Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I'm quite sure this is one of the young Wood Ducks which are seen all around the marsh, doing their own thing. They seem to become independent very early. Sometimes when startled they will literally run across the top of the water, looking like a miniature speed boat.
This evening I finally got my first shot of the season of a Sora rail. I've seen them a number of times, and certainly hear them daily (a clear descending whinny), but they keep a low profile, usually hiding among the reeds. This one was sounding a loud peep the whole time I watched it.
This morning it was still quite foggy around the marsh, but nice and calm. As I was walking along the path I spied a juvenile tree swallow perched on a Curly Dock stem at the water's edge. There were a number of adult swallows swooping about, catching insects on the wing. The above sequence is a great example of body language telling a story. In the top photo, the little fellow spotted me, but I'm sure had one eye on mom or dad swooping about. He suddenly lifted up and opened his beak wide, ready to be fed one of those juicy insects. Unfortunately, he was disappointed, and he settled back down on the stem, appearing rather downcast.
Just before entering the wooded section of the trail I caught a glimpse of what I believe was a mink with something, perhaps a mouse, in its jaws. It sped across the path and into the tall grass, too quickly for me to get a shot, darn.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
While hoping to catch a glimpse of a Sora rail that I could hear chipping away in the reeds this morning (last evening I saw her -- and one of her tiny black chicks, in the same spot), I noticed some movement among a clump of cattails close by. It was these two young muskrats, feasting on cattail shoots.
I've been trying to get a shot of a male Wood Duck for a few weeks, but they usually hang out in an area where trees and grasses impede the view. This morning I spied one lone male perched on a dead tree in a fairly open spot. He's already beginning to molt into his 'eclipse' plumage. It will be fall before he'll be back in his colorful garb.
Although my primary focus is on the birds I see at the marsh, I like to include other species of wildlife when I encounter them. This morning as I was walking past some tall grasses along the trail, I noticed several tiny orange butterflies fluttering about. I discovered they are a variety of Grass Skipper, when I checked my field guides.
Great Blue Herons are often seen at the marsh slowly plodding through the water, ever alert for the tasty morsel that might pass by. This fellow was seen this morning poised at the inlet where the marsh drains into the French Basin.
This year's tree swallow crop (fledglings) are starting to be seen around the marsh. I thought some must have left their nesting boxes, as I was dive-bombed by two adults last evening when I visited the marsh. This morning I caught these two youngsters perched on a limb.
I see cormorants at the marsh every day, although they are usually farther from the shore now, since the loafing bars closer to shore where they used to sit with their wings spread to dry, have worn away. The above photo shows part of a group of twelve birds I saw fly over the marsh last evening. The top photo is of two cormorants and friends (Black Ducks) taken in August of 2008. I always chuckle when I see them stand like that.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Grackles, of course, are not exclusive to fresh-water marsh habitats; as a matter of fact a couple have become a nuisance at my sunflower feeder. But they seem to like to nest near water, and they are nearly as prevalent as the Red-winged Blackbirds at the marsh. I think this female Common Grackle has a nest close to the marsh edge, as I have seen her a number of times perched on these Curly Dock stems, twice with a worm in her beak.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
I met this sprightly little fellow yesterday morning on the path. I stood perfectly still, and he came within five feet of me before scampering off into the grass. There are a number of holes in and and on the sides of the trail made by these friendly little critters.
I hadn't seen the Canada Geese for a couple of days, which is not that unusual. The last time I had seen them, the pair that had the youngest brood (see post of June 11th) had only one of their original six young left, the others likely having fallen prey to predators. Yesterday morning I watched the family for several minutes, and noticed that the one remaining gosling stuck very close to its mother.
Friday, June 18, 2010
This morning as I was attempting to get a shot of a bee on a multiflora rose blossom, I noticed something fall through the leaves of a tree next to the rose bush. I immediately started hearing chipping sounds from a bird in the tree, and then from another bird which appeared. It was a pair of Yellow Warblers, and what had fallen was one of their young, which did a little peeping and then was silent (I got a glimpse of some yellow feathers at ground level). Mom and dad fluttered about between their willow tree and a gray birch across the path and continued to 'chip' away at me until I moved on (not before getting a few shots in, though). The male is the one with the heavily streaked breast above; the other is the female.
I made up my own 'translation' of this warbler's song -- to me it sounds like "Cyd, Cyd, Cyd Charisse". (Of course, probably only people as old as I am would recognize the name of that one-time dance partner of Fred Astaire . . .) Anyway, this sweet song is heard all around the marsh.
I have seen these young Wood Ducks, often with their mother, sitting in a row on a fallen tree at the marsh for several days now. However, I couldn't get a shot of them, as tall grasses and tree limbs prevented my camera from focusing just on the ducks. This morning I was determined to get a shot, and finally managed. I'm glad I did, as I found out I got a bonus -- if you look closely at the upper left hand side of the photo, you'll see two young muskrats which I never noticed at the time.
There is an osprey platform at the marsh, although I've yet to see it used by ospreys. Seagulls perch there often, as do crows. This morning there were five crows standing on it, and I took a few shots, as I liked the way they were silhouetted against the bright blue sky. When I enlarged the photos in my editing program, I noticed that one of the crows had hold of a long grass stem. It definitely was attempting to do something with the stem, while its comrades seemed to pay no attention. Anyway, by the last shot, no stem in sight. I've become intrigued with crows since I watched a fascinating The Nature of Things program on them some months ago.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
As I was walking the trail this morning, I was startled by a rustling in the tall grass. Suddenly a duck burst out of the grass into the water, and started frantically running back and forth through the water, creating quite the commotion -- which was intended to distract me from her young chicks who were still in the grass. It was a wood duck, with 8 or 10 chicks, who eventually all made it down into the water. Mom soon rounded them up and all was well. This same behavior would have been used had it been a predator. I saw a similar distracting display by a blue-winged teal a couple of years ago at the marsh.
The Painted Turtles are laying their eggs now at the marsh. This occurs in the evening hours. Some friends who walked the marsh on the evening of June 12th noticed three females digging holes along the sides of the old railbed, which forms the SE portion of the trail. The next afternoon, I discovered that one of the nests had already been raided and the eggs devoured, probably by a raccoon or a skunk (see above photo). All that remained were the leathery egg shells. It's the fourth nest I've seen dug up so far this season. The second photo is of a female laying eggs at the side of the trail on June 13, 2008. I really shouldn't have gotten so close to her, as sometimes, if disturbed, they will move away.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
When I was doing a little internet research on red squirrels yesterday, I discovered that they sometimes build a summer nest, called a 'drey', made of a mixture of twigs, leaves and such, usually on a tree branch next to the trunk. They can be quite sizable. It was then I knew what I had noticed recently in a tree in the wooded area on the trail. A few weeks ago, some fellow marsh walkers pointed out a bluejay's nest in a pine tree. Soon after that, the nest seemed to be abandoned, but one day when I looked, it had grown substantially in size, and I could see leaves among the new material. I haven't yet noticed any activity around the nest, but now I'm pretty sure who (what?) built it. I had to do a bit of maneuvering to get this shot this morning, but I think you can make out the nest.
Monday, June 14, 2010
That's when my furry friend noticed me standing there snapping away. For a couple of minutes he squeaked away at me, but stayed put. Finally realizing I was no threat to him, he settled down, but continued to keep his eye on me just to make sure.
Part of the trail around the marsh winds through a wooded area which includes a number of Scots pine trees. Where there are pine trees one usually finds squirrels. Today I happened to glimpse this little furry head at the top of a dead pine snag at the marsh edge. Next he (she?) peered down into the hollow interior, perhaps thinking "I could hide a lot of pine cones in there." The little fellow then jumped to a nearby tree right on the edge of the path, where it inspected a branch stub. (Continued . . .)
Sunday, June 13, 2010
There are some strange-looking ducks on the marsh. That's because they're a cross between two breeds, the Mallard and the American Black Duck. And apparently these crossbreeds may not be fertile. The ducks above, some of whom are definitely mixtures, were seen on the evening of June 8th.
The American Black Ducks are probably the most common ducks seen on the marsh. Some of them spend the winter out on the Annapolis River, and return to the marsh when the ice goes out. The males and females look very similar, unlike other ducks. The different colored bills help to distinguish between the sexes: the males have yellowish bills, with the bills of the females being more olive-colored. This trio was perched on a fallen tree on June 13th, with a female passing by . . . Note their purple speculums, the patches of color on their wing feathers.
The male Northern Shoveler is a pretty duck. It's fairly easy to recognize shovelers; the size of their bills gives them away. This fellow is seen frequently on the marsh, quite often by himself. I hope he has a mate nesting somewhere; there was one shoveler brood hatched on the marsh last year.
Deer have become a nuisance in town in recent years, particularly to gardeners. It's not unusual to see them at the marsh, as well. I caught this one just as I was heading to the parking area about 9 p.m. last evening. Note its new growth of antlers.
Sometimes I'm not happy with the way my shots turn out. The photo of this Black Duck female with her young family was what is called back-lit, that is, the sun was behind them. I didn't want to lose the shot (I liked the pink sheen on the water from the setting sun), so, thanks to PhotoShop, I applied a "poster edges" filter. I was pleased with the result.
The evening is an ideal time to visit the marsh. On the evening of June 12th, the place was full of waterfowl on the water, painted turtles digging nests along the path, muskrats playing, and songbirds fluttering about. This Blue-winged Teal female was showing off her new brood.
Friday, June 11, 2010
The Canada Geese sometime create a bit of a barrier to marsh visitors when encountered on the path. The males try to intimidate would-be passers-by with their insistent hissing. Luckily they have pretty well accepted me since they see me almost daily, some for several years, so I seldom have a problem getting up close.
The Pied-billed Grebes are my favorite birds on the marsh, after the geese. It's worth taking the time to observe their behaviour, from building their nests, to carrying and feeding their young, to cavorting about in adolescence, to diving or sinking under the water and popping up meters away. Their loud calling sounds make up for their tiny size. I caught this parent (both share care of their young) feeding its chick on June 4th.
Red-winged blackbirds lay claim to nearly every patch of cattails in the marsh, and noisily scold visitors when they come near. I saw this female on May 31st, with three (count them) insects in her beak. How do they catch and hold on to more than one??