Nesting Birds of Missouri – Acadian Flycatcher

Warning: although I find the material in this post quite interesting and I am pleased with the observations made and detective work accomplished, there is not, unfortunately, a happy ending.

Having the fortune of living within minutes of a few Ste. Genevieve County gems, this summer Steve was fortunate to find something we had been on the lookout for while on a stroll at Hawn S.P.  He sent word that he had found an active nest of a pair of Acadian Flycatchers.  Not only that, but it was in a fairly nice position for photography and the pair did not seem too concerned if the viewer stayed low and silent.  Needless to say, I was excited.  We visited days later to find mom on the eggs – yet to hatch.

Acadian Flycatcher - On Nest
Acadian Flycatcher – On Nest

The female would leave the nest for less than three to four minutes at a time to feed herself.  The male was primarily concerned with scouting and announcing his territory, vocalizing continuously as he traveled its circumference.

Acadian Flycatchers - Mom Taking a Break
Acadian Flycatchers – Mom Taking a Break

Once in a while both parents would be at the nest at the same time.  Gee, I wonder why dad doesn’t come around more often… 😉  We were surprised by the relatively large size of the bird’s beaks and the small size of the nest!

Acadian Flycatchers - Giving the Business
Acadian Flycatchers – Giving the Business

To give some idea of the habitat these guys were using…  These are definitely forest dwelling birds.  This section of Hawn was close to a 50:50 mix of Short-leaf Pine and deciduous trees.  The nest itself was located in a Black Gum that was approximately 30-40′ tall.

Acadian Flycatchers - Habitat Shot
Acadian Flycatchers – Habitat Shot

A follow up visit a week later found that two visible chicks were in that tiny nest!  In the photo below, one of the parents had just brought a spider back to feed to one of the altricial young.

Acadian Flycatchers - Feeding Time
Acadian Flycatchers – Feeding Time

The next photo documents the large, developing eyes of these sightless young.  Also take note of the characteristic nests of these birds.  The tendrils on these nests are strung up with spider webs and can be up to a meter long.  According to the literature, this nest is near the maximum height range from the ground (~25′) that this species will build.  As great as this was, I would love to find a nest built lower.

Acadian Flycatchers - Unmistakable
Acadian Flycatchers – Unmistakable

The following Saturday we visited during prime lighting hours for where the nest was located.  With the relatively quick fledging time of these songbirds, we gave it about a 50% chance that the chicks would still be in the nest.  We got to our viewing spot – a dry creek bed that gave us partial cover, and waited.  Other than an occasional song from dad at a distance, we had no sign whatsoever of anything going on at the nest.  After sitting silent and ready for about 40 minutes, we had concluded that the nest was no longer in use.  The chicks might have fledged?

We decided we could safely walk directly under the nest without interfering with anything.  When we arrived we were disappointed to find that both chicks were lying directly underneath the nest, dead.  For a while we contemplated what could have happened.  Could a storm or wind gust have knocked them from the perch?  As we lamented the demise of these fresh beings, Steve saw something near the crotch where the nest branch met the trunk.  Here is what we observed and answered our questions.

Black Rat Snake - Eater of Chicks
Black Rat Snake – Eater of Chicks

See that bulge in this young Rat Snake?  We hypothesized that this was a third chick that this guy had preyed upon.  We suppose that during the process of ingesting this chick, the other two were either pushed or decided they were better off jumping from the nest, then wait for the fate of the unfortunate sibling.  We were fortunate to arrive at the nest in time to spot this snake before it had moved on.  We bothered it long enough to take some images, then let him hide in peace to digest his meal.

 

Nesting Birds of Missouri – Pine Warbler

Perhaps the most appropriately named warbler, this special bird is said to nest almost exclusively in pine trees and is one of the earliest nesting warblers within it’s range.  These special birds were a thrill for us to find and watch.  Closeup images of the male bird were taken at Big Spring State Park, while the nest was located in a Short-leaf Pine located on a parking lot within Shaw Nature Reserve.

