To describe my lifelong fascination with flight and with creatures that fly I like to echo the words of John James Audubon who in 1839 wrote of himself as "...one who never can cease to admire and to study with zeal and the most heartfelt reverence, the wonderful productions of an Almighty Creator."
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
American Robin, a better choice
This evening I took a walk in McMinnville's Airport Park. It was a bright evening, but a chilly west wind was blowing. When I saw this Robin puffed up against the cold, I remembered the Rufous-bellied Thrush I photographed 10 days ago in Brazil. It occurred to me that the people of Brazil did the right thing when they chose their thrush as their national bird. In my opinion our thrush (the American Robin) would have been a better choice than the either the Bald Eagle which currently holds that position, or the Wild Turkey which Benjamin Franklin suggested. Certainly it is more familiar to most people in this country, has a very pleasing song (which neither of the others have), and... it's a beautiful bird, even though it is common. I suggest we start a campaign to elect a new national symbol, one that doesn't steal someone else's fish. :-)
I found another sign of spring this morning. This empty shell was lying in the middle of the street, probably where a mother Robin dropped it after removing it from her nest. In a couple of weeks we will probably be seeing young Robins following her around on the lawn begging for a worm.
Walking through the woods near the Willamette River today I became aware of the faint tapping sounds that tell you a woodpecker is somewhere nearby excavating a nesting cavity. Eventually I spotted this Red-breasted Sapsucker about 25 ft. high on the side of a Cottonwood tree, which appeared to be quite healthy, except for one dead limb. The Sapsucker had chosen a spot on the main trunk directly below that limb. I'm guessing that there must be some dead wood in the trunk there, and the Sapsucker was able to detect that as a good place to dig.
This morning, for the second time this week, when I started the camera I discovered a Violet-green Swallow asleep in the nestbox. After several unseasonably cold days I was pleased and a little surprised to see that she had survived. There are apparently at least a few insects flying even in cold weather.
On my last day in Sao Paulo before heading to the airport and home, I went back to the small park near my hotel to try once again (and not very successfully) to get a good shot of a Rufous-bellied Thrush. The Portuguese name is Sabia-laranjeira. Most sources I checked on the internet say that this bird became the national bird of Brazil in 2002, although at least one source names the Golden Parakeet as the national bird. At any rate, the thrush doesn't seem to care about that, and continues to sing its beautiful song in shadowy forests throughout a large area of eastern South America. A recording of the song can be heard at http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/programs/education/teachers/ news/ecoeducation-matters/nov2004.htm.
For a birder, going to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil for work is far better than not going at all, but I hope to return sometime soon to any one of those countries just for the birding. I'm home again now but still remembering the sighting just yesterday of the Burnished-buff Tanager in a small park in the middle of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager last Sunday morning near the church high on Monseratte overlooking Bogota, Colombia. However, since Tanagers rarely pose for photos out in the open, I will post here only more photos of less shy birds that I found in the park in Lima, Peru -- The bright Saffron Finch and the Pacific Dove that is only bright in a very small area around the eye. This dove (which does have a large white wing patch) is now considered to be a separate species from the White-winged Dove that is found in the southwestern U.S.
I have always been amazed by the brilliance of male Vermilion Flycatchers when I've seen them in Mexico or the southwest U.S., and I was looking forward to seeing them during my current trip to South America. Well, I did see these two a few days ago in Lima, Peru, but it took me a while to realize that that is what the dark one is. I didn't know that in this area an unusual dark (or melanistic) form occurs. The female in the upper photo is typical, but the dark one below shows no sign of vermilion coloration, which according to the book indicates that it's a male.
I woke up at 3:30 a.m. today in Quito, Ecuador, to catch a flight to Lima, Peru. With a couple of open hours before the evening event, I headed for nearby El Olivar Park to get some fresh air, and of course, to see what birds might be around. I was surprised to find out that this old olive orchard is a very "birdly" place. It didn't take me long to find 8 or 9 species I had never seen before. The 7-inch long Croaking Ground-Dove was one of them, but I didn't hear the croaking. The Rufous-collared Sparrow in the other photo is one of the most ubiquitous birds in Latin America, but that doesn't make it any less beautiful. I've seen this bird in every town or city we've visited on this trip, as well as in the patches of forest at some roadside stops. It even has a very pleasant song, which seems surprising for a bird that can be seen picking up crumbs on city sidewalks and under park benches.
I'm on the road again as part of my job, and today happened to be in the airport in Barranquilla, Colombia, waiting for a flight back to Bogota. Of course, I stayed near the windows just in case something interesting might appear, and sure enough -- it happened. A Yellow-headed Caracara landed on a pole just outside, and stayed long enough for me to snap a few photos, then flew away and was joined by another before they disappeared. The photos aren't great, but anyway made it possible to compare with illustrations in the field guide later for identification. Wonder what will appear tomorrow.
Signs of spring are everywhere. Not only are migrating warblers showing up in my back yard, this weekend there was also a Hermit Thrush, a Fox Sparrow and a White-crowned Sparrow. None of them had been here a day before, and they will likely soon move on toward their summer territories. Then at the Willamette River today I watched a female Bald Eagle feeding at least one tiny eaglet tidbits torn off of something dead beside them in the nest. The photo was taken through my spotting scope from about 1/4 mile away.
For the past week-and-a-half I've been reading about the numbers of Orange-crowned Warblers flooding other birders' neighborhoods all over western Oregon, but none were coming close to my place. Today it was my turn. I heard one when I came home for lunch, and then after work I watched 5 or 6 of them working over every greening tree, shrub or fern in my small backyard. If the Swallows didn't prove that spring has arrived, these energetic little guys did.
It must be time to move my camera back into the nestbox. This male Violet-green Swallow and his mate have been spending a lot of time resting on the wires in front of my house and flying up to the nestbox. Last year I first saw one of them inside on April 4.