Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The 2013 Generation - Part II

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was a time of hope and new birth, it was a time of sadness and tragedy. That is the problem with observing nature. Some stories have happy endings, others not so much. The drama associated with observing nests, is day by day you never know what sort of story you are watching. Today's two stories cover the range of emotions.

Near the bench at the beginning of the Cross Dike trail, alongside the path, just before the trail emerges from the woods to cross the impoundments is a small crab apple tree. If it were a bird we might even call it a juvenile tree.

This tree is an unlikely candidate for a nest. After all it is hard by the trail. People are constantly walking very near. It is quite low, relatively easy access for many predators. But here a pair of Yellow Warblers decided to build their nest. About the only defenses were that the tree was leafy, and there was a branch running across the top of the nest sort of like bars on the windows to keep out vandals.

Word about the nest spread quite rapidly. Many of us feared for the viability of the nest, so we were careful not to share the location to rapidly, but news of the nest spread. Photographers, bird watchers, second graders, and casual observers descended upon the nest. Some observing from a safe distance, others a bit more closely.

We watched and we waited. Four eggs appeared. The parents continued to sit on the nest. The one day someone saw a chick.

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My first photo containing a chick's head (look closely)

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It continued to grow

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Parents exchanging food. Dad tended to hunt. Mom feed the kids.

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Children can be so demanding. Sometimes moms need me time.

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But more often they are nurturing and caring for their young

The warblers looked like they were on the path to success. They had avoided the predators. They had survived the on-lookers. But then the rains came. After the last photo it rained heavily, almost continuously for a day and a half. The next morning I stopped by to check the nest and they were gone, there was no sign of the chick, the nest lay empty with two eggs still inside. I felt sick. It was the worst of times.

Meanwhile, up on the Rail Trail up on a dead branch of a tree, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher also built a nest. This nest was also in a somewhat unlikely place. Normally, Gnatcatchers build nests high up in trees, surrounded by the leafy canopy. They are tiny things so they are hard to see. This nest was much lower in the tree, almost in the open, but built tightly into the fork of the branch.

We were blessed that this nest was so visually accessible. Gnatcatcher nests are beautiful in their construction. Cornell's site describes one as Open cup with high walls, made of spider webbing or caterpillar silk, covered with lichens or bark flakes. Lined with grass stems, bark strips, plant down, hair, feathers, or other fine fibers. Placed far out from trunk on tree limbs

The following photos take you through the sequence, from incubating the eggs, through feeding the young. You can see them grow in size.

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Notice the closed eyes, I guess young beaks are sharp

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I don't know why but at several nests I notice parents sitting with their butts towards the youngs' head

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Big food for big kids

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Near the time of this photo, while the parents were away, I saw one of the chicks lean too far and step / fall out of the nest onto the branch. Surprised / scared it climbed quickly back into the nest. This was one of the flooding days.

I had brought every memory card I owned. I filled two cards with just Gnatcatchers. Towards the end, I was deleting "bad" photos between feeding runs trying to hold on until they fledged. But finally my cards were full, I was exhausted and had to leave. Sometime later that day they fledged, the next morning the nest was quiet....It was the best of times.