Monday, August 12, 2013

Morning notes from the Jefferson batture

Today after dropping my kid off at school, I decided to swing by the batture in Old Jefferson.  UNO is not back in session just yet, why not take advantage of the freedom.

I walked across the levee toward the wood margin, then quickly diverted back to the levee crest to keep my feet (penny loafers, no socks) dry.  At least, delaying the inevitable for a few minutes. 

Four adult White Ibis were probing in the mud along the tree line.

I finally descended at the head of my target trail, an overgrown cut with a slightly trampled footpath.  An adult Red-shouldered Hawk left a low perch on the edge of the marshy pond inside the batture, and coasted away low, class bowed wings with bold black and white bars.  I paused in the shade of a tree, and swished a bit.  Two Carolina Chickadees flitted across the corner of the opening.  Then two Downy Woodpeckers.  Then a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and another behind it that displaced it from its new perch.  Then a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers.  So far, all local nesters.  Then the first migrant- a Yellow Warbler that my noises drew across the marshy opening in my direction.

Most of the birds were moving about with the slight inefficiency/klutziness that usually gives away recently independent young.  I trained my binocs on one Red-bellied- sure enough, unmarked gray head, young bird.  Next I looked at the two Great Cresteds- both had visibly pale gape areas (the inner corner of the mouth- a briefly retained sign of immaturity).  The Downies were both female plumage- age indeterminate.

I walked down the trail, and things got quiet (bird wise- not cicadawise) until I reached its end a hundred yards in.  Suddenly a pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks jumped up from the weedy water's edge making piercing alarm notes.  A herd of eight or so downy young scurried for the water- in my binocs, I could see sharp black head stripes.  The adults continued to bounce about in alarm/feigned injury.  First confirmed nesting in the Jefferson batture, confirming suspicions.

As they retreated to safety in the marsh, I turned around to notice that two trees were covered in trumpet vines, with their showy red flowers.  A nice set up for Ruby-throated Hummingbird this time of year, so I watched for a moment.  Sure enough, in about one minute, a female-type appeared, and immediately engaged another in chase.  These most likely did not breed this far into the city; they could have nested as close as a few miles away in a woodlot nearer the urban periphery, or be passing through from the northern US or even Canada.

As I walked out, I ran into the same flock of woodpeckers and songbirds as I had encountered on the way in.  A bit more swishing brought in a female Cardinal, and a (the same?) Yellow Warbler.  This time I got my glasses on it perched- crisp yellow trim on the wings, pale yellow underparts, pale face with big-eyed look, all features indicating another young of the year.  This bird does not nest any where near here and is strictly a passage migrant- could have been from a more northerly state, or even as far away as the Northwest Territories. 

As I emerged onto the levee lawn, my feet were now already soaked, so I walked back through the dew-laden grass along the wood margin.  The four ibis were still probing, and shuffled a bit away to stay ahead of me.   A bird in the sky over the levee looked like an Anhinga- yes, confirmed with the binocs, but headed away downstream.   An adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron jumped back into the woods, and then sat eyeing me.  An adult Little Blue Heron allowed me to walk up close alongside, and then also jumped up into the trees, dropping a wing feather (like most species, they molt them this time of year).  I pulled off my shoes and waded out into the muck, and grabbed the feather.  I would show it to my kids later, and perhaps to my class next time I talk about remiges (wing feathers).

As I ascended the levee, a Mississippi Kite was making a mad swoop over River Road.  I put my binocs on it as it pulled up, and saw it reach its head down to its feet, probably eating a cicada it had snatched.  A common sight this time of year when kite-watching.  I remembered that these same skies over the residential areas that the kite was in, had a month earlier been filled with Purple Martins. They are one of our earliest species to depart, and are now scarce in nesting areas, not to return until next February or March.

Twenty minutes, but enough nature to put me in a good mood for the morning.


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