Archive for March, 2007

Arrivals and Departures

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

As March comes to an end – an unusually warm and dry month this year – mornings are full of birdsong. Eastern Bluebirds are nesting. Many of our winter resident birds have begun to sing – Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers – along with year-round residents like Cardinals, Chickadees, Brown Thrashers and almost all the others. Woodpeckers are drumming. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are still here, tapping quietly away, Dark-eyed Juncos still forage in the grass and dry leaves, and the high “seet-seet-seet” of Golden-crowned Kinglets, the brittle mews of Cedar Waxwings, and an occasional twanging “vreee!” or low “chup!” of a Hermit Thrush are still heard. The only winter birds I’ve not seen recently are the Rusty Blackbirds. Their small flocks were a regular presence in our neighborhood for many weeks, but I think they’ve moved on now.

March also saw the return of the first spring migrants. I heard the first song of a Blue-headed Vireo March 20; both Louisiana Waterthrush and Black and White Warbler March 21; and the bright “spee-spee!” of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher March 25.

Slip-sliding Chickadee

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

A small copper birdbath standing next to the leafy branches of a Savannah holly tree by our front porch is a popular spot with birds in our yard. This morning a Carolina Chickadee came for a drink – but apparently didn’t want to get its feet wet. From a branch of the holly, it flitted to the rim of the birdbath and leaned over – and over, and over. There was only a small amount of water in the birdbath, and it wasn’t close enough for the Chickadee to reach, until it had tipped almost upside down.

Then it all seemed to happen at once, in less than a second. The Chickadee’s feet slipped down the sloping side of the birdbath, his head bobbed down, his beak touched the surface of the water just long enough for a quick sip, and he flew immediately back to the shelter of the holly, where he shook off, fluttering his wings. After about half a minute, he repeated the whole thing – perching on the rim, leaning over to the tipping point, sliding down the side until he barely touched the water with his beak – then flying quickly back to the tree. He did this at least six times, slip-sliding his way to several sips of water.

Louisiana Waterthrush and Black and White Warbler

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

As I worked in my office this morning, with the windows open to another warm, sunny day and lots of birdsong, around mid morning a pair of Phoebes sang and fussed in the back yard. Then, for the first time this season, I heard the unmistakable notes of a Louisiana Waterthrush singing from down in the woods along the creek. Its song is loud and bright, three clearly whistled notes followed by a tumble of other notes falling like water over stones. In past seasons, two or three pairs of Louisiana Waterthrushes have nested along the creeks behind our neighborhood. Because there’s been some new clearing and development along some parts of the creeks, I was a little concerned – but am hopeful they will stay to nest again this year.

About half an hour later, I heard the high “weesa-weesa-weesa” song of a Black and White Warbler from trees along the edge of the woods, where I found it creeping along the high branches of a pine, its sharp black and white stripes looking neat and crisp.

Both the Louisiana Waterthrush and the Black and White Warbler spend winters further south, and are usually among the first to return here in the spring.

A Blue-headed Vireo Returns

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

The song of a Cardinal at first light ushered in the day of the Spring Equinox, a perfect day that began cool and crisp, with a sunny, softly blue and white sky and a haze of green in the woods as leaves began to emerge.

The highlight of the day was hearing a Blue-headed Vireo’s song near the edge of our woods – the first returning migrant of the year for us, as it usually is. With a slate-blue head and striking white spectacles, the Blue-headed Vireo is bright and always fun to watch, and its song stands out, even among the busy spring chorus, because of its sweet, clear quality and deliberate phrasing. It sounds like this time of year – cool and fresh.

By sunrise, around 7:30, many other singers had joined the Cardinal, including Phoebe, Chickadee, Titmouse, Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, White-throated Sparrow, Towhee, Goldfinch and House Finch. The tiny, high calls of Golden-crowned Kinglets barely could be heard among all the other voices. A pair of House Finches came to one of the bird baths for a quick morning dip. Several Juncos and White-throated Sparrows, one Brown Thrasher, a pair of Towhees, one Robin and a Mourning Dove fed in the grass. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker worked its way through the trees in the front yard, along with a female Downy Woodpecker, and Brown-headed Nuthatches squeaked and darted in to grab seeds from the feeder.

Early in the afternoon, under a warm sun, the first Tiger Swallowtail butterfly floated around the back yard.

Nesting Bluebirds

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

The last day of winter was a warm, sunny day, under a pale blue sky with veils of white. In the early afternoon, Pine Warblers, Cardinals, a House Finch and a Brown Thrasher sang, and two Chipping Sparrows sang back and forth in a lively, much more musical way than their usual song.

But the highlight of the day was a pair of Eastern Bluebirds that finally began working on a nest in the bluebird house in our front yard. I’d been watching for some activity around the house and had begun to think no one was going to use it – so I was happy to see them. The bright blue male sang all day long, taking breaks to sit on top of the bluebird house possessively. Both he and the female went in and out of it with nesting materials, suddenly very busy.

