Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Tulip Tree Flowers May 29, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 12:07 pm
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Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally blooming! Lots of other trees flower first and then open their leaves, but Tulip Trees do the opposite. So, here’s a side view of the flower, which reminds me of a subtly colored garden tulip (if there is such a thing):

Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally flowering!

Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally flowering!

Now, let’s peek inside a flower. Because Tulip Trees are a kind of magnolia, there are lots of pollen-producing parts surrounding a cone-like mass of seed-producing parts. They say this is what some of the first flowers looked like, back during dinosaur times:

The Tulip Tree flower has lots of male parts surrounding a cone-shpaed mass of female parts.

The Tulip Tree flower has lots of male parts surrounding a cone-shaped mass of female parts.

The next photo shows an unopened bud below a flower:

Some of the buds are not yet open -- that means you have a few more days if you want to see this Tulip Tree in bloom.

Some of the buds are not yet open -- that means you have a few more days if you want to see this Tulip Tree in bloom.

Oak Parkers and other who want to see Tulip Tree flowers can find this tree on the south side of Rehm Park, where Scoville deadends into the park. It’s a young tree, so some flowers are at eye level for adults. There are other Tulip Trees in town, but they’re so tall that you need binoculars to appreciate the flowers.

We’ve been following this tree since early spring. In case you missed those posts, here’s what a Tulip Tree twig looked like on April 29, when the leaf buds had just opened:

The Tulip Tree buds have opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

On April 29, the Tulip Tree buds had opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

Also on April 29, the flower buds were just beginning to form:

On April 29 the flower buds were still rather small.

In late April the Tulip Tree's almond-shaped flower buds were rather small.

Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were opening below the remains of last year’s seed pods:

Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were just beginning to open.

On April 8th, the Tulip Tree's duckbill-shaped leaf buds were just beginning to open.

If you want to see what happens once the flowers fade away and seeds begin to form, go here.

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Can you tell I like Tulip Trees? They remind me of my younger days, when I first explored the woodlands of southern Ohio and Indiana. I saw huge Tulip Trees in some of the old growth forests. I also love the link Tulip Trees provide to Early Cretaceous flowers (that’s the later part of dinosaur times). So, I’m glad that the Parks Department and Village Forester have planted at least a few Tulip Trees in our parks and along our streets.

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To learn more about Tulip Trees, you can check these websites:

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This post is our contribution to this month’s Festival of the Trees. This blog carnival includes several other Tulip Tree posts, plus posts on other tree flowers, tree fruits, knots and gnarls, and more. Go here to read the festival entries.

 

Now We Have Baby Wood Ducks, Too! May 28, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 4:39 pm
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This spring we’ve seen baby robins and baby geese at nearby Columbus Park. Late last week, while I was out town, the boys found baby Wood Ducks at Columbus Park. When I went back today, I found the mother duck with her week-old babies:

The mother Wood Duck watched her eleven babies -- and me.

The mother Wood Duck watched her eleven babies -- and me.

When I got too close, she gathered them together.

When I got too close, she gathered them together.

Then they headed for cover under bushes at the edge of the lagoon.

Then they headed for cover under bushes at the edge of the lagoon.

Mother Wood Ducks are small and not too strong. When danger threatens, they protect their babies by swimming away and hiding them. (Compare this to the larger, stronger Canada Geese — they protect their young by attacking anything that threatens them.)

We’re so happy to have a Wood Duck family at Columbus Park this year! We’ve been watching the parents since early March, when they first returned after spending the winter somewhere south of here. (Go here to see Ethan’s first Wood Duck photos of the year.) In mid April the mother Wood Duck disappeared, but we still saw the male on the lagoon most days. We hoped she had found a hollow tree to nest in — and it seems she did! And now, finally, the mother duck has brought her babies to the lagoon.

Here are two later posts about this Wood Duck family:

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To learn more about how Wood Ducks raise their young, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Wood Duck natural history, including nesting.
  • YouTube – First of a series of videos of Wood Ducks hatching and leaving the nest.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Wood Ducks.

We’ll keep watching the Wood Duck family as they grow, and we’ll post the photos on this blog.

 

The Baby Geese Are Growing Fast!

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 3:51 pm
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This month we’ve been watching five baby Canada Geese grow up in Columbus Park. When I checked this morning, the four-week-old goslings were feeding on grass at the edge of the lagoon:

These baby Canada Geese are about four weeks old. One parent watches over them while the other chases off snother goose.

