Bring the Camera Every Time!

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron, Lake Needwood, Rockville, MD

When I started to do a series of “baby” posts, I didn’t know how many baby bird photos I had taken and would take! Last week, my walking/hiking/birding buddies and I were on an EXERCISE walk, NOT a birding walk. Recently, I decided to carry my camera on EVERY walk & hike, not just birding walks, and it paid off! Last Friday, we were crossing the same foot bridge we cross once or twice a week, and here was this strange creature just sitting there staring at us… and staring… and staring. After regaining our composure, I took a couple quick shots to be sure I came away with SOMETHING to refer to later. Then, I clicked and clicked and clicked, inching closer and closer and closer. This bird didn’t budge.

Juvenile Black Capped Night Heron, Lake Needwood, Rockville, MD

New to birding, the differences between males, females, young and mature are quite a challenge at times. This lovely bird turned out to be a juvenile black crowned night heron. Huh! Never would have guessed THAT. It’s hard to believe that this young bird, stunning in it’s own right, will transform into something that looks completely different. Eventually, this juvenile will grow to have a black cap and back with gray wings. Knowing now that they are around, I’ll be on the lookout for the parents! Lesson learned: bring the camera every time!!

The next installment will be another young bird that stumped us on the same day, while walking across the same foot bridge. See ya then!

Sweet Swallows

Baby tree swallows, Lake Hallowell, 5/26/20

Can you stand the cuteness?!? These adorable little tree swallows appear to be getting their courage up to fledge their nest. On the day this photo was taken, there were several bird houses, all bursting with baby bird preciousness–tree swallows and bluebirds.

Tree swallows, Lake Hallowell. 5/26/20

Above, proud parents tending their young. Below, this brave almost-fledgling working on it’s pros & cons list of why or why not to leave the security of the nest. Pros: freedom, more space to stretch it’s wings and more independence. Cons: losing out on free meals from mom and dad, giving up the shelter of this cozy house. Freedom and independence always win out over the rest!

Baby tree swallow, Lake Hallowell. 5/26/20

Here, on the same walk, bluebird parents caring for their hatchlings. Wish I’d caught the young this time. Maybe next spring!

Proud bluebird parents, Lake Hallowell 5/26/20
Bluebirds, Lake Hallowell. 5/26/20

What do these images make you ponder? They make me feel calmer and more hopeful for the future. Birds live the life I wish I could. They are so free to be exactly who they were made to be!

These birds’ lives are beautiful and precious to our creator, and so is yours!

What the Hawk?!?

Hawkstravaganza 2020

Continuing with my baby bird series… Last year, I noticed a hawk family had taken up residence in the woods behind my home. I wasn’t “into” birding at that time, but was certainly interested in this new development. The impact they would have on my feeder birds was of concern as well. At that time, I observed what seemed to be two adults and a young hawk. I tried to figure out what type of hawks they were: Sharp shinned hawks or cooper’s hawks, I wasn’t sure.

This summer, equipped with binoculars, camera and Audubon app on my iPhone, I began noticing hawks in the yard again. But it seemed like they were EVERYWHERE. What the hawk was going on?!? One day, I looked up and saw FIVE hawks on one singular pine tree! Strangely, most, if not all of them appear to be young. It has been a backyard hawkstravaganza!! With the aforementioned equipment, I determined them to be Cooper’s hawks, which are common in my area. Judging by appearance, one might think sharp shinned hawks, but these ladies and gents are too large. Also, their calls are different & what I’ve been hearing are definitely Cooper’s hawks’ kiks, caks & calls.

Having these glorious creatures in my yard has been mixed–really fun at times & other times, a little hawkward. It’s been exciting to watch them fly and swoop through the yard, across the deck & into the woods. Also, it’s been entertaining to observe these young cooper’s hawks romp and play in the woods behind my yard, chasing each other, hopping around, leaping over fallen trees and vocalizing. However, in my yard at the same time have been two bird houses containing bluebird & house wren hatchlings as well as a feeder full of songbirds. After reading up on hawks, I stopped stocking the feeder. The experts say once the feeder birds move elsewhere for lack of food, so will the hawks. It’s been two weeks since I stopped filling the feeder and the hawk presence has decreased a little, but they are still around. In fact, I spotted a red shouldered hawk in my yard the other day, but no good photos. Today, the baby birds have all fledged from the bird houses, so I may chance filling the feeder again soon.

What about you? Have you noticed hawks in your area? They really are fun to watch with their soaring and daring flight moves! While they enjoy feasting on our beautiful songbirds (bad!), they also feed on small mammals such as mice (good!).

Thank you so much for reading this far. I know this was a longer entry than usual and it took some commitment to read it to the end! Hopefully, the end result will be for you to go on a hawkventure of your own! By September in the mid-atlantic area, many varieties of hawks will be seen migrating south in large numbers, so dust off your binoculars and go find some!!

