Kingbirds in the Cupholder

Once again this year, as in the last two, an Eastern Kingbird couple decided that the cupholder in one arm of our dock bench would make a nifty home for their brood. Out in the baking sun. No shade. In a black plastic cupholder about 5 inches deep and 4 inches across. Good idea. Eventually, there were 4 eggs in the nest.

Eastern Kingbirds’ scientific name is “tyrannus tyrannus.” That tells you all you really need to know about what happens when the birds hatch. The parents both become fierce tyrants. We let the growing family have the dock and dock bench all to themselves except when we wanted to come and go from our pontoon boat moored about 8 feet away from the nest.

There was hell to pay for our passage to and fro. This first photo shows the kingbirds’ otherwise hidden red patch flared, about to bounce off Steve’s behatted head.

We’ve both had our heads and torsos bumped and wingslapped. They even took to flying under the pontoon canopy to go after us once we were underway.  Here’s sort of the gestalt of the experience.

I tried not to think about the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds.

The parents had four growing babies to feed and they did not look kindly on intrusions. (These photos, of course, were taken at considerable distance.) And their definition of intrusion is born of a tyrannus tyrannus approach to the world around them. An osprey flying overhead? One parent, sometimes two, would mob it. They bounced off the osprey with the same abandon as they bounced off our hats. Their aggression bears no relationship to the threat, since osprey only eat fish and we don’t eat baby birds. Cornell reports that Kingbirds will defend their nest by attacking crows, hawks, squirrels and “have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays out of trees.”

We let the tyrants rule the dock and only ran the gauntlet to get our pontoon boat out into the lake.

This next photo shows the scene on a nearly 100 degree afternoon. The parent, beak agape, seemed a bit stressed. The two parents rotated responsibilities. One would stand guard while perched on the back of the bench while the other hunted for dragonflies and other tasty morsels to feed the hungry babies.

The babies unstuffed themselves from the cupholder the day before they fledged. We think they fledged early. We’re imagining it was just way too hot out there to do otherwise. Anyway, we wish them lots of Long Lake buggy meals. We especially hope they are fond of mosquitos and deer flies.

Birding on Hillman’s Long Lake

It’s been quite a spring for birding on Long Lake.

This male Baltimore Oriole and his mostly yellow partner have been eating us out of house and orange. We think it’s only one pair. And for the last four days they’ve been eating an orange a day. The female seems to prefer this birch tree feeder. The male comes closer to the house and eats the half-orange we hung on a maple tree.

We’ve tried to tempt with oranges in the past, basically without success. But this pair is bringing us tons of colorful pleasure in exchange for a good dose of vitamin C.

The male tries to feed at the hummingbird feeder every once in awhile, without much success. His song is described on Cornell’s site as “flutelike” with a “full, rich tone,” consisting of “a short series of paired notes, repeated 2–7 times, lasting 1–2 seconds.” Yep. And I will add that it seems to get more insistent and irritated when the orange halves are depleted.

Earlier in the spring, Steve got this great shot of a Purple Finch, feeding on a sunflower seed.

And, of course, that’s a Chickadee off to the left. We see Goldfinches by the boatload. But Purple Finches? Not so many. They seem slightly bigger and more solidly built than the Goldfinches. They are red, not purple, though. This article gives solid information to help distinguish a Purple Finch from a House Finch. We’re pretty confident this is a Purple.

Purple Finches aren’t rare in Michigan. Neither are Spotted Sandpipers. But we don’t often see either bird.

This Spotted Sandpiper was bobbing around foraging in the grass near our dock, and eating, for about 20 minutes. This bird’s nicknames include teeter-peep, teeter-bob, teeter-snipe, and tip-tail. The first time you see their comical bobbing and scooting, the nicknames make every bit of sense.

The male Spotted Sandpiper incubates the eggs and takes care of the young. The female? She’s busy in a different way. In any breeding season she may mate with up to four males and lay four separate clutches of eggs for her male partners to tend.

Breeding adults  have dark spots on their bellies. This breeding plumage molts away as summer progresses.

Pretty bird, in a subdued way.

The Northern Flicker, by contrast, is not subdued. Flickers look like they were sewn together out of parts of several birds. Sort of a Frankenbird.

Red (at the back of the head). A Black whisker. A Black bib. Orange cast to his head. Spots. Stripes. Yellow on his tail and flight feathers. Plus there’s a white rump patch. It almost easier to list what colors a Flicker isn’t.

Flickers spend a lot of time feeding on the ground. And when they fly, like most other woodpeckers, they fly in a deep arc. This Flicker almost buried his long beak up to his eyeballs in search of tasty bugs.

For the first time this year, we’ve seen White-Crowned Sparrows. As with the rest of the birds featured in this post, they aren’t rare. But we’ve not identified them before. Since they are such a distinctive bird, we’ve convinced ourselves that they are new to our neck of the woods rather than that our powers of perception have improved.

