he will be a formidable predator being able to fly without being heard. With his short rounded wings he will also be able to make tight corners and quick turns around the trees in the woods.

And down in Orange Australia at the Charles Sturt University, Peregrine Falcon couple, Xavier and Diamond, are in the scrape box having a conversation and bonding. The conversation might be about their cute little Izzi who fledged three times from this box. The first time Izzi was napping on the ledge and fell out. He was returned by the researcher, Cilla Kinross. The second time he did fledge but then flew into a window and was taken into care and returned to the scrape box. The third time he fledged properly. While most of the falcons would have left the scrape box to find their own territory by January, Izzi appears determined to live out the rest of his life chasing Xavier and Diamond and sleeping with Diamond in the scrape box. It is an unfolding soap opera that is delightful.

Izzi is adorable.

I will leave you with that adorable face. Peregrine falcons are the cutest. Thank you for joining me today. Take care. Stay safe. Enjoy the birds.

Thank you to the following streaming cams where I took my scaps: Charles Sturt University Peregrine Falcon Cam, Farmer Derek, Friends of Big Bear Bald Eagles, Friends of Redding Bald Eagles, Cornell Bird Lab, and the Dahlgren Osprey Cam.

Bird World – Monday Updates full of joy

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) has a new couple on their nest. Harry, the male, is still sporting some of his 4 year old Bald Eagle plumage. Nancy is the female and all we know is that she is older – precisely hold old or how many eaglets she has raised is unknown. The couple welcomed little E1 on 26 March and E2 was born on 29 March at 3:24pm.

Harry is just starting to figure out what his duties are. I had a giggle when E1 was born. Harry tried to roll the little fluff ball – and he is not the only one to do that! It will be a real delight to watch this couple raise these little ones in what should be a prey rich area.

Harry wanted to feed the little ones this morning but he is still flummoxed by the entire experience. Nancy will make sure he figures it out! Best he goes out fishing and fills the pantry.

It has been pitching down rain in Wales but Aran has arrived safely home from his winter migration, He is on the perch to the left. Mrs G, the oldest Osprey in Wales, is on the nest with a morning fish. She is one of the best fishers in the country and often hauls in whoppers to the nest. There will be cheers all day throughout Wales. It is such a relief when both mates arrive home safely from their winter vacations.

Aran arrives home. 29 March 2021

Over at the Loch of the Lowes Nest, Laddie and NC0 got right down to business at the break of dawn. Or did they? Maybe Laddie just did a landing sans fish??

Look at that gorgeous view. Just stunning with the apricot and pink over the water from the glow of the morning sun rising. What a wonderful place for a nest.

At the Great Horned Owl Nest on the farm near Newton, Kansas, Bonnie has been going out hunting. The owlets had mostly snake today. Bonnie joined up with Clyde and the image below shows her bringing in a vole. She helps orient the head so that little Lily has an easier time horking it whole. These two are growing and growing and demanding more and more food.

At the Achieva Osprey Nest in St Petersburg, Florida, both Diane and Jack brought in fish late in the day. Mom actually left the nest to go fishing when it appeared she had given up on dad. It made for a lot of confusion. with the trio. Look where Diane has that fish! Tiny Tot got right up on the rails. These are really hold your breath moments because those twigs that make up the outside of this nest are not all that secure. By getting up there though, Tiny ensured that it got food while the other two were still full from eating earlier. And it’s a good thing. It is noon on this nest on Monday, 29 march. Not a single fish has arrived all morning. Diane found some scraps in the nest and fed Tiny Tot a few. If I could strangle a bird it might be Jack!

Diane feeding Tiny Tot. 28 March 2021.

I received the most wonderful letter from a lady in Iowa who stressed that they were the home of the ‘Decorah Eagles’. When my parents were still alive, there were many trips where we would drive through Iowa on the way to see them in Oklahoma. But, I have to admit that while I had heard of the Decorah Bald Eagles it was not a nest that I was following. This lovely woman’s letter tweaked my interest and if you don’t know the nest, it is really a wonderful one to follow. Little DN13 was born on 26 March followed by DN14 on the 27th. They are so cute and the parents are beam with pride.

Here is the link to the Decorah Explore streaming cam:

And last but never least, Big Red laid her second egg of the 2021 season this morning at 10:10am. And, if she lays three, we can look for the last one on 1 April! It is colder in Ithaca this morning at 5 degrees C or 41 F than it is here in Winnipeg where it is 8 degrees C or 46.4 degrees F. It has stopped raining and the sun is finally coming out in Ithaca.

Yesterday, Arthur did most of the incubating and he was on the nest before Big Red flew in to lay this egg. They are a great pair that often work like well designed Swiss watch.

And here is the link to the Cornell Red Tail Hawk cam with Big Red and Arthur:

As many of you know, I am one of a growing number of individuals calling for the ban of lead in fishing and hunting equipment and designer rat poisons. I am working on a story about the Black Kites in Taiwan and a man who worked to get rat poison banned in that entire country.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Stay safe!

Thank you to the following streaming cams where I took my scaps: Cornell Bird Labs, Decorah Eagles and Explore, Achieva Osprey, Farmer Derek, MN DNR, Scottish Wildlife Trust, and the Bywd Gwylit Glaslyn Wildlife.