From Shallows to Swamp?

A bird stares intently, seemingly focused on an errant feather stuck to his beak.

But that’s not what this juvenile Bald Eagle is watching. Perched on the high bluff behind our Lake Allegan home, the raptor has a sweeping view of the water below. That view includes Eagle Island.

You can probably guess how that island got its name.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

A Cowbird Cases the Joint

I first noticed the cowbird’s stake-out on May 17, 2022.

The snoop at my sliding-glass door made no attempt to conceal herself as she stared. I wondered: Was she looking through the glass or at it?

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

When the Poo Piles Up

Globs of disgusting doo dotted our gate.

The poo’s origin was no mystery. Robins had nested overhead, on our pergola. But still, I wondered why I was seeing so much of the sticky stuff. Robins, like many bird parents, remove their nestlings’ excrement after each feeding. It comes out wrapped in a fecal sac—a convenient package that parents swallow during the first week and then carry away from the nest as fecal quantities grow. In addition to helping keep the young ones healthy, nest sanitation minimizes any scent trail that might lead predators to the nest. And yet, just a few feet directly below the nestlings lay a stinking pile of poop.

Was I looking at the dereliction of parental doo-ty?

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

A Surplus of Swans

I counted seven swans-a-swimming.

The beautiful birds were not a precious gift from my true love, as the holiday song suggests.  Instead, Mute Swans are quite common on Lake Allegan, which our home overlooks. Their graceful movement and luminous white plumage always command my attention. While not totally silent as their name implies, Mute Swans are blissfully quiet compared to the loudmouth Canada Geese that also frequent our lake.

And then there’s the ugly part: These lovely birds are invasive thugs.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, E. Spicer.

Winter Goes with the Floe

Temperatures are rising, and I’m watching a break-up.

Warm(ish) weather has reached our lake, melting and fracturing its icy cover. Ice floes of all shapes and sizes meander by. Some floes rival a sculptor’s art. Others carry creatures at rest, floating like innertubes on a lazy river.

They all send a most welcome signal.
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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Winter Wonders

What does wildlife think of winter?

I don’t picture wildlife muttering silently about insufferable snow and icy wind. Instinct and biology play key roles in keeping creatures warm and fed. But animals are intelligent, too. Do they think about the seasonal discomfort?

That’s what I’m wondering as I sit by my fireplace, snug in my home and shielded from the cold and snow.

read more and see the video

Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Farewell to a Favorite Tree

Our broken, branchless beech finally fell.

The tree was about fifty-five years old* when we bought our home in 2004. On our well-wooded property, it didn’t command any particular notice. Then in 2015, Pileated Woodpeckers chose it for their nest. That was quite a show, which I filmed. But the poor tree! The woodpeckers removed about five gallons of wood to dig a cavity some 19” deep.

That’s when the tree’s trouble—to my eventual great delight—began.
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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

What’s in a Fake-News Bird Name?

Jay! Jay!

I hear that cry and know instantly which bird just flew nearby. The Blue Jay’s squawk and its brilliant blue feathers mirror its name, making it easy to find and remember the bird.

That’s not often true of the fake-news name given to the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

When a Woodpecker Proves You Wrong

Why was the woodpecker pounding such a puny branch?

The Hairy Woodpecker could only be seeking food. The branch was too tiny to surround a roost cavity.

I could see why a woodpecker might choose this red oak to forage. It has several branch stubs: jagged wounds where fungi can enter. Many wood-boring insects prefer laying eggs on decayed and damaged trees. The hatchling larvae can easily chew their way inside, where depending on species, they may overwinter.

But this particular branch? It’s so skinny—maybe four inches in diameter—it must have been frozen to its core in yesterday’s 14-degree weather. Wouldn’t an insect mom want an egg-laying site with more mass? A trunk or a thick limb that would retain warmth to help her babies survive a Michigan winter. I was sure the woodpecker wouldn’t find food in this branch.

He pounded and chiseled. It took him just six minutes to prove me wrong.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.