Babies! Just hearing the word prompts a smile. . .remember the debut of Baby Yoda?
Springtime in western New York means that there will be lots of babies born in the wild. . . little balls of fluff that elicit oohs and ahhs from each observer. Some of them eventually poke their tiny heads above the nest rim, waiting for a treat; others learn to waddle behind momma, heading for a swim — and just about all of them are trailed by a league of photographers lugging long lenses and tripods, hoping to capture some candid cuteness — from afar, of course. No one wants to disturb either momma, poppa, or their babies!
I’m one of those hopeful nature photographers who quietly pursue these family photographs. Having stalked no less than 3 eagle nests and as many wetlands since February, the appearance of the little ones was much welcomed.
First come the owls. They are fairly lazy, you know. Rather than build nests of their own, they simply squat in someone else’s. Which is okay, I guess, since the great blue heron who built this particular nest doesn’t really care. So, momma owl sat there for over a month, watching the returning great blue herons repairing old nests and building new ones. Now her great horned owlets are getting ready to fledge.
I don’t think this momma owl likes me much — in every single one of my photos she turned her back. Silly thing! So, many thanks to Betsy Berglund, who took this excellent photo with her Nikon p900 and then posted it on the Facebook page of the Sterling Nature Center, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2987462564648057&set=p.2987462564648057&type=3&theater.
Bald eagles are next in the chronology of wildlife births. They generally build their own nests — huge things that measure somewhere between 4-5 feet across and 2-4 feet deep. The larger ones often represent the work of several generations. There is plenty of room here for mom, dad, and their one, two, or three eggs, but the hatchlings quickly grow tall enough to poke their heads above the nest and then gradually edge out mom and dad.
This particular eagle family settled upon a second-generation nest on lakefront property owned by a developer. The New York State DEC moved in quickly, though, to protect the nest from encroachment. They began by issuing a cease-and-desist order to prevent any development on the property. Then they established a 660′ perimeter around the tree supporting the nest. They promised the developer that they would revisit the situation in 5 years. In any event, this building lot belongs to the wild as long as the nest is not abandoned. Prime real estate, indeed! — but only for the eagles 🙂
However, not all eagles are as enterprising as this pair — in fact, some are as lazy as owls. This eagle momma was happy to settle in another unused great blue heron nest in another rookery in nearby Wayne County. Her two babies are quickly outgrowing this small space! No artificial perimeter is necessary for their roadside home, as there is a natural 650′ barrier in the wetland surrounding the nest site.
Actually, this eagle is pretty smart. Heron rookeries are great places for birds of prey to match and hatch. Great blues build their nests on clumps of dead trees in the middle of marshes or ponds. Not only does this guarantee safety from predators such as foxes or coyotes, it also provides a ready supply of frogs, fish, and other tasty treats to feed the hungry young ones. Clever birds, those great blue herons!
While most heron chicks are still a few weeks away, it’s not so for Canada geese. In a quick trip to the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge today I counted several new families as well as a few mommas who continue to patiently sit on nest mounds. Watching a line of tiny fluffy goslings toddling along behind their mommas is sweet indeed, making it rather easy to forget that these adorable little ones will soon be big, fat, and noisy — and just as annoying as their parents!
Unlike the eagles, owls, and herons, though, Canada goose families are not protected by isolated rookeries or DEC-enforced perimeters. So, beware the photographer — or other Canada geese — who dare to come too close to momma, daddy, and their precious babies!
Not too many ducks today. The migrators have been long gone, and the residents seem to be limited to northern shovelers and the ubiquitous mallards. I did see some swans and some blue-winged and green-winged teal plus a few coots but no babies yet. I did hear the wail of common gallinules, but they and their babies, if any, remained well hidden in the reeds and rushes.
Another few days will warrant another visit — springtime in western New York may be cool, rainy, and windy, but there is so much to see and enjoy!
Wild, wet, and wonderful!