Sunday, April 22, 2007

Zono Invasion!

Here they come!

As you can see from the NexRad image below, there was a major movement of migratory birds across the eastern half of the US last night. This morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy our birding group found 5 warbler species: Yellow-rumped, Pine, Palm, Tennessee and Nashville. Other migrants included Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Broad-winged Hawk and hundreds of White-throated Sparrows.

Migration the night of 4/21 & 4/22

In preparation of the zonotrichia sparrows, this spring I started a brush pile – I knew they'd like it. I also purchased a ground bath and birds seem to prefer it over the other two traditional style bird baths in our backyard. All day long, white-throats were singing their Sam Peabody song or making those bubbly chirping calls that they do during a turf dispute with another sparrow.

I don't use a photographer's blind, but instead pick a spot our concrete patio and quietly wait. So naturally, I was stunned and in awe when a beautiful adult White-throated Sparrow hopped over to where I was sitting, foraging just inches from my feet. I didn't move a muscle and admired its gorgeous plumage without optics. To me, birds seem so much smaller when they're that close.

Suddenly, one of the White-throated Sparrows sounded two-note alarm call, sending all the other white throats in our yard for cover underneath the spruce trees. All songs ceased and an eerie silence befell around our yard. I guessed there had to be a predator one of sparrows got a glimpse of. I searched the sky but found nothing. Then the answer revealed itself, as a Cooper's Hawk flew in from the north side of the yard, only a couple feet above the ground, zooming along the row of spruce trees. When it passed, the sparrows flew in the opposite direction the hawk was going, as if to put even more distance between them and the hunting raptor. Luckily for this group, the Cooper's kept right on going.

Chipping Sparrow

Over the course of several minutes, activity resumed and the birds continued to forage and enjoy the water. I was impressed for our suburban setting to hear so much birdsong in our backyard. Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler sang out from atop our maple tree.

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

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