That black-and-white striped helmet on his head is hard to miss. This sparrow spends a lot of time feeding on the ground. If “our” White-Crowned Sparrows are any indication, they also spend quite a bit of time mixing it up with one another. Over and over again a pair (or three) rise up a few feet from the ground and, wings fluttering, they go after one another. Whether this is aggression, courtship, or just a bird without a sunny disposition, we don’t know.

Common Mergansers are only on Long Lake for a few weeks each spring and fall as they pass through on their migrations. Here’s a pair, in the shadows near our shore.

The male was looking spectacular. Green head. Red beak, Mostly white (with black) body. The female? She’s got a white and gray speckled body and a red hairdo. They don’t look like a pair that would go together.

Here’s Ms. Hairdo, peering near the shore and heading under our dock.

Moving now from one kind of spectacular to…a very different kind of spectacular.

A major bunch of Turkey Vultures. They (along with about 10 others) congregated behind our neighbor’s pole barn this week. They weren’t on a kill. They were just socializing. Maybe they were planning how they’ll do their face makeup for the upcoming Vulture prom. I admit this gathering creeps me out some. It makes me think I should lose weight, exercise more, and get healthier.

Our industrious state bird, the American Robin–yep, the bird who LEAVES Michigan every year as the weather gets cold–is busy nest-building in a lower branch of one of our tall White Pines.

Female Robins build the nest. The last few days we’ve been watching her working on it, flying back and forth with long grasses in her bill. She builds the nest from the inside out. First, she presses grasses into a cup shape, using the wrist of a wing. Then she gathers worm-castings to line the nest with mud. HGTV house hunters probably wouldn’t approve. Worm-castings gray probably isn’t quite the “in” shade.

April 16th? Snow Central (Ave)

This Dark-Eyed Junco looks as if he’s dipped in snow. That’s actually the color of his belly feathers. He’s sitting atop a snow mound on our deck table.

We’d just started to see some grass, once the 10-12 inches of snow that fell a week earlier melted away. Then, this. It’s hard to tell, because the drifts are so high, but we estimate we’ve got about 15 inches of new snow. And the drifts, the drifts are thigh-high on my 5 foot three inch self.

Here’s a look at the deck table without the Junco.

And I’m jumping the gun a bit on this post because predictions are for another 3-5 inches today. It’s been snowing all morning.

This has to go down as one-to-remember. “Up north” Michigan is thinking more about wrestling with snow than tax forms today. Snowmobiles are reporting they’re getting stuck. Some of this snow is the gooey, water-laden kind that sticks to shovels, snowblowers, and snowmobiles.

That’s Steve with a big two-stage snowblower, trying to tame the first wave. We ended up hauling out the little guy for me to work on the cement pad during the third effort to get this under control.

You might be wondering how our snow-fencing effort fared. Good news!  This year it didn’t fall over. It stood there all winter, deep into this difficult early spring. But it hasn’t really done anything to significantly keep the snow off the parking pad. It does add a nice splash of orange though, don’t you think?

We aren’t even thinking about ice-out yet. Last year the last bits of ice were sent packing on April 25th into the 26th. So we have about ten days to go. I don’t think we’ll make it. At this rate we’ll still have snow on Memorial Day!

That’s the lake on the morning of April 16th. It’s been windy enough that the sunflower seeds that are whipping the finch flock into a feeding frenzy at our feeders have scattered around. Those finches who can’t command a perch at the feeders are picking at the snow crust searching for food. Every once in awhile the flock spooks and vanishes for half a minute or so, giving the chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, woodpeckers, and tufted titmice time to feed.

We’re worried about the trees on the property. We’ve been losing branches from some of the tall pines. So far, nothing has landed on the house. And nothing so major has fallen that we think the trees won’t pull through. But spring cleanup is going to be a major event. That’s assuming spring is eventually going to put in an appearance.

Here’s me, in my snow-covered Central Ave hat by Aimee Alexander. “Cheese.” We’d gone out for a second time to knock snow off the low-lying pine branches. Such a great hat. Knit in Swans Island Merino Worsted in the bittersweet colorway, it even matches the snow fence. I strive to be color-coordinated at all times.

White-tailed deer

Deer have been visiting us nearly every evening. They aren’t as scrawny as is typical for March. That must be because, except for two spells of frigid weather, we’ve had fairly moderate temperatures. Repeatedly this winter, there’s been snows, and then thaws. The deer must have been able to find more food than during a usual winter. And they’ve been in larger herds than we recall from other years.

Soon after Steve shot this video with his iPhone, more snow arrived.

The deer keep coming. A few are habituated to our bird feeder. They are eating what must mostly be oiled sunflower seed husks. Well, the finches have been coming in large flocks and one of their pastimes is picking a seed out of the feeder and dropping it on the ground. So there must be at least some sunflower seeds down there too.

This deer hung around and ate under the feeders long after the rest of the herd left the property. In fact, she wandered off a few times and then came back for more. She knows we’re watching and is hyper-alert. But still she eats her fill.

Chowing down under the feeder isn’t anything new. Almost exactly one year ago, check out what we caught on our game camera one night.

Even if their habits along our county roads suggest that deer aren’t the sharpest crayon in nature’s box, they are beautiful and interesting creatures.