The birders who run into one another on occasion at the Big Bear wetland usually remark on the Blue-winged Teals that have been hanging out there for several months. Regulars at the marsh have seen them there in previous years as well.

This year, had my first sighting on March 25. Then, on April 1, I got to enjoy a small flock of these beautiful ducks. I counted seven at one point, but there may have been more. Over the next few weeks, most of them departed for their usual breeding grounds to the north, but one pair stayed behind. They were obviously a pair, though I never witnessed any courtship displays. Some of us speculated from time to time about their intentions. As the spring moved on … and they did not … we wondered. Did they intend to stay?

This pair stayed behind … and stayed, and stayed.


After being evicted from their home by Pileated Woodpeckers, the Flickers found a new site much higher in the same dead tree and are settling in. This morning, one of them arrived at the site bedecked in “stuff” – it looks to me as if it went through a spider web. Flickers don’t give up easily this time of year. I once saw one battling with a starling, which got hold of the flicker’s leg and pulled it out of the nest cavity. However, the flicker still managed to run the intruder off. Gutsy guys!

Flicker at Nest


I counted six beautiful Blue-winged Teals in the Big Bear wetland this morning. They have been enjoying a stopover here since at least March 26.

Blue Wing Teal


The female pileated throwing out wood chips as she fashions the interior of her home.

What a morning I had, down at the Big Bear wetland. There is a big dead tree that has become the hottest real estate commodity in town. Flickers had laboriously excavated a cavity over several days, only to be challenged by starlings. Then pileated woodpeckers arrived and decided it was perfect for them. Today, I was surprised when a  wood duck flew out of the cavity.

The flickers are still there, hoping. The starlings are still there, covetous. The pileateds are still there – in possession, apparently. The wood ducks have settled on a spot higher in the tree. It was thrilling to see them hanging around in that tree and others nearby. I knew they nested in trees, but so high? I am really surprised. There is a perfectly good nest box designed just for them nearby, but they would rather take their chances in this popular apartment building. 


Male Wood Duck sitting below hole.
Female Wood Duck
Female flies to nesting site.


How did waxwings get their odd name? Check out this photo of a dead Cedar Waxwing, which George James discovered on the riverbank. The red tips on some of the wing feathers inspired the name – they looked like sealing wax to early observers. 

I am sorry for the bird, but it was interesting to see the wing close-up. In the photo of the waxwing pair you can see a bit of the red on the bird with its back to the camera. The wax “droplets” are flattened extensions of the feather shaft that are colored by a carotenoid pigment. They may serve a courtship function. 

Everything about these birds seems a little fantastic, including their beauty. If they were in a play, it would be Midsummer Night’s Dream. They would be attendants on the Fairy Queen.


Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Yesterday in the rain at the wetland. My, it was a busy place! I call this shot, “What Ducks Do in the Rain.” Basically, they do the same thing they do every other day! The late afternoon light was really nice, despite the steady rain. This shot caught a female Wood Duck, two males, and (visible in upper right) a Canada Goose. Tree and Northern Rough-Winged swallows were swooping through the forest of dead trees, close to the water and sometimes skimming it. Some of my shots caught a couple of these birds on the wing, and I got one of a Northern Rough-winged perched. Not a great shot, but it’s good to see these guys back again, so I’m attaching it also.
We birders are blessed because there is so much to enjoy, even now!


For those who cannot get out, here is some of what I saw today: screaming hawks, molting goldfinch, chickadee house thief, female red-winged blackbird house hunting. The chickadees were going into every cavity in the Brown-headed Nuthatch tree, but their favorite was the hole just excavated by the nuthatches. The house thief came out of the hole with a piece of nest material in its mouth and wood dust on its head.

Enjoy! At least the days have been beautiful.

3/21/2020 Yesterday, in the wetland area of the Greenway at Big Bear, I got photos of what seems to be a Rusty Blackbird. John Sill thinks so. Note brownish tint and pale eyes. I have seen the Rusty here in past years (December 2016, March and May 2017), but it has been a while, so this makes me very happy. As birders may know, the bird could be in steep decline, for unknown reasons. It migrates through here to its boreal breeding grounds.

3/18/2020 From Jim and Debbie Curtis, also at Suli Marsh and Big Bear inspired by Barbara’s sightings of brown-headed nuthatches:  
“First, we ran into our good friend Joann Staples and her daughter at Suli Marsh.  Joann is a fine birder.  But it was my first time at Big Bear swamp.  After seeing the screech owl and many others we carried take-out lunch from Cafe Rel into the pavilion.  Tim came by and suggested we go back for the brown-headed nuthatches.  We did and had great looks!  Debbie and I know them well, but the cooperative nuthatches were life birds for the Nashvillean refugees.  They were also impressed with the fish crows.  The other interesting thing was that the number of Tree Swallows increased over the course of the day; one, then twos and threes growing to small flocks.  Hard to know for sure, but I wonder if it was a migratory phenomenon.”

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