New arrivals and last year’s models

Magnolia warbler

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Fact: Most songbirds migrate at night. Every spring countless warblers, vireos, thrushes and sparrows (among others) follow the night sky as they work their way north in search of space to breed and maybe a partner (or two) with whom to share said space. Some of these birds will pass through St George, and some will stay to reproduce.

This “pre-breeding,” songbird migration can be a delight to observe—birds looking sharp and full of color, and males singing their hearts out. With each dawn another wave of hungry, migrating tweeters descends into local yards and forests after a night flight from who knows where. The peninsula has so much habitat, the songbirds can turn up just about anywhere.

Northern parula

For me this situation calls for a little “birding by bike.” On a bike one can cover lot of ground, be looking and listening for birds the entire pedal and stop (pretty much) wherever you hear something. Recent rides on the peninsula have turned up warblers such as Black and white, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-sided, Yellow, Black-throated Green, Magnolia and Black-throated Blue, as well as American Redstart, Northern parula, Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, and Northern Waterthrush. With other songbird species such as Scarlet Tanager, Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren and Hermit Thrush adding their songs to the mix it is a glorious time to out and about and listening. And the great news is there are still birds on the way!

And while we are at it… with all my recent talk about “vernal pools” and “racing against time” it would be irresponsible not to give some space to those species that may opt to “take their time” when it comes to hurrying towards adulthood. The Delaney girls—Trinity and Serenity—and their super nice mom Beckie were kind enough to bring me the tiniest of painted turtles that they found crossing the road just down from where I live on Watts Avenue. This dude was so tiny and cute it looked like it might have hatched that day. But that got me thinking—how old is this turtle? Painted turtles are the cool summertime turtles that you see on logs and by your bobbers when fishing the Ponderosa. You know the ones with red streaks on their face and legs that gives the species its common name “painted.” A little research shows they lay eggs in late spring and their youngsters hatch a few months later in August and September. So what’s the deal here with the tiny one?

Painted turtle

Well, Thomas Tyning had the answer (as he always does!) in his Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles: “The young painted turtles remain inside the nest cavity for varying lengths of time. In northern parts of their range, they may overwinter in their nest and do not emerge until the following spring”.

So this little turtle hatched out of an egg late last summer and then essentially napped through winter still in the underground nest where its mom laid its egg. Then just a few days ago it began to scurry and scrape its way out of the only world it’s known! Instead of racing ahead into adulthood, local painted turtles apparently take the “I’ll do that next year” attitude quite literally! A lifestyle choice that seems to be working out for them.

This turtle was lucky enough to cross paths with Trinity and Serenity (undoubtedly the first humans it had ever seen!) who were ready to help and relocate the turtle to a nearby pond. The road is a dangerous place for turtles of any size and they often can use a little assistance to get where they are going safely. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with helpin’ a turtle,” as they say.

New arrivals or last year’s models—either way there’s a ton going on outside these days. See you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

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2 thoughts on “New arrivals and last year’s models

  1. Carla Skinder

    Thanks Kirk…great article!
    I am so lucky to have the little ones migrating through my woods! Even if you miss them since they often love the tall trees and their songs are magnificent…
    Keep up the great articles to inspire others to get out and witness Nature’s Wonders!


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