These baby Canada Geese are about four weeks old. One parent watched over them while the other chased off another goose.

The babies ate the whole time I watched them, even when they were resting on the grass. That’s why they are growing so fast! As usual, the parents stayed close to the babies and protected them as they fed. One parent even chased off another goose that got to close. (I stayed back and used a 15 power lens to take these photos.)

The babies are still covered with downy feathers, but now they seem more gray than yellow (which was their color when they first hatched). Also, if you look closely, you can see the beginnings of adult feathers sticking out from their tails and wings:

If you look closely at the baby Canada Goose on the left, you can see the beginnings of flight feathers growing our of the back of its wing and the tips of tail feathers just emerging from the tip of its tail.

If you look closely at the baby Canada Goose on the left, you can see the beginnings of flight feathers growing out of the back of its wing and the tips of tail feathers just emerging from the end of its tail.

In just a few months these babies with be as big as their parents. We’ll keep watching as they grow.

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Updates:

To see what the baby geese looked like when they were a few days old, go here.

To see that they looked like when they were two weeks old, go here.

To see a post from a week later about the five-week-old goslings, please go here.

To see the goslings at seven weeks, go here.

 

Update on the Baby Geese at Columbus Park May 19, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 8:11 am
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When we checked yesterday, all five baby geese at Columbus Park had grown larger and were doing well:

The baby geese looked like they weighed about twice as much as they had two weeks before (but we didn't try to pick them up).

The two-week-old Canada Geese twice as heavy as when they hatched (but we didn't try to pick them up).

Just don’t get too close, or their parents hiss and snap at you:

The parent Canada Geese are very protective -- if you get too close to their babies, they'll chase you away!

Parent Canada Geese are very protective -- if you get too close to their babies, they'll chase you away!

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Updates:

To see what these Canada Goose babies looked like when they were newly hatched, please go here.

To see them at four weeks of age, go here.

To see them at five weeks, go here.

Yo see the babies at seven weeks, go here.

 

Update on Bird Migration: This Morning’s Radar

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 6:48 am
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Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune weather radar showed birds migrating away from our neighborhood. (Go here to see it.) Today’s early morning radar showed birds landing in Chicago:

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The green "doughnuts" are night-migrating birds flying north near radar installations. The green disappears as the sun rises and the birds land for the day. Image from the Chicago Tribune's online weather page. (The radar shows a real storm system over northern Michigan.)

Notice how, after all the green disappears over land, there is still green over Lake Michigan. That’s because birds who find themselves migrating over water at sunrise have no place to land. This next image shows what happens on the radar as these birds head for the closest shore:

Wtahc the green over Lake Michigan slowly disappear as birds migrating over water head for the closest land. This radar image ends an hour later than the one above.

Watch the green over Lake Michigan slowly disappear as birds migrating over water head for the closest land. This radar image ends an hour later than the one above -- the over-water migrants will be extra tired once they come to Earth.

So, our neighborhood should have some newly arrived migrants this morning, and parks and neighborhoods along the Lake Michigan shoreline should be packed with newly arrived birds. It will be interesting to read today’s online reports from places like Montrose Park in Chicago.

As always, we’ll let you know what we see and hear in our neighborhood.

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Note added at 7:45 a.m. the same day: So far we have heard no warblers singing in our yard. We did just hear a Gray Catbird singing one or two backyards to the south — they had been gone from our neighborhood for several days.

Note added at 9:45 a.m. the same day: The day’s first report on Montrose birds has been posted on the Illinois birders e-mail list. It stated, “Montrose was pretty good this morning, finally. Obviously last night’s southwest winds did some good.” The report listed 21 species of warblers. (A report from yesterday listed 17 species.)

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To learn more:

You can study bird migration using radar images from WeatherUnderground (the source of the Tribune’s images) and the National Weather Service radar website.

To learn more about using weather radar to track bird movements, try the Badbirdz – Reloaded blog, which includes a primer on using weather radar to track bird migration. For deeper explanations of bird migration and radar, try the New Jersey Audubon website.

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Tracking Late Spring Migration on Weather Radar May 18, 2009

This spring we’ve been tracking the overnight migration of birds using the Chicago Tribune‘s online weather radar. (For examples of earlier posts, go here and here.) Last night’s weather radar showed migrating birds headed north, but we’re afraid more birds left our area than arrived on the southerly winds. Here’s the Midwest radar image from early Sunday night:

The green circles on this radar image are birds taking off and heading north, starting at about 10 p.m. on Sunday night, shows

The green circles on this radar image are birds taking off and heading north, starting at about 9 p.m. Chicago time. Many more birds are migrating on the western (left) side of the map. There were lots of birds taking off from our neighborhood in the Chicago area.

