Friday, May 17, 2013

The Biggest Week in American Birding–Part One:

Avie and I flew to Ohio on May 4. We went to visit his family on the bookend weekends. But the main focus of our trip was to attend five days of The Biggest Week in American Birding at Magee Marsh/Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and environs. Though slow at times, our birding experience was exciting, excellent, and full of all sorts of surprises.

Rather than giving a blow-by-blow description of our trip, I’m going to break it down a bit differently. I’m going to write about specific topics spurred by what we saw during our five days in the field.

My first post will be about cryptic coloration, otherwise known as camouflage. It amazes me how animals, especially birds, can be right in front of your eyes and you don’t know it. To be honest, it’s a credit to excellent birders in the field that Avie and I were able to see many of these exciting creatures.

First up, the runner-up for “bird of the week” during our time in the area: American Woodcock. There were two nesting near the parking lot, their nesting spots marked by yellow caution tape. This was so nobody would accidentally step on the nest. The following photos will illustrate this concept better than words:

Can you see the bird on the nest in the following photo?


Can you see her now?


How about now?


And, for good measure, here’s a photo of the nest with the four eggs in it.


Another ground nester is the Killdeer. Usually a noisy and showy bird, it changes its attitude completely when on its nest, usually a simple one on the ground and, often, in the most public of places (like our friends the Woodcocks).

The following photos show, first, the Killdeer on the nest and then the nest with the eggs blending into its surroundings.


Next up, a couple of birds who pose as literal bumps on a log during the day: a Whip-poor-will and a Common Nighthawk.



Then there are the Owls (Great Horned and Eastern Screech). These two were quite tucked in. So was the little Great Horned Owlet in its nest cavity at the top of a snag.


What do the above photos teach us? If you’re looking for nocturnal owls during the daytime, look near the trunk of the trees, although Screech Owls will also tuck themselves into cavities and nest boxes. I know we used to find Saw-whet Owls this way when I lived up in Rochester, NY.

A final bird, an acknowledged expert in the art of blending in, is an American Bittern. Usually they stand in the reeds with their bill pointed skyward – fitting into the profile of the flora surrounding it. However, this one was busy hunting while a large crowd of satisfied birders were able to watch it.


Moving away from the feathered creatures, there are plenty of other animals that have managed to evolve both coloration and behavior allowing them to hide in almost plain sight. The first example is this rabbit, sitting as still as possible so as not to draw any attention.


Upon our return to Cleveland, Avie and I went up to the Cleveland Lakeshore State Park. It was cold, damp, and windy, not making for the best birding conditions. But we did have a small adventure with a very young deer wandering around.


When it saw us, it lay down in the grass and stayed quite still. If we didn’t know it was there I doubt we would have noticed it.


We walked away and heard it bleating for its mother. Eventually the bleating stopped, so we assume they found each other. But here’s one more photo of the gawky young’un.


By the way, all these photos were taken using the zoom on my camera. I do not approach wildlife, giving animals the distance they need to feel comfortable.

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