Sunday, June 3, 2012

When Swans Attack

I have done a couple of posts about ornithophobia, as the fear of birds is relatively common, and also somewhat silly. Birds don't attack people. Except, as this guest post by my Northern Correspondent Sunwiggy shows, sometimes they do. I hope you enjoy it. And once again thanks to my Dad for the photos!

It was with a great deal of apprehension that my husband and I went to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, on May 30th. A wildfire had been burning there for the past 10 days, and was reported to be about 95% contained. "I don't want to see it like that, all burned up, with all of the birds gone," I moaned to my husband. "Well, one of my customers was there yesterday, and she said you can't even tell there was a fire," he replied. The customer was right! Seney was just as beautiful and bird-filled as we remembered it. Although 5 square miles of the refuge had burned, none of that was visible from the Visitor's Center, or the Pine Ridge Nature Trail, or the Marshland Wildlife Drive. The only sign was an actual sign on the Fishing Loop of the Drive, "Closed, Due to Wildfire."

The Marshland Wildlife Drive was one of the reasons I'd wanted to bird at Seney. My husband had fallen down our stairs, breaking two bones in his left foot, and is currently hopping around with the aforesaid foot in a walking cast. The Drive has lots of pull-offs where you can park, get out, listen and look around, and see birds without having to walk much. Our first stop was actually at a little roadside park right outside Seney. It has a pretty little lake, which was graced by two Trumpeter Swans. "Why don't we stop, honey? Maybe you can get a picture of the swans!", I suggested. Ever-obliging, my husband pulled into the little parking area and got out, camera in hand, hopping down to the water's edge...where the male swan awaited. I stayed in the Jeep. It was cold and wet from a recent cloudburst, and I could see the swans just fine from where I sat.

The male swan was not pleased to have HIS lake, with HIS mate in it, approached by a large, hopping human. He emerged from the water, one big, black, webbed foot at a time, his eyes fixed on the foe. My husband, not being stupid, began to back up, towards the Jeep, keeping his eyes on the swan. Swan: one foot forward. Husband: one foot back. Both swan and husband were picking up speed when my husband made it to the Jeep, and hurriedly got in. The swan peered in the driver's side window, crossed to the other side, and peered in there. He put his head back, and clapped his wings. Swans can make a lot of noise with their wings! I think he was celebrating his success in seeing the interloper off his shoreline.

At the Visitor's Center, I mentioned to a volunteer that my husband had offended a swan by standing too close to it. The volunteer remarked that swans are easily offended. I had been careful with my phrasing, not wanting to get myself and my husband tossed out of the Refuge for harassing the wildlife! From the Center, we were able to admire a pair of nesting ospreys through a scope set up by the volunteers. We saw lots of swans, Canada geese, and loons, and we were able to listen to a loon calling. I love their calls! In all, we saw almost thirty birds, not bad for a cold and windy afternoon.

The next day, we birded much closer to home, on Aho Road, along the Sturgeon River, near Chassell. I love this road! It has several long-abandoned farms, with empty houses and barns and outbuildings, old orchards and hayfields, backing up to the woods, and the river is right there, too. Birds adore it! I've been in a state of bobolink-induced bliss all Spring. I've never seen a bobolink up here before, or seen anyone e-bird a bobolink, but now there are bobolinks nesting all over up here! It must be a rather rare event, because my more bird-knowledgeable coworkers all ask me, "So, what's a bobolink? What do they look like?" The old hayfields on Aho Road are blessed with at least two nesting pairs of bobolinks, as well as a pair of Baltimore orioles, a pair of scarlet tanagers, and phoebes, kingbirds, yellow warblers by the score, common yellowthroats, kingfishers, common redstarts, just one wondrous bird after another. I wish I could just camp out there, in the middle of the road (no ticks in the road, and they sure are everywhere else). Across the Sturgeon River, on Sturgeon Road, we saw for the first time how bank swallows line a bank with their little holes, where they nest. We watched them going in and out with food for their nestlings.

This morning, June 2, we got to see another new thing, a redwinged blackbird attacking a Canada goose. I don't know what the goose had done to offend the blackbird so, but the blackbird kept hovering a foot or so over the goose, then ramming it in the middle of the back! The goose was honking and flopping about, trying to swim fast enough to escape its attacker. The blackbird was in such a fury, I was afraid he'd end up in the water and have to be rescued. By me. Since my husband has a walking cast on his foot.

Despite the fact that this Spring has been mostly cold, wet, windy, and buggy, it's been one of my best birding Springs yet!............Sunwiggy

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