We’re not quite ready for “the day is on the wing, the kite is on the string,” but we’re getting close. (Those are two lines from the N.M. Bodecker poem I referenced in “The Day is on the Wing.”) There have been reports of American Woodcock courtship flights, House Finches, Titmice, and Northern Cardinals singing, Eastern Bluebirds investigating nest boxes, and Bald Eagles sitting on eggs. There have also been reports of Fish Crows and Common Grackles returning and a Hairy Woodpecker drumming (in northern Minnesota, no less). Woodpeckers don’t just use their bills to find food or excavate cavities. Like the Hairy, they also use them to attract and find mates.
This isn’t a photo of one of the above, but I like it because it represents this stirring and awakening. The Carolina Wren sings year-round, but I think it sings more vigorously as spring approaches. I captured this little guy on 2/6, and boy, was he loud.
Here’s a photo of a female Bald Eagle incubating eggs in a nest in the crotch of a loblolly pine in Portsmouth, VA. I captured her on the same day. The tree is on private property and on a creek bank. The nest is just below the crown, affording the eagle pair good visibility and easy access. Some birds build their nests on branches in the crown. Eagles tend to build their nests in crotches just below it.
Something else is happening besides all the above, and it’s something many photographers—in addition to poets—are aware of. Not only are days getting longer, but the sun’s path and angle are changing. The sun’s location in the sky governs so much about how photographers go about their work. There are actually apps that were created to predict sun location. One, in particular, is The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Landscape photographer Glenn Randall, whose work I’ve cited, is a big fan.
I mentioned woodpeckers excavating holes. Here’s a female Downy (a “small edition” of a Hairy) excavating one on 12/27 in a snag along the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake, VA. She’s inside the hole, and she’s digging away.
Here, she’s releasing the wood chips she’d just dug out. She’s releasing them with such ferocity that I wasn’t able to freeze the action even with shutter speeds of 1/1600th of a second. It’s likely the hole she’s making will become a nest site in the spring. It’s my understanding that breeding Downies prefer using holes like this to creating new ones, which can take a while. In the interim, she’ll probably use the hole as a roost site.
Here she is two minutes later, releasing another beakful. Recycling at its finest. Industry at its finest, too.
And This Just In
I love this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel description of Bald Eagles’ nests: “Wooden structures, mostly. Single family. Built from scratch. Often several stories up.” The description reminds me of an MLS listing.
More than half of the Bald Eagles in Hampton Roads are incubating. Some eagles are on eggs here as early as December. Eagle numbers plummeted in the 60s and 70s from the effects of DDT, but the species has rebounded such that many are now building nests in trees on private property in developed areas.
If you haven’t done so already, click on the “snag” link above (right under the “Downy Woodpecker” subheading). Snags are dead or dying trees—many without crowns—that provide homes and food for wildlife like the Downy Woodpecker. The wood was so soft in the one pictured above that it took the little bird no time to create a hole and safe haven. Snags should be left standing if possible. They play a vital ecological role.
Quip, Question, Quote
We opened with an excerpt from a poem for children. We’ll close with an excerpt from one all children should know. These are the opening lines of “O Ship of State” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
God bless and preserve the U.S.A.