Chirpings – Summer 2014

by Patti Muzny

Summer 2014

The calendar indicates summer is on its way to wherever it goes, but the temperatures reflect that summer has finally achieved a foothold in Oklahoma and its digging in and holding on.  Our Oklahoma City backyard was interesting during the nesting season.  For the very first time ever we had American Goldfinches nesting somewhere nearby.  Brilliant flashes of yellow and black would come to the thistle feeder, which was the only feeder I left up all summer.  We are overrun with English Sparrows and I chose not to be such a good steward for this particular species.  I wasn’t really sure they were nesting until I finally saw a female and a second male came into the yard.  A vicious altercation ensued and one of the males was chased quite a distance from the thistle feeder.  Scrappy little guys.

When the month of June comes around my thoughts turn to BBSs.  In the past Nancy Vicars and I had quite a list of BBS routes and I always looked forward to doing them.  This year, Nadine Varner and I headed to the Duncan area and once again had the pleasure of bunking at the Ketchum Ranch, thanks to June and Leonard Ketchum.  After dinner we rode the 4-wheeler around to June’s house to hang out with her for a while.  The drive back to the bunkhouse was a pleasant experience, even if Nadine was driving an ATV for the first time.  That’s what those grab bars are for!  The evening was cool and we stationed ourselves on the bunkhouse porch to watch the ranch critters tuck in for the night.  There were even Bobwhite calling – much to Leonard’s delight, I’m sure.

Early the next morning we dutifully arose in the dark of night to drive the 25 minutes to the first stop, and were exactly in place 30 minutes prior to sunrise.  We might have been still yawning, but we were ready!  Chuck-wills Widows made sure we counted them at the first few stops.  This particular route doesn’t seem to be one that attracts any birding surprises, but this year we noted an aspect of bird behavior that was extremely amusing.  We had completed our three-minute look and listen duties at one stop, but as we continued toward the next stop, we noticed a bird had flown onto a moving oilfield pump jack.  We looked at it as we drove and identified it as a Starling.  We drove slowly, then even stopped to watch as this adventurous avian thrill-seeker continued to perch on the head of the pump jack and simply ride it up and down.

Maybe these birds have to make their own fun out in the middle of nearly nowhere?

In late August, my sister, my niece and I flew to Anchorage, Alaska, and drove down the Kenai Peninsula to spend a few days in Homer, Alaska.  All I can say is this area is by far the most beautiful place I have ever been.  Words and photos don’t come close to describing the beauty of this place.  And it was COOL!  I did get two life birds on this trip that wasn’t an actual birding trip. We were hiking a nature trail above the bay on the side of a mountain when my sister flushed a female Spruce Grouse.  Sister nearly jumped out of her hiking boots, and I was totally excited.  The bird only flew a few feet and landed in a spruce tree directly above my niece.  I wasn’t planning on that lifer, but was pretty excited about this one, since we had looked extensively for it on our trip to Oregon.

A water taxi trip to the village of Soldovia by way of Gull Island, a unique rock that is chosen as a nesting site for both Tufted and Horned Puffins, Pigeon Guillemots, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Glaucous-winged gulls and Common Murres, did indeed allow us to find both puffins.  The Horned Puffin was a lifer for me.

A sizeable kelp bed was the venue for a large number of sea otters that decided to put on the next-best entertainment of the day.  The most spectacular entertainment was saved for the return trip, near the Homer Spit harbor.  I was one of the fortunate ones who just happened to be hanging out in the captain’s cabin because his first-mate was an avid birder.  From our lofty vantage point, we spotted the “blow” of a humpback ahead of the boat.  Then there was a roll or two.  Just as the captain picked up the mike to announce a whale spotting, the bay seemed to erupt in front of us as this remarkable creature breeched totally out of the water and made a splash almost as impressive as a calving glacier!  Most of the group missed it and only got to see small rolls and blows before it disappeared.  We were told that this was the only time this summer this crew had seen this breathtaking delight.

Fall should be just around the corner and I’m so ready for some of the cool to arrive.  Have a wonderful fall migration.