Tay Meadows Tidbit – empty nest

Nest location - Field Sparrow?

It’s funny how you can walk by something so often and never notice it, and then one day it just pops right out at you, and you wonder how you’d possibly managed to miss it. Such was the case with me this week. I’ve walked passed these little saplings every time I’ve taken Raven back into the fields behind the house. They stand just off the trail, not too far. I’d even gone over to check one out a couple of months ago, because I’d noticed some galls in the leaves that looked interesting. The leaves came down in October, and for the last month or so I’ve been walking by these bare-naked trees and never noticed anything.

Then this week I glanced over and happened to spot a small blob in the lower portion of the tree that I hadn’t noticed before. So I went over for a closer look.

Nest - Field Sparrow?

It was a nest. How the heck had I missed that all this time? Especially once the leaves come down and nests usually become quite conspicuous. Given its size (closer photo below, with my fingers for scale), structure (a compact cup of mostly grasses), habitat (open fields with widely scattered brush), and location (a couple of feet up in a small oak sapling), I guessed it to be a Field Sparrow nest, probably a late-summer second-brood nesting. In the early summer Field Sparrows usually nest on the ground because that’s where cover is thickest, but if they decide to try for a second brood later in summer those nests are often elevated, since by that time the leaves are all full and green on the shrubs and trees. The only other likely candidate might be Chipping Sparrow, but I tend to think of them as nesting more commonly in conifers, and their nests as being shallower constructions lined with animal hair rather than grasses.

Nest - Field Sparrow?

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Today at Kingsford – Field Sparrow fledglings

Field Sparrow chick

As I was walking back to the banding station after opening my half of the mistnets at our MAPS visit Tuesday morning, I crossed some juniper habitat that we don’t usually pass through during the course of the day. Within moments of stepping onto the granite rise I had two very upset, very vocal Field Sparrows circling around me, moving from ground to tree to shrub. They were giving harsh alarm chips, their mouths full of caterpillars and other bugs. I knew there had to be babies around very close by. I had found a Field Sparrow nest at one of our other sites nestled into the branches of a little juniper shrub, so it was in the shrubs that I started to look first.

It only required lifting a few branches before I spotted the cute little face above staring back at me. The fledgling was out of the nest, certainly, but not long. It showed no fear or attempts to escape; I could probably have reached out and picked it up if I’d chosen to. Fledgling chicks don’t show this flight behaviour until they’ve been out of the nest a couple of days; for the first little while they just sit still and hope you don’t see them. Often, it works. I finished taking a few photos of the above youngster, and then stood up to carry on back to the station. After a few metres I realized I’d left my lens cap on the ground near the chick, and turned around to go back to get it. As I was scanning the ground to see where I’d set it, I spotted a second fledgling that I’d completely missed on my first search. Surprisingly, it was sitting out in the open, beside a fern. It had been so still I hadn’t noticed it. I took a few quick photos of this second chick, collected up my lens cap, and then left so that the distraught parents could return to feeding their babies.

Field Sparrow chick

Monday Miscellany

For Sale

Today, our house went up for sale. We’ve known for a little while that it was going to be listed, but the agent only just came out today to take photos and put up the sign. Our landlord had originally called us on April 1 to let us know of his intentions to put the house on the market, and though I hoped that it was some cruel April Fool’s joke, it wasn’t.

Unfortunately, the price of the house is more than Dan and I are able to afford at this time, so it looks like we’ll be moving again. I feel a bit like my significant other has just told me that it’s over, but I’m still madly in love. Some denial, a delusional belief that somehow it could still be made to work. Trying to think about alternatives but still in that post-breakup stage where every new suitor is held up to the recently departed for comparison.

We don’t know when we’ll be moving, or to where, just yet – we’ll see how it all plays out. We’re hoping not to have to leave the area, however, in part because Dan is now committed to his research here, but also just because in the brief span of time we’ve been here we’ve really fallen in love with the region. If luck is on our side, we won’t end up too far away.

Hot!

In other news, the weather this weekend and into today has been unseasonably warm. Warm enough for me to dig into storage and pull out my shorts! This thermometer was sitting in the sun, but even so, it wasn’t all that far off.

New leaves

All the warm weather, combined with the rain yesterday, has prompted the trees to start actively putting out their leaves. It’s amazing just how quickly things start to green up once they get going.

Maple flowers

Although the fruit trees aren’t blooming yet, a number of other trees are in flower, including the silver maples. These are male flowers, as they sport many thin club-ended anthers that release the pollen. Female flowers typically have a single “stem”, with a sticky receptive knob at the end, which the pollen sticks to and then grows a root down through the stem to the egg at the stem’s base.

Alder flower?

And whatever this was. Birch? Alder? I’ve run out of time today, wrapped up with the distractions of the housing situation and warm weather. For my birthday I’d like an extra hour to the day.

Sapsucker holes

Speaking of trees, I noticed this recent sapsucker activity on the trunk of a very mature juniper. It seemed the tree had been a favourite in previous years, as well. Sapsucker wells are always distinctive in that they’re square holes, lined up in rows. The birds usually drill the holes, but don’t feed from them right away; they need for the tree to start leaking first. Once it’s dripping sap, the birds remember where they’ve drilled holes and return to feed from them.

Field Sparrow

This Field Sparrow showed up at our feeder last week. It was missing its tail, the result, perhaps, of a run-in with a predator. Birds use their tails as rudders to help them with steering when they’re flying, but can still maneuver without it. It’s better to drop the tail and get away than for the tail feathers to be a potentially life-ending liability, so the birds can drop them easily if they need to.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Both species of kinglet are back, among the earlier species to return in spring. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are moving through, but some of the Golden-crowns might potentially end up sticking around to breed this summer. They are the tiniest birds, weighing only as much as a couple quarters. It’s amazing that they migrate so early in the season, when cold weather is still potentially a concern.

Ichneumon wasp

Finally, the moths are flying, and these warm evenings we’ve had have been exceptionally busy at the moth sheet. Not just moths, either, coming to the blacklight – also beetles, Giant Water Bugs, midges, and these, ichneumon wasps. Normally I pay these guys very little attention. They seem generally harmless and docile, and we both ignore each other. However, somehow one of them managed to get up inside the leg of my jeans when I was checking the moth sheet a couple evenings ago, and stung me when it got pinched in the fabric. Although not as bad a sting as a honeybee, it was still rather startling, and has left me looking at these wasps with a bit more respect.

That’s it for this week!