In the spring of 2021, I finally put up a couple of nest boxes in the yard of the new house. Both boxes were built and gifted by my father, Bart Duncan. Much appreciation! One box was designed specifically for bluebirds and a pair quickly staked their claim. They had an initial successful clutch, fledging three chicks, but on the next attempt, tragedy struck. During my monitoring visit, where there had been four half-developed chicks the day before I found not a single one. I believe the neighborhood racoons made a meal of them sometime during the night, leaving no evidence. It was early enough in the year that I wasn’t surprised that the pair tried again, but what surprised me was that they did not build a nest in the bluebird box, but used a box that was designed for Carolina Wrens that was bolted to the side of our screen porch. It made for some great photo opportunities that I am sharing here. I learned from my mistakes and have installed a baffle around the pole to the bluebird box along with a wire cage over the nest entrance. If a brood predator wants to get at them now they will really have to try hard. I am happy to say that to date, in the 2022 season, the pair successfully fledged two clutches – one of six and one of five chicks. Eleven new bluebirds this year, flooding the subdivision with bluebirds!
This beautiful adult Cooper’s Hawk flew through the yard a few times recently, attempting to catch diner. On this occasion it stopped on a shepherd’s hook and had a rest. I explained to it that it could have all the Starlings and ETS’s it could catch but to leave the juncos alone.
Here are some photos I’ve been sitting too long on from a trip the WGNSS Photography Group took back in May of this year. This is a splendid rookery that hosts at least five species of wading birds in O’Fallon Park that lies in north St. Louis.
It is always nice finding your targets on a big photography trip but the icing on the cake is finding the unexpected. That is what happened here when Casey and spent some time at Moro Bay State Park in southern Arkansas. When speaking to a very friendly park ranger, he let us on to where a pair of these birds setup territory and were virtually oblivious to humans. These birds completely ignored us as they flew to and from their favorite perches, often flying mere feet over our heads. We watched the male handoff their insect prey a number of times and even witnessed a copulation, but those photos were ruined by branches.
The Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) is another weirdo in the Parulidae family. It is the only extant member of the genus, Mniotilta, and it definitely stands out against the other wood warblers that we find in Missouri. Whereas other warblers flit about the leaves at ends of branches, through bush or along forest floors, gleaning for arthropods, the Black-and-white Warbler finds another niche. It forages by hugging tree trunks and inner branches, much like a nuthatch or creeper. The interesting genus name apparently comes from another of this bird’s behaviors. This name comes from the Ancient Greek mnion, meaning “seaweed”, and tillo, “to pluck”. Apparently, Black-and-white Warblers strip mosses and reindeer lichens to line their nests, which they make in mature forests across much of eastern and central North America.
With the relatively recent removal of the Yellow-breasted Chat from the Parulidae, the title of the largest new world “wood warbler” may very well go to the Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapilla. The Ovenbird is somewhat of a misfit itself. Seiurus is a monotypic genus, believed to have derived early in the evolution of the family. This pot-bellied, thrush-like bird nests and forages on the forest floor, getting its common name from its nest that supposedly resembles a Dutch oven.
Although the Ovenbird can be easily heard through much of the summer in any large-track deciduous forest, getting good looks and photographs is easiest by waiting to spot them in a migration trap like Tower Grove Park in St. Louis City where these photos were taken.
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.