The early birds get the best housing deals.
Tree Swallow (Photo: USFWS)
On Thursday, Feb. 25, I saw my first tree swallows of the year. They were flying about a field along Rt. 47 near Reed's Beach. A friend reminded me that they have a good chance of making it through the cold, since they can feed on juniper and bayberry fruit as well as insects. I know it's hard for us to believe that spring is just around the corner, but sometimes the birds know things that are hidden to us. Even through the snowflakes they can see the increased light at the beginnings and ends of each day and know that it's time to start getting about the business of spring. There is a reward for the earliest returnees: they get their pick of the best nesting spots. But the dangers of late winter storms makes this a risky gamble. Look for returning Osprey also this week and next.
The early birds get the best housing deals.
Male Northern Pintail captured in the Black Duck trap at Two Mile. Don't worry, the duck is very much alive and was released seconds after this photo was taken. (Photo by Kurt Bond.)
Pintails and More
Things are heating up over at the Two Mile Ponds along Ocean Drive, although the huge numbers of Black Ducks that were hanging out there before the snows have thinned out a bit. Most of the ice on the ponds has melted away, but new storms are predicted for later this week. This morning I walked out the new Boardwalk/Marsh Trail, still snow-covered but easily passable.
I stopped several times along the trail to scan the ponds through the brown phrag, which has been beaten down pretty severely by the snows. The usual gang of Pintails whistled over in the far corner near the land trap (see photo above); Buffleheads, Blacks, and a few Mallards dabbled there, too. A breeding-plumage Hooded Merganser and his crazy-haired bride circled around lovingly like they were ready to rent a room at the StarLux. The male Hooded has my vote as the most beautiful winter duck around here, although there's much to be said for breeding-plumage Red-breasted Mergs and of course the occasional Harlequin out on the ocean.
A couple of drake Green-wing Teal paddled around also, no mate in sight, and a couple of Killdeer were feeding in the mudflats. Yay, Spring! Lol, jk. If you decide to head over there soon, please don't walk all the way out to the end of the boardwalk right away. You will surely spook all the ducks as soon as you round the last bend. Take your time, stop often along the boards and scan.
One of my reader(s) told me today that blogging about my backyard is a pretty poor substitute for going afield, and I agree. He very kindly pointed out at least a dozen little-known but potentially good birding trails on Refuge land, and even provided me with a map (of sorts). Accordingly, my next reports will be from Kimbles Beach and the trails at the Refuge Office. I hear the Bluebirds are thick there. Then on to Bucks Ave. and the new Braddock Tract property, where I am "guaranteed" to see wild turkeys. And if I get lost, I know who to call.
Savannah Sparrow (Photo by author)
As soon as the sun had melted the snow on my driveway (after three hours of shoveling), a group of 5-6 Savannah Sparrows flew in and fed there all afternoon. I'm sure they were stressed and starving so I threw some birdseed for them. They came right up to me let me take some photos. I hope they make it through the night. I'll throw them more seed in the morning.
Funny, but there were male Redwing Blackbirds singing in the back yard today! Twenty-four inches of snow, and still telling us the spring is coming. Click here to listen to their call and think about spring.
Pintail drake (Photo: USFWS)
On the Thursday before the latest Storm of the Century of the Week began, Kurt Bond from State DFW and I checked the Black Duck land trap along Ocean Drive around 5pm. I scanned the ponds and saw at least 500 black ducks, most of which were sitting on the edge of the ice about 100 yards from the road. There were also good numbers of Widgeons, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, Canada Geese and Brant. Four Pied-billed Grebes were diving right at the culvert under Ocean Drive, and have been regular visitors there for the past week or so. A pair of Gadwalls fed in the creek on the north side of the road.
It was just starting to get dark, but from the road we could see at least one duck in the trap. As we got closer, it turned out to be three pintails, two drakes and a hen. We managed to corral them into the removable basket and checked them out. Kurt showed me some of the individual feathers on the wing that showed the difference between adult and juvenile Pintails. These subtle differences in shading and color were hard for me to see even with the bird in my hand, and must be almost impossible to spot from a distance by even expert birders. Before we let them go, we took a couple photos which I will post as soon as I get them from Kurt. This was my first "Duck in the Hand." It was certainly worth two in the bush.