So many good pictures this month, I finally decided to post in more than one part. These pictures serve as a personal journal for me since I have been very unorganized with keeping up with my pictures. Blogging on a regular basis helps me to remember which birds I saw in different parts of the year as I learn more about birds–how to identify them and their habits.
Fall is a fun time of year to look for birds (I’ll probably say that every season) as many are migrating. Trying to sort out the different warblers has been a challenge, but a fun one. I have to thank my birding friends on Instagram for helping me out at times.
October 5 was the last day I saw two hummingbirds. The same for last year. Juvenile males are the last to leave on their great journey and in this first picture, you can see the little bit of red the young male has on his neck.
The black-throated blue warbler was a first for me. He really is blue if you catch him in the light. One of my pictures on Instagram shows his blue. Unfortunately, it’s a bit blurry, so I didn’t include it here.
The downy woodpeckers often visit my feeders, but I still enjoy capturing them (in pictures) when I see them in the woods while out walking. They are one bird I don’t have a problem identifying!
I’ve only seen a black and white warbler two other times, but wasn’t able to get a picture either time. On this day, one landed on a tree right in front of me and gave me a few seconds to take a few shots.
The Cape May Warbler is one of those I can often confuse with others. This is a female.
This juvenile waxwing was hard to see in the trees, so glad to get a shot.
I had taken several pictures of this brown thrasher in the trees; at first, not even sure what I was seeing. Then he came out and gave me several nice poses. Not a bit shy.
The Great Egret and his reflection; looking contemplative.
Often when I’m out birding, I don’t pay much attention to the cardinals and chickadees because I see them so often. I’m glad I took this shot though as this male cardinal really stood out eating his snack in the yellow leaves.
Getting a good shot of the kingfisher is always a challenge I enjoy. They are so noisy and fast as they twitter across the water.
I hope you enjoy seeing some of these birds. October has been a good month, so more coming soon.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1
I’m sure I could have added a few more pictures, but these are my favorites. The highlight of the month was having a photo-op with a barred owl. As you can see, I took quite a few pictures. He seemed as curious to watch me as I was enthralled with him. To see more of my pictures, follow me on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/pmgilmer27/
Finding and watching wood ducks has been a fun part of birding this season. These ducks travel together in pairs and small groups and live in wooded swamps or marshes. They don’t nest on the ground, but in holes in trees or in nest boxes put up for their convenience. Though this might seem strange, these ducks have strong claws that can grip bark and allows them to perch on branches (or boxes). I have seen them come in and out of these boxes, but I have yet to see any young ones. Since the wood duck is the only North American duck to have two broods in one year, I am still hopeful!
How do the ducklings get out of the box or tree when they hatch? The mother calls them and leads the way, but otherwise, they are on their own. At her call, they jump out of their nest–either directly into the water or they waddle their way there. The ducklings are able to jump from heights of over 50 feet. Those little legs don’t seem capable of that, but they’re stronger than they look.
Enjoy the pictures of these beautiful birds and, hopefully, I will post more before summer’s end.
I bought a journal to keep track of some of the birds I’ve seen and places I’ve visited, but like most of my journals, my writing in it has been haphazard at best. Since I still would like to keep some kind of record, I decided to start recording some of my adventures in this blog.
Reading that various ducks winter at MacAlpine Creek Park (in Charlotte,NC), I have made several visits in the past few months, hoping to see new waterfowl. So far, I’ve only seen mallards and Canadian geese. As much as I like to see these birds, I’ve been disappointed not to see anything new.
On my most recent trip to MacAlpine, I saw several types of birds and most excitedly, several I hadn’t seen there before (though not the waterfowl I expected). I started on my usual route to the marshy area where I have seen a great blue heron and an egret on several visits. Much to my disappointment, there was nothing there. Some mallards soon flew in, but I kept looking for the egret and heron. Then I noticed a bird sitting on a metal cross in the pond (I have no idea why that cross is there. Maybe someone can enlighten me.) Using my binoculars, I realized it was a kingfisher. A first time sighting for me. I took a few pictures and decided to go to the other trail I usually walk and maybe I would come back before I left to look one more time.
Just as I was leaving that area, a heron flew over my head and landed in a tree. I had never seen this bird in a tree (though I have since learned they nest in trees) and took several pictures from different angles.
I made my way back to the front pond, hoping some ducks had shown up. I saw some white birds that looked like seagulls. And before anyone corrects me, I know gulls are not just “seagulls” but I confess that is still how I think of them. Anyway, I have never seen these birds at McAlpine before. They didn’t stay long. They were gone by the time I made my loop.
Walking along the other side of the marsh, I finally saw the egret. I guess the slightly warmer weather brought out the turtle.
As I continued my walk, I saw something a bit strange up in a tree. I thought it might just be some trash (more than once I’ve trained my binoculars on a plastic bag), then thought maybe it was a nest of some sort.
You probably notice the beak, but I didn’t even see that at first. Once I saw the leg (that’s just one leg; the other is a branch), I realized it was a bird. Another heron. He was probably trying to take a nap, but I walked around him as close as I could and got quite a few shots even before he woke up and began his creaky cry.
I usually see several downy woodpeckers at McAlpine but not this day. However, I did see two other types of woodpeckers. The first a red-bellied woodpecker who I always hear, even if I don’t see them. They are very noisy birds and that’s not counting their rat-a-tat-tatting on trees.
