***Stay tuned later this week to see more from the winners of the 2012 Young Birder of the Year Contest***
By Nathan Martineau
Tuesday, March 6, 2012, end of 6th hour: It is 50 degrees out. I’ve been stuck in school watching the sunshine for a full seven hours and I’m itching to get outside. As soon as school ends I burst out the doors and breath the fresh air. When I spot my mom, I say, “I don’t have any homework, so I think I’m going to go birding today.” So, kind as she is, she agrees to drive me to the mudflats near our home. I bring along my notebook and some pencils so I can take notes.
I’m looking forward to birding in solitude. My younger brother, Elijah, decides to come along, too. At first I'm reluctant, but I agree. Elijah and I walk to the nearest bench, sit down, and take our field journals out. Almost immediately, an American Kestrel flies over. Next we see a female American Black Duck, and we confirm the identification when she flaps her wings and shows large white patches of feathers in her “armpits.” Next I spot a female Blue-winged Teal, and then a Herring Gull flies over. A Killdeer is calling, but we never catch a glimpse of it.
A European Starling is in a tree nearby, and it gives me quite a few false alarms, which include the songs of a Red-tailed Hawk, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, American Coot, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Belted Kingfisher, Tree Swallow, and Northern Flicker. It also imitates the sound of a dog yapping, a car horn, and what I thought sounded like an airplane high overhead. Thinking about it, it sounds a little far-fetched, but I saw (and heard) it happen. I think it is incredible that one bird can mimic such a repertoire of sounds, in the space of just thirty minutes! I thought that in North America it was left to the mockingbirds to perform such a feat.
We next observe a pair of Mallards synchronously bob their heads. I’ve never this before and think that it must be a courtship ritual. My suspicions are confirmed about thirty seconds later, when we see the drake mount the female.
Next we walk to the nature center nearby in order to see some landbirds. Here we see a Great Blue Heron fly over and six Wild Turkeys wander by—one displaying male and five females.
When a flock of Common Grackles flies over, I notice something interesting and start taking notes frantically. The grackles have formed a perfect triangle! I also notice that all of their wing tips line up perfectly, like a flock of geese. Did the grackles do it on purpose, or was it a one-time event? Assuming that they did it on purpose, what are the reasons for forming a triangle shape? Very puzzling.
About the author: Nathan Martineau is a 15-year-old birder from Lansing, Michigan. He's been birding since 2006. He was really intrigued by the fact that birds in his yard would eat out of his hand. Since then, he has hand-fed chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers. He loves the north woods of Michigan and the birds that breed there, including Ovenbird, Common Loon, Pileated Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, and Magnolia and Blackburnian warblers. He separates the year into five seasons: summer, fall, winter, spring and May. Nathan hopes to incorporate ornithology into his future career.