Male Pine Warbler, Big Spring State Park, April 2014
Male Pine Warbler, Big Spring State Park, April 2014

The chicks were adorable and near-helpless, only able to open their gigantic craws at anticipation of a juicy insect meal.

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Pine Warbler Chicks, Shaw Nature Reserve, May 2014

During the time Steve and I strained our necks watching the child care from ~50 ft below, we were able to observe that when dad visited the nest he always approached from the side of the nest facing us as seen in the image below.  Mom always visited on the opposite side, affording us poor looks.  It was interesting to observe that both parents approached the nest in a slow and indirect manner, usually starting low in the nest tree or an adjacent neighbor.  They would then hop from branch to branch, often in a spiral up the tree to reach the nest.  I do not remember watching either parent make a direct flight to the nest.

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Pine Warbler Father with Chicks, Shaw Nature Reserve, May 2014

I’ll leave you with the Pine Warbler advertisement song and with hopes of seeing them as soon as possible in the next spring.

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Male Pine Warbler, Big Spring State Park, April 2014

 

 

April Remembered

About three months ago Steve and I made a trip to southern Missouri in perfect time to catch the songbird migration near its peak.  Our primary areas of focus were the two largest springs in Missouri – Big Spring and Greer Spring, two areas located within Ozark Scenic National Riverways.  This National Park contains some of the best habitat in Missouri for newly arriving nesting birds as well as good stopping grounds for those birds heading to more northerly destinations.

I was very fortunate in being able to take first photos of several new species during this trip, one of which was this amazing Broad-winged Hawk – a species whose diagnostic vocalization is often heard among the treetops in densely wooded areas but is less frequently seen.

Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk

Another species that I finally captured on camera was this Yellow-throated Vireo.  This species advertising song is quite similar to the Red-eyed Vireo.  The difference being that the Yellow-throated will give you a chance to answer his questions, whereas the Red-eyed won’t shut up long enough for you to respond!  😉

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Yellow-throated Vireo

Next up is a species that was just passing through, on its way to nest in northern Canada or Alaska.  The Grey-cheeked Thrush is the least studies of North American Catharus species.

Grey-cheeked Thrush
Grey-cheeked Thrush

Greer Spring is always a place of great beauty, although usually stingy with pleasing compositions.  On this visit we took the plunge into the first deep boil immediately outside the cave opening.  An unforgettable experience!

Greer Spring in Bloom
Greer Spring in Bloom

At the trail-head on the way down to the spring, Steve found this Pheobe nest with mom on eggs.  She patiently sat while I took a few photos.

A Step Back In Time
A Step Back In Time

Probably the most exciting find and photographs for us was this resident Swainson’s Warbler.  This warbler is likely the least common of Missouri’s nesting songbirds and is considered endangered in the state.  Loss of its preferred habitat of thick shrubby understory within flood plain forests has caused this species to decline across its entire breeding range.  The boat dock at Greer Spring is one of the few locations that this species can be expected to be found every spring in Missouri.

Swainson's Warbler
Swainson’s Warbler
Swainson's Song
Swainson’s Song

This last image, which may be my favorite of the trip, shows a singing Ovenbird, a species of the understory within high-quality hardwood or hardwood/conifer forests.  It’s song, often described as teacher, teacher, teacher, can be confused with the similar sounding song of the Kentucky Warbler.  We have noticed the difference of habitat preference between the two species, which may aid the novice birder.  The Ovenbird is most often observed in dry upland areas with sparse vegetation, whereas the Kentucky Warbler prefers lower, wet areas with dense undergrowth.

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The Ovenbird

In my opinion, one has not experienced anything in the Missouri Ozarks until having spent a sunrise on an April morning listening to the newly arrived nesting songbirds and those just passing through.

There could not possibly be enough Aprils in a lifetime.

An April Morning
An April Morning