Posted June 23, 2020
Written by Mike Perrin
Ah, June. Spring migration has come and gone and the spike of songbird species has dwindled, but this does not mean that the birding has stopped, it has just shifted focus. As opposed to spring when I have many early mornings covering lots of ground for the greatest variety of habitat, I have now shifted towards seeking more slow, local “birdy moments” while out in nature. Last month, while exchanging birding stories with a local Bristol County birder, we talked about the difference between twitching, or chasing specific birds to check them off on lists (life list, state list, county list), and “birdy moments,” or special encounters that connect us to our feathered friends. While I am often chasing and twitching in May, I believe June is a great time to slow down and watch birds more closely, especially because many nests have eggs and young! For instance, while in Wareham on Thursday, I witnessed three separate events including chicks and new parents.
In the morning, I was walking the trails at Tweedy and Barnes Conservation Area. While turning a corner of the trail (location undisclosed to protect the nest), a small brown bird popped out from some shrubs and the leaf litter. An eruption of song boomed through the area “chertee-churtee-CHURTEE!” This is a song that I am very familiar with, the Ovenbird. The Ovenbird swooped down at me a few times, bouncing from branch to branch as it belted out its song. For this instance, I would imagine that this was a mother protecting her nest with eggs from a big clunky mammal named Mike Perrin. I deduced this because she was on the ground and I did not hear a single peep coming from the area. Ovenbirds get their name from their oven-shaped dome nest that they build on the ground. Baby birds typically stop making noise when a predator is around to avoid giving away the nest location, but I waited for over ten minutes and did not hear any chicks, so I believe there are eggs in the nest and not hatchlings yet. I continued on my way, and after one, loud final goodbye from the mother Ovenbird, I did not hear her again.
As I continued with my work, I found my way to Marks Cove Conservation Area. This area has many shrubby thickets with thorns, which is great protection for young birds. As I walked the trail, I heard some scurrying in the leaf litter. I continued slowly until three birds noisily flew in different directions from a nearby shrub. I saw field markings such as white outer tail feathers and a distinct call note, that led me to identify the birds as Eastern Towhees. One bird looked goofier in flight than the other two. It flew clumsily to an eye-level branch on a small white pine. I raised my binoculars and saw a curious Towhee fledgling staring back at me! At the fledgling stage, birds are very curious and soaking up information like adult songs and predators to watch out for. Fledglings are old enough to be out of the nest, but still return often and rely greatly on the parents protection and feeding. This is the stage after nestling, or helpless chick in the nest, and before the juvenile/first-year bird.This little bird still had downy feathers, or baby feathers for insulation, and its plumage (colors) were not as established as an adult, but you can still see the similarities. As we exchanged glares, the parents were belting their alarm call “tuh-HEE…tuh-HEE.” I could tell that the curiosity of the fledgling was worrying the parents and they were both yelling at me to go away and yelling at the fledgling to take better cover. To not stress the parents out for any longer, I continued on the trail as my new fledgling friend watched me go. I hope to be reacquainted with this bird soon before it leaves the nest for good.
Lastly, and very excitingly, the Osprey are progressing in their breeding activities! Many Osprey pairs have broken incubation posture and are sitting on the edges of nests, inferring that many of the pairs are now Osprey parents! These new parents include the nest at the old Sacred Heart Seminary (access closed to the public) that I have been monitoring through the OspreyWatch* citizen science program. Three nests on the property were occupied, but only one seems to have chicks. A few weeks ago, the female began to sit on the nest in the incubation position, with her belly on the nest, revealing her head and her tail from opposite sides. Now the adult was sitting on the edge of the nest, watching over what I assume are little Osprey nestling puffballs. The adult on the nest was chirping as I approached, and since this adult was fairly large and had some black streaking, I assume it is the mother. Female raptors, including the Osprey, are often larger than the males, but the black streaking on the chest is not very reliable. As I walked near the nest, the mother chirped at me letting me know that she had her eye on me. Another Osprey circled high above, chirping as well; I assume this was the male. As I got closer, the mother took off from the nest and circled me from a lower distance. I continued on my way to minimize disturbance and to allow the mother to enjoy time with her beautiful babies.
Although spring migration has ended, it is great to have more “birdy moments” with new parents and fledglings that truly create connection to the natural world and fuel my love for birds.
*OspreyWatch: Participating in the OspreyWatch has allowed me to connect with the Osprey in my area. Although the other two nests failed, I am glad this nest was successful. Osprey experienced a drastic decline in population size from the use of the pesticide DDT, but since the banning of the pesticide Osprey have been on a steady increase. These magnificent raptors are loved by many observers for their charismatic fishing style, their coexistence with humans (as shown by the Stone Bridge nest in Onset), and their annual return to their previous years’ nest. To connect with these birds by assisting with nest monitoring, email Stewardship@WarehamLandTrust.org!