The Killdeer Saga

The last couple of blogs on the Osprey were writing marathons. They took a lot of time and effort to put together. And they were lengthy. This, the first of several blogs on the Killdeer, will be more like a 5K fast walk instead. But before we get down to business and begin to consider one SE Virginia family’s triumphs, trials, and tribulations, I have a few more things to say about the Osprey.

I mentioned in “Osprey Country,” my first blog on the iconic bird, that I had observed both Osprey sexes building a nest. I have since observed both Osprey sexes brooding eggs, as well. I’m reminded how fellow birder, Laura Mae, and I witnessed a “changing of the guard” as we watched the Money Point, Chesapeake, VA Killdeer nest. The Killdeer parents were brooding 4 eggs in a nest on the ground. Four eggs are the typical clutch size. While we were there, and as we looked on in unexpected wonder, the parent on the nest slowly got up and walked away, and the other parent, as if on cue, slowly approached and took its place. It was a finely choreographed exchange. And Laura and I were amazed at what we had seen.

Killdeer walking
Approaching the nest

I witnessed the exact same thing as I observed the nearby Buckeye Partners Platform nest, one of the many Osprey nests I follow as on OspreyWatch participant. The Osprey pair on that nest was also brooding eggs, though likely only 3. As I was watching the platform from a distance, the nesting parent flew off, and the other parent, again, as if on cue, flew in and took its place. Truth be told, most bird parents share the bulk of the parenting responsibilities. Many of us, I think, are unaware of that fact.

A Quick Wrap-Up

We’ll wrap up our brief study of the Osprey with a final series of Osprey shots, and suitably, shots of a male Osprey delivering nesting material to a nest. I like to call this my “skateboarding series,” as the bird appears to be performing the same kind of maneuvers one would expect to see at a skateboard competition. Fun stuff. And consummate skill.

Osprey landing in a nest
Skateboarding series

For those of you who haven’t read my last 2 blogs, the Osprey blogs, what you’re seeing above is an Osprey preparing to land in a nest at the top of a construction crane situated along the bank of the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. I captured the landing from the walkway at the top of the Veterans Memorial Bridge nearby. It’s not every day that you have the good fortune to be at eye level, as I was here, with Osprey nesting activity. And I exploited that early April opportunity every chance I could get until the nest eventually failed. I was up on that bridge almost continually over a two-week period.

The Killdeer Saga Begins

With that opportunity lost, another opportunity quickly presented itself. I also have the good fortune to be allowed access to the Elizabeth River Project’s Money Point restoration site and to monitor bird life there. Just outside that property, and back on March 11, I discovered a Killdeer on eggs on the abandoned railroad right-of-way there. The nest was in the middle of a decomposing railroad tie. The bird’s mate was nearby.

Killdeer nesting on a railroad bed

But a few days later, when I revisited that spot, the eggs had all vanished and the Killdeer were nowhere to be seen. I described what I’d seen in an earlier blog, “The Killdeer and the Goose“: “All that remained was the scrape in the dirt, a crumbling old railroad tie, and a troubling sense of letdown. Evidently, another animal had gotten to the eggs.” I learned later from nearby Kinder Morgan Elizabeth River Terminal security that in all likelihood a coyote had taken the eggs. That same coyote, an animal I’d both seen and heard, was also likely responsible for taking the eggs from a Canada Goose nest that had been on those same tracks.

Canada Goose on a nest
Canada Goose on its nest

Fast Forward

Fast forward to early April. I made another discovery, this time on the restoration site property. A Killdeer was on a ground nest there. I began to monitor this new nest in the same way that I had monitored the Osprey nest atop the construction crane. No doubt the same Killdeer pair, whose nest had recently failed, had decided to start a new family there. Killdeer, like many other species, will start a second clutch if the first one fails.

I never saw the eggs, which would have looked something like the eggs below. I took this Killdeer nest photo in a Pungo, Virginia Beach stone driveway in the spring of 2017.

Killdeer 4-egg clutch
Killdeer 4-egg clutch

The Killdeer Chicks Arrive

But in a few short days, proof of the 4-egg clutch was evident as 4 seemingly healthy, precocial (think “precocious”) chicks emerged ready to take on the world. In almost no time at all, and under close parental supervision, of course, they were scurrying about and feeding on tiny invertebrates and seeds(?) in a damp area near the nest.

Note how capable, in comparison to a naked and helpless altricial chick, the newborn Killdeer pictured below looks. This chick is one of the 4. Note also the chick’s profile, its down feather covering, its single chest band, and the strange appearance of its tail. All of that, and much more, will change dramatically in a short period of time. Think: the first 6 years of a child’s life. We’ll cover those changes in the next Killdeer blog. So, please stay tuned!

One-week-old Killdeer chick
One-week-old Killdeer chick

And This Just In

From time to time I like to throw in a human photo. After all, the blog tagline reads in part: “Personal notes and thoughts on bird activity—and human activity, too!”

So, here’s a shot I took recently and that I especially like. Others have told me that they like it, too. A photographer friend commented: “I like this capture for its uncluttered simplicity and lack of background distraction which lends focus to the spin caster and his concentration.” Well said. Another friend posed the following question, tongue in cheek: “Fishing with a fencing foil?” I replied, “I’m laughing. Yes—could be!”

A gentleman fishing
The fencer

Quip, Question, Quote

I often end my blogs with a topical human quote. But I’d like to finish off this blog with an avian quote instead. This is the song of a late-migrating adult male Magnolia Warbler. I captured its cheery voice with my parabolic mic setup early Sunday morning, May 19, at Weyanoke Sanctuary in Norfolk, VA. As usual, there’s was a little competition from a singing Carolina Wren.

Adult Killdeer walking

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