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Mariton: Elusive Bird

By Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Marilyn Hessinger.

Marilyn joined our Tuesday Walks four years ago. She is an avid gardener and I enjoy when she talks about the things she sees in nature that have technical terms in garden designs.  Over the years, she has become an enthusiastic birder.  One bird that has eluded her is a Pileated Woodpecker. Not that we haven’t seen them while on the bird walks, it was just that she hadn’t seen them.  There is a list of reasons she missed a sighting, and she has been a good sport laughing at her frustration.  She even poked fun at herself and took the above photo of a stuffed toy in her garden.

Marilyn's first real sighting of a Pileated Woodpecker!

Marilyn’s first real sighting of a Pileated Woodpecker!

This fall, we finally had a Pileated Woodpecker that Marilyn got to view for several minutes. I know she had great satisfaction in the sighting, but it was a huge thrill for me and the other birders to be able to share the sighting with her.

Mariton: Fall Nature Walks

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod with a visitor.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod with a visitor.

Our Fall Nature Walks started on Tuesday, and will continue through October. It was a little overcast, but there was no rain.  Right away we came upon small patches of Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) along the trails.  This is one of my favorite fall wildflowers.  It brightens up the forest with its brilliant yellow blossoms, especially on a cloud day.  (And it catches the attention of pollinators like this bumble bee.)

New York Aster

New York Aster

The New York Asters (Aster novi-belgii) brightened up the meadow trails.  While 99% of the tree leaves are still green, there are hints of the coming autumn.  These Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) leaves are among the few that have turned color.

Sassafras leaves beginning to turn.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Anne noticed a dark “blob” in the trees and we found this Black Vulture waiting for the thermals to heat up. Once we reached the meadows, we saw several Cooper’s Hawks overhead and marveled at their flight.  Two airplane pilots were on the walk.  As they explained the intricacies of flight it made the hawks’ maneuvers even more amazing.

Mariton: Annual Nesting Census

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus. 

Cardinal Nest

Cardinal Nest

On Saturday, Mariton held its Annual Nesting Bird Census. This count was started here in 1981, making this the 36th year of collecting information.  While it isn’t inclusive of all the birds nesting at Mariton, it does give us a good overview of the birds calling Mariton home during the nesting season.  There are variables in a count like this, yet when you look at the data over the years the numbers don’t vary a lot.

This year we counted 47 species in 4 ½ hours. We counted 246 individual birds.  Most of the birds we count by hearing them singing.  Since males are the ones doing the singing, we obviously miss many of the females and the young.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

The most abundant species were Wood Thrushes and Blue Jays. Red-eyed Vireos and Ovenbirds came in next.  Indicators of the Hurricane Sandy’s effect on the forest are an increase in species that like early stages of forest regeneration.  Species like Blue-winged Warblers, Indigo Buntings and Eastern Towhees have increased in those sections where the forest was opened by the Sandy.

Three species that made my day are not rare or uncommon. At one location we were surrounded by 4 different Veerys singing their magical flutelike songs.  We heard and saw Black and white Warblers all along the route and ended up counting 9 of them.  Finally, we saw two different pairs of Hairy Woodpeckers that had broods.  We heard the babies of one pair calling before one of the adults came in disappeared into a cavity to feed them.  It was a wonderful day to be out birding with friends.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, with what we think is a cocoon.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, with what we think is a cocoon.

Mariton: Blue Sky Birding

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus. 

Scarlet Tanager with a blue sky.

Scarlet Tanager with a blue sky.

We finally had blue skies on the last of our Tuesday Bird Walks. We have had some amazing bird sightings this spring, even if we always carried the rain gear along.  On our final day we ventured to a State Game Lands near Lake Nockamixon State Park.  As we walked along the gated gravel road the woods were very quiet.  Eventually, our patience was rewarded and we saw some uncommon birds.

