Archive for June, 2007

Summer Solstice

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

The first day of Summer began quietly, well before dawn, with the solitary song of a Wood Thrush in the distance. Then a Summer Tanager began to sing right outside my bedroom window, joined by one, and then two Cardinals, then an Eastern Towhee, a Carolina Wren and a Bluebird. By 6:00 am the yard around the house was full of birdsong – Titmouse, Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black and White Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Goldfinch, and probably others lost among the chorus. As I stepped out the front door to go for a walk at 6:30, the sky was a quiet gray with high rumpled clouds beginning to show faint pink.

The streets of the neighborhood were empty, the houses all quiet. I saw no one, and not a single car or truck passed me as I walked. Three Brown Thrashers sang along the way. A Blue Grosbeak sang from the top of a small pine. A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk sat in the top of a larger pine in the same area and screamed repeatedly, and a Yellow-breasted Chat whistled and cawed in the Old Field.

The rest of the day was a perfect summer day – hot, humid, breezy, with birds active, but in a much less hurried and exuberant way than in early spring. The morning sky was a gentle blue with high thin cirrus clouds, the trees a deeper, summery green. The whine and drone of insects, the heat and humidity, all combined to make it seem that everything has settled into a serious, but more relaxed pace. Tiger Swallowtail and Red-spotted Purple Butterflies floated among the trees and over the grass and flowers. The whine of Cicadas rose and fell.

Later in the morning, Chimney Swifts twittered as they swept overhead. A Great Crested Flycatcher called Whreep! from the low branches around the house. A pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visited the feeder now and then, though not often. A female house finch came to the bird bath for a drink. A Red-bellied Woodpecker called its purring whirrrr. A Yellow-throated Vireo made its way through the woods, singing as it went. Paper wasps hunted around the shrubs, and green anoles skittered along the deck rails and up into the hanging ferns. And a Chipping Sparrow gave a long, level trill from a bush in the front yard, over and over again – becoming the most noticeable song of the morning.

A Yellow-billed Cuckoo sang its dry, exotic song all around the edge of the woods most of the afternoon, along with the pik-a-tuk of a Summer Tanager, the pit-seet! of an Acadian Flycatcher from down in the woods near the creek, and the complaining nyaay of a Red-eyed Vireo in the oaks – the sounds of a summer day.

Abandoned Nest

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

It’s been a very pleasant, very warm late spring day with a stiff breeze and crowds of big gleaming white clouds passing steadily across a sky of deep, clear cobalt blue. Birds were active. In mid afternoon, I heard the call of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo nearby, and the songs of Black and White Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, the whirr of a Red-bellied Woodpecker and the chatter of Titmice and Chickadees.

But – sadly – the Wood Thrushes seem to have abandoned their nest. Although the male sang around the back yard all morning as usual, the female is not on the nest and we did not see either of the pair approach the nest all day. We can’t see inside it, but have watched often in hopes of catching a glimpse of the parents.

Wood Thrush Photos

Monday, June 18th, 2007

My husband, Clate, has taken several pictures of the nesting Wood Thrush – including this one, in which the female (we think) has just arrived back at the nest after taking a break for a few minutes. The legs of the male can just barely be seen on the edge of the nest. He seems to stand guard beside it whenever she leaves for a brief time.

Both yesterday and today, we frequently saw the female standing on the edge of the nest and looking down into it, sometimes poking it. Then she settles back down. Early in the morning, she sits low in the nest, but later in the day she mostly sits higher or even stands over it, maybe because of the heat, and at times her beak is parted, as if she’s panting.

Once today, I saw the male arrive at the nest with something in its beak. Both he and the female perched on the edge of the nest and poked into it, then she lifted her head with what looked like a worm in her beak and ate it.

We don’t watch them all day, so I’m sure there’s a lot we miss – but keep the scope set up and have a look whenever we have a chance.

Thanks, Clate, for the pictures!

Timber Rattlesnake

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

This morning we found a Timber Rattlesnake – dead on the road in our cul de sac. Its head was completely mashed and gone, and part of its tail was also gone. But the rest of its body was still undamaged, lying in an awkward S-shape on the road in the section that goes past a vacant lot grown up in tall grasses and trees. The snake was at least three feet long, and impressively thick around the middle part. A coppery stripe ran like a ribbon down the middle of its back, and a part of the sooty-black tip of its tail remained, but no rattle. The background color of its heavy-looking body was pinkish tan, crossed with jagged black bands.

I wouldn’t want to step on one of these in the woods, of course – where they usually stay. They feed mostly on small mammals like squirrels, chipmunks and rats. They are said to have a secretive nature and to be generally passive unless provoked – though if they are disturbed, they will strike and are venomous.

It’s a rare and interesting experience to see one, and it’s encouraging to know that enough natural habitat remains around here for them to continue to exist – though unfortunately, there’s one less around now.

Still on Her Nest

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

When we returned home late yesterday, after a week-long trip, we were greeted by the song of a Wood Thrush in our back yard – and I was delighted to find the Wood Thrush female still sitting on her nest and looking bright-eyed and healthy. While we were gone, she survived a brief heat wave, with temperatures in the upper 90s for a few days; and then a heavy storm with wind and rain that blew down a few big branches here and there. But it was really the predators I was concerned about – we have a good many Blue Jays, Crows, Squirrels and other potential nest predators around. But so far, so good.

A Wood Thrush Nest

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

On a leaf-screened limb of a large white oak just outside our bedroom windows, a Wood Thrush is sitting in her nest. Nearby, at the edge of the woods and all around the back yard, the male Wood Thrush is singing.

I discovered the nest only a few minutes ago, around 1:30 this afternoon. Until yesterday, I hadn’t even heard one singing in our woods this spring – or for the past several years, except for the occasional one passing through – so I couldn’t have been more surprised.

Early yesterday afternoon, after several very busy days that kept me from spending as much time outside as usual, I had a few minutes to sit on our back deck after lunch and read. The weather was warm and humid, the sky pale blue with big restless gray and white clouds. Thanks to a good soaking rain over the weekend – after a long stretch of very dry weather – the grass and all the plants and trees looked fresh again, as if they had been washed in green. A gusty wind rushed through the woods, tossing the branches and leaves of the oaks, sweet gums and pines, and making the air feel clean and sweet. Now and then the wind paused, and the trees stood still.

From deep in the leaves near the edge of the woods came the flute-like, musical song of a Wood Thrush. It came like a gift, like the rain, refreshing and calming in a time that has been rather tense and demanding. For several minutes, I just sat and listened, surrounded by green leaves and serenaded by the music.

The song of a Wood Thrush used to be common in our woods all spring and summer, but for the past few years, we have rarely heard one here though one or two have continued to sing in other parts of our neighborhood. So I felt lucky to have one with us, even if only for a day or two.

This morning the Wood Thrush continued to sing all morning, right outside my window. After lunch, I went outside again – and just happened to catch sight of the female as she flew into the white oak only a few feet above me, and slipped down into her nest. The nest is about halfway out on a relatively low limb. It’s screened by leaves, but not hard to see if you know it’s there. Through the scope, we can see her wide, alert eyes and creamy white throat with dark streaks, and when she rose up for a few seconds to scratch, the bold black spots on her breast.

I’m amazed to have them nesting so near our house and almost don’t want to go out on the deck at all, for fear of disturbing her. We can watch her through the scope from inside. Right now, just after 2:00 pm, the male continues to sing all around the back yard as thunder rumbles around.