Monday 12 March 2007

Spring, Spirng, Spring, 3 days of Spring!

Yes, I actually managed to get some real first-hand out-in-the-field away-from-the-laptop birding done.
Who'd have guessed it?
Well, me.
Because: the last few days were marvellous and we finally are enjoying a taste of spring. Since last Friday, the skies have been blue (cloudy today again), the sun's been out and - gosh - I didn't even need to put on my extra warm underwear before leaving my apartment.
OK, here are the failures of this hopefully past winter birding:
- No Thayer's Gull
- No looking for Snowy Owl at Ann Arbor Airport
- No twitching of Harlequin Ducks
But that's all history now, and here and now are the promises of Spring !

Friday was the best in a series of three consecutive days at the Arb. Yes, three days!

It was the first warm day this year so at around 2 p.m. I decided to call it a work day and head off towards the Arb and Gallup Park to see what was floating on the Huron.
Walking past the Bell Tower I looked up and there was a Turkey Vulture circling over downtown Ann Arbor. Oh, I missed them so much, such a long time without watching TV! That was arrival No. 1!
The Arb was rather busy with Joggers - hmmmm, I had successfully managed to forget there were also non-birders using the Arb - but I nevertheless managed a very, very fine encounter with a Hermit Thrush. And as always, Catharus-thrushes proved to be the true friends of birders. Just by following it with my binoculars through the brushy forest floor, it lead me to 2 Northern Cardinals, a handful of Dark-eyed Juncos, one of which had a few white feathers around the eye, and a Carolina Wren. That was neat. I was surprised however that the woodpecker activity was very low with only a few calling Downy Woodpeckers.
Upon reaching the Huron, I walked along the bicycle trail downstream towards Gallup Park, soaking in the delight of watching Red-tailed Hawks, a Sharp-shinnedHawk and a Cooper's Hawk. Songbirds were also plenty along the river, more than at the Arb, and I quickly added another Carolina Wren, an Eastern Bluebird, a flock of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, White-throated Sparrows, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee, lots and lots of Mourning Doves and White-breasted Nuthatches to my list.
Then came arrival No. 2 in the form of a singing Song Sparrow. Also very nice as I had hardly seen them before their departure last fall.
But the real star of the day, no matter how common, the real treat, the price beyond anything, the ultimate superlative was...

The Return of Red-winged "The Voice" Blackbird!

Seriously, NO bird has a song that's so much beyond cool, and I tell you: they are great to have around again.
OH, and a few bad ass Common Grackles were there as well.

The Huron was extremely productive regarding waterfowl and upon reaching Gallup Park, I had found Pied-billed Grebes, Mute and Trumpeter Swans, Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Gadwall, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Goldeneyes, a single Lesser Scaup, Common and Hooded Mergansers and American Coot.
Very, very nice.

Returning home through the Arb, it got a bit late and I came across a very angry Hairy Woodpecker whose behaviour however afforded me a deep scientific insight into woodpecker anatomy:
It was apparently about to go to bed in one of the small tree cavities when I disturbed it and so it started its scolding peek, peek, peek. Of course I retreated somewhat and the woodpecker eventually approached and entered its tree cavity but even after it had submerged completely, I could still hear its warning call, somehow subdued by the tree trunk.
Now, you see, that is strange: if it is a warning call, the 'pecker obviously still regarded me as a danger to himself when it approached the cavity. So it shouldn't have entered in the first place with me still around. And even after it had entered it kept on calling, a really stupid use of a warning call because it would guide any potential predator to its hiding place.
So here's my new hypothesis on why so many woodpecker warning calls are this high, sharp staccato "peek, peek":
These calls are not warning calls after all. The woodpecker doesn't even utter them on purpose.
No, very likely, the special anatomical adaptations to hammering one's head against hard wood to make a living have rendered these woodpecker species prone to hick-ups.
So as soon as they get nervous, their hick-up kicks in and they can't stop for a long, long time, in this case even after a safe retreat into a tree cavity.

Well, am I glad I was trained as a scientist. The world would be so much less exciting without a good piece of science to finish one's birding day.

[Short comments on Saturday and Sunday to follow]


Anonymous said...

Glad you got some birding time in...and I have to say, I think you've broke new ground in your Hairy WP theory...somebody get this man some grant money!

Ben C. said...

Nice report! You may want to review your 'Sharp-tailed' Hawk entry.

All the best.

Jochen said...

Hi Corey, yes I wouldn't mind some grant money, but would then rather spend it on trying to find out why I can't seem to be able to find White-winged Crossbills when - judging from your blog - they are as easy as your average Goldfinch!
Nice story, thanks for sharing!

Hi Ben.
Thanks for the comment, I have corrected the name.
Good spring birding!!