A Few Stories and Anecdotes

Once again, what a joy it is to blog and to share my thoughts and my photos with readers in this way. And “thank you” to those of you who have taken the time to send me your comments. Comments are the “the lifeblood of blogosphere,” as they say. It’s true that I have access to readership stats, but feedback provided by stats isn’t the same as feedback provided by readers. For example, Heidi Young sent me the following after she finished my last blog, “Nearing Season’s End“: “I love your writing, David. Another great read. Thank you for sharing.” Those simple words meant a lot. Here was my response: “Thanks so much, Heidi. Those are the words that writers love to hear and that keep them going. So glad you’re enjoying the blog.” I could have gone on to say,It’s like you’ve put your hand on my arm; I can feel your warmth.”

A Patchwork

This piece won’t be the usual essay-type blog. It’ll be more like my earlier blog, “A Patchwork Quilt,” and will feature a mixed bag of short stories and anecdotes. I hope you enjoy them!

Woman repairing a patchwork quilt
Making repairs to a patchwork quilt

Window Strike

Jim Wilson of Maryland shared this interesting story recently with members of the Maryland and DC Birding Google Group:

I had a Tufted Titmouse hit a window and knock itself silly yesterday. I checked on it and picked it up. After about a minute it woke up and started screeching and kicking and biting. The first bird to hear the complaints was a Carolina Wren that flew in scolding me. Momma Titmouse (maybe Daddy?) flew into a bush about 3 feet from me and joined in the hollering. I let Junior go and Momma and Junior flew off together screeching at each other. A third Titmouse joined in and they continued to fly around for a bit before they finally quieted down. Really fun to watch!

In a later email exchange with me, Jim elaborated:

After the titmouse hit the window, I trotted out to see what it was. As I approached I could see the bird laying on the ground with another Titmouse sitting beside it. No clue if it was Momma, but I will call it that. After a couple of steps closer, it shot into the air screeching loudly. I picked up the bird off the ground and held it. The Titmouse was obviously not dead. I have found that all dead birds from a window strike result from a broken neck and this bird was not floppy.

I was focusing on the bird and not what was going on around me so I could not tell where Momma was. When the bird “woke up” after about a minute or so, it really started screeching. An agitated Carolina Wren arrived and then Momma flew in behind me giving out a really different very high-pitched squeal. Momma ended up about three feet away in a bush and I let Junior go. Momma and Junior flew around together for a bit just screeching like crazy and then a third Titmouse joined in. After about 30 seconds they began to quiet and settle down.

A Picture of Agitation

The agitated Carolina Wren and Momma’s reactions, here, remind me of a photo, a “picture of agitation,” I’ve never shared. This is a photo of a visibly upset juvenile Green Heron charging full-steam toward its Momma (or maybe its Daddy).

Juvenile Green Heron charging its parent

I’m sorry. After spending so much time watching Green Herons in the field this summer, I just can’t get them out of my mind. What fun, and what a learning experience it was. Please take a look at “An Ode to the Green Heron” to get a sense. As I told a young lady who attended an Elizabeth River Project-sponsored bird trip I led at Paradise Creek Nature Park last weekend, we bird watchers study our field guides, our books, do considerable reading online, and take courses (I just enrolled in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology bird biology course), but there’s really no substitute for spending time in the field. The field is a living laboratory for learning about birds.

A Struggling Backyard Visitor

Not long ago, my wife and I found a struggling Northern Cardinal on the ground in our backyard. It was injured and couldn’t fly. I went online to find a rehabber who could help us. I turned to Facebook, quickly found Wildlife Response, Inc., and put a call into their hotline. We were advised to put gloves on, to gently pick up the injured cardinal, and to place it in a box lined with something warm. We were also directed to a local, Chesapeake, VA rehabber, Connie Sale, who we later learned had an opening. But as we got ready to head over to her “infirmary,” to our dismay, our little friend expired.

Our Visit to a Bird Rehabber

We visited Connie’s home, anyway, a few days later. I had asked her if we could visit. She was nursing back to health window strike victims, like Jim Wilson’s titmouse above, glue trap victims, birds hit by cars, birds pawed by outdoor cats, the #1 threat to wild birds, and a Carolina Chickadee that had been discovered in a ball of dirt inside a garden tiller. The chickadee was alive and was going to make it, but its tail and most of its feathers had been sheared off. She was also taking care of a Northern Cardinal with a maloccluded beak, reminding me of a crossbill, and an American Goldfinch that oddly had no feathers on its head or its neck.

As Connie fed the goldfinch in her “ICU,” my wife and I stood in amazement as the bird’s crop was revealed. The crop is part of a bird’s esophagus—a pouch—where a bird’s food is stored, if necessary, before it’s broken down in the stomach. As we looked at the crop I was reminded of a Brookline Bird Club field trip that I took years ago—a trip to Nantucket, MA. There, we met up with Dr. Edith Andrews, not a bird rehabber, but a legendary bird bander who, ever the teacher and gently holding a songbird, pulled back the feathers on one side of the bird’s head and to all of our amazement showed us one of its ears. It was an unforgettable moment, as was the moment my wife and I saw the goldfinch’s crop.

Connie’s Hummingbird

Connie had another guest, a healthy but injured male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The bird below is not her bird, but it’s a male Ruby-throat captured by Louisiana-based bird photographer, Roberta “Birdie” Davidson. You’d never know that Roberta discovered photography late in life. I say that to not only tout her skills, but also to encourage my older readers.

