2016 has been strange in many ways. Add one more example–it’s the first time in nearly 70 years that the full moon and solstice have fallen on the same day, June 20. Algonquin Indians called this rarity a “Strawberry Moon” since it occurred at the height of the strawberry harvest. The solstice (from Latin sol, meaning sun and sistere, meaning to stand still) is the day in the earth’s orbit when the 23 degree tilt and the northern hemisphere are directly toward the sun, the sun reaches its maximum elevation in the sky, and daylight lasts the longest. In other words, it’s all downhill from here.
To celebrate, I went birding. June birding is like June Christmas shopping–there are no crowds but the pickings are rather slim. Gone is the phrenetic excitement of spring migration when you feel you’ll miss something if you’re not out there everyday. Instead you have the quieter breeding, house-keeping, and chick-rearing of the birds that have chosen to live and work in your neighborhood, fostering a special attachment to these “locals”.
Summer birding is all about moisture. As a northerner I first looked for a job in the south 35 years ago. During an interview in Charleston SC I commented on the humidity. “If you want to live down here, young man, you’ll just have to get use to feeling sticky.” So I took a job a little further north on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Combine sweat, bug spray, and suntan lotion with standing water from a rainy spring and you have sticky birding, even here in the shallow south.
Along our tidewater creek on the Chesapeake we were debating the other evening as to which bird was contributing the most decibels to the summertime din of birdsong. It was a draw between the nearly constant screeching of the Osprey, the piercing trill of the Red-winged Blackbird, and the extensive repertoire of the the Northern Mockingbird. The Mocker probably wins the prize for duration as he continues the concert long after sunset.
The photos in this post were all taken this week at the Blackwater NWR in Dorchester County, Maryland, a few miles south of here. There was nothing unusual seen but the day offered a chance to work on photography techniques. This site is my most reliable location to find the gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker, a bird that alluded my camera lens for years. I was the only birder there, the horse flies and mosquitoes were held at bay by the strong NW winds which came in following the priors night’s strong storms, and the daylight was long–the longest of the year.
We were having a glass of wine on the porch at sunset this week when two Mockers landed on the lawn right in front of us and began literally rolling over each other in the grass. I’ve seen birds mate standing up, sitting, swimming, and even while flying, but have never seen this rolling caper. It became even stranger when the third bird flew in. My literary spouse put it all into perspective when she reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “I have no objections to anyone’s sex life as long as they don’t practice it in the street and frighten the horses.”