Bay Journal

Michael Burke

Atlas helps birders move beyond naming a bird to knowing it

March is a funny month. Sometimes spring seems here to stay. Then, a cold blast barrels through, and mud puddles turn icy and warm coats are needed.

It was late March 2019, and the weather couldn’t make up its mind. It started dreary and damp, but the clouds were clearing and the temperature was rising. We took advantage of the brightening skies to take a walk around a local park....

For ring-billed gulls, color of feathers is often ‘so last year’

Identifying gulls has flummoxed many a birder, including me. Gulls take several years to reach their adult feathers. Getting there involves a complicated progression through such mysterious plumages as juvenile, first alternate, second basic, and third alternate before ending in their definite phases. For years, rather than hazarding a guess on a specific species, I have entered...

A bird of the Americas, kestrel needs global help to face climate change

Bright sunshine made the cold almost pleasant. Brilliant blue skies threw the barren trees into high relief. The gentlest of breezes played with the tawny grasses. The refuge was quiet except for a gentle rustling of the meadow and distant bird calls.

We had just pulled into the refuge’s parking lot when we saw a bird perched on a power line. The bird’s color and size immediately...

Rough-legged hawk’s rare visit to Gettysburg strikes a chord

The battlefield was silent. The split-rail fence rose peacefully atop the grassy hillside. The sky, once filled with smoke and the smell of gunpowder, was the brilliant blue only seen in winter.

I had last visited the Gettysburg National Military Park decades earlier. The hallowed ground was even more moving than I remembered.

Reports that a rough-legged hawk had been seen here...

For wren and writer, home is where the birdhouse hangs

Well before sunrise in early May it started: a loud chattering, burbling, cascading torrent of notes. From just outside our bedroom window, the birdsong filled the early morning air. It would continue virtually all day and go on well into the summer.

Our avian alarm clock was at it again. The house wren, one of America’s most well-known songsters, was busy attracting a mate and...

One last look is rewarded with an unexpected blue-headed vireo

The sun was finally low enough that the heat of the day was starting to ease. We were just about to head home after a pleasant afternoon at the always popular Lake Artemesia Park in College Park, MD.

There had been resident Canada geese and migratory pied-billed grebes on the water. A great blue heron was looking for dinner near the shoreline. Swirling masses of tree swallows...

Common gallinule uncommonly delightful in any landscape

The bald eagles were everywhere we looked, soaring through the summer sky and perching on top of a half-dozen loblolly pines. There were mature adults and several younger birds, and all of it was exhilarating.

My wife, Pat, had entered the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge minutes earlier. Just past the Marsh Edge Trail, we drove down Observation Access Road to the overlook....

Fed-ag partnership helps dickcissel to keep to cropping up in fields

We were driving slowly west along Powder Mill Road when my wife, Pat, spotted a blue bird perched on a post. I pulled over and carefully backed up a bit, just in time to see the indigo bunting fly off. But with no road noise, we could hear a different bird singing away nearby. It only took a minute to find the songster sitting atop a fence.

He made a couple of soft buzzy notes...

Cape May warbler has its own part to play in spring’s avian orchestra

I stood on the boardwalk and turned to the early morning sun. I felt the warmth on my face and closed my eyes. The dawn chorus of birds enveloped me.

As I listened intently, I could make out several familiar songs. There was a hermit thrush nearby, singing its fluted notes. To my left an indigo bunting whistled its complex tune. Somewhere behind me came the rattling voice of a...

It’s time to ruffle feathers again – seek actions to protect birds

It was April 28, 1988, and I was aboard Amtrak, heading to Washington, DC, to see the Pennsylvania congressman whose re-election campaign I would soon be running. As the train slowly pulled out of the BWI station, I looked out the window at the forested wetlands that border the tracks. A brilliantly white long-legged wading bird stood at the edge of some open water, its imposing...

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About Michael Burke

Michael Burke's avatar Rachel Felver is Chesapeake Bay Program communications director for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

 

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