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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mud birds

The sun came out Tuesday in the late afternoon, so I decided to run over to my favorite "vernal" mud puddle.

Sometimes enjoying birds is as simple as sitting on the ground next to a choice watering hole. In the case of Prospect Park, that spot would be on the bridle path next to Rick's Place. Park maintenance vehicles have worn several ruts in the path that become a wildlife oasis with each rainfall. The path is nestled within a natural gully formed by a ridge along the west edge of the horse trail and a triangular rise on the opposite side that, until recently, was protected by low fencing. Various saplings, dense multiflora rose shrubs and other low vegetation offer a quick hiding place for the birds that arrive to drink and bath at the puddle. It is especially productive during the weekday, when there is less human activity in that section of the park.

I wanted to keep things simple, so I left my backpack chair at home. Instead, I found a good, butt-sized rock near the edge of the path and carried it a few yards to a prime viewing location. It isn't beneath me to just sit in the dirt, but I was wearing a fairly new pair of pants. I usually give it a little time before ruining new clothes with mud, sweat and insect repellent. There were several goldfinches at the water that flew into the trees when I arrived. They'd be back.

I've watched birds at that location in the past, but this was the first time that I'd try to photograph them. Over a period of ninety minutes I gained new found respect for wildlife photographers, in particular, bird photographers. You'd think it would be easy to snap off photos of every bird that came to the watering hole. It's not, at least for me. By the time I moved the camera onto the subject and focused, they'd move. It's particularly difficult when they are very close, because they don't have to move very much to be out of the frame. I can't believe that I'm actually complaining that the birds were too close to me! One beautiful, olive-green Ovenbird ventured so close to me, that it seemed as though I could have reach over and pick him up. In retrospect, I'm sure he would have been much faster on the draw than me.

During my 90 minute sit beside the puddle I observed Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Veery, American Robin, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Chipping Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow. A pair of Baltimore Orioles seemed like they wanted to join the party but would only come as close as the lower branches of an oak tree above the path. They chattered for a few moments then dart off towards the Midwood. I also learned that starlings are the bullies of the mud puddle, intimidating all the other birds trying to drink and bath.

Another interesting sighting near the puddle was our local male Red-tailed Hawk, Ralph, being mobbed by robins and jays. The big baby was actually making a crying call as the much smaller birds were taking swipes at him.

As I was leaving the park at 5th Street, I stopped to look at the flower garden in front of the Litchfield Villa. Climbing clematis that had wrapped around a section of wire fencing were blooming and many bees were enjoying the nectar. While looking at the insects I spotted a jumping spider hiding in the shadow of a pink petal. A droplet of water had accumulated in a slight depression on one of the flowers. The minuscule, metallic green spider was drinking the water. I had stumbled upon a spider waterhole nestled in the crease of a flower petal.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"


Marie said...

Drinking spiders...Puts the world in a different light.

Pamela said...

I wondered why spiders are always hiding around my kitchen sink.

Note to self: Must go look for a mud hole to see birds.

However, we don't have the variety here as you have, I'm sure.

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope