Monday, September 21, 2009

Each has it's Own Talents

This evening while I was getting ready to feed our dogs, Chip and Birdie, I heard that distinctive but rattling call. It was out on the top of the owl house - where lots of our bird visitors like to perch. The Belted Kingfisher was enjoying the cool evening as he happily preened and fluffed himself. He was quite content until he noticed me with my camera. I was obviously interrupting his ambiance as he would stop and stare at me every time I moved. Pesky people.

Besides the distinctive call and of course the obvious tufted head, the kingfisher also has another unique trait. It is one of those few birds that can hover over its prey until just the right moment then plunge headfirst into water to claim its reward. In the many years we have lived here on the grounds of MasterWorks Studios, I have NEVER seen the bird do this. All my bird books say it is true though, and I believe it. The books also say that the birds often live near streams and perhaps they use the hovering technique as they roam up and down the stream. Here on our property they fish from a pond so just sit in one place until they see dinner.
Whatever the case may be I always enjoy seeing this bird. It is different. It is a loner. The sources say it nests in the same cavity every year and I have never seen that either. It is elusive. We don't all follow the flock and please the crowds. Some of us just like to mind our own business and do our thing. But it doesn't mean we don't have talents! Each has their own gifts!! I appreciate you little bird, even though I scared you away. Come back any time!

Monday, August 17, 2009


Last time I wrote about the wren's building a nest in the house outside our computer window. It was interesting to watch the process so closely. The building activity slowly changed to signs that there were eggs as the female did not come out as often and the male would bring her little bugs all day long while she sat. Eventually we heard little peeps and twitters (the real kind!) and we knew the endeavor was a success.
For days the wren parents fed their babies from the time they awoke in the morning until they finally rested at sunset. Occassionally we would see the little open mouths at the entrance hole as parent would approach and every day the mouths stuck out farther. One day, two or three weeks after the feeding had started I was lucky enough to be present for a very special event.

The wren parents were not around. Various little beaks would stick out of the hole then retreat. But one little beak kept sticking out farther and farther and staying out longer. Eventually I saw the eyes, then the entire head of this bird. It was more than a baby, it almost looked full grown! If I moved it quickly retreated so I stayed very still and slowly more of the bird emerged. The picture on the right shows half of the bird exposed and I believe this was a magical moment. I don't know exactly how birds process information but if I may personify for a moment - wow! It's first eyes on the world outside of it's safe little world inside the box where food is served all day and it is warm and cozy with other hatchlings cuddled up next to you! It was obvious it was feeling the urge to jump out. It was making little motions just like the ones a perosn makes the first time they jump from a diving board. Yes, I'm going, No I'm waiting. Going. Waiting....going...going.....NO GOING!!!!!! The little bird took off and zig zagged to the nearest cedar tree. It could fly!
By now Mom and Dad had noticed the escape and hovered around. They found the brave little soul and continued to feed it and the babies in the house until after a few days they had all taken their maiden journeys.
It happens thousands of times every summer - baby birds leave the nest. But that day, as I shared the event with that special one I felt just like it must have felt. As that bird left the nest, soon I will be entering the world of job searching and I am just as cautious as that little bird seemed to be. It is a huge world out there full of unknowns. But I know I have to go. I will jump out and will probably zigzag like baby wren. Hopefully I will find a safe haven like it did and fly away strong and happy...not looking back but forward into a new adventure! Good luck to you little bird and good luck to me - God is with us both.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Nest Building Up Close

Recently I was reading an article from National Geographic titled “Minds of their Own - Animals are Smarter than You Think.” Of course they are, I've know that for most of my life. But the ways they learn are very complex and so very interesting. One of the cases cited was about a story we’ve followed for years about Alex the African Gray parrot that worked with Irene Pepperberg for about 30 years. The bird learned names for multiple combinations of shapes and colors and communicated appropriate words at particular situations as when other birds in the lab were practicing sounds and Alex would bolt out “Speak Clearly”!!” Yes, this is all true! Information gathered about HOW learning happens in the Alex studies was later applied to DVD learning modules for children suffering from autism. A truly awesome and inspiring story.

