Archive for February, 2008

Wetland Music

Friday, February 29th, 2008

A large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds continues to hang out in our neighborhood. Often they fill the trees around our back yard, and their creaky conkaree songs fill the air with exotic wetland music.

This morning, around the middle of the morning, I saw several Blackbirds perched in the branches of one of the oaks in our back yard. I could hear Red-winged Blackbirds all around, so that’s what I was expecting to see, but when I looked through my binoculars a bright, pale-yellow eye looked back at me – a male Rusty Blackbird. Several other Rusty Blackbirds were perched here and there in the branches, too, black and brown splotches among the faded red-brown leaves that still cling to the lower branches of the oaks. There were four females and three males, all preening, plus a couple of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Later in the afternoon, I watched two Rusty Blackbird males in the front yard, searching among dry leaves on the ground along with several Robins, and then flying up to sit on low, bare branches of the trees. I think this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to them, and had a beautiful view of them both, in low, slanting sunlight that lit up the highlights of their plumage. The rusty coloring looked exactly like rust – as if it lay under the glossy black feathers and was showing through. Both birds made quiet but rich and appealing calls, something like prrrt and churf.

The First Brown Thrasher’s Song

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Late this morning – a cool, dark, cloudy day – a Brown Thrasher sang from the top of a bare tree along one of the roads through our neighborhood. It was the first Brown Thrasher I’ve heard singing this season. A series of paired phrases that includes the mimicked voices of many other birds, its song is always one of our earliest harbingers of spring. Unlike a Mockingbird, a Brown Thrasher almost always repeats each phrase twice, then moves to another, so that the rhythm of its singing is more deliberate and less fluid and artistic – though its repertoire may be much larger. Brown Thrashers are known to have one of the largest repertoires of all North American birds, including more than 1,000 different song types.

During the fall and winter, Brown Thrashers – which are residents here year-round – seem so shy they’re often comical. A fairly good-size bird with handsome brown coloring, a long tail and a long, curved bill, it looks as if it should be bold – but instead, it lurks beneath the bushes, ventures out only cautiously, and flees back into hiding at the least hint of danger. But when it sings, it seems to throw caution to the winds, perching in the highest top of a tree.

Although the species accounts I’ve found say that Brown Thrashers sing for only a short period of time in the spring while they’re mating and establishing territories, they usually start to sing here in mid February and more than a few may still be singing well into June.

A Pine Warbler’s Song

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

After several days in the snowy mountains of the West, we’ve returned to balmy, spring-like weather here – and to the musical trill of a Pine Warbler’s song, brightening up the gray winter woods with color. Daffodils are blooming, and along with the Pine Warbler, Cardinals, House Finches, Carolina Wrens and Phoebes are singing, and even the birds that aren’t singing seem to be more vocal. So the quiet of winter, marked with the individual voices of winter birds, already is giving way to the more complex, varied sounds of earliest spring.

Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Eastern Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and lots of Goldfinches and Yellow-rumped Warblers all are active around the yard. This morning, a Brown Thrasher sat preening in the wax myrtles, a Robin hunted in the grass, and two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers tapped steadily on the trunks of pecan trees. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers also worked in the trees around the house, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker called from nearby. Two dozen Cedar Waxwings settled in the bare branches of an oak.

A large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds was spread out noisily up and down the road late this afternoon, mostly in the treetops. There were at least a few Common Grackles among them, and may have been other Blackbirds, but most of those I could see or hear were Red-wings – and their songs, too, sound like spring on the way.

But the real highlight of the day has been the Pine Warbler and its song. I watched one for a few minutes this morning, its deep yellow throat and breast glowing as it crept over a gray, lichen-covered branch. Then it paused and lifted up its head to sing – and its whole body vibrated with the trill.