black-crowned night heron on dam

Willow Spring Open Space – Late June Birds and Heavy Rains

June 25, 2021 – Morning – A Birder’s Delight!

I went to the Willow Spring Open Space at about 8 a.m. with my sister, Heather, who is a much more experienced and patient birder than I am.  We were out for about 1 1/2 hours, doing the trail loop starting at the west side of Englewood Dam, going past Homestead Elementary and then back to the dam on the other side of Willow Creek.  

Normally I walk that loop in about 45 minutes, stopping occasionally to look at plants or birds that have caught my attention, but instead of noticing only the birds that are loud, large or flying nearby, we were actively looking for as many birds as we could spot, including those that like to hide. Fortunately, the late June birds were in full show!

The Red-Winged Blackbirds were out in full, and we counted 77 of them making quite a racket. 

Red-winged Blackbirds

2 male red-winged blackbirds
Male red-winged blackbirds; one is displaying its shoulder patches

Among them were 6 Common Grackles, as they like to hang out with the Red-winged Blackbirds.  Common Grackles are larger than Red-winged Blackbirds and have purple or green iridescent coloring on the head and neck, a longer beak and yellow eyes rather than the black eyes of the Red-winged Blackbirds.

Here is a fun poem by Ogden Nash about Grackles:

The Grackle
The grackle’s voice is less than mellow,
His heart is black, his eye is yellow,
he bullies more attractive birds
With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words,
And should a human interfere,
Attacks that human in the rear.
I cannot help but deem the grackle
An ornithological debacle
Ogden Nash’s Zoo, 1987

Common Grackle

grackle in among branches
Common grackle

The other birds making the most noise were 21 Mourning Doves, with their cooing.  To me, their mellow, plaintive song sounds like they are saying “I’m a Mourning Dove, I’m a Mourning Dove”, which helps me identify them. Mourning Doves are highly suburbanized, and can be found at feeders eating millet in addition to being in the Open Space. They also like to perch on utility lines. When they are flying, their white-edged tail can be seen.

Mourning Dove

Mourning dove in a tree
Mourning dove

Heather had checked E-bird to see what other people had been seeing in the Open Space, so we looked carefully, waited patiently and were rewarded by finding Catbirds, Spotted Towhees and Common Yellowthroats, along with many of other species that make the Willow Spring Open Space their home. 

Catbirds are dark gray with a black skullcap and long black tail, and generally like to be in thickets where they are hard to see. We were lucky to see one perched on a branch (though it moved too fast for a picture). The song of the Gray Catbirds is a mix of many sounds, including meowing like a cat! They also include songs from other birds and are related to Mockingbirds.

We also saw a Blue jay and a Broad-tailed Hummingbird at the treetops near the South end of the Open Space. While Blue jays are common in the Eastern US, they are not very common here and we had to study the picture I took to be sure of the identification.

Blue Jay

Blue jay
Blue Jay

Spotting and identifying birds was a great way to spend time with my sister and I learned a lot from her!

June 25, 2021 – Evening deluge

That evening, we had a hard rainfall of about 2.5”, which brought the Englewood Dam’s flood control purpose into action.

Lake at Englewood Dam 062721
Flood control lake at Englewood Dam 06-27-21

June 26, 2021 – Morning lake

We went back to the open space the next morning and joined the crowd gawking at the lake that had formed, which was still large even though it had been draining through the dam all night.  The water had been to the top of the sign warning about coyotes, and dried cattails from previous year’s crops washed up showing the high-water mark.  The small house over the water inlet was completely covered, as was the beaver dam.

That evening we went back again and were rewarded by seeing some black-crowned night herons in the dam debris. They tend to be more secretive than other herons and come out in the evenings to begin feeding. They stand by or crouch over a feeding hole and wait for prey to pass. They eat mostly fish but also snakes, mice, crayfish and crabs.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron on branch
Black-crowned Night-Heron

The nature in the open space is always changing, and the June birds were a treat to see!

References and Further Reading