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Everyone got a good look at a Hooded Warbler.   This is just a gorgeous bird with a pretty song.  It is not common, but they nest here in the summer where they have good habitat.  After watching it for awhile I think everyone in the group would have been content to go home right then.  But wait…

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

We were also treated to Red-headed Woodpeckers. We saw at least three.  We even saw a female go into a nest hole in a dead tree.  She would occasionally stick her head out of the hole and look around.  These birds are uncommon.  Many people see Red-bellied Woodpeckers and mistakenly call them red-headed.  It is understandable.  Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a lot of red on their heads, but the Red-headed Woodpecker’s head is completely red.  The Hooded Warbler and Red-headed Woodpeckers were quite the show, but we also saw Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, and Indigo Buntings.  Mariton has its Nesting Bird Census this Saturday, and we start Butterfly walks next Tuesday.

Mariton: More Great Birds

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

MEBUS 3026-TheBirdersMerrillCreek0524

We went to Merrill Creek on Tuesday for another great bird outing, and Carole took some great photos. While we saw several species that we have seen before this season, the songs are being remembered and we are getting better looks.  We have a lot of fun on these walks, and we all learn from each other.

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Baltimore Oriole

We have been seeing Baltimore Orioles almost every walk. There are more Orioles around than most people realize.  How could such a brilliant bird be so hard to see?  Easy – at least for an Oriole, but when you learn the song you realize they are there, and then you look for them.

MEBUS 2955-CommonYellowthroatMaritonWalkMerrillCreek0524

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroats can be a challenge to see until they start raising their young. (They become much more viewable on our butterfly walks.)  This is another bird that is seen more often when one learns the song.  Common Yellowthroats don’t look common, and travel a long way to stay in our area during the summer.

MEBUS 2998-ChestnutSidedWarblerMaritonWalkMerrillCreek0524

Chestnut-sided Warbler

We had our best looks at the Chestnut-sided Warblers on Tuesday. With its brilliant yellow helmet and chestnut sides it is another stunner worth looking for.  Nest week is our last bird walk for the season, and then we will switch to butterflies on Tuesdays.

Mariton: Another Cloudy Tuesday

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

MEBUS  2749-BirdGroupBlueMtLakes0517 (2)

We started the weekly bird walks back in 2003 and have had unbelievable luck with the weather over all those years. We have gone out every Tuesday so far this year, but have had precipitation along the way.  This week there were some rain drops on the windshield in both directions, but no precipitation during the walk.  Clouds are another matter, and there have been few cloud-free days this spring .  A cloudy background can make it difficult to see details and color on the birds we are watching.  This is particularly perplexing for the photographers.  A white background just doesn’t showcase these beautiful birds in the best light.  (Rain and cameras aren’t a great combo either.)

Tuesday we had another unbelievable day with several “Price of Admission” sightings. It is a corny joke (the walks are free), but it signifies a highlight sighting.  On Tuesday, most people got a great look at a Hooded Warbler.  I have heard them on occasion, but this was my first sighting.  So the Hooded Warbler was my Price of Admission bird.  Unfortunately getting a photo of this spectacular bird wasn’t possible.

Immature Cape May Warbler

Immature Cape May Warbler

Another very uncommon bird was an immature Cape May Warbler. This posed long enough for a photo and a lot of discussion over the field guides.  Carole sent the photo around when she got home.  Looking at the photo and multiple resources, we still feel comfortable that this was indeed an immature Cape May Warbler.

Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

Carole got a great photo of this Yellow-throated Vireo. These can be tough birds to locate, but everyone got to see one of these spectacular birds.  This one is carrying nesting material and we were able to locate its nest in the forest canopy.

American Redstart

American Redstart

There were lots of American Redstarts and it was good for me to hear their song over and over again. We also found a Redstart’s nest.  Other great birds of the morning included the Cerulean Warbler, Least Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

Mariton: Birding at Giving Pond

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Mariton’s Bird Group went to Giving Pond on Tuesday. Giving Pond is a portion of the Delaware Canal State Park, located just south of Upper Black Eddy.  It is a gravel pit that has been allowed to grow up.  The large pond and variety of transitional habitats attract a variety of birds.  It is a good place to learn the songs of Warbling Vireos and Yellow Warblers, because we hear their songs over and over while walking the trail.  We not only heard both species singing, but everyone got to see them several times.

 

Courting Cedar Waxwings by Carole Mebus.