Starting about one week ago we had our own little demonstration of bird analytic skills and amazing feats right outside our computer window. One day while John was taking a break from bronze restoration he painted and put up the wren house in the picture above. After chasing off some wasps and bumblebees that tried to make this their new home, a pair of wrens found the little chalet and started building! It has unbelievable to see how tenacious these birds are. At daybreak they are up and at it and hardly take any breaks through the day (except for a quick song or two as illustrated by the photo on the right). Even though the temps were in the 90's last week they kept a steady pace. I wish the house was glass so we could watch the progress inside.

One of the most interesting things, that we never see when observing from a distance is that some of the twigs the birds bring up to put in the house are MUCH longer than the width of the hole. See top picture. We figured the male must have built before - he started off pretty savvy about getting the sticks sideways to push them through. But the little female must have been a first-time builder. She would come up to the hole with the too-long twig crossways and push her tiny body against the hole several times, turn around, try again, twist, contort and sometimes get it in. Sometimes she would just drop it in frustration but by the end of the week she figured out how to slide it in sideways - she became a pro!

By Sunday it seemed the birds had started bringing in softer materials to line the nest so I brushed out our dogs and left tufts of hair around the area. Soon they will start laying eggs and a whole new chapter begins. I can't wait to see fuzzy little baby heads sticking out of the hole but most of all I can't wait until winter when I can clean out the house to see this awesome creation that has taken over 100+ "bird-hours" to assemble!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bird Nests

Here it is June and again I am behind on the blog. WAY behind! Not that there hasn't been any bird activity - in fact there's been LOTS of that!

John is down at the studio working on a little bronze restoration and I thought I'd take a minute to take photos of these two bird nests I found while cleaning out the houses on the grounds here at MasterWorks in February. Did you know that there are about as many different nest styles as there are kinds of birds? There are even field books printed to help you identify nest and eggs. Many people have seen the neat hummingbird documentary that goes around the internet that shows the thimble-sized little nest they build and I haven't seen one of those yet. I hope to some day!

In the mean time I've got plenty of other interesting nests around here. The pictures are of titmouse on the left and bluebird on the right . We have lots of bluebirds as I've written about before. They make a good sturdy nest and line it with soft materials. On this example it has hairs and mossy material, perfect for tender, featherless baby birds! On the other extreme, you have the titmouse. Every year I say, while I'm cleaning out the birdhouses, "God, if I come back as a bird, please don't let it be as a titmouse. Why? Whatever birds think, I don't know, but for some reason the titmouse makes their nest out of sticks and twigs. That's it. Sticks and twigs. No soft lining, no fluff, just the nest. Here you go babies! They must be tough, or at least they are by the time they get out of that homesite!

Another interesting nest that I'd like to see some day is that of the Baltimore Oriole. From what I hear and read they actually weave a little bag from grasses and attach it to a branch from several spots around the opening of the bag. We had Orioles fly through one year and spend a few days and were they beautiful to see! But they did not come back and I think they nest farther south. That would probably be the place to find their unique nesting craftsmanship. Oh Dear Lord, how did you think of all these neat things! Thank you!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Take Me with You When You Go!

Snowbirds are abundant in the winter here on the grounds of MasterWorksStudios where John does his bronze sculpture restoration. I have been meaning to write about them since November when they first appeared but have not gotten around to it. On Sunday as I looked out my back door near our thistle feeder where John always "accidently" spills some seed on the deck so the birds have a little "extra" treat", there was one sitting there staring back at me. He waited patiently while I went and got my camera and held his frontal pose so I could explain how he got his name.

Actually the scientific name of the bird is "Northern Junco" and there are actually a couple fun theories how they got dubbed the "snow" bird. My favorite one takes into account that the birds are mostly ground feeders and that the lower part of their chest and body is white. Put this together with the fact that they come here only in the winter and you get the conclusion that the snow "stained" those feathers white"! Another popular theory is based on the fact that they come here from the north where there is lots of snow. Even though they do sometimes winter as far south as the Gulf states their breeding range is much farther north in the cooler climates of Canada and higher elevations of our northeast US.

