A Bit of Bird-Watching Humility

What a racket!

It sounded like a squeaky-door orchestra playing in double-time staccato. I looked out the window, expecting to see a flock of agitated birds. But there were only two, and they seemed to be squabbling. One stood on our long-dead snag, the other on a nearby tree. They launched verbal tirades at each other, as though trading insults.

I did not recognize these birds.

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How to Annoy an Eagle

Unflappable.

That seems an apt descriptor for a Bald Eagle. Lacking any natural predators, these powerful birds have little to fear in our placid Lake Allegan neighborhood.

That doesn’t mean they’re not wary. We’ve learned not to dash to the window when an eagle lands in one of our trees. They notice the tiniest motion and move on. You can picture me tiptoeing across the room like a Great Blue Heron, trying to sneak to my camera unnoticed. If I succeed, I shoot video through the glass, lest I make noise moving the sliding glass door.

A few weeks ago, an eagle stopped by. True to form, it saw my careful approach and bolted. But the creature didn’t go far. It took a short hop to the aptly named Eagle Island opposite our home. He was far enough away that he didn’t care if I stepped out of the house, but (barely) in range to capture some decent video.

The entertainment started when I realized he wasn’t the only bird perched on an island branch.

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Noisy Neighbors

I’m forever looking out the window.

Even when I’m immersed in a banking or children’s writing project, my peripheral vision keeps an eye on the treetops surrounding our house. I don’t catch fascinating critter behavior every day, or even every week. And of late, I seem to be in a wildlife dry spell. I suspect they’ve all been hiding from the recent scorching heat and thunderstorms.

So, I thought I might have to skip a blog post (I shoot for about every two weeks).

But this morning, I was searching for bird video related to a children’s book I’m working on, and I found an irresistible clip to share.

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High Drama

The cute Eastern Gray Squirrel appeared to have nefarious intent.

Woodpecker nestlings are loud, and their high-pitched squeaks are constant. Every squirrel in the neighborhood was no doubt aware they’d taken up residence in the tree.

So, when I spotted the bushy-tailed rodent repeatedly peeking into a Hairy Woodpecker nest cavity, I was pretty sure it was shopping for a meal.

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Solitary Swan

There’s nothing more graceful than a swan swimming on perfectly still water.

We see swans quite often on Lake Allegan. They’re drawn to the weedy, shallow water surrounding Eagle Island, a few hundred yards from our home. Swans mate for life, and they’re social creatures. So usually, they feed in pairs—or herds or banks or bevies—of six or eight (who comes up with these collective nouns?).

So, when a solo swan floated nearby for days, I wondered if something was amiss.

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Three Ducks

I thought she was wounded.

A female Common Merganser floated in a posture I’d not noticed before. A male was with her, swimming broad circles around her prone body. Was she injured? I grabbed my spotting scope to find out.

I watched as she floated, nearly motionless, elongated as though playing dead man’s float.

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Good Morning, Geese!

Ubiquitous.

If there’s an apt word to describe Canada geese, that’s the one. They’re always around, sometimes just a pair, more often honking in what seems like the hundreds. I tend to pay little attention to these loud-mouthed creatures.

But a few weeks ago, I woke to an eerily beautiful sight—a line of languid geese seemingly also starting their day. The group was strewn across Lake Allegan’s February ice. The air was misty…almost ethereal.

I wondered … did the birds spend their night on the ice?

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Splish. Splash. Fish!

Mergansers are a common sight–pun intended– on Lake Allegan.

Common Mergansers, or Mergus merganser in ornithology-speak, are social creatures that flock in groups up to 75 individuals. I usually see about half that number, most often in late winter and spring.

These small diving ducks seem to prefer the main channel of our river-turned-lake. In winter, the water beneath our home will freeze. But the main channel’s deeper, swifter water generally does not. So, as the lake began to thaw after the recent polar vortex, I was doubly surprised to see mergansers close to our shore. Not only were they diving for prey in very shallow water, but they were also fishing beneath the ice.

Picture whack-a-mole without the whacking.

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Winter’s Stoic Eagles

How do birds stay warm in winter?

They huddle. They puff their feathers, tucking head and feet into the fluff. And they shiver.

I was looking for keep-warm behavior as I watched some Bald Eagles during a recent howling snowstorm. An adult and a juvenile flew nearby.

Our lake, an impoundment formed by damming a river, rarely wears a full blanket of ice. When the region’s smaller lakes freeze, Lake Allegan still provides open-water fishing. So, while eagles are a common sight, I was surprised to see how these two behaved in the frigid, snowy wind.

Their heads and toes remained untucked, and while likely parent and child, they were not in a huddle.

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Great Blue Baffling Behavior

A place for everything and everything in its place.

That admonition came to mind as I watched a familiar bird engage in some very peculiar behavior.

Great Blue Herons are a common sight out my window. One fellow (or girl—they look the same) appears regularly on the edge of Eagle Island, about 1,000 feet from our home. He comes out to feed, stalking fish and amphibians as he tip-toes through shallow water in classic heron style. Step. Pause. Stare. Step. Pause. Stare. Step. Pause…Pounce!

But on that July day, something else drew the bird’s attention.

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