Hawkstravaganza2 2020

Mystery Solved

How about this beauty? Any idea what it is?? We beginner birders were stumped. Upon asking around, we heard people say it was a snowy egret, a little egret, maybe a young great egret…

It is amazing the small differences that separate two different species or subspecies. At the time of this photo, I could see the legs had a greenish hue which doesn’t convey well in the photos. What I didn’t notice at the time, but I can see in the photos, there are some blue-gray tail feathers. Have you figured it out yet? Keep reading…

Does size matter? Of course it matters in the bird world! Size helps narrow down what you’re looking at as much as color can. We estimated this bird was about 2-3 feet long. After going back to my Audubon app dozens of times, I was happy enough with this creature being a juvenile snowy egret. Look it up! It matched to me!!

We have a friend who is a very experienced birder. We very much wanted to verify our hypothesis & so glad she was prepared to help. Are you ready to solve this mystery? Were we right or wrong?

WRONG!!! This lovely creature turned out to be a juvenile little blue heron! Who would’ve thought?!? I have a long way to go in learning the vast variety of birds in my region, let alone anywhere else. But that’s okay because birding has helped me refocus on the positive, on the beauty of God’s creation, and on what’s most important in life.

I hope that as you spend time in nature, you FEEL how truly loved by God you are. Thank you for joining me on my journey.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Do you remember the children’s game “Duck, Duck, Goose”? I just loved that game back in the day! This season, I feel like I’ve been playing the adult version of the game, with so many duck and goose families popping up wherever I go walking or birding.

Is there anything cuter than a duckling? Can you stand the sweetness of these little balls of fluff?? If you pause long enough and observe them, you can begin to make out their little personalities. The pleaser, who easily falls in line with mom. The scaredy duck, who sticks close to mom no matter what. The duckling who keeps getting distracted by a bug in the water, or just about anything, and has to scramble to catch up with the others… Honestly, I could watch them all day!

The ultimate duckling experience for me has been observing the wood ducks. Wood ducks are not something I’ve had the privilege of seeing in the wild before. Maybe I had seen them, but didn’t notice. The female’s subtle browns with her small hint of a crest and dramatic white eye patch is exquisite. Her chicks all have the dark “eyeliner” similar to the mallard, but also have a lighter face and white patch on their body that is unique. So far, no male wood duck sightings, but I’m still looking!

The mallard ducklings are quite yellow and fuzzy and adorable in every way. They already have the dark “eyeliner” stripe on their faces. The mallards where I walk seem to be much more accustomed to human contact and don’t mind us coming a little closer than the wood ducks allow.

Confession time: I have developed a bias against Canada geese. They are beautiful, their chicks are adorable, and they can be equally fun to watch as ducks. However, they hiss, they breed and multiply and leave their droppings everywhere! As summer progresses, the poop minefields expand, birding conversation turns to “watch out”, “poop there”, “don’t step backward”, “poop to your left”, etc. While we set out to focus above, we increasingly must focus on below to ensure none of us experiences a cartoon-like slip, skid, fall on the green stuff.

Thank you for visiting, thank you for hearing my confession. It is my sincere hope that you will get out in nature this day. If you can, go to a water source and enjoy the waterfowl. The ducklings and goslings are growing fast!

Little Pop of Color

Female Juvenile Northern Cardinal 6/23/20 Lake Hallowell, Olney, MD

Here’s another installment of the baby bird series! Look at this cutie!! A little female northern cardinal youngster. Everything I read says that juvenile northern cardinals have black beaks until their first molt… but this little lady had her orange beak, but with what looks to me to be juvenile plumage. No matter what her age, isn’t she lovely?

Female Juvenile Northern Cardinal. 6/23/20. Lake Hallowell, Olney, MD

Having such an early and long, cool spring seems to have brought about much fertility in the bird world, at least here in Maryland. It has been so much fun watching little families expanding & growing every day. Stay tuned for more babies!

Wings of Eagles

I am continuing with the baby series. Today, I’d like to share my joy in locating a bald eagle nest this spring! After a hike around a local lake, my friends & I met a nice birding couple who asked if we eyed the eagle nest. Eagle nest?? WHAT EAGLE NEST?!? They were kind enough, even during scary COVID times, to share the location with us. They even told us about a sneaky spot to get a good waterfront look! So next time, we set out with binocs, cameras, etc., to find said eagles.

Is this adult bald eagle a beauty or what?!? What a thrill to see eagles thriving in nature practically out my back door. There were two fledglings in and around the nest. Hard to call them fledglings when they are so large, but they are babies, hatched this spring. It makes sense when they live 20-30 years or more. It takes four years for bald eagles to develop their adult plumage.