Anyway, the thing the bird reminds me of the most is that old Anne Murray song that goes somethingn like "Oh little snowbird take me with you when you that land of gentle breezes blah blah blah they warmly blow..." Sounds nice doesn't it? "Yes, if I could you know that I would fly y y yy...away with you!!!!!"
Don't worry, spring is almost here!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Robin Office Party

One reltively warm February day the pond between John's bronze restoration studio and our house, which had been frozen solid for days, started to melt down in an unusual way. There must have been some particles on the ice that absorbed the warm sun rays that in turn melted small little holes into the ice. Of course we would not have noticed this subtle little act of nature, if it had not been for this gathering of robins that discovered it around 2pm that afternoon and decided to have a party! This little flock brought a new meaning to the old saying "gathering around the watering hole!" They hung out for hours around each little melted patch taking drinks and just "hanging out". They really looked like they were having discussions - what would robins talk about...topics of the day and the season - where the best dried berries were in the neighborhood, how far out of the neighborhood each one had wandered, who was seen hanging out with who that might be nesting up together this spring and where some of the best cat-free real estate deals were for safe, dry nest building? Whatever it was, a good time was had by all. Including us humans up on dry ground who got to experience this sweet little party.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Eagle Watching

In Illinois and Missouri Eagle Watching is a popular winter activity. When the temperatures are very cold and the rivers farther up north freeze, then American Bald Eagles keep moving farther and farther south until rivers are open enough for them to fish. One of my favorite memories is of a cold but sunny day in mid-January when John and I had taken a day off from our work in the bronze repair studio and were driving down the Great River Road up near Marquette State Park. We had just been hiking and were on our way home when we noticed at least 30 cars parked along both sides of the road. We had no idea what was going on but knew it was some kind of spectacle. As we got closer we saw people looking up and little did I know I was about to witness a scene that I would remember with excitement for the rest of my life. The sky was full of large birds that I learned from someone in the crowd were Bald Eagles. As I looked through my binoculars I could see the white heads and tails - but only on some of them. It takes several years for the birds to develop this characteristic trait - before that they are all gray-brown.
There were birds soaring alone and birds in small groups. A few of the groups were the younger birds and they were exhibiting behaviors that I describe as "playing". They would start off together all going the same direction then one would intentionally bump into one of the others, that one would veer around in an arc and bump one of the other ones. This would be followed by more bumping, circling and soaring....eagle dancing!

The action in the sky was only half of the show. Out on the partially frozen river, a dozen or so large eagles stood on the ice near the breaks. Several were feasting on large fish that they had retrieved from the icy waters. This was quite a party!

No wonder people love to watch the eagles. We have been back many times and although we do not always see that much activity we usually at least see a few, even if at a distance it is always exciting to discover them perched in their high spots keeping a keen eye on the river. Oh, by the way, here at MasterWorks we have our own eagles....the ones you see in the pictures were made by our friend Lyle, the Neighborhood WoodWorker/Fisherman from Northern Minnesota. He does quite a fine job on his wood creations (he made the birdhouse in the background too) and I am proud to have some of his work. I wonder when he is working on the eagles, if he is thinking about the same thing they, fishing and fishing! Oh yah shure! Yu betcha!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Underrated Bird

There have been a lot of Blue Jay's on the grounds of John's bronze restoration and repair studio lately. Is it true that West Nile Disease killed off so many crows a few years ago that there is more territory for the jays and they have taken advantage of the available real estate? Whatever the case may be, I have been enjoying these colorful beauties. Sure, they are not as cuddly looking as the little chicadees or snowbirds or titmice. And some people think they are just plain mean. They are loud sometimes when they are threatened, but hey, if you are going to hold that against them, then you must also mention how territorial and aggressive western bluebirds can be and what about the constant fighting of the "sweet" little hummingbirds that everyone loves?!! After all it is a tough world out there and maybe there is something to learn from this bird. Speak up! Tell people what you think! Don't just sit back and be bullied by another creature just because it is five times your size!
This quiet moment for Mr. Blue was taken just before Christmas at our electric warmed bird bath. It was one of those frigid single-digit days and birds were flocking to our feeders and this water. Those prickly branches from the surrounding barberry did not deter one bird - in fact some of them waited their turns directly on the plant!