While I was snapping pictures of this woodpecker, I heard another one drilling very loudly behind me. I’m always reluctant to turn from something I have discovered as I can quickly lose sight of them and a bird in a hand, etc. But, fortunately, I did turn around in time to see a pileated woodpecker. The first I’ve seen here.
Last, but not least, I saw a couple of cardinals, a mockingbird, several eastern phoebes, a couple of tufted titmice, and, of course, a scurry of squirrels.
I saw a good variety that day and was pleased with what I saw, even though I still didn’t see any different ducks. I also talked to a couple of other birders who had seen a hawk at close range and was told by another birder of a barred owl that lives there. I’m still hoping to see that owl and get some good pictures of the hawks on future trips.
My first full season of feeding and watching hummingbirds is coming to an end. I thought I would get tired of cleaning out feeders on a regular basis, but, no, all I did was add a couple of more feeders. I’m not enough of an expert to be able to give an accurate count, but I did have at least two adult males on a regular basis and probably a couple of females. In the middle of the season, several more hummingbirds began to come regularly. At least three of them are juvenile males making me assume the females had a successful season with hatching and bringing out their young. It will be interesting next year to see how many of these males show up to stake out their territory.
Any time I interact with nature–whether through observation or studying the life cycles of plants, birds, or animals–I am reminded anew of God’s majestic, artistic creation and His unmatched imagination in creating both the hummingbird and the woodpecker; the whale and the seal; the butterfly and the daylily.
“Some people, in order to find God, will read a book. But there is a great book, the book of created nature. Look carefully at it top and bottom, observe it, read it. God did not make letters of ink for you to recognize him in; he set before your eyes all these things he has made. Why look for a louder voice?” Augustine of Hippo
For anyone who innocently believes you can just call a flock of birds a “flock of birds,” I’m here to enlighten you. All birds are not alike and neither are their group names. Some of these names are as charming as some minor league baseball team names (looking at you Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp) and others are, well, for the birds. (Sorry!)
So, how did these different names come about and why? Isn’t enough to know those are robins gathered round? Or do we need to know they are actually a ’round of robins’? (Though others state it is a ‘worm of robins’.)
As with many odd questions that pop in my mind, this is one that led me down a few rabbit trails, but, fortunately, others have already been down those trails and have done the necessary research to discover the origin of these terms, most notably James Lipton in his book, An Exaltation of Larks.
First, these are called “terms of venery” or “nouns of assembly” and these collective nouns don’t just pertain to birds but also animals and groups of people.
In the late Middle Ages, inventing animal group names started as a game, soon became a fad, and turned into a challenge which lasted a couple of centuries. (Please remember there were no entertaining blogs such as this one to read in those days).
As James Lipton put it in An Exaltation of Larks, “What we have in these terms is clearly the end result of a game that amateur philologists have been playing for over 500 years.”
To organize these terms and to make them more official, they were gathered together and published in works that the upper classes used to make sure they did not embarass themselves by using the wrong terms. (For example, it was considered bad form to call a “scurry of squirrels” a “bunch of squirrels”).The first of these was The Egerton Manuscript published in 1450.
“The terms were codified during the period when the river of words was approaching its greatest breadth, beginning in about 1450 with The Egerton Manuscript.” (Lipton)
Then came the The Book of St. Albans (also known as The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Blasing of Arms) published in 1486 and containing 164 terms. Many of these terms were not for animals but groups of people and were meant to be humorous (“a sentence of judges”, “a melody of harpers,” “a gagle of women”). However, the book’s popularity caused them to become part of the Standard English lexicon.
But I digress. Back to the birds. Here are a few examples:
Group of hummingbirds: Charm (Not sure where this could have come from. The only groups, sorry, charms of hummingbirds I see are chasing each other wildly in what seems to be a pretty selfish defending of territory).
Woodpeckers: descent (Some say this is because they start at the top of a tree and come down, but I have definitely seen them ascend as well as descend).
chickadees: banditry (This is seems oddly appropriate).
cardinals: college, deck, Vatican (Several choices here. I prefer a “Vatican of cardinals.”)
finches: charm, trembling
doves: cote, dole, dule, bevy, flight, and piteousness (We always call the ones at our feeder “the drama queens”).
Ducks: Ducks on the water are called a “paddling” or a “raft.” (Mallards have their own terms and as the different writers seem to disagree on this, I will not distinguish between the different types of ducks. This has become confusing enough as it is).
Flamingoes: flamboyance. A flamboyance of flamingoes. This is not easy to say (or spell). Go ahead. Try it a few times.
Owls: parliament (I would love to see a parliament of owls but I don’t really think they hang out together too much).
Crows: murder (This may be a bit unjust but still amusing).
Grackles: plague (We have definitely been plagued with these at our bird feeders).
But what if you see a group of birds that are a mixed bag of bird types? Is there a correct nomenclature for that? Perhaps “bunch of birds” would do just fine in such cases.
As I mentioned, the naming of groups of birds is only one part of these fascinating collections or terms of venery. We also have a month of Sundays, a mountain of debt, a rash of dermatologists, a cackle of hyenas, a mass of priests, and (one of my personal favorites) a prophet ( or profit) of televangelists.
So, if you want to make sure you are calling all groups by their proper term of venery, check out Lipton’s book though you may be accused of telling a pack of lies if you try to open such a can of worms.