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Snakes Make Bad Necklaces for Birds!

On the day that I saw my lifer Merlin at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, I turned around from the Merlin to find a Pied-billed Grebe in distress.  The poor grebe had a snake around its neck!  I don’t know exactly how that started.  Was the snake trying to kill the bird?  Or did the bird attack the snake, and the snake was just defending itself?  Either way, I found myself saying “Somebody help that poor bird!”  Snakes make really bad necklaces…

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake “Necklace”

The grebe swam about quickly, trying to pull the snake off.  He twisted back and forth, trying to grab the snake with his beak…

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe Trying to Remove Snake

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

“I can’t find the necklace clasp!”

Apparently violent shaking of the neck only makes the snake tighten his noose. :(

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Finally the bird gripped the snake and started to unwrap it.

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Score one point for the bird!

Yay! The bird seemed to be winning as he unraveled the snake.

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

The bird dove under the water at this point, and I stood watching, not wanting to leave until I saw the bird emerge from the water snake-free.   I know grebes can stay under the water for a long time, and they can swim pretty good distances while they are under water.  But after a few minutes, the bird still hadn’t come up!  I saw a couple of splashes, but no bird.  I was really sad.

Then I saw a bird emerge farther down.  Undoubtedly it was my bird, and undoubtedly it was snake-free.  The poor bird was stretching its neck repeatedly, shaking and flexing and generally showing relief in having full control of its neck again.  Hooray!

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe is Snake-Free!

The people on the wildlife drive crack me up.  As I grinned at the bird’s good luck, someone drove by and asked me if I was photographing an alligator.

Nope, not exactly.

Springtime Morning of Backyard Birding

Recently I spent a weekend morning in my backyard – rather unusual for me, since mornings are usually when I venture beyond the backyard.  It was fun to see my yard in morning light.  This is the time of year that I love backyard birding the best.  Flowers are blooming, the air is fresh and not too hot, the goldfinches and buntings are getting into their best costumes for spring, and knowledge that they will soon be leaving makes the quiet opportunities even more special.

Within a few minutes, the alert was out.  Fresh food at the feeders!  Fresh food!  Come and get it!  The Red-winged Blackbirds are like birdseed magnets.  They pose in the nearby shrubs as they alert the neighborhood.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

The little Palm Warblers came to see if I put out any fresh mealworms.  They don’t mind having me around.  This one perched in the flowers very close to where I was sitting.  So close, in fact, that I could barely focus on him.  (That’s a nice problem to have!)

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Our Common Ground Dove flew in and landed on the feeder perch.  He looked a little scruffy.  He’d lost some feathers since the last time I’d seen him.

Common Ground Dove

Common Ground Dove

One of my target birds for the morning was the American Goldfinch.  They only seem to visit in the mornings and early afternoons.  They were very wary of the photographer sitting in their backyard.  All morning I could hear them congregated in the oak trees around me, calling.  They’d fly over the yard, see me sitting there, and keep going.  Finally they sent in a sentry.  He perched, saw me and startled, and took off again.  The birds aren’t this skittish when I use my blind.  Finally they got used to me (a little) and posed near the feeder.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

He stole a few bites and fled to the nearby bushes, where he posed with his mouth full.  Didn’t his mother tell him that it’s not polite to sing with his mouth full?

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

My last photos of the morning were of Mr. Warbles (again). How do we know which warbler is Mr. Warblers?  He’s the one who visits Goldilocks at her window, of course!

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

He Who Laughs Last Gets the Most Mealworms!

Two weekends ago I went into the backyard on a mission.  There’s a little Palm Warbler who just loves my mealworm tray.  When I refill it, he invariably visits frequently for the rest of the afternoon.  So I decided that he was a very cooperative subject to try to stage a “pretty perch” for him to land on.  I’ve read about staging perches for birds around feeders, but my goldfinches are too skittish, and I’ve never had much luck with the Painted Buntings.  They know my yard too well, and they know when I’m up to trickery!  But I figured I might have more luck with the little warbler.  I took some pretty porterweed blooms with nice long perching stems and positioned them around the feeder, trying to position the leaves to prevent perching on the feeder itself, so he’d have to perch on my pretty substitute.  Except…

Palm Warbler with Mealworm

Palm Warbler with Mealworm

He found the loophole!  Smart little warbler, he found a hole and wormed his way in.  I think he actually liked the extra cover that my “perches” provided.  Instead of grabbing a mealworm and leaving, he stayed and ate it.  And another.  And another!

By the end of the afternoon, some of the branches had fallen away, and he was really laughing at my attempts for a pretty perch.  He who laughs last gets the most mealworms!

He Who Laughs Last...

He Who Laughs Last…

It wasn’t a whole unproductive day in the backyard.  I’d positioned myself in a slightly different spot than usual to be closer to the mealworms, hidden in the bushes just outside my blind.  That put me closer to the Painted Buntings.  This next image is straight out of the camera with just a few color adjustments…how’s that for a close-up!

Male Painted Bunting

Male Painted Bunting

A couple of rabbits love to hang out under our bird feeders.  They don’t seem to mind me much.  I was surprised when one hopped so close that he was just barely within the Beast’s minimum focusing distance…

Bunny's Eye View!

Bunny’s Eye View!

My little pair of Common Ground Doves flies in so quietly.  They like to sit on my flowerbed edging while waiting for their turn at the feeders.  One of these days I’m going to get a more natural background!

Common Ground Dove

Common Ground Dove

This last shot is just a funny pose.  I was so close to the bush, that when a greenie Painted Bunting hopped up onto a purple flower and started eating at the pets,  I could barely focus on him.  I love how the sun forms a catchlight in his eye.  Happy bird – they love the firespike blooms!

Greenie Painted Bunting closeup

Greenie Painted Bunting closeup