Hummingbird in flight
Ruby-throat that had just picked an insect from a leaf

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird was one of many in Connie’s “rehab” room. It had sustained a crush injury to its back, likely from being pawed by an outdoor cat. PLEASE keep those cats indoors. The injury caused the bird’s tail to droop. The bird could fly from point A to point B “like a bumblebee,” but it couldn’t hover, and it wasn’t agile, “like an F/A-18 Hornet.” Hovering is an ability that enables hummingbirds to capture insects, which, unbeknownst to many, make up 70% of their diet. Hovering also enables hummingbirds to nectar on flowers.

The hummingbird had another problem. Its drooping tail created drag or air resistance. Connie told us she would have to wait until next spring to release it as the bird in its present state, and try as it might, “would never make it across the Gulf.” She was referring to its Fall 2019 journey to its wintering grounds in Central America. Her concern for the little bird was evident. Her concern for all her little birds was evident. I should note that some Ruby-throats overwinter along the Gulf Coast.

Dragonflies Galore!

We’ve touched on fall bird migration, that annual phenomenon when birds disappear, and there’s only “the memory of wings.” Marlene Condon, Virginia-based nature writer, blog follower, and frequent blog commenter (thank you, Marlene!) recently sent out a message about dragonfly migration: “If you have the opportunity to look up today, you may see LOTS of migrating dragonflies (binoculars are helpful). There’s been a constant stream of them over my house at about treetop level and higher, along with some Broadwings [Broad-winged Hawks] higher up.”

Donald Sweig of Virginia followed that up with a similar message: “Hoping to catch some Broadwings coming down at the end of the day, I drove over by the Potomac River, just upriver from the American Legion Bridge , about 5 o’clock this afternoon. I scanned the bright blue sky with my binoculars for about 30 minutes and saw no Broadwings. What I did see, surprisingly, were dragonflies, dozens of them, more than I had ever seen in one place or at one time before.”

Suzanne Shoemaker of Maryland reported the following right around the same time: “At about 6:30 pm on the evening of 9/12 I saw a huge, thick swarm (1,000s) of large (I believe Green Darner, which are migrating now) dragonflies. They were indeed accompanied by dozens of Nighthawks actively feeding, presumably on the dragonflies.”

Halloween Pennant dragonfly perched on vegetation
Halloween Pennant dragonfly perched on vegetation

It appears that just like migrating birds, migrating dragonflies can be picked up on weather-surveillance radar. Thanks to the good people in the Maryland and DC Birding Google Group for providing that link and that information.

Why Do You Bird

I am reminded of what many people told me in response to my “Why Do You Bird” survey: Birdwatching leads to interest in other living things—notably, small living things. Marlene, Don, and Suzanne’s interests in dragonflies are cases in point!! For example, Brian Bockhahn, Regional Education Specialist with North Carolina State Parks, responded that when he began birding he found that “birding was a gateway for butterfly, dragonfly and all arthropods.” For Brian, birding was a gateway for noticing, appreciating, and learning about those small creatures. He also told me—and I like this, and it resonates—”Wherever, whenever, I’m always looking and listening for birds and bugs.”

Juvenile Green Heron with a dragonfly
A bird and a bug

A Wildlife Photography Story

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of being in the field and also the importance and usefulness of bird books. Colin Franks recently shared the following on the online photography forum fredmiranda.com. He obviously learns a lot from spending time in the field, but he also recognizes the importance of consulting a book! Here’s his story:

I was out kayaking about a week ago, and wasn’t seeing much in the way of birds, but then saw a bird on shore which had a yellowish tinge to it. I eventually got on land and slowly approached. It was a very shy bird, and then there was another, and another, and eventually about 20 disclosed themselves as they flew around. I had to get the sun (which was close to setting) behind me, so moved to a location in the logs and just planted myself. Eventually they got closer as they foraged for bugs, and then one perched where I thought it might – payday! I didn’t know what bird it was until I got home and went through a bird book.

Colin had spotted and photographed this American Pipit.

American Pipit
American Pipit

I love his approach here both to wildlife and to photography. I’m reminded of words I read recently in an article about wildlife photography fieldcraft: “Many species of mammals and birds will allow you to approach them closely if you are careful and take your time, no fast movements and using the correct techniques.” The author continues: “Wildlife photography’s power rests on the belief that it represents an event that occurred naturally in the wild, something witnessed and recorded by the photographer with his camera at that given time.” Colin clearly understands the foregoing. These are things that all wildlife photographers should understand. And he also understands something else and something all photographers recognize sooner or later: the importance of light in photography. Photography, after all, means “drawing with light.”

And This Just In

If you’d like to see more of Colin’s bird photos, please visit the Colin Franks Photography Instagram page. You”ll be wowed. You’ll also find a link there to his website, where you can view additional examples of his work, including some wonderful photos of Cuba and classic cars. You also might be interested in visiting his Facebook page.

Quip, Question, Quote

“There is a sadness when things disappear, but it usually makes way for the delights of the next season.” Andrea Stephenson.



4 thoughts on “A Few Stories and Anecdotes

  1. Thank you Dave for your kind sharing of my words. There is so much of interest here. First, I didn’t know that dragonflies migrated. They aren’t a species I know much about or see particularly often so I find it fascinating to think of them off on their big journey. It was lovely to read about the care given to little birds by the rehabbers. And I loved the story of the titmouse misadventure and your photo of the charging heron!


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