Archive for 2010

The Christmas Caroler of Birds

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The cold, pale mornings of late November and early December here begin with the song of a Carolina Wren, a familiar, very common small brown bird with an upturned tail, a dusky-orange breast and a pale stripe over its eye, often singing from a perch among the dry, rustling brown leaves that still cling to the oaks outside our bedroom windows. In contrast to the muted colors of the trees and shrubs all around, the bright, musical song of the wren is as colorful and warm as a Christmas carol – not the only bird singing at this time of year, but one of the few, and the one most in tune with the holiday season.

A male Carolina Wren welcomes even the coldest, dreariest late-fall morning with a bold teakettle, teakettle, teakettle – or heard a different way maybe, merrily, merrily, merrily – answered by a female’s long, ringing, trilled cheeer.

The singing continues off and on all day, in a variety of different patterns of two or three phrases, as well as trills, burbles, buzzes, chitters, bleeps and other calls. I don’t know how often one particular Carolina Wren might sing at this time of year, but there are many scattered throughout the neighborhood, so their songs and calls are heard from shrubs, trees, thickets, fields and woods – and now and then from inside a garage that’s been left open. Often two or three males seem to be singing back and forth to each other, repeating the same songs. At other times, I’ve stood and listened to four or five different wrens singing in different directions, all singing a different kind of song. A Carolina Wren may have a repertoire of more than 50 different songs, though around 30 is said to be the average. And while each song is distinct, the full-throated, confident tone is always recognizable.

One of their most frequent vocalizations at this time of year is something that sounds to me like a burble. It’s a fast, repeated, sort of bouncing purp-purp-purp-purp that they seem to utter most often when moving around, a traveling chatter.

Though so common and familiar they’re often overlooked, Carolina Wrens are remarkable singers and ingenious, curious, feisty, entertaining little birds – and this time of year is a good time to appreciate the beauty and spirit they bring to everyday life in a suburban yard. Things would be a lot less interesting around here without them.

Around our house, a Carolina Wren is a frequent visitor to both feeders and birdbaths. They cling to a feeder for several minutes at a time, eating seeds, nuts or fruit. There’s almost always one or two under the bushes out front, and usually another one or two around the back deck or in the edge of the woods. This morning I looked out the kitchen window and a Carolina Wren was perched on the deck rail, bobbing up and down as it sang a few bars, then it searched along the rail and down on the deck among the piles of fallen leaves for hidden spiders or larvae or something, burbling as it went.

One morning in late November, on a cold but sunny day, I watched as a Carolina Wren took a bath in the birdbath out front. The water was shallow, with a thick layer of soggy dark-brown fallen leaves, but seemed to suit the wren’s purposes, as it dipped in, fluttering its wings and submerged completely. Then it popped out to perch on the rim and look around sharply for a few seconds before hopping back into the water to wash itself again, splashing as it dipped its head under and turned itself around. Each time it came up to perch on the rim, it sat in a ray of sunlight, which made its breast glow rosy brown. It did this four or five times, and then, after the last one, flew to one of the feeders and immediately began to eat. Some days, life is good.

Hermit Thrush in the Morning and a Blackbird Flock at Twilight

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Early Saturday morning, as sunlight was just beginning to filter through the orange and brown leaves of the oaks in the front yard, a shy grayish-brown bird with a spotted breast and a wide-eyed, watchful look came out of the dark-green leaves of a bush onto the mulch-covered ground and stood there, looking around, only a few feet away from me. A Hermit Thrush. It was the first one I’ve heard or seen this season here around our yard, though they’ve been back in the area for a while now. I probably just haven’t been observant enough to see them. It stood with head tilted and bill slightly raised. A white ring around the eye gave it the watchful look.

After only a few seconds, it dived back into the cleyera bush, and from there flew into the low branches of an oak nearby, and I could hear it give several repeated chup calls. Though I couldn’t spot it among the leaves, I could imagine it perched there, quickly raising its cinnamon-colored tail and slowly lowering it again, and again.

Then I also heard the chup calls of at least one, and I think two more Hermit Thrushes at different spots around the yard or nearby. Hearing these calls was almost as good as seeing the thrush, they are so rich and expressive. The call is a soft, mellow chup that sounds a little like a blackbird, but more pleasant. It’s a call I’m still trying to learn well enough to recognize better – for some reason it often eludes me, and often I don’t notice the call until after I’ve seen the bird, though I don’t know why.

It was a beautiful fall day, sunny, bright and warm by noon, with foliage here at its most colorful, with the orange and browns of oaks, yellow and wine of sweet gums, red of a few lush maples still full of leaves, and many leaves falling, showering down in the slightest breeze. It hasn’t been a particularly brilliant fall season. A number of trees have abruptly turned brown and dropped their leaves without their usual autumn phase. But right now – with deep blue, cloudless skies, cool nights and mornings and warm afternoons – the season is at its finest.

