Nest in Great Blue Heron Rookery, Akron, Ohio, May 15, 2022.
Canon ESO R6 with RF 100-500mm with RF 1.4 extender at 420mm, 1/4000 sec, f/10, ISO 5000
Purple Martins are songbirds in the Swallow family, Hirundinidae, along with Tree Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, Bank Swallows, Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, Cave Swallows, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.
Purple Martins winter throughout central South America, migrating up through Central America and Mexico in the spring, breeding for the most part east of the Rockies from the gulf coast up into Canada, with some nesting in the mountains of Mexico and Arizona and along the U.S. Pacific Coast. Martins are cavity nesters, but have nested in houses beginning with native Americans hanging up empty gourds as nests well before European settlers arrived. In the early 19th century John James Audubon chose his lodgings based on the quality of the martin boxes hung on tavern sign boards. By 1900 almost all nests east of the Rockies were in human built habitat, whereas the western populations still nest in traditional tree cavities.
Martin houses are generally arranged like condos or apartments in clusters, as shown in the image above. Here there appears to be 18 units on the pole, elevated well above ground level. The materials for houses vary, including the units we see here molded out of plastic to look like gourds, with screw-on side caps for cleaning, a porch in front of each unit, and a narrow entrance with passageway to discourage predators. Houses may be built of wood or metal.
Purple Martins have been extensively studied due to their wide range, large population, and popularity with the public. Research shows that they are among the earliest returnees to North America in the spring, likely arriving in NE Ohio in April. These birds were photographed on May 17, 2022 at the Winous Point Shooting Club and the affiliated Marsh Conservancy.* These birds are likely choosing accommodations for the nesting season and more birds may still be arriving on site from the south.
* Shooting clubs on the shores of Lake Erie over the past 100 years have been the main drivers of marshland conservation. No marshes mean no ducks, and therefore no fall hunting. In fact, throughout the U.S. hunters and conservationists/naturalists have worked closely together to preserve and regulate our natural world to maintain the proper balance of forces and conserve species.
Canon ESO R6 with RF 100-500mm with RF 1.4 extender at 420mm, 1/4000 sec, f/10, ISO 1600
This series centers on apartment #7, and the unit above, which may be #14 (tough to see the number!). Above a female, or perhaps an immature male, arrives at #7 to join a presumed female. Below they seem to be canoodling a bit, this group of images culled from a large set.
In the image above, our male/female looks up at the apartment upstairs (so to speak) at what is clearly a male and female pair perched on their porch.
In the image below he/she takes off for the upper unit.
While the sex is not entirely clear, this could be a female confronting another female over the male, who has presumably staked out this apartment, and may have staked out a larger set of apartments. Or then again, an immature male may be trying out his stuff against an older male.
Below the male is clearly making noise at the intruder, who lands nonetheless.
In the image above, the presumed female in #7 watches in interest.
Below a confrontation, this time with the resident male, while the female checks out the accommodations.
Image below, our visitor from #7 returns home to check out his/her accommodations!
A careful observer will see that the male at the upper apartment and the male/female from #7 are both banded on the right leg. Although this often indicates a male of the species, especially in studies where the two sexes look alike (such as Cordilleran Flycatchers on Mt Lemmon), this is not always the case. For banding on Kelley's Island on Lake Erie banding is always done with a metal band on the right leg (ref: Andy Jones). So, the band leg does not really help us here, other than we know they are being tracked and studied.
Older territorial male Purple Martins arrive early at nest sites, with females arriving later. This may be an instance of a single dominant male presiding over a number of units being visited by newly arriving females.
Purple Martins eat flying insects at all times of year. Although birdhouse manufacturers advertise that martins can routinely eat greater than 2,000 mosquitoes a day, there is no credible evidence that martins eat mosquitoes at all (ref: Birds of the World). Martins fly high and during the day, mosquitoes fly low and mostly at night.
My thanks to Andy Jones and Jeff Babson, who both reviewed this group of images as I was trying to figure out what this all meant. Juvenile males look like females, and banding in Ohio does not really help with sex identification. So, could be a young male, could be a female.
Great Blue Heron Rookery
Canon ESO R6 with RF 100-500mm with RF 1.4 extender at 700mm, 1/1000 sec, f/10, ISO 640
On May 15, 2022, we stopped by a Great Blue Heron rookery on West Bath Road, just north of the Akron Sewer Department just north of Akron, and south of Cleveland. See the map below. The rookery is at the yellow box, indicating where these pictures were shot. If you are taking a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this rookery is to the south of the park and worth a side trip. There were multiple nests high up in the trees adjacent to West Bath Road.
