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Bluebirds of happiness

EABL M perch side mkj

This Eastern Bluebird male and its mate have built a nest in a nearby box. Keen eyesight enables bluebirds to hunt from trees for insects on the ground.

Eastern Bluebird nesting season is well under way in Maryland. Here are scenes this spring from a few of the bluebird nests that I have the privilege to monitor.**

EABL female guarding

This Eastern Bluebird female is guarding her nest from Tree Swallows, which have been perching on the nestbox roof. Note the female’s subtler colors.

EABL 5 eggs 4B crop

Eastern Bluebird eggs in a characteristic straw nest. Bluebird eggs incubate 12 to 14 days before hatching.

5 EABL at 7 days 4B crop

Eastern Bluebird nestlings about a week old. Nestlings typically leave the nest 16 to 22 days after hatching.

EABL 2 chicks fledge ready 0101

In a different nest, these two nestlings are about ready to fledge. Adults will fly back and forth in front of a nestbox to entice chicks when it’s time to leave the nest and enter the outside world.

EABL male with food 0101 group

Both male and female Eastern Bluebirds are attentive parents. This male has caught an insect to feed to nestlings.

 

There are more than 60 nestboxes at the two parks where I help monitor. Our boxes attract Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Carolina Chickadees and House Wrens. Year-round, nestboxes are constructed, installed, repaired and maintained. During nesting season, nests are visited at least weekly to address any problems and to collect breeding data, which is entered to the NestWatch.org database at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology for use by researchers worldwide.

 

** Note:  All nestbox photos were taken to aid monitoring and with the least intrusion. Photos inside nestboxes never use flash. Photos of adults were taken from a distance.

 

 

 

 

Wildflowers prevail

Despite a wild spring that careened from drought to driving rains to 90 degree heat to freeze warnings, wildflowers continued to bloom in Maryland’s Piedmont. Here are a few.

Some are showy.

showy orchis panther branch hz

Showy Orchis, one of Maryland’s native orchids

Bellwort HZ

Perfoliate Bellwort. Note how the blossom’s stem seems to pierce the leaf.

Smooth Solomon Seal OR

Smooth Solomon’s Seal

violet HZ Panther Branch stream

Violet seeds are carried by ants, even to this rock overlooking a stream.

jack-in-the-pulpit HZ

Easily recognized Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Its three leaves are sometimes mistaken for poison ivy. (Better safe than sorry.)

Others wildflowers have a more subtle charm and are often overlooked. All have a place in nature.

dwarf ginseng HZ2

Dwarf Ginseng does not share the medicinal qualities of its cousin, American Ginseng.

star chickweed

Star Chickweed providing food for an early pollinator

Two-leaved mitrewort

The petals of the Two-leaved Mitrewort are shaped like snowflakes.

Indian cucumber root blossom OR

Indian Cucumber-Root has two tiers of whorled leaves. In the fall, the base of the top leaves will be deep red, forming a ring around the plant’s fruit.

Indian cucumber root blossom crop OR

Closer look at the Indian Cucumber-Root blossom

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed Grass along the wood’s edge

 

Pink Lady Slippers and Large Yellow Lady Slippers, Maryland’s largest native orchids, eluded me again this spring. The ones I saw were already past bloom. Wait ’til next year!

 

 

Wildflowers here for a moment

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Bloodroot

Spring ephemerals are just that — ephemeral. They appear for a few days or weeks, then disappear. For some, a few leaves remain as a reminder.

last bloodroot LR

Distinctive Bloodroot leaves above fading blossom

Rich woods before the trees leaf out, near a stream, is the best place in Maryland’s Piedmont to find spring ephemerals.

They are still springing up. Here are a few of the earliest blossoms.

Early rue anemone

Rue Anemone can be pinkish when it first emerges. This one is especially colorful.

Rue white

Rue Anemone

Trout lily

Look along a stream for Trout Lilies

spring beauty colony

Spring Beauty colony

Pennywort crop

Pennyworts are easy to miss in the leaf litter

Dutchman's breeches

On the other hand, Dutchman’s Breeches are hard to miss!

cut leaved toothwort

Cut-leaved Toothwort

yellow violet 2

A cheery yellow violet

 

 

Waxwing shimmer

Cedar Waxwing among cedar berries

Cedar Waxwing among cedar berries

One might think that Cedar Waxwings were named for their overall glossy feathering. In fact, Waxwings are named for the red wax-like substance that forms on wing feather tips of some older birds. The purpose of this unusual secretion is unknown. Cedar represents their favored cedar berries. The Cedar Waxwing is the rare songbird that feeds almost exclusively on fruit. Even nestlings grow on a diet of fruit after a first few days of insects.

Cedar waxwing 1

Wax wing tips

Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are social birds, feeding communally. Look for flocks feeding among berry trees like wax myrtle, black cherry and of course cedars. Cedar Waxwings have been known to experience a drunken state after consuming quantities of old, fermented fruit.

