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Designed to Fly

In the last blog (last photo), I posted a photo of an Osprey carrying a fish. It was lunchtime on the Elizabeth. That fish, caught in the waters just off Money Point in Chesapeake, VA, that former Elizabeth River "dead zone," appeared to weigh about as much as the Osprey. Heck, it likely weighed more! Here's another picture of the same bird a few wing beats--and a few burned calories--down the flight path. One wouldn't use "down the road" there.

Aerodynamics and Bird Flight

I mentioned in "More Shoutouts" that Ospreys carry fish head first to minimize drag (or air resistance). Well, birds taken as a whole are built to minimize drag. And birds taken as a whole are designed to fly. Consider for a moment this duck in flight. Ducks are superb flyers.  

I captured this female Mallard duck off Inland Rd. in Chespeake a few months ago. This photograph is a study in aerodynamics.


female Mallard duck in flight


Note the shape, including the wedge shape of the bill and head (not unlike the wedge shape of the nose of a plane or a car). Note the smooth surfaces, including on the leading edges of the wings (you can see those closely here). Note those big webbed toes neatly tucked in in the rear to eliminate any drag there. 

Another thing to notice here is that the wings are in a down-stroke. And all the flight feathers are closed. The down-stroke, the closed flight feathers, and the shape and smoothness of a bird's body all contribute to keeping a bird aloft and moving forward on a more or less straight flight path. 

For comparison, here's a photo I posted earlier of another flying female Mallard with its wings in an up-stroke. Note that some of the flight feathers are open. This allows air to pass through as the wings are moving up. The open feathers also help to minimize drag.


female Mallard duck in flight


The Marvel of Bird Flight

I was reminded of a bird's wonderful ability to fly recently. Now here's the story part. As I mentioned in the previous blog, we usually include a story. Early in the morning of 10/19, and as a USFWS volunteer, I helped out with the translocation of two endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers from a preserve in South Carolina to the Great Dismal Swamp in Chesapeake, VA. I've mentioned the return of RCW's to the Great Dismal Swamp (also known as "Operation Woodpecker") in a previous blog. Please see "A Cautionary Tale."

I worked that morning with Fletcher Smith, a biologist at the Center for Conservation Biology, and Bob Ake, a retired ODU chemistry professor. We released a hatch-year male and female that had been brought there the previous night. Each had been placed in an artificial cavity and behind a secured screen in neighboring pond pine trees. I released the female. Bob released the male. 

When I released the female (here's a video clip complete with countdown of a recent release there), she hesitated for a moment, but then bolted, making me think of a bullet exiting a gun barrel. The sheer marvel of flight. The sheer ease of flight. Bob's bird was released at the same time. I'm sure he'd describe his bird's exit in the same way. After the birds' release, they quickly found each other, flew around, foraged, and called. Here's my recording. Please click on the audio icon in the upper left corner. You'll then find the RCW recording, until I record more birds anyway, in the upper left corner as well.

I wrote in a previous blog (not available now) about being wonderstruck watching birds. I was wondertruck that morning. Can birds be considered exuberant? Well these two certainly seemed to be.

Birds Are Determined

If I may...think about the above question and answer for a moment. Now set all that exuberance against the following. These young birds had just been removed from their natal homes. They'd just been transported at night to a new home miles away. And--they are members of a federally listed endangered species. So what explains the birds' exuberance? Here are more words from that now unavailable blog: Birds are "determined to live and to thrive no matter what. Habitat loss, contaminated water, soil degradation, who cares?" 

Since we're touching on bird flight (or we were)--here's a photo of a Great Egret taking off from a bare tree limb at Money Point.


Great Egret taking off from bare limb

Like the first Mallard above, its wings are in a down-stroke to help it stay aloft and move forward. I'll provide a few before and after photos of this bird in the next blog. We'll also continue to talk about flight there.

And This Just In about those Boston Red Sox, winners of the 2018 World Series? Serious kudos to David Price, my WS MVP, and the one who pitched the Red Sox to the title.  
And kudos, too, to Glenn Butler, a Master Arborist friend, and a guy who birds Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth every chance he can get. He wrote this to me earlier: "I haven’t seen any migratory birds at the park yet in September, but the wax myrtles look full of berries and poised to feed the flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers soon to appear." Well, it's late October now, and Glenn had 50 at the park just the other day. A good number have also shown up at Money Point in Chesapeake, where there is also a wax myrtle crop. Money Point also just played host to the area's first Wilson's Snipe. And Savannah Sparrows continue there in good numbers. I had eight there the other day. Money Point has prime Savannah Sparrow habitat. Good grassland habitat as exists there is disappearing fast.

Quip, Question, Quote

We had some trouble posting the More Shoutouts feature photo, so I wanted you to see what we'd intended.


Indian River south from Oaklette Brige in Chesapeake, VA

Now that you can better see how beautiful this Elizabeth River tributary is, the words that I wrote earlier might make a bit more sense: "I realize the Indian River has received a failing grade (per the 2014 State of the Elizabeth River scorecard). But I think the view here grades out as an "A." Those words were immediately followed by these: "One might look at this photo and at the very least imagine a cleaner, healthier river."

Click here to email Dave or leave your public comment below.


Humans finally learned to fly only a bit more than a century ago, but we've still a long way to go before our machines can fly with the precision and accuracy of an average warbler.

Over the past year, perhaps I've been more of a Paradise Creek watcher than a birder. In our neck of the woods—a temperate coastal plain—each year brings a great change between the seasons. There's an annual rhythm imposed on top of the daily and tidal rhythms. Although the park is enjoyable to visit at any time of the year, multiple visits across the annual calendar deliver a deeper understanding of how intricate and connected nature can be. It's these annual rhythms that I'm interested in, as we tend to blur those in our suburban landscapes because of our choice of plant material.

Yellow-rumped warblers, migrating south from the great evergreen forests, flock to our beloved Paradise Creek in October. The prize they are pursuing is that tough, bluish-gray candleberry of the waxmyrtle. I have not observed any other species of warbler feeding on these berries. And so, I suppose these appropriately named yellow-rumps, enjoy exclusive access to this food source, and hence proliferate here in great numbers. More waxmyrtles should be planted locally and at Paradise Creek and maybe we could enjoy a show of these warblers in the thousands.

Boy, Glenn, all good food for thought. And no pun intended. A cursory look at bird flight won't give you much information at all, or much appreciation for all that birds can do in the air. But when you spend time in the field really studying birds (time in the field is always key), that's when you notice and better understand and appreciate the phenomenal flight skills that birds have. And yes. Our flying machines don't even come close. Thank you so much for your comment. It was a great comment. And it was a great read as well.

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