The image shows much more migration in the Mississippi valley (on the left side of the map) than in Ohio and eastern Indiana (on the right). Looking at a map of wind patterns, we can see why:

Overnight, there were stong windos from the south over the Mississippi Valley, but weak winds top the east. (Regional winds map from teh Chicago Tribue's weather page).

Overnight there were strong winds from the south over the Mississippi Valley (on the left side of the map), but weak winds to the east. (Midwest regional wind map from the Chicago Tribune's weather page).

To see why the winds blew this way, we can check the Midwest weather map for early Monday morning. It shows a high pressure area centered over northeast Indiana:

The weather map from early this morning shows a high pressure area ("H") centered over eastern Indiana and Ohio. Winds blow clockwis around a high pressure center, roughly paralleling the whit lines of equal pressure (called "isobars"). The Chicago Tribune map is from early Monday morning, May. 18, 2009.

The Chicago Tribune weather map from early this morning shows a high pressure area ("H") centered over northeast Indiana. Winds blow clockwise around a high pressure center, roughly paralleling the white lines of equal pressure (called "isobars").

Winds blow clockwise around a high pressure area, which is why the winds blew from the south over Illinois and states to the west and north. Winds were calm near the center of the high in eastern Indiana and Ohio. Because birds in these areas did not have southerly winds to help their journey north, they stayed where they were.

Now lets look at the radar image from near sunrise. It shows migrating birds landing as sunrise shifts from east to west across the map:

X

The green circles shrink as the sun rises and migrating birds come in for a landing. The image shows few birds landing in our neighborhood, near Chicago. (This Chicago Tribune radar image runs from 5:00 to 5:50 a.m. Chicago time.)

The radar image shows few birds landing in our neighborhood just west of Chicago. Lots of birds took off from here last night, but few landed here this morning. It seems last night’s migration took birds away from our neighborhood, but did not replace them with new birds from the south.

So, what does this mean for bird watching in our neighborhood? For one thing, it’s been very quiet this morning. For the past few weeks we’ve been hearing warbler songs at sunrise, but I’ve heard none so far this morning. Maybe it’s the cool weather — the temperature was only 41 degrees at 6 a.m. — but I suspect we’ve got fewer migratory birds in our neighborhood this morning.

Today we’ll keep track of the birds that visit our yard in south Oak Park, and I’ll take a walk to nearby Columbus Park on the west side of Chicago. Check back tonight for a report on what birds we find — and what birds have left our area.

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Note added at 9:15 a.m. the same day: As we were getting ready for school, we heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing across the alley and an Eastern Towhee singing a few backyards to the south. So, there are still a few migrants around our neighborhood. However, we still have not heard a warbler singing this morning.

Note added at 8:00 p.m. the same day: Well, we never did see or hear a warbler in our yard today — they have left our block, at least temporarily.

The first warbler I heard today was a Tennessee Warbler singing in the Harrison Street Arts District at 10:20 a.m.as I walked to Columbus Park. I identified only seven species of warbler in Columbus Park this morning, plus there were a couple of warbler-like songs I could not identify with certainty. That’s compared with the 25 warbler species we found there during the Spring Bird Count nine days ago. After school we made a quick trip to Humboldt Park in Chicago to see a rare duck (Surf Scoter) — we saw only five species of warbler there.

This could all change tomorrow. Right now there are south winds blowing up from central Illinois and Indiana, and they should keep blowing overnight. If there are birds down there that didn’t migrate last night, they could take off and arrive here this morning — or maybe they’ll pass right through to Wisconsin.

To see what happened the next day, go here.

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To learn more:

You can study bird migration using radar images from WeatherUnderground (the source of the Tribune’s images) and the National Weather Service radar website.

To learn more about using weather radar to track bird movements, try the Badbirdz – Reloaded blog, which includes a primer on using weather radar to track bird migration. For deeper explanations of bird migration and radar, try the New Jersey Audubon website.

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Update on Our Pond-water Pets May 13, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Bugs,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 8:33 am
Tags: , , , , ,

A week ago we introduced you to our new pet Mosquito larvae and Water Fleas. Since then the larvae have been growing and changing, and we’ve got some new arrivals in our pond water.