Courting Cedar Waxwings by Carole Mebus.

We got to view the courtship behavior of Cedar Waxwings passing a Cottonwood fruit back and forth to each other. Cedar Waxwings are pretty common at Giving Pond, and everyone I know loves watching them.  John said they are “dapper”, and everyone agreed that may be the attraction.  What an awesome experience to witness a pair courting.

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by Carole Mebus.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by Carole Mebus.

There were plenty of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers at Giving Pond. This is a bird that can be easily missed.  First off it is tiny, the size of Kinglets.  Second it generally stays high in trees, where its constant flitting can be easily hidden by rustling leaves.  Finally, its songis a high “insect buzzing” that some people can’t hear, and most people would overlook.  So, if you can’t hear or don’t know the song, you wouldn’t look for them.  While we were near the boat launch, blue-gray gnatcatchers came to eye level, and everyone got to see one.  Even with the white clouds for background, the views of this particular bird were stunning.  We had an excellent morning and saw an Osprey, American Coots, both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, American Goldfinches, Tree Swallows, and lots of other bird species.

For birders, this Saturday is Mariton’s Migratory Bird Census. This is our laid-back version of the “Big Day”.  We walk along the trails tallying the birds we see and hear, but we usually have time to chat and look at wildflowers.

Mariton: Birding at Woodland Hills

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Mariton’s Bird Group went to Woodland Hills in Lower Saucon Township on Tuesday. This was a new location for our group.  Woodland Hills was formerly a golf course, but the Township bought the property to prevent development.  This was a proactive way to prevent run-off and other issues.  They have let the 148 acres go wild and mow two trails.  Carole and Marilyn had gone butterflying there last summer, but didn’t know what it would be like for spring birds.  My own thought was to schedule a bird walk there to showcase a forward thinking township.  If we saw some interesting birds that would be a bonus.  (Natural Lands Trust’s Conservation Services can help municipalities protect open space.)

Tuesday was drizzly day, but I looked at the radar and decided to go ahead with the walk. It was misty off and on, but nine people showed up and were rewarded with nearly 50 species of birds.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

We found a few Brown Thrashers. This bird really likes brushy habitats and Woodland Hills provides a nice scrub/brush habitat.  Brown Thrashers are one of the mimics that can copy other birds’ songs, or even noises like cell phones.  The other two mimics, the Northern Mockingbird and Gray Catbird, were also sighted during our walk.  It was a great opportunity to hear all three of them singing in one place so I could work on the differences in songs.  It was only a few years ago that it was hard to find Brown Thrashers.  They were around if you knew where to look, but their populations seemed depressed.  Brown Thrashers seem to be making a comeback now, but we still get excited when we find them.

Orchard Oriole (Immature male)

Orchard Oriole (Immature male)

Another bird that has an interesting song is the Orchard Oriole. It has characteristics of a Baltimore Oriole, but also notes of the mimics.  We stopped under one of the golf gazebos during some drizzle and spotted an immature male Orchard Oriole singing at the top of a small conifer.  I need to learn the song better to be confident in the field.

Other brush-lovers like the Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Eastern Bluebirds, and Blue-winged Warblers were sighted. We were surprised by some forest dwellers like Wood Thrush and Scarlet Tanager.  Because of the ponds, we even saw Wood Ducks.  After getting a feel for the property a few of us wondered if it would provide habitat for some uncommon brush loving species.  We will have to go back when the weather is better and the migration a little further along.  And we know it is a good place to butterfly.  Kudos to Lower Saucon Township for protecting and managing this great nature area.

Mariton: Those Ears

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Eastern Towhee. "Drink your teeeee."

Eastern Towhee. “Drink your teeeee.”

When it comes to birding, I am really attracted to warblers. I started out like most people as a visual birder using my eyes.  When I discovered warblers I slowly became an auditory birder.  I enjoy the challenge of being able to recognize bird songs.  Birding by ear has its advantages.  Bill R., one of the people I bird with, said something that really stuck with me.  “When you learn to bird by ear, it takes your appreciation of nature to a whole new level.”   I know exactly what he means.  Even if you don’t know all of the bird songs, once you start learning them, you start hearing the differences.  When you start hearing the differences, you become aware of all the different species (and numbers) of birds that are around you – even if you can’t see them, or don’t know whose song you are hearing.