In the images above the map and below we see an adult Great Blue Heron with three nestlings. Because of the high location, it was impossible to see into the nest. (For more rookery shots, see my post on the Smith Oaks Rookery, High Island, Texas in April 2019).
Canon ESO R6 with RF 100-500mm with RF 1.4 extender at 700mm, 1/1000 sec, f/10, ISO 640
In the images above and below, an adult is flying back to the nest, likely with a crop full of fish. The adult regurgitates food onto the nest, where the nestlings gobble it up.
Above, we see the characteristic S-shaped neck as the adult flys , with the short, wide tail, and long legs following behind. As the bird comes in for a landing, the legs droop like huge landing gear, and the wings flare out for a controlled stall.
In the above photograph the alula, or "bastard thumb" is laid flat, and the associated feathers are lighter than the rest of the leading edge, right where the wing angles back. More on the alula below.
Above and below, coming in for a landing.
In the image above we again see the alula now extended or deployed to increase lift as the bird lands. About 40% of the bird's wing is distal to the wrist; all the "hand" bones are fused. The small feathers that jut up at the wrist on both sides are the alula, the heron equivalent of our thumb.
The heron drops in for a landing on the nest, well camouflaged among the branches.
Below an adult heron brings in a stick for ongoing nest maintenance.
If you stop at this viewing point on W. Bath Road, park off of the pavement and watch for traffic in both directions. It is a busy road.
Canon ESO R6 with RF 100-500mm with RF 1.4 extender at 700mm, 1/4000 sec, f/10, ISO 2000
Late in the afternoon of Monday May 16, 2022 we stopped in the Metzger Marsh area where migrating Dunlins were foraging for food in the mud.
Dunlins are a North American shorebird that winter (non breeding) in coastal areas from Mexico up through the U.S. and Canada on both the east and west coasts. They are named after their color in the off season, a mousy gray-brown of "dun" color, seen below in a shot I captured last October in Cape May, New Jersey. However, in breeding season they develop a vivid rusty back and a black belly patch. This coloration at one time led to the name "Red-backed Sandpiper." However this bird drew the off-season card, and ended up "dun." In fact, the name comes from the word dunling, the earliest known English name of the species. "Dun" meaning gray brown, and "ling" the diminutive; it is literally a "little brown job."
Dunlin in non-breeding plumage, Cape May, N.J., October 2021.
In this series of photographs from the marsh in May, we see the bird foraging in the mud for invertebrates. Dunlins have very sensitive bill tips which enable them to detect prey by touch, allowing them to feed at night and take advantage of tidal cycles. References report they insert their bills only about a 1/4 inch or less to find prey, including earthworms, marine worms, midges, flies, craneflies, beetles, spiders, snails, mussels and small clams.
I would say that this bird is defying the all my references and going more than a 1/4 inch deep! We can see the build-up of mud on his bill!
Dunlins are quite beautiful in breeding plumage.
They breed all the way north in the Arctic on the northern shores of Canada and Alaska. They nest in the subarctic or arctic tundra in wet areas, feeding close to where they nest. This bird is likely on his way north, stopping in Ohio for some rest and food.
Below an image I captured at Cape May last October. In the winter Dunlins roost and forage in large flocks near saltwater, in this case, Cape May, N.J. All these birds are in winter plumage.
Canon ESO R6 with RF 100-500mm with RF 1.4 extender at 700mm, 1/2500 sec, f/10, ISO 2500
Not far from the Dunlin we spotted this Semipalmated Plover.
This North American shorebird, similar to the Dunlin, winters along the the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, as well as the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and portions of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America. They breed in Northern Canada and Alaska, so presumably the winter residents of coastal Argentina are long range migrants, following the food along the shoreline to North America and then joining the rest of the population to migrate north across most of the lower 48 states and Canada to their nesting territory. This bird, like the Dunlin, is in migration, stopping in the marshes of Lake Erie to rest and feed.
The name Semipalmated Plover comes from the partial webbing between their toes ("semipalmated"), not a very useful field mark! However, in the image below, captured on the Texas Coast in April of 2019, I think we can see a hint of the partial webbing on the right foot as this plover lifts his leg walking the beach.
Semipalmated Plovers eat mostly small invertebrates, foraging in quick dashes followed by a pause to look and listen for prey. They like wetlands, beaches and agricultural fields, rarely wading into water over an inch deep.