Mosquitoes go through life-cycle stages as they grow: First egg, then wriggly larvae, then a make-over pupa stage, and finally a winged adult. (Go here or here to see these stages illustrated.) Last week our Mosquitoes were all larvae. This week, the larvae have grown (some as big as a grain of rice), and some larvae have shed their skins and become curled-up pupae:

The yellow arrow point to a Mosquito pupa, the blue to one of many Mosquito larvae.

The yellow arrow points to a Mosquito pupa, the blue to one of many Mosquito larvae.

Adult Mosquitoes should be appearing soon. (Don’t worry, we won’t turn them loose in the neighborhood!)

The Water Flea jar we showed last week is doing fine — some of the eggs that were inside the Water Fleas’ bodies have even hatched. To see if there were any new creatures in our outdoor pools, we filled a new jar with water from our backyard bug pond. Sure enough, there were two new creatures — both crustaceans, related to crabs and such — along with last week’s Water Fleas.

Ostacods, also called Seed Shrimp, have legs and antenna, but they’re mostly covered by their clam-shaped shells. Copepods are streamlined, with antennae, legs, and a tail-like structure. Many also carry twin egg sacs beside the tail this time of year. As we discussed last week, Water Fleas have large antennae, used as oars:

The green arrow points to an Ostracod, the red arrow to a Copepod (with egg sacs), and the blue arrow to a Water Flea.

The green arrow points to an Ostracod, the red arrow to a Copepod (with egg sacs), and the blue arrow to a Water Flea. (The Water Flea is half the size of the head of a pin.)

To learn more about Ostracods, please go here. To find out more about Copepods, go here or here. To learn more about Water Fleas, go here or here.

We’ll be dipping into our outdoor water every week from now through fall. We’ll post updates as we find new creatures.

Of course, if you’re inadventantly raising mosquitos in your backyard pool or birdbath, now’s the time to do something about it. If you don’t want to keep them as pets in a covered jar, it’s best to dump them on the ground (as food for ants) and start over with new water.

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In mid June we added a new pond water pet: A Water Scorpion. We feed it our remaining pet Mosquito larvae.  Go here to read about it.

 

Spring Bird Count and Ethan’s New Blog May 11, 2009

Saturday was Spring Bird Count day in Illinois, and our family counted birds at several Chicago-area parks and west-side locations. Our most impressive finds were at Columbus Park, where we recorded 80 species for the day!

My son Ethan (aged 13) describes the Columbus Park part of our day on his new blog, nicknamed “OCB” for “Obsessive Compulsive Birding.” His first post is here:

http://ocbirding.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/columbus-park-spring-bird-count-warbler-and-allergies/

Ethan had to drop out of the rest of our day because of his allergies, but Aaron and I continued until after sunset:

For the entire day of birding we found 92 species. That’s not a bad day for city birding, especially when you don’t have any large lakes, marshes, or mudflats in your count area.

So I guess this goes to show that you don’t need to travel far to see great birds during the migration season. A place like Columbus Park provides a range of small habitats where migrating birds can stop over and refuel for the rest of their journeys.

But now our thoughts are turning to nesting birds. Will Baltimore Orioles join Warbling Vireos and Song Sparrows and nest in Columbus Park this year? Will the Red-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks successfully raise young in local nests? And which birds will nest on our block this year?

We’ll post about nesting birds over the next few weeks.

 

We Found a Baby Robin at Columbus Park May 8, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 7:18 pm
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During our Thursday afternoon visit to Columbus Park, Ethan found a baby Robin beside the lagoon:

The baby Robin looked helpless and all alone, but we could hear its parents making clucking sounds in the tree behind us. They were protecting it and would probably feed it as soon as we walked away.

The baby Robin looked helpless and all alone, but we could hear its parents in the tree behind us. They were protecting it and would probably feed it as soon as we walked away. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

It seemed too young to fly, so the boys discussed about how to help it. Should we take it home to keep it safe? Then we heard the Robin’s parents in the tree behind us. Their clucking noises sounded almost like a mother hen.

We remembered reading how bird parents stay once their young have left the nest.  They feed and care for them as long as people stay away. The parents even will swoop down on potential predators, although they stayed away from us. We decided the best thing was to back away and let the parents do their job.

When we checked back later, we couldn’t find the baby Robin. It must have found a safe place to hide.

To read more about the needs of baby birds who’ve left the nest, please go here or here.

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Note added Sunday, May 10 (Mother’s Day!) When we visited Columbus Park yesterday there were two baby Robins in the bushes right behind the Refectory. (That’s across a small lawn from where we found the baby pictured above.) The mother and father Robins were in tree branches right above the babies.