The male and female usually mate for life & build their nest together. They may return to it year after year. If they return, they will add onto it, making it quite large–eagle McMansion? The female lays 1-3 eggs per season and both parents incubate them. Yay male eagles for helping out!

Next year, we will look earlier in spring for the nest in hopes of finding a new batch of eggs and/or eaglets. Do you know of bald eagles near you? If yes, please share!

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Play Ball!

Do you enjoy baseball? Are you a Baltimore Oriole’s fan?? Well, it’s okay either way, but let’s talk about birds! This spring was the first time I had ever seen a Baltimore oriole at all, let alone a nest and babies!

This nest! The female builds this pouch-like nest near the end of a thin branch high in a tree. It looks like it could easily be knocked off that spindly branch, but apparently it is strongly woven in place.

The three top photos are the striking male with his blood orange-color body contrasted by his deep black wings and back. He was helping keep an eye on the young-uns and feeding them, which is the LEAST he can do after allowing his woman to build the nest by herself. Mom was shy about showing herself for the camera, but if you look carefully, she is behind leaves in the last photo. The Baltimore oriole female has a lighter, softer orange underside with brown back and wings and some black on her head.

Thanks for taking a look at my blog!

Hello There!

Hello there! This is my first post EVER. This blog is mainly intended as a documentation of my journey from bird and nature lover to birder and nature photographer. Warning: I am an amateur at best! The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused me to spend more time outdoors than ever. Fortunately, I have wonderful friends who I spend this outdoorsy time with. These friends have inspired me in many ways over the years. Most recently, they have inspired me to shut up and look around. Oh my, the birds are everywhere! Nature is all around us!! Birding on an almost daily basis has become my joy, my passion. I no longer go outdoors without my binoculars. I have invested in a stronger lens for my camera. Bird songs and sounds are no longer the white noise in the background, but the focus of my listening. It is like a meditation.

This site is named 35sparrows because in my attempt to identify what type sparrow I was eyeing, I found out there are thirty five species of sparrows in North America alone! Dang!! There are forty two references to sparrows in the Bible. There is symbolism connected to the sparrow in our society–common, plain, simple, humble little birds. But sparrows are extraordinary, actually. They are prolific, plentiful, diverse, and some make the most beautiful music! So, I thought using “sparrows” in my name would be fitting as related to the plain and simple reference. Being new to birding, I have found the fact that there are thirty five species of sparrows in North America alone to be a little intimidating.

At the beginning of this journey, I have categorized birds in general terms–a sparrow, a hawk, a crow, a wren, etc. As the months have gone by, the categories have become more specific–a song sparrow, a Cooper’s hawk, a house wren, etc. This transition has happened pretty organically.

How about you? Do you like birding? Are you a beginner like me or a seasoned veteran? I would love to hear from you about your experiences, tips and thoughts! Above is a photo of a song sparrow taken by a dear friend on one of HER birding adventures.

song sparrow by Amy Christianson

Baby Baby!

This spring into summer has been bursting with birds nesting, laying eggs, raising young, feeding them & fledging them. I have had the privilege of witnessing baby bluebirds, house wrens, robins, Baltimore orioles, red winged blackbirds, wood ducks, mallards & bald eagles! I’m thinking it might be a good idea to do a series focused on the babies.

Let’s start with the beloved eastern bluebirds! I don’t think there’s anything I dislike about bluebirds (I actually haven’t met any bird I didn’t like). They have such pretty coloring with their vibrant blue above and their reddish throat and chest. Their song is subtle and pleasant. Unlike most other birds, they seem pretty easy going. They don’t mind humans hanging around, even around their nests. Depending on the region in which you live, they may have one to four clutches (or broods) per breeding season. The birds in my yard usually have two clutches per season.

This is my fourth season with a bluebird nest box in my yard. In fact, I added a second one this spring. The first couple years I used a traditional wood house that was given to me by a local bluebird enthusiast. Now, I have two Gilbertson houses. they are fantastic–durable, attractive, sparrow resistant, easy to clean & easy to peek into.

Here are some photos from this spring’s brood:

The above photos were taken using my iPhone 11, as I feel safer and it’s easier to snap quickly and get the nest box re-attached to it’s stand. While the bluebird parents have been generous with their little ones, I don’t want to press my luck!

We did get to watch the last holdout make it’s first flight after sitting at the door working up his courage for a long time. From the nest to my deck railing where he thought he would just stay forever, I think. He did not want to go a-ny-where! The parents took turns encouraging their late bloomer to fly into the tree with the others. They finally resorted to bribery–a worm here and a bug there. I think it was the bug that did it, and — weeeee! — Off the little fledgeling bluebird flew into the tree with mom, dad and siblings. The parents continued to rush around, providing the babies with food for about a week that we saw.

Do you have a bluebird house or want to have one? I’d love to hear about it. Next time, let’s look at the Baltimore oriole!!

This is the beautiful father of the babies!