Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Woods are Alive with the Sound of Birdsong

The overcast morning skies were not encouraging for either birdwatching or the upcoming Kentucky Derby on Saturday. As the day progressed, the skies lightened and the sun broke through. The birds sang louder than I've ever heard them at the Falls. Although I saw Great Blue Herons, Black Crowned Night Herons, Ring Billed Gulls, and a few Caspian Terns across the water, the real find of the day was over 100 Double-crested Cormorants standing on rocks or on the wall of the dam! I counted them and was amazed at the total.
I've always had trouble identifying warblers, so small and well camouflaged in the leaves. They dart away just after I've focused the binoculars, and I have a hard time noting any field marks. As you might guess, they are not among my favorite birds. I've always thought that I'll be a real expert when I can recognize warblers the way I recognize Herons! Derby Day brought plenty of warblers to the Falls. Even better, Brainard Palmer-Ball, our expert, dropped by while I was out on the Bird Deck and right away he identified two warblers I'd spotted. A little black and white bird with yellow near the shoulders and on the rump was a Myrtle Warbler. It hopped around in the cottonwood tree long enough to get the scope on it for a close view. Another bird in the nearby tree was a Palm Warbler. Watch for the rufous cap on his head, Brainard said, and sure enough I saw that slight distinction. Later on, I saw a bird that resembled a Towhee, but was much smaller, and Brainard mentioned that he had seen a Bay Breasted Warbler on down in the woods.
I was unable to get photos of any of the warblers, but was thrilled to hear and photograph many other birds. The Oriole taunted me from the branches all morning, but finally made a break across the parking lot and landed where I could truthfully say I'd seen him. The Indigo Bunting came down to investigate some bugs on the ground, his blue feathers bright against the mud colored stones. A Wood Thrush flew just in front of me before landing in a nearby tree and singing E-o-lay. I got some good pictures of a bird I thought might be an Oven Bird, and sent them to Brainard for verification. He says it is a Swainson's Thrush. There were lots of them in the woods, and I have seen them on other occasions too.
The dead trees along the river bank always have good nesting cavities, but most of them seemed inhabited by Starlings. One old tree had at least three holes with nests right above each other like a high-rise apartment building. A Northern Flicker flew back and forth to that third nest with food for the babies inside. Heard but not seen were a Red-eyed Vireo, White Throated Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker and PeeWee. Just as I prepared to pack up for the day, a black and white Eastern Kingbird bird did some loop-de-loops and landed in the top of a tree. I don't know what horses ran in the Derby this year, but I had a winning day birding at the Falls!

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