They were once on the decline because of hunting but have rebounded in recent years, in part because of their wide-ranging diet, flexible choices for foraging locations, and some special features such as large eyes which help them to forage at night, especially in moonlight. It is interesting that both Dunlins and Semipalmated Plovers have adaptions to forage at night, a real advantage nutritionally.
Semi-palmated Plovers have been described as looking like small Killdeer (also plovers) with only one ring on the neck. So, to show these similarities and differences, here are some images of a Killdeer recently captured at Canoa Ranch in SE Arizona.
And for contrast, a Killdeer from Canoa Ranch
Canon ESO R6 with RF 100-500mm with RF 1.4 extender at 700mm, 1/2000 sec, f/10, ISO 2000
The Killdeer is a plover. In fact, it is the only Plover without plover in its name. Its name comes from the bird's call, "kill deer!" Killdeer have two black neck bands, and a bright red/orange ring around the eye. Here we see one wading and feeding at the pond at Canoa Ranch on April 19, 2022.
Whoa! That is it for NW Ohio in May 2022. We saw close to 200 species during the one week trip; I photographed about 80. The sampling of images in these 5 posts are the best of the lot with the best stories. To see more, plan a trip to Ohio next spring; you will not be disappointed.
More from SE Arizona soon!
Barred Owl Fledgling, Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, Bay Village, Ohio, May 14, 2022
This is Part 4 or a 5 part series on Spring Migration in NW Ohio in May of 2022. The prior posts are stacked up in this blog stream, or, for your browsing convenience, listed below with links.
Part 1, June 5, 2022, covered 6 species of migrating warbler, with a call-out on Magee Marsh and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Part 2, June 11th shifted gears and looked at 5 species of resident woodpeckers in NW Ohio, with call-outs to Pearson Park, one of the Toledo Metroparks, Kelley's Island, and Cuyahoga National Park. Part 3, June 22nd, covered more warblers at Magee Marsh, Pipe Creek Wilderness on Sandusky Bay, as well as Wendy Point in Cleveland.
This post, 4 of 5, explores the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center and the Lights-out Cleveland program, a Barred Owl momma and her two fledglings at sunset, Wood Ducks up in a tree and in the water, an American Woodcock hiding in the understory, a Common Nighthawk (technically "common" but generally hard to see!) snoozing on a branch and hunting moths in the air, and a surprise mammal in closing. So, hang on, here we go!
Lights Out Cleveland: A Rose-breasted Grosbeak is released!
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500mm at 118mm, f/8.0, 1/3200 sec, ISO 6400
Lights Out Cleveland is a collaborative project to make the urban landscape in Cleveland safer for migrating birds, by reducing building lighting during peak migration times. Many birds migrate at night and are attracted to building lighting or lights aimed at the sky, become disoriented, and fly into the structures. The program aims to reduce this lighting and decrease the number of collisions.
Key supporters of the program are the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center. As part of the program, volunteers recover stunned birds in the early hours of the morning and transport them to the Center to be cared for until they are ready for release.
We had the privilege of hearing about the program at the Center, and helping release three birds. As you can guess, when that little bundle of feathers gets close to the grass, it moves very fast. I was able to catch this female Rose-breasted Grosbeak as she made for the exit.
I have realized that identifying the species in this case requires only the ability to read an acronym: the four letter acronym for Rose-breasted Grosbeak (RBGB) is written on the bag! For those interested in the standard abbreviations commonly used by bird researchers and banders, see this Wikipedia Page: Bird Codes.
For more on Lights Out in New York City, including new laws designed to decrease light pollution during peak migration, see All About Birds, New York City Passes Landmark Lights-Out Laws
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a songbird in the Cardinal family (cardinalidae). The species winters in southern Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, and migrates north through the U.S. east of the Rockies to breed in the northern U.S. and Canada. This female may continue to migrate north, or could stay in NW Ohio. The females are streaked brown and white with a bold facial pattern, and large bill characteristic of this species and others in the cardinal family.
I have added other images, below, to show the striking appearance of the male: black and white with a rose-red breast. The photograph directly below was captured at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark on May 19th, against a very bright, milky sky.