CEDW flock tree

Flock of Cedar Waxwings between forays to the cedar tree

Cedar waxwing berry wax

Chowing down

CEDW berry tongue

Cedar Waxwing in its glory

These Cedar Waxwings were observed feeding in late March at a waterfront park in Harford County, MD. The park is also home to a colony of black-morph Eastern Gray Squirrels. It is thought that the black morph squirrels in Maryland are escapees from a number of black squirrels brought to a local zoo from Canada, where their black fur is needed to absorb sunshine and better protect from the cold. Too cute not to share a photo.

Black squirrel3

Eastern Gray Squirrel black morph

Bluebirds at the door

We noticed an Eastern Bluebird watching us from a nearby tree as we made our way making pre-season repairs along the park’s nestbox trail. When I circled back after our work was done, pairs were already examining the real estate.

EABL pair box

Eastern Bluebird pair. The male inspects the interior while the female stares down the monitor.

EABL M box crop

Eastern Bluebird male in breeding finery

Bluebirds feed mainly on insects and spiders from the ground. Nestboxes provide convenient perches for hunting, although bluebirds can spot crawly things in a field from high up a tree. If you spot a bluebird, take a little time to watch it repeatedly swoop to the ground and return to its perch.

Soon nesting will begin and before long this pair will be busy bringing caterpillars and insects to a nest full of young in these boxes.

Winter sparkle

Snowflake on sadie mkj

A perfect snowflake graces a good dog’s coat

Hours of sleet from Tuesday’s winter storm gave way to an afternoon of dark clouds mixed with sunshine and snow showers. Big flakes floated from the sky. And a few bejeweled my Border Collie’s fur.

Winter interlude

Today’s snow and graupel in this crazy, mixed-up winter followed yesterday’s sunshine and 70 degrees when little bits of blue played across the meadow in the warm March wind. The season’s first brood of Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) butterflies are beginning to emerge.

Spring Azure BF CV crop1

Spring Azure butterfly

Spring Azure BF CV2 close crop

A closer look

Spring Azures overwinter in chrysalis form in meadows, old fields and woodlands. A common and widespread butterfly in North America, Spring Azures are almost indistinguishable from several other Azure species. They are one of the earliest butterflies to emerge each year.

Maybe too early this year. I don’t know their fate in the week of sub-freezing weather ahead. Perhaps they’ve already started laying eggs for the next brood.

 

Osprey super-highway

Osprey QACo

Osprey on the look-out for its returning mate atop their most unusual nesting site

Ospreys that breed along the east coast of the United States are returning now from their wintering sites in remote areas of South America. Ospreys breed for life but migrate and spend their winters separately. Remarkably, pairs return to previous nesting sites to reunite, rebuild their nests and breed in the spring.

For years, ospreys have successfully nested on a road sign over a busy main route across Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Ospreys have adapted well to man-made structures — channel markers, docks, purpose-built osprey platforms — located on the water or shoreline. What makes this spot different is that it is located over the highway.

Osprey hwy nest

Spot the osprey nest on the left stanchion over the median. The osprey is above the T in Exit.

Osprey profile1

I’ll be waiting above the T in Exit!

I suspect this osprey is waiting for its mate to return. Because active nesting had not started, I determined it safe to pull to a side road and snap a couple photos — still at a distance and from behind a structure. Breeding birds are to be respected always.

Creeks and tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay are nearby to provide fish for adults and young. And the nests have been successful over the years. Observant travelers can see parents feeding their young, and growing nestlings peering out of the nest and eventually venturing from the nest.

The location has been so successful that other breeding pairs have built several more nests along the same stretch in the past few years.

How many hundreds of thousands, millions of people have passed under these nests and enjoyed the activity — or missed it entirely?

For a closer look at an osprey nest, view and support a Chesapeake Bay osprey nest cam maintained by the Chesapeake Conservancy and follow the informative and entertaining companion blog by the tireless Crazy Osprey Family.

A little winter color

From the first to bloom to the last to bloom, a little bit of winter color on a winter’s walk.

The first wildflower of the season to bloom in Maryland’s Piedmont — Skunk Cabbage — is emerging now along streambeds.

skunky-cabbage1

Skunk cabbage bloom

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), a relative of the better known Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant, has the capacity to warm and thaw the earth around it, allowing it to emerge months before other wildflowers. The flower will die back, and big, skunk-scented leaves will unfurl to become an unmistakable mainstay of a thousand classroom trail walks.

But Skunk Cabbage is still subtle in early February. Here are other views of its reds and greens.

 

I had hoped and expected to find Skunk Cabbage in February. What was a surprise was discovering yellow still clinging to an American Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that bloomed in the fall.

witch-hazel-base2-feb-2017

American Witch-Hazel post-bloom (February 2017)

This is how the same native Witch-Hazel tree looked last autumn.

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American Witch-Hazel blooms in late autumn (October 2016)

While we wait for the blossoms and colors of spring, there’s beauty to discover in winter.

 

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