Monday, September 26, 2011

My Phoebe

Walks on the Trapper's Run Nature Trail at Lake Erie Metropark can be very relaxing.  Strolling the one-mile loop dozens of times during spring and fall migrations, with binoculars and a camera in hand, can always turn up the unexpected.   

As you might suspect, you can also turn up the expected.  

Take this fellow, for example.  

An Eastern Phoebe (PHEE-bee) seems to greet me every time I'm out.  I know right where to look.  The overlooks are best; either the Wyman's Canal or Eagle's Way.   

Admittedly, I can't be sure if it is a boy or girl, but I certainly believe it to be one of the pair that nests under the overlook.  So realistically, I am not seeing one bird, but two.  

In any case, it doesn't seem to perch on the railings when I'm around, but I'm sure he does when I'm not.  Twigs.  Little stalks of marsh plants. They all work.

A few days ago, I found myself actually saying aloud "Where's my Phoebe?" Not "a" Phoebe or "the" phoebe. MY phoebe.

A quick look of some expected perches turned up nothing.  Before I left the Wyman's Canal Overlook, I glanced to my left, and there he sat.  Only feet away.

My first reaction was to freeze.  After a long moment or two, I realized he seemed to be pretty content.  Slowly raising my camera, I snapped a shot. Then one more.  One more yet.  34 shots later (seriously), I left him to his preening.  

I can say with certainty I have never been so close to a Phoebe for so long.  Birders, sad to say, sometimes over look the more common birds.  Such a shame.

Officially a Flycatcher, Phoebes are butt-kickers.  Any flying insect, be it dragonfly, damselfly, beetle, wasp, etc., is in serious trouble if they think they can fly near a hungry Phoebe and get away with it.  There habit of zipping out to grab the critter and then returning to the same perch, called flycatching.  Hmmm...flycatching is done by flycatchers.  How easy is that to remember? In some cases, the forceful closure of the bill can be heard!  That "snap!" is really quite something!

Please don't think I am being arrogant by calling these Phoebes mine. I just enjoy seeing them.  Like so many other birds, they return to the same locations year after year. This is at least my third season with this pair. 

In fact, some time ago there was a fellow who was pretty certain he had the same Phoebe returning to his property, too.  After capturing it, he tied a piece of silvered thread around the leg and released the little bird unharmed.  The following spring, the bird, with thread intact, returned.  John James Audubon holds the distinction of banding the first North American bird.

So I hope to walk Trapper's Run a few more times before songbird migration winds down. Phoebes are actually quite tough and will hold out well into the fall or even early winter. For that matter, some stick around during mild winters (they shift their diet from insects to berries). 

I fully expect to see my bird(s) in the coming weeks.  Winter?   We'll see.  

But, in any case, I will be looking for my phoebes by late March.   I suspect the Eagle's Way Overlook will be the place.

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