Monday, March 7, 2016

Early Birds

by Beth Sullivan
As we sit and watch, and maybe complain, about some continued snow flurries, we do have to remember it is still considered winter for another few weeks. It doesn’t mean we shouldn't dream and anticipate.
Dunlin are long distance migrants. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Some of our early spring arrivals are already on their way to us. The migration for many birds has begun. Some of the longest distance migrants, shorebirds of many species, are leaving wintering grounds in the far south coasts of South America and gradually making their way to their far northern breeding grounds near the Arctic circle. In some cases their migration corresponds with the breeding seasons of Horseshoe crabs which nest and lay eggs in huge numbers on our sandy beaches, providing nourishment for long distance migrants. The Horseshoe crabs will begin to arrive here in later April and into May, peaking in June at the times of the high tides with the full moon.
Horseshoe Crabs arrive here to lay their eggs, and those eggs will nourish migrating shorebirds.

Shorebird migration follows sources of food, including Horseshoe crabs.

Purple Martins are eagerly awaited by many of us who are landlords. Our houses and gourds are cleaned and ready. By early April we will begin watching for scouts. While we wait we can watch the migration progress on line through the Purple Martin Conservation Association website. You will certainly hear when ours arrive.
We have cleaned the houses and will await the Martins at the end of April.

Expect Osprey mid-March

The Osprey are the ones I await most eagerly. Their arrival is one I mark every year. Often it falls around St Patrick’s Day, but it may be a hair earlier or later depending on weather and prevailing winds. While I wait, I watch a live streaming Osprey cam here. This is one of several and is located in the deep south where some osprey overwinter and therefore start nesting a lot earlier. But it is a sweet peek into the life in the nest!
Osprey are still father south, enjoying warm weather and easy fishing.

Believe it or not, two of our biggest local resident birds are already on their nests and sitting on eggs.
In the woodlands, the Great Horned Owl has been active all winter, hunting and hooting and courting through the snowiest times. Right now they are on eggs. Even during the bitterest cold, the female will not abandon her duties. Her mate provides her with food. When the eggs hatch, he continues to provide until the time she can leave the nestlings safely. By then the weather is warmer, and those babies are hungry, requiring the hunting skill of both parents. For a glimpse into the Great Horned Owls’ nest, check this link. It is also southern, there may be some more local, but this is a great view.
A great Horned Owl enjoys a sunny nap.

Bald Eagles

And then there are the Bald Eagles. They are not common, but becoming a bit more abundant in our state and along the coastline. During this winter we were treated to numerous sightings on the open waters along the shore and at the river mouths. We do have nesting Eagles locally, but their nest site locations are guarded to avoid disturbance. There was a nest established in a very public area in Milford this year. The birds tolerated visitors and binoculars and cameras. It was determined they had at least one egg. Then the big wind and rain storm a week ago broke the tree limb that supported the nest and the entire thing crashed, and the egg broke. The Eagles continue to remain in the area but may not attempt to rebuild this year. Fingers crossed for next year. However this Eagle cam in Florida has kept me preoccupied and distracted for weeks now. 
Bald Eagles were visible around our coves and rivers this winter.

Take a peek at these. I warn you it can be addicting. But take a look beyond the nests too: you can see blue water and green leaves. You can practically feel the warmth that is coming with the birds.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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