Indigo Bunting. "Fire, fires, where? where? here, here."

Indigo Bunting. “Fire, fire, where? where? here, here.”

You take the ability to hear the differences (even if you can’t identify the bird) wherever you go. Eventually, you can’t take a walk without being aware of the birds around you, and that is what raises your appreciation for any nature outing.  I can be pulling invasive plants or working on trails and hearing the birds around me makes the time more special.  Because I know most of the local birds by their song, I don’t need to see them to know they are there.  When I go to new areas with new birds I enjoy my time more because I hear all the different birds singing around me.  You even hear bird songs in movies.

Worm-eating Warbler.

Worm-eating Warbler.

So, here is the rub. As I (and the people I bird with) age we lose certain notes and frequencies.  The good thing is you don’t know you can’t hear the Worm-eating Warbler anymore until some wise guy points it out.  I have been pretty lucky so far (I think), but I know that eventually I will lose certain registers.

I was lucky; I dropped out of college for a couple years and worked in construction with my Dad. When I resumed my studies and sat in a classroom I realized immediately that I had lost some hearing.  I was still working on weekends, so I became very strict about always wearing hearing protection around machinery.  Fortunately, by protecting my ears I regained my hearing.  I was lucky that I learned this lesson so early, before I did permanent damage and before I really got into birding.  Hearing protectors are cheap.  You will find them everywhere in our shop, and hanging on much of the equipment.  I try to make it hard to start up equipment without putting on hearing protection first.

Black and White Warbler.

Black and White Warbler.

So I have some advice gleaned from half a life of experience. For young people:  ear buds don’t protect your hearing when working with machinery – wear ear muffs over them if you want to listen to your music.  Older folks:  don’t wait until you retire to try to learn bird songs.  Learn it now, appreciate it now.

Mariton: Tuesday Bird Walks Start

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photo by Carole Mebus.

There are several “events” that usher in Spring for me. Two of them are mowing the meadows in March, and the return of the Eastern Phoebe.  But the real clincher for me is beginning the Tuesday Bird Walks (which usually coincides with the return of the Wood Thrush and warblers ).  The Wood Thrush weren’t in full song yet, but we heard enough to know they are back.  Some also saw a Hermit Thrush.

This week’s walk was really great and we had about 36 species. We started off with a male American Redstart in a blooming redbud tree.  That’s a pretty good way to start a bird walk.

MEBUS YellowRumpedWarblerMariton0426-3

Warblers are both fun and frustrating because of their small size and constant movement.  Carole sent the above photo of a Yellow-rumped Warbler grabbing an insect from a tiny oak blossom.  The photo wonderfully conveys the incessant movement.  The oak flower is moving in the breeze.  The teeny insect is moving on the flower.  And the warbler has to capture enough food to fuel its own constant movement.   There were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers during the morning, and fortunately they usually travel in groups.  It can be tough to get 10 people to see a warbler that is constantly moving, but if you can get people looking in the general area a Yellow-rump might pop into their view field.  We worked very hard for some of them (frustrating), and then had few pose right in front of us (fun).

One of the amazing sightings Tuesday was a Pileated Woodpecker that glided through the forest and landed on a dead tree. From there, someone saw it go into a hole.  Once we got everyone focused on the right hole (the tree had several woodpecker holes), people could see it inside the cavity.  I assume it is a nest cavity, but it may be difficult to see as the leaves come out.

Things really started happening when we got to the meadows. A Palm Warbler played in front of us for a long time, so we all got a good view of this warbler before it heads north.  We had Yellow-rumps, a Black-throated Green Warbler and Black and White Warblers perch in the open for easy viewing.

A Blue-headed Vireo (formerly called Solitary Vireo) perched at the edge of a Sassafras tree and gave everyone a good look.  The wildflowers are also blooming and we found time to “botanize” during the bird walk.  Spring has truly begun, and we will be doing it again next Tuesday.

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