Tuesday, June 28, 2011

These are a few of my favourite birds

It's been 3 weeks since the end of the Spring Migration Monitoring program over at the Innes Point Bird Observatory, and I am long overdue for an update.  Over the course of the four weeks I spent there, I learned how to confidently handle birds and extract them from nets, how to band them, and very tentatively measure, age and sex them.  Although I'm about a thousand birds away from feeling confident enough to band birds by myself, my bird knowledge has grown by leaps and bounds.  I still need a lot of work when it comes to birding by ear, but I can visually identify most of the common passerines.

I also developed a great affection for my new feathered friends.  These little guys are full of personality, and this personality varies by species.  For example, chickadees, despite their small size, are the feistiest of the lot, vigorously pecking at your cuticles as you try to wrestle the netting out of their death grip.  Brown Thrashers live up to their name and scream bloody murder as you untangle their flailing bodies from the nets.  Warblers tend to be calm and sweet, cooperatively posing for photos, patiently waiting for you to release them.

This Common Yellowthroat is trying his best to look snooty.

Blue Jays have personality for days, but are surprisingly easy-going in the hand.  Their feet are incredibly strong, and they are quite stubborn when you're trying to get them out of the net, but otherwise, not a challenging bird to work with.  They even pose nicely for the camera!

Hummingbirds (ruby-throated)- beautiful, surreal, weigh less than nothing; bordering on pathetic, they utter pitiful squeaks that sound like a baby mouse crying, and often require a few nudges before they realize they are free to fly away.

Some birds don't like to be photographed.  This Wood Thrush was giving Seabrooke, the bander in charge, a piece of her mind.

I often found flycatchers tricky to identify, as I was often fooled into thinking they were some kind of warbler. They are larger, have bigger heads, and are generally cuter (in my opinion), and have a small hook at the end of their bill for snatching insects out of the air.  This Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher is puffing himself up to look more imposing.  Are you intimidated yet?

Many of the crested birds, like the Blue Jay above, will flatten their crests when you are holding them.  This Eastern Kingbird is breaking the mold and doing his best to look tough, even showing off the rarely visible red streak in his crest.  "You wanna piece of me?!"

Yellow-Shafted Flickers became instant favourites of mine.  These attractive members of the woodpecker crew are sizable birds, as you can see, and they make you work for a photograph.  One of the flickers we banded even resorted to rapidly pecking at the air in an act of defiance, a display which I can assure you looked incredibly silly.  Male Yellow-Shafted Flickers can be easily distinguished from the females by their prominent black mustaches.

Perhaps the smuggest of the birds is the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.  With his dashing black tux and bold red cravat, he has every right to be smug.  His distinguished appearance is enhanced by his powerful beak, capable of cracking large nuts or inflicting painful bites to careless banders.

Another favourite of mine were the American Goldfinches.  Sure they look cute, but it's their gentle, whistling chirps that really melted my heart.  I had a pair get caught side by side in one of the nets, and they chatted back and forth as I extracted them. I like to think that they were reassuring each other that everything was going to be alright.

Is there any bird quite as dashing as the Baltimore Oriole?  This older male's crisp black and orange plumage was almost fluorescent.  He knows he's good looking.

There were many Tree Swallows that called the bird observatory home.  Every day I watched them swoop and dive with ease and grace.  I think it would be a lot of fun to be a tree swallow for a day, and I kept hoping that one of these skilled fliers would eventually get caught in one of the nets.  I got my wish on one of the last days of the season.  Looking sleek and dramatic, it is quite obvious that this bird is built for speed.

Last but certainly not least, my all-time favourite bird is without a doubt the Cedar Waxwing.  The superheroes of the bird world, these truly cool birds sport a badass zorro mask, flashy yellow tips on their tail feathers, and namesake red "wax" droplets on their wings.  Obviously they're not actually wax, but instead modified feather shafts that extend past the feather barbs, and are bright, shiny red.  Go on, I dare you to not love this bird!
As luck would have it, the last bird caught in the last net on the last round of the last day was a Cedar Waxwing.  An excellent way to end a great season!
"In brightest day, in  blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight..."

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