A Change is Coming

A pair of Hooded Mergansers are still swimming and fishing in the Wetlands. It’ll be interesting to see how long they hang around. Last spring, they had departed by the third week of March.

Red-shouldered Hawks have been putting on quite a show recently. After reporting that I had seen a Red-shouldered Hawk hunting in the Wetlands (see Explore the Wild Journal March 1-15, 2009), without actually capturing the toads and frogs that were breeding at the time due to their (toads and frogs) unpalatability, the situation has changed somewhat. Since that time, I’ve seen a Red-shouldered pull frog after frog out of the Wetlands, presumably Bullfrogs, although it was difficult to determine exactly what species they were. The hawk, or hawks, ate a few of the frogs on site, but more often, one of the hawks flew off to the south with the frog dangling from its talons. It seems likely that the hawk is carrying frogs off to a nest.

Although I’ve seen reports recently of Chimney Swifts, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and various swallows in our area (mainly along the coast), none have so far been observed at the Museum.

Both male and female Belted Kingfishers were seen together in the Wetlands during the second half of March. On the 23rd, the female had captured a frog and was thrashing the stunned frog on a stout branch as the male looked on.

Are the kingfishers preparing to nest? My records indicate that neither male nor female were present last year from the last week in March to the final week of April. Of course, I wasn’t in the Wetlands on a daily basis and may have missed some of their fishing excursions. It was obvious though that neither bird was dwelling in the Wetlands at that time last year as is typical. The female that frequents the Wetlands is usually present throughout the day. Only occasionally does a male appear.

Perhaps our resident female was off performing nesting duties during her absence last year, helping to dig a burrow or sitting on eggs. Kingfishers nest in burrows dug into a vertical bank, close to or alongside a river, stream, or pond. I once saw a burrow dug into a mound of fill-dirt at a construction site. The mound of dirt had scoops taken out of it by a front-end loader which created a near vertical face on one side of it. I’ve read that kingfishers may also nest in a tree cavity, although I’ve never witnessed it myself.

A Northern Mockingbird was heard singing on March 29 along the path to Catch the Wind on the high side of the Explore the Wild/Catch the Wind Loop. Although they are year-round residents, this was the first time this season that one of these long-tailed, red-brown songsters, which is in the same family as the more conspicuous Northern Mockingbird, was heard belting out a melody from high up in the trees. Listen for their song as you stroll the outside exhibits. Like the mockingbird, thrashers can be long-winded in their singing. Unlike mockingbirds, which often repeat various phrases of their song several times, thrashers usually repeat a phrase twice, then move on to the next.

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