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It’s In Your Nature: Getting the job done

I look forward to the beginning of May to find the treetops and shrubs full of new bird species while the leaves on the trees are not fully grown. I am more able to identify and photograph them now. That was my objective on Wednesday, May 17.

I drove to my “number 2” nature spot and planned to spend 3 or 4 hours with binoculars and camera in hand. I did have a few doubts on my success this day though, it was unusually cold, but worse, the northwest wind at 15 to 20 mph wasn’t ideal.

It is hard to identify the 5- or 6- inch warblers in the tree tops and so I rely on catching movement in the trees to alert me to their feeding. However with a strong wind, the trees were swaying and the branches seemed to be in constant motion. After an hour I realized that my goal of seeing 60 species was not going to happen. I changed my strategy.

Although it wasn’t the habitat in which you normally find Baltimore orioles, a male, singing almost constantly, was making regular forays close to me. I found a grassy spot to take in the show. He was searching for nesting material. Most of the searching was in the lower canopy and sometimes even in the shrubby underbrush. Two or three times he found an old grape vine and with a great deal of exertion, he pulled and tugged until he pealed a strip about 8 or 9 inches long. Later I snapped a photo as he went to a dead twig and again, feet firmly gripping the limb, he pulled and tugged with his beak and was rewarded with another long strip.

As you may be aware, female orioles build a pendulous nest that she “ties” to a fork in a tree’s upper branches. The male I watched, was supplying his mate with the nesting material. I’m not sure I ever saw him feed in that busy hour. His pace was bustling and no wonder, the nesting needs to get “started on time.” The female lays up to 7 eggs, and after completing her clutch, she incubates them for 14 days. The next 14 days mom and dad try to keep squirrels away and at the same time, make trip after trip with beaks full of “grub” for the youngsters.

So from nest building onset, to fledging the young, it will take about 60 days. Oriole’s summers here are very short. Most orioles depart our area by mid-July. They are driven by instinct to build the nest, incubate, feed the young in the nest and then teach the young to feed themselves. Then, all will begin the trek southward to Mexico and Central America.

In between watching the oriole’s work, I noticed a chestnut-sided warbler darting low in the stream side shrubs. It too seemed to be on a mission and sure enough, his beak wasn’t full of food, it was full of nesting material. I’m sure if I had picked another spot to sit and watch, a wood thrush, towhee, or scarlet tanager would all be performing similar tasks. These summer resident birds of the Times News region need to work quickly to “get ’er done.” Their time here goes by very quickly.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Oriole numbers are declining steadily in the last 40 years, the reason for this is: A. Flying into cell towers, wind turbines, and buildings at night. B. Our insatiable need for guacamole. C. Our need for more cups of coffee. D. None of these. E. All of these.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: It is true, red squirrels are more common in conifer dominated woodlands.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

A female Baltimore oriole chooses a fork in the upper thin branches of a tree to ‘hang' her nest. Although they don't know how to tie knots, she repeatedly twists and spins the thin bark strips until she securely has a basic basket type nest attached. She later, with more nesting material given to her by her mate, lines and softens the inside to aid in incubation. BARRY REED PHOTOS
I watched a female Baltimore oriole ‘ripping' long fibers for her nest. The seemingly frantic pace is because they have about 60 days to nest and raise young before their migration back to the tropics. They are one of the first birds to begin their return trip.
I photographed this American redstart as it was ‘picking at something' on the branch. I assumed it was food, but actually he was harvesting some lichens to give to his mate for her nest construction. They too have only one brood each summer here and follow a deliberate pace.
This chestnut-sided warbler was gathering nesting material almost next to the busy male Baltimore oriole.