Twilight Possum

Monday, March 12th, 2007

After an unusually warm day, the air turned swiftly cool as the sun went down in a pale orange sky and the light began to fade. A bat swooped and fluttered over the road and grassy lawns. Overhead, the sky was clear, gray-blue. A pair of Phoebes called “tsup! tsup!” from spot to spot around the yard as they did some late hunting. A Pine Warbler trilled, and a White-throated Sparrow sang one shaky, plaintive, “Come a-way with me.” Several Juncos and White-throated Sparrows were still feeding on the ground, but gradually birds slipped away into the bushes and trees, calling out in short chips and seets as they settled down for the night. Peeping back and forth with her mate, a female Cardinal came to the bird bath near our porch for a drink, as she does almost every evening just before dark. A Towhee called “To-wheee.”

In deep twilight, I heard rustling footsteps making their way down the hill toward our house, and could just make out a form with a pointed pale face and a fat waddling shape – a possum. It rustled steadily all the way up to the sidewalk three feet in front of me, and didn’t even flinch or turn when I made a noise. It just waddled on, unperturbed, across the sidewalk, past the bushes and out of sight.

Spring Azure

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Late this afternoon, a Spring Azure Butterfly, small and pale blue, fluttered around our back yard. They’re often the first butterflies to emerge in the spring, and this one was an airy, spirit-lifting spot of color against a background of woods that are still bare and gray.

The day began cloudy and cool, but around noon the sun came out and the air warmed quickly. Redbuds and Bradford pear trees are beginning to come out in bloom, and the feeder and all around our yard were lively all day with birdsong and activity, all the usual suspects.

Late in the day, a Brown-headed Nuthatch came to the feeder when it was briefly unoccupied, grabbed a quick bite and took it to a nearby limb. A Downy Woodpecker approached it there, as if to claim the food, but the Nuthatch flared its wings and the Downy backed off. We hear the Nuthatches’ squeaking calls often, but they rarely come to the feeder. This one came back at least one more time for another quick bite.

Braveheart the Deer

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

On a soft, gentle, spring-like morning, birds were active in the front yard. Cardinal, House Finch, Pine Warbler, Chipping Sparrow singing. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker working on the high branches of a pecan tree. Towhee, Robin, White-throated Sparrows, Mourning Dove, Juncos feeding on the grass and under shrubs. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet fussed and flitted from bush to tree, and from limb to limb. And a Mockingbird began to sing in our neighbors’ yard – the first Mockingbird song I’ve heard this spring.

A solitary White-tailed Deer made her way up the slope on the eastern side of our house, browsing, maybe looking for leftover acorns or pecans. She stopped, raised her head and looked toward me, standing very still. She was a handsome, healthy-looking doe, except for her left front leg, which was crippled and withered. She held it loosely curled up, and moved by hopping forward awkwardly on the other front leg. We call her Braveheart. When we first saw her at least three or four years ago, we didn’t think we’d see her again. In our neighborhood – surrounded by woods and creeks – we see a good many deer almost every day, sometimes moving through in groups of six or seven or more. We thought a deer with a crippled leg wouldn’t be able to survive for long.

But Braveheart has not only survived, she’s raised at least one fawn, and she looks healthy and strong. She looks awkward when she moves, but can run fairly well when she needs to. This morning, after several still moments, she lowered her head and began to browse again. I could hear the crunch as she munched on something. Then suddenly, for no reason I could sense, she snorted, and bolted quickly away, running in her awkward but sufficient way, up the hill and across the road toward the woods on the other side.

The Bird with a Funny Name

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Early on a beautiful, cool, blue-sky morning, a Pine Warbler sang, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew quietly to the trunk of a pecan tree in our front yard. The sunlight lit its dusky yellow belly, flecked with charcoal, and made its throat and forehead burn clear, true red. After a minute or two of tapping on the trunk, he flew restlessly to one branch and then another, on this tree and another nearby before he finally found a spot that seemed satisfactory, where he stayed and worked his way steadily and intently upward. Except for the flashes of brilliant red and the sound of his tapping, his coloring was so close to the mottled dark gray of the trees he might have gone unnoticed.

This bird with a funny name that’s often the source of jokes about birdwatchers is actually very striking in appearance, mostly patterned in black and white, with a pale yellow belly and bright red forehead and throat on the males. The females have a white throat, and juveniles are several shades of brown and white in similar patterns. The Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are a common winter sight in our neighborhood, which is an old pecan grove still full of trees, and their piquant mewing calls can often be heard among the bare gray branches.

Splashing in Rain Puddles

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

When my sons were little boys, they loved to go out right after a rain and play in the puddles along our dirt and gravel driveway. This afternoon I saw a small flock of about 40 Rusty Blackbirds that reminded me of them. The air felt warm and still damp, and the ground everywhere was soggy. In one large, low-lying grassy area, soaked and flowing with rainwater in streams and puddles, the Blackbirds chattered and pecked at the ground and tossed up wet dark leaves. They’re usually very skittish and fly up as soon as I approach, but today, I was able to get closer to them than ever, they were so absorbed in puddle-splashing and leaf-tossing and generally having a good time – or so it seemed.