After being absent for nearly 3 months, 14 Canada Geese flew into the Wetlands, looked around some, fed, and then preened for several hours before taking flight for points unknown. The geese looked to be a family group (probably two families) as the bulk of them appeared to be young birds, perhaps on their first flight away from wherever it was they were hatched.
At least four Mallards remain in the Wetlands. These birds are most certainly a family group, although the adult male is absent.
As is usually the case, the local Great Blue Heron was a regular fixture in the Wetlands throughout August. It’s apparently doing well in its hunting ventures catching frogs, small fish and even managing to catch a small snapping turtle on August 8, although it couldn’t quite get the turtle down its gullet. The turtle, being about 6 or 7 inches from the front to back of its shell, and nearly as wide, simply would not make it past the bird’s bill. There’s little flexibility in a turtle’s shell and try as the heron did it simply was not to be. After several attempts to swallow the turtle, which by this time had expired, the heron dropped the unfortunate reptile in the water and turned its attention towards preening.
As many as four Green Herons have been seen in the Wetlands on a daily basis. Although sometimes difficult to differentiate from the many stumps that have surfaced due to the low water level, they are there; you may have to search a bit to locate them. They will depart in mid-September for their wintering grounds.
A Red-shouldered Hawk has been present on most days of this month hunting from a snag in the Wetlands. If you read this Journal regularly you already know that the hawk typically hunts from this perch, its prey often Bullfrogs. On August 7, the bird took a most unusual prey item from the Wetlands, a Golden Shiner. I didn’t witness the event, although I did see the bird as it left its perch only to disappear behind a group of willows. Ranger Katie, who was at the top of the boardwalk at the time, did witness the actuall capture of the fish. As reported by her, she saw the hawk snatch the fish out of the water and fly off with it. The fish was approximately 8 inches in length. I’ve read reports of Red-shouldereds taking fish but have never seen it myself. It seems that I’ll have to wait a bit longer to do so.
A small number of migrants have passed through our area during the past month. One, a Solitary Sandpiper, was a first for the Museum. To my knowledge, only two other shorebirds have been recorded on the Explore the Wild/Catch the Windloop (Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper), both of which simply circled the area and continued on with their flights. However, a Solitary Sandpiper was seen briefly on August 4 and again on August 19 when another was observed throughout the day at various locations in the Wetlands.
At one point the sandpiper, having been rousted by the activities of the visiting Mallards, circled the Wetlands and landed on the exposed mud just below me as I stood on the boardwalk, no more than six feet’s distance. It was a pleasant distraction from the stifling heat of the day to see such a bird feeding at close range.
The Museum’s Wetlands is not conducive to certain shorebird feeding behavior. I don’t expect very many other shorebird species to pay us visits. If migrating shorebirds pass over us during their southward journeys and do not find an exposed mudflat to land on, most will simply move on. However, the water level in the Wetlands has fallen enough to allow shorebirds to feed in the shallow water and mud surrounding the pond.
Still, even with the exposed shoreline, I wouldn’t expect to see hoards of shorebirds sweeping down on the Wetlands, although a Least Sandpiper or two is a possibility. I’d be excited, but not totally surprised, to see one of these peep in the Wetlands.
A family group of Great-crested Flycatchers was heard and seen feeding on the backside of theExplore the Wild/Catch the Wind loop during the first two weeks of August. This is the same area they were seen last year at this time.
An unknown Empidonax flycatcher was observed on the north side of the Wetlands (8/6).
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were very active during the first half of August. I noticed family groups on the Dinosaur Trail and in Explore the Wild.
On August 25, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and American Redstarts were seen on the Dino Trail (Nathan Swick). These birds were obviously migrants.
A Hooded Warbler was seen on 8/13 in the company of a Pine Warbler, Carolina Chickadees and White-breasted and Brown-headed Nuthatches. The warbler a migrant, the others local.
During this period, I was able to get a few peeks at a Red-winged Blackbird female and juvenile. This may not seem like a great event in the annals of birding, but up until now I’ve not seen proof of nesting by this species in the Wetlands. This, the sighting of a juvenile, is proof. The male is often seen (or heard) among the willows in the Wetlands or atop a pine next to the Bird Feeder Exhibit, the female remains hidden most of the time, but until now I had only assumed that they were nesting among the willows. Now I know they were.
Keep your eyes opened for American Goldfinches as you stroll the paths of the outdoor exhibits. They are currently in the finest of plumages with jet-black wings and cap and bright yellow bodies. I often hear them singing from the trees behind the Fossil Dig or down along the path on the north side of the Wetlands. Stop by Flying Birds, the Bird Feeder Exhibit, and you may see one of the juvenile birds feeding along with the adults. Notice the juvenile’s buff-colored wingbars and dark bill in contrast to the adults.