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm at 500 mm, f/7.1, 1/1000 sec, ISO 500, EV +2
The image below was captured at High Island Texas, on the Texas coast on April 26, 2019. A male is eating mulberries on his migration north. Note that the Texas coast migration in April continues up into Ohio in May.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II, EF100-400 mm at 500 mm, f/8/0, 1/640 sec, ISO 4000, EV +2/3
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/500 sec, ISO 3200, EV +2
The Center is dedicated to animal welfare, and close to one of their outdoor trails, we spotted this adult Barred Owl, likely a female snoozing late in the day. She has her face partially under the right wing, then slowly pulls her head up and opens her eyes to see what is going on.
The Barred Owl lives year round from Florida and the Texas Coast up into the plains states, mid-west, New England and into Canada. Originally a bird of the eastern U.S., during the twentieth century the owl's range extended into southern Canada and west to Vancouver, then south into the Pacific Northwest. They are not residents of the desert southwest.
They like old forests and treed swamps, and can be heard at night to hoot, "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?", not to be confused with the call of the White-winged Dove. The calls are different, as well as the time and place the birds live and call. Also, to my ear, recordings of the Barred Owl have more of a barking sound than the White-winged Dove. In fact, playing it at home got my dog barking and running for the door!
The female shown above has a nest nearby, with at least two (maybe three) fledglings who were out of the nest, but not ready to fly. One of them, sitting deep in an evergreen and facing the setting sun, is seen below.
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm with RF 1.4x extender at 700 mm, f/10, 1/1000 sec, ISO 2000, EV -1/3
The second fledgling we spotted (shown below) apparently had fallen off of a tree branch and onto the ground the day before. Usually fledgling owls do fine on the ground with their mother's tending to them. However, in this semi-urban setting there are a lot of raccoons around which pose a risk to the fledgling, so the Center staff returned this owl to a branch, very close to the trail.
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/1000 sec, ISO 3200, EV +1/3
In the image above the owl is snoozing, and below, opens his eyes.
Above and below the fledging is checking out his surroundings and stretching. Remember that owls are nocturnal, so late afternoon is their morning. He is just getting up.
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/500 sec, ISO 3200, EV +1/3
Below, more stretching, including the wings. New yoga pose, "Upward Owl."
Image above, time to stretch the wings up. He is hanging on by one leg, the other seems to be looking for a branch in the air. It is easy to see how he fell the first time!
It appears that the underwing coverts, feathers that cover the base of the flight feathers, are not in yet, leaving the base of the primaries and secondaries exposed.
Below, back on the perch, bright-eyed and ready for the night.
Wood Duck: Oak Openings Preserve Metropark
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm with RF 1.4 extender at 700 mm, f/10, 1/3200 sec, ISO 4000, EV +1
Wood Ducks are one of two duck species, along with the Hooded Merganzer, who climb trees and nest in cavities. They can do this because their webbed feet have nails. Above we see a male on the left, and a female on the right on a tree limb near the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. Yes, some ducks can climb trees!
Wood Ducks are cavity nesters, with the female inspecting cavities in trees 1 to 2 feet in diameter, 2 to 60 feet off the ground, while the male stands by and watches. They prefer large holes, usually where a branch has broken off. They have clutches of 6 to 16 eggs, and on occasion a female may will lay her eggs in the nest of another female Wood Duck (infraspecific brood parasitism) and leave that female to raise them. Large clutches become larger, and nests with up to 29 eggs have been reported.
Chicks hatch alert and with a full coat of down. A day after hatching they climb out of the nest and fall to the ground. They follow mom to the nearest body of water where they begin to feed on seeds, fruits, insects and other arthropods; they can eat nuts and grains from dry land.
Below at Oak Openings on May 19th we spotted a mom with about a dozen chicks following her downstream.
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm with RF 1.4x extender at 700 mm, f/10, 1/3200 sec, ISO 4000, EV +1
And, some images from Tucson, Arizona
The male Wood Duck below was photographed at Reid Park in Tucson, Arizona, in February of 2017. For some reason he had decided to bathe in a artificial pool on the north side of Barnum Hill that empties into the north pond. I was able to get very close and capture these images.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Sigma 150-600 C series at 157 mm, f/5.0, 1/320 sec., ISO 400
My subject was very cooperative and stood on a rock in the middle of the pond so I could see his spectacular feet. In the cropped image below we can see the nails at the end of his toes that allow climbing on trees.
Another cavity nesting duck, a Hooded Merganser in Tucson
The images above are of Hooded Mergansers wintering at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson, male on the left, female on the right. Hooded Mergansers are the one other species of ducks that nest in cavities. Like the Wood Ducks, the young also leave the nest at one day of age. However, whereas Wood Ducks are dabblers (flipping their heads down in the water for food), Hooded Mergansers are divers, and hatchlings begin diving for food with mom and their siblings right away.
