It's gloomy, rainy, and cold here a few days before Thanksgiving, but I've got something new to be thankful for. The arrival of the first migratory ducks on the lake--a pair of Hooded Mergansers. These striking ducks breed around lakes, rivers and streams in the northern U.S. and southern Canada and winter in ponds and lakes that are free from ice in the southern U.S.
The Hooded Merganser is a diving duck and finds its prey underwater by sight. It has excellent underwater vision and a transparent third eyelid that protects the eye when swimming, like goggles. Hooded mergansers have a serrated beak that helps them catch fish, its principal food. It also eats snails, crayfish, insects, and frogs. It's very hard to film these ducks when they're foraging because you never know where the Merganser will pop up after a dive.
Last year the Mergansers stayed around all winter instead of going further South. I'm hoping this pair finds the lake attractive enough to linger here again.
Hummingbirds are notoriously territorial so three peacefully sipping nectar from the feeder is something I've never seen. Maybe they've put their differences aside because these tiny green jewels are busy bulking up for their long migration to Central America. I'm enjoying the Hummingbirds while I can because in just a few weeks, they'll vanish overnight and it will be time to bring in the gaudy red feeder for the winter.
Have you ever heard of an owl that nests in the ground? I hadn’t until a friend sent me these stunning photos from South Florida of Burrowing Owls. These odd birds either dig their own burrows or take over those made by prairie dogs, skunks, or tortoises. Burrows can be 4 to 8 feet under the ground and are lined with grass, feathers, and animal dung. In winter the Owls roost there.
Burrowing Owls are year-round residents of South Florida, Texas, the Southwest states, as well as Central and South America. In summer their breeding range extends northward into the Western half of the U.S. They live in dry, open areas with no trees and short grass such as cemeteries, vacant lots, prairie dog villages, and pastures. These pictures were taken in a grassy open area near the beach.
Small by Owl standards, Burrowing Owls are only about 9 inches high and lack the distinctive ear tufts. Unlike their mostly nocturnal cousins, these pint-sized predators hunt both day and night, catching more insects during the day and small mammals at night. They also eat frogs, lizards, birds, and snakes.
I’m glad that I learned about this fascinating Owl, but sorry to know Georgia isn’t in his territory. On second thought, maybe that’s not all bad—after burrowing chipmunks collapsed part of my brick patio, wishing for another creature that digs large holes, no matter how interesting, may not be the best idea.
I visited a friend yesterday and walking up the driveway, I heard the loud racket of what sounded like dozens of birds. When I stood on the porch, they became silent. The din sounded like hungry nestlings, so I began to look around. There nestled in a high corner post of the porch ceiling was a mud nest with four little birds peeking over the edge. They were Barn Swallows.
These sparrow-sized birds are a familar sight diving and swooping in parks, fields, and over lakes, ponds and coastal waters. Barn Swallows feed on flying insects such as flies, moths, wasps, butterflies, beetles, and bees--catching them on the wing. Almost every day I see them gracefully soaring over the lake hunting insects, but I've never seen a Barn Swallow nest around my house.
Barn Swallows build nests mostly in human structures. Preferred sites include covered porches, eaves, rafters, and cross beams. Both the male and female build the nest. They gather mud in their beaks and mix it with grass to form pellets. Here is a close up of the building material--pellets of the signature Georgia red clay.
These four babies have their glossy juvenile feathers so they'll probably fledge soon. I'm so glad they were so noisy because who looks at the porch ceiling when you're visiting someone? Seeing well-behaved Barn Swallows in their nest is a treat I wouldn't want to miss.
What makes a Great Blue Heron happy? How about catching a really big fish. This Heron caught some sort of big, flat fish and to be honest, I never thought he'd get it down. It took him about 15 minutes (probably waiting for it to stop flopping around) to down his meal, so the video is an edited version. In the last few seconds, you can see his distended neck as the fish slowly goes to his stomach.
Herons frequently fish in the lake, but I've never seen one in a tree. This one perched in the birch tree for about half an hour. He's got an impressive wingspan.
In the picture below you can see that there's another Heron on the sandbar. They are very territorial birds and don't hesitate to drive intruders off so I wonder if that's his mate fishing.
I really like watching Herons. Not only are they beautiful birds with a dignified demeanor, but they are also much better fishermen than most humans I know.
The goslings are almost grown and are getting their adult coloring. Sadly, one disappeared over the weekend, leaving three. I don't know what happened--whether it fell prey to a predator or sickness. I always hope that once they get bigger, they'll be safe, but that' not nature's way. Mother and Father geese did a great job raising their family. It was only about a month ago that they were just yellow fluffy babies.
When I spotted this bird with a huge wingspan flying low over the backyard, I thought an Eagle had decided to visit. The big brown bird made a dozen low circles, then landed in the marsh. When I saw the red featherless head, I knew it wasn’t an Eagle; it was a Turkey Vulture.
Turkey Vultures, also known as Buzzards, have an impressive 5-6 foot wingspan. These carrion fowl find dead animals with a highly developed sense of smell. In fact, they can even locate carrion through the forest canopy. Turkey Vultures must have a highly developed immune system, too, since they can feast on all sorts of dead things without contracting salmonella, cholera, or anthrax.
I don’t know what the Turkey Vulture found in the marsh, but it must have been something small. He devoured his meal quickly and flew away. Even though these interesting birds have an important role in the ecosystem, it’s still unnerving to see one circling my yard because it means something has died. Needless to say, I was very relieved when all the ducks and geese showed up later that day.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Eagle Cam 2013 This camera streams the activities of the eagle nest located 110 feet up, in a tree on the grounds of the US FWS National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia.