Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Foraging Birds

The past few days, in little snippets of time, I have been watching some migrating songbirds find and eat their foods. Watching birds forage for their sustenance is my favorite bird watching activity. I take more notes on the behaviors of "food-finding" than probably for anything else in bird watching. And I keep a list of the foods various kinds of birds choose.

For instance, this past Saturday (3 Oct. 2009) at Bisset Park in Radford, I heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak calling from a Water Oak. It took me over five minutes to finally see this bird, an adult male. It was cracking open acorns and eating the kernels. I haven't seen this species eating acorns before. There were Gray Squirrels and Blue Jays going for acorns in this tree also. One squirrel eased towards the grosbeak, and the the grosbeak flew to another limb. It grabbed another acorn in its bill and cracked it open, part of the hull falling down near me.

Sunday the 4th I observed an immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak perched in a weed patch about two feet above ground, near some shrubby willows and alders...this location about a mile "parkway south" of Smart View. I observed it while it munched on the seeds of Giant Ragweed, and some other plant that I have not keyed out yet.

Later on the 4th, I sat down near three Palm Warblers foraging in the yard at my parents' house. The three warblers pecked, gleaned, chased, jumped, fluttered and other actions to catch tiny insects, most of which I would just simply call gnats, but I'm not sure what the species were. One caught a moth that was about the same size as the warbler's head. It flew up to a limb of a forsythia to pound, flog and "tenderize" the moth. All this activity attracted the other warblers and also a nearby Eastern Phoebe. The warbler flew to a better hideaway to finish its meal. Another Palm Warbler spent two or three minutes foraging on tiny insects on some marigold flowers, and under the leaves of tomato plants. It was strange to see a Palm Warbler perched on top of a green tomato, but while it rested there, flicking its tail, it pecked some small critter from the tomato and ate it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March Migrants

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo by Bob Abraham

Recent sightings of migrating birds in the New River Valley include Double-crested Cormorants and Bonaparte's Gulls, both common spring migrants in this part of Virginia. Early to mid April is the best time to see Bonaparte's Gulls, while mid March through mid May is great for seeing sometimes large numbers of cormorants. My favorite place to observe them is at Riverview Park in Radford.

Most of the "Bonies" seen right now are dressed in basic or winter plumage, but in a couple of weeks many of them should be decked out in their breeding season plumage.

Winter plumaged Bonaparte's Gull feasting on an earthworm. Photo by Bob Abraham

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring Walk

After work today, I headed into the woods next to my shop in search of early wildflowers, of which I found none. Below the north side of our ridge is a meadow that typically hosts a rather extensive vernal marsh, and from that emanated the certain spring sound of peepers. So, off I went, with the dogs, to investigate. Along the way I stopped for a minute to sit on a log, where I shot the picture of the moss/lichen garden.
Upon reaching the marsh everyone shut up, of course, especially with the dogs taking time to wallow and drink. I secured a decent spot on a high clump of grass and settled in for a wait. Eventually the spring peepers started up, and I was able to locate these two lovers.
Afterwards, I headed back along Bridle Creek and took the picture of what I think is a crayfish home.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Four-lined silverfish

I am a woodworker who has been mostly using old planks for my projects these days. The planks are stored in a nearby barn which is not closed to the elements. When I bring these planks into my shop, I have been noticing a plethora of silverfish, sluggish at first, but when the shop begins to warm up so do the silverfish (and I).
The other day, I slipped a few of these guys into a baggie and left them outside overnight, where it dipped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit.
The next morning, they were just frozen little bits, but within a half hour after being inside, they started skittering about full of energy. That's when I got the big idea of taking a closer look at them under my microscope. Here are some poor pictures made with the cheap microscope camera.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Towhee in the Snow

Along the Riverway Trail in Radford a few mornings ago, I observed a towhee kicking a thin slush off some berries on the ground. I watched it eat a few of them, each one wrinkly and reddish and pecked up from some ratty leaves mixed in the snow. The berries had fallen from a Morrow's Bush-Honeysuckle.

The towhee would look at the ground and keep on kicking in the leaves. I saw it peck at a snail shell. The shell crunched into several pieces, and the towhee ate these like a starved, caged sparrow.

A couple of minutes later, a grayish cat slouched in from nowhere. The towhee fluttered to the top of a nearby hawthorn, chewinking, and making other slurred chip notes. After a moment or so, the towhee flew away past a short and wobbly stretch of rusty fence wire. I could hear it chewinking near the riverbank. The cat then began to ease away in the opposite direction towards some weeds and a ditch.

I then walked down the trail a while to my car and went home. I hope in a few days to write more about towhees.


  • 1. Photo of this male Eastern Towhee is by Stan Bentley. He gave me permission to use it in this blog entry. The red berries in the picture are the fruits of Flowering Dogwood, one of the highest energy berries available for birds in the fall.
  • 2. I wrote this entry in my journal several days ago when there was actually a little snow on the ground (a rather rare event the past couple of winters here in Radford). I had to get outside and play in the snow of course, traipsing to see what I could see. The towhee was silent and busy, and hungry, and easy to observe, until the cat showed up...then the towhee was quite vociferous for a few moments, and then invisible, but still complaining about the cat.
  • 3. As I mentioned in a blog entry last year, I grew up calling the towhee by the name of "joreen". Stan tells me that he grew up using the very similar name, "jorink" or "jarink". I have heard a couple of other people in the NRV use this name for towhees.
  • 4. I enjoy listening to towhees singing, and counter-singing during their declarations of territory in the spring. I have also learned that towhees will occasionally include the notes of other bird songs in their vocalizations, particularly the first note or two of a song. I have heard them imitating and including a song note or two from cardinals, the chip notes of both downy and hairy woodpeckers, and alarm chuck notes from robins, to mention a few.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New River State Park, Alleghany Access, Mouth of Wilson, Va.

Yesterday, February 21, Mica Paluzzi and I spent four morning hours hiking and birding along the New River. Mica and I have shared several years of outdoor adventures, starting when he was ten. As we entered the park I suggested to him that on this visit we would make some quiet time, moments just sitting and paying attention to whatever shows up.
As we neared the river our first surprise came in the form of two pair of common mergansers, not that common in spite of the name. Taking a nice walk along the river for a couple of hours, we found much evidence of beaver activity, not something either of us had before noticed. We made an attempt to locate a viable site for a beaver dam, but the only possibility, though unlikely, was a feeder stream at the big bend in the river. As this was across the river from us, we had no way to further investigate.
Around 11:00 we returned to the spot where we had seen the now vanished mergansers. Directly above that spot, thanks to their raucous grumblings, we found the ravens' relocated nest. As I have mentioned in a previous post, this rock face has been a dedicated raven home for who knows how long. Last February, Mica and I observed three ravens attending one nest. And so it was yesterday, with one sitting on the nest and the two others gathering and sharing food, as well as holding guard. I continue to think this quite interesting.
So, Mica and I were being very quiet, sitting on a bench, when a new noise interrupted our reverie. First we heard a crashing of brush, coming from the opposite side of the river, and just below the ravens. Then a piping/barking noise and a splash directed our attention to a pair of northern river otters in great spirit of play. At first it almost appeared as if they were in battle, then I considered they might be mating, but the fluidity of their motion and humorous antics made clear they were playing. And play they did, for us for over a half an hour.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Otters

I have seen two otters a couple more times in the past week. They have mainly been traveling in a hurry. Bob Abraham has managed to find them a few times also & has sent me a few pictures. I will include one with this short blurb.

I believe the otters are becoming more secretive; maybe they are starting to care for young in a den somewhere.