When a Grackle approached the bush with the babies, the parents chirped and started moving towards it. When the Grackle tried to move even closer, one of the parents dove at the Grackle’s head, and the Grackle flew away.

 

Front Stoop Birding: Warblers Come to Us

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Bugs,Puzzles and Mysteries,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 4:04 pm
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On days like this, when we want to go birding, we just walk out to our front stoop, stand on the steps, and look up:

When we look up from our front stoop, we see the banches and opeing leaves of our American Elms.

When we look up from our front stoop, we see the branches and opening leaves of our American Elms.

If we look carefully we’ll see tiny birds high above, flitting through the branches and picking at the opening leaves. When we look through our binoculars, we see things like this:

Cape May Warbler, only partly obscured by elm leaves. (I like this warbler more than most, because it's named after the place where my family went to the seashore when I was young.)

Cape May Warbler, only partly obscured by elm leaves. (I like this warbler more than most because it's named after a place on the New Jersey seashore where my family went when I was young.)

Warblers are small birds, often brightly colored, that spend the winter far south and then migrate north to breed. The Cape May Warbler is just one of the 35 different kinds that may pass through our neighborhood in the spring. So far this year we’ve seen and heard 14 different kinds of warblers on our block. Here’s the full list (as of 5 p.m. on Friday, May 8th):

Tennessee Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Pine Warbler

Palm Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Wilson’s Warbler

While looking for warbler, we’ve also found Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, an Orchard Oriole, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Warbling Vireos, a Philadelphia Vireo, and Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets. As we described in earlier posts, a few of these species were hanging out in the street or on rooftops a week or so ago. But the birds we’re seeing now are mostly way high up — so high that our necks get sore looking at them (This bird-induced pain is called “warbler neck.”)

Why do all these birds come to our block? It’s the opening tree buds with their soft leaves, which make good food for insects like this caterpillar:

It's not just a caterpillar -- it's warbler food!

It's not just a tiny caterpillar on the weather-worn sidewalk -- it's warbler food!

There must be thousands of these caterpillars in our trees, eating leaves and in turn being eaten by birds. But these tiny, soft caterpillars are not defenseless. Aaron watched as the caterpillar in this photo descended from tree top to sidewalk on a silken thread. As near as we can tell, a bird was about to eat the caterpillar. Somehow it knew what was coming, and it “leapt” from its leaf. But it was attached to the tree by homemade silk — the same silk it will one day use to make a cocoon — so it descended slowly. Like a rock climber, it repelled from the heights rather than falling to its death.

Here’s what we think may happen next, based on evidence pieced together over several springs and summers. If the caterpillar avoids being eaten by ground-feeding Palm Warblers, it may find cover in the soil or perhaps under a rock. Then it may emerge at night to feed on elm leaves that have fallen to the ground. And, somehow, elm twigs have been falling for the past few days, even when there’s no wind and no rain. Why? We’re not sure, but we can’t help wondering if caterpillars still in the trees have something to do with it.

We’re still looking for field evidence and scientific references to support or refute our pieced-together story. If you can help, please do (using the comments section below).

So, we’ll continue watching birds — and bugs — from our front stoop. Go here to read the latest bird counts for our block.

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Updates:

On Thursday, May 14, this post won an award at the I and the Bird #100 blog carnival (as did eveyone else who participated). To read all about, please go here.

On Saturday morning, May 9th, we did a Spring Bird Count at Columbus Park, about a mile from our home. We found 25 different kinds of warblers in the Park in a bit more about five hours. We don’t have to travel far from our front stoop to see great birds. (That’s why we dedicated this blog to “neighborhood nature.”) Go here to read more about our Spring Bird Count.

On Tuesday, May 5th, the New York Times published an article describing how tree-bud opening, caterpillar hatching, and the migration of caterpillar-eating birds may no longer coincide because of climate change. Go here to read the article.

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Updates on the 2009 warbler list for our yard:

On Thursday morning, May 14, we saw the first American Redstart to visit our yard this year. That was year-yard-warbler number 18.

On Wednesday, May 13, we heard and saw the first Magnolia Warbler to visit our yard this year. That was year-yard-warbler number 17.

On Tuesday, May 12, we heard the first Common Yellowthroat to visit our yard this year. That was year-yard-warbler number 16.

On Friday, May 8th (later that same day), we saw the first Bay-breasted Warbler to visit our yard this year. That was year-yard-warbler number 15.