The morning of Oak Openings . . .
Every day starts with an early breakfast, usually at a diner catering to anyone who needs to be up early, This morning we stopped at the Woodville Diner in Oregon, Ohio, and had a great breakfast.
Yes, they have lots of coffee. I especially like the sign on the left, "Drink Coffee, Do stupid things faster and with more energy!"
Thursday the 19th we started the day (after breakfast) at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, on the west side of Toledo. On the map below, Toledo is toward the upper right corner, Oak Openings toward the bottom left at the yellow square. Oak Openings Preserve is 5,000 acres, and home to the nation's only treehouse village! It was named by pioneers who survived the trek west through the Great Black Swamp and named the area "Oak Openings" after the widely spaced oaks dotting a vast prairie. It is a huge and varied area, and a beautiful place to see birds.
Below, one of the trails. Not a swamp!
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm with RF 1.4x extender at 700 mm, f/10, 1/800 sec, ISO 1000, EV +2/3
During our walk through portions of Oak Openings we crossed a bridge over a stream and some very alert person (I suspect Dan or Andy) spotted this American Woodcock well camouflaged by the side of the stream.
The images above and below are the same, but with different crops, to show how well this bird blends in. Above it looks like a "Where's Waldo" book, and the shot below is not much better, in spite of cropping and some gentle image processing.
The American Woodcock is in the order Charadriiformes, collectively known as Shorebirds. It is in the family Scolopacidae, Sandpipers and Allies. This shorebird lives away from the shore, favoring forest floors where it is superbly camouflaged against the leaf litter. They eat earthworms and other invertebrates from the soil. They have long bills, with flexible upper mandibles specialized for capturing and extracting earthworms. They live year round in the southern U.S. and may breed further north as far as Canada. This bird is in its breeding territory.
They are described a goofy looking birds with long bills, big eyes, a squat, plump shape, and a funny bobbing motion as they walk. The males and females look the same, but the females are larger, an attribute hard to ascertain unless you spot multiple members together.
We were lucky to find this guy (or gal) on the forest floor.
Canon EOS 7D Mk II, EF 100-400mm with 1.3x Mk III extender, 560 mm, f/8.0, 1/1000 sec., f/8.0, ISO 1000, EV + 1 2/3
The Common Nighthawk is in the Order Caprimulgiformes, Family Caprimulgidae, otherwise known as Nightjars and Allies. In addition to the Common Nighthawk, the family includes the Lesser Nighthawk, Common Pauraque, Common Poorwill, Chuck-will's-widow, and the Eastern Whip-poor-will.
Common Nighthawks sleep during the day, laying flat on branches or on the ground, well camouflaged. They take to the skies at night to catch insects on the fly, especially moths.
The image above was captured on the Bolivar Peninsula on the Texas coast in April of 2019, and the two images below at Maumee State Park near our hotel on May 19, 2022.
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500mm with RF 1.4x extender at 560mm, f/10, 1/4000 sec, ISO 8000, EV +1 1/3
The Common Nighthawk hides extremely well during the day, and it was the persistence of our guide Dan Donaldson looking for this exact species on the tree branches that led to this discovery.
The images that follow were captured at Pearson Metropark on May 16th, the same evening I photographed the Pileated Woodpeckers in Post 2. Common Nighthawks eat exclusively insects on the fly, especially moths taking flight just before sunset, and just before sunrise.
The sun was below the horizon for us terrestrials in the parking lot, but still shining on the tree tops. We can see that this bird was flying in and out of the sun. The white markings on the wings and neck are quite visible. A very different looking bird in flight than folded up on a branch!
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm at 500 mm, f/7.1, 1/1600 sec, ISO 16000, EV +1 2/3
The Common Nighthawk has a very large mouth, good for catching flying insects. Like a big fielders glove gobbling up baseballs! In the last frame we can see his mouth open.
And, in closing, we saw more than birds . . .
Canon EOS R6, RF 100-500 mm with RF1.4x extender at 700 mm, f/10, 1/1000 sec, ISO 10000, EV +2/3
Let's close with another denizen of the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, a juvenile Woodchuck or Groundhog, sitting on the sandy soil the species likes for digging burrows.
That's all for now! Stay tuned for Post 5 of 5, coming soon.
Henry Johnson, photographer and author of this site. For more detail, see About