Meanwhile, a White-throated Sparrow, an Eastern Bluebird and an Eastern Phoebe sang – and I was surprised to hear the softly-trilled song of a Pine Warbler from the woods. Lately I haven’t been hearing them sing later in the day, and suspect I’m missing a lot by not getting up and out earlier. A Red-shouldered Hawk cried from somewhere beyond the treeline in the east. Red-bellied Woodpeckers rattled and chuck-chuck-chucked.

Dark-eyed Juncos and Mourning Doves foraged for seeds under the feeders, while Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, and one Downy Woodpecker visited the feeders. A Brown Thrasher ventured out briefly from below the bushes, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet chattered its dry, staccato jidit-jidit from the same shrubs, and from overhead came the high ti-ti-ti calls of Golden-crowned Kinglets. This seems to be a good year for them here – I hear them almost every day, in several different spots in the neighborhood, as well as around our own yard. Several Cedar Waxwings also were around, calling in very high, thin tseees.

A pair of Cardinals perched in low branches, and the female visited one of the feeders. Chipping Sparrows foraged in the grass, and Yellow-rumped Warblers flashed around, chasing each other from tree to tree, especially in the bare limbs of the river birches, and in the wax myrtles.

Bird activity around our yard and – as well as I can tell – throughout the neighborhood has seemed rather subdued and unusually quiet so far this year. Winter residents have filtered quietly in. But the past few days, birds seem to be more numerous and more active.

Later in the day, about the middle of the afternoon, a dozen or more Cedar Waxwings returned to the trees in the front yard. Four or five Eastern Bluebirds took turns bathing in the bird bath and perching in nearby branches to fluff up and preen and dry. Several Yellow-rumped Warblers foraged in the mulch near the feeders, with one female Pine Warbler; a Brown Thrasher and a pair of Eastern Towhees searched the ground under the shrubs and flew from bush to bush; and a young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker worked on the trunk of one of the pecan trees. The usual Chickadees, Titmice, and one female Cardinal, one Mockingbird, a Carolina Wren, and several Mourning Doves also were around. I heard the squeaky calls of Brown-headed Nuthatches from the pines, but they did not come to the feeders.

On a late afternoon walk through the neighborhood, I passed a flock of creaking, croaking, chuckling Blackbirds – mostly Common Grackles – long-tailed, large-billed, glossy-black and iridescent – with at least a few plainer Rusty Blackbirds among them. This flock of around 100 Blackbirds – a very rough estimate, because they’re always spread out among several trees and sometimes on the ground – has been visiting the neighborhood regularly for the past two or three weeks. I’ve seen them just about every day, and usually find a few Rusty Blackbirds among the Grackles.

The day ended with a crackling flock of Blackbirds flying over in the cool, blue-gray early twilight. Two bats circled low over the back yard, feasting on an abundance of flying insects. A very bright star shined among the pines in the southeast, and a half moon hung high in the southern sky.

Brown Creeper

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

After a long stretch of warm, sunny, very dry days, it felt like a luxury to wake up this morning to the sound of soft rain falling through the leaves of the oaks. It wasn’t much rain, but was welcome, and was followed by a slightly cooler and breezy day of cloud-screened sunlight.

When I stepped out onto the front porch mid-morning, the sky was still cloudy, the light gray. A Brown-headed Nuthatch flew from one of the feeders up into the trees, a Carolina Wren sang from the edge of the woods, Golden-crowned Kinglets whispered their high, crisp ti-ti-ti and Chickadees and Titmice chattered nearby. But the surprise of the morning was a very small, solitary bird on the trunk of a water oak beside one of the feeders – a Brown Creeper.

A tiny bird that clings close to the bark of a tree in an almost insect-like way, it crept around the trunk, moving upward in a spiral pattern, in and out of view, then flew back down to the lowest part of the trunk of the same tree and began creeping up it again, probing the bark with a thin down-curved bill, searching for small insects and other prey. Exquisitely patterned in shades of dark brown and white on the back, with a cream-white throat and breast, a Brown Creeper moves quietly and usually alone, at least not with other Creepers – though it often travels with a feeding flock of other small birds.

This one didn’t stay long enough for me to watch it more than a minute or two, but it was a pretty nice way to start the day. I seldom see one. Brown Creepers are inconspicuous at all times – small and quiet and blending in well with the trunks of the trees where they forage. Though their populations are not declining overall, there is concern for their future, especially in some areas, because of loss and degradation of the habitat they prefer – old-growth forests with mature live trees for foraging and dead or dying trees for nest sites. In our own neighborhood – where we see them only in the fall and winter – I’ve found them less often over the past few years, as suburban development has replaced more of the surrounding woodlands.

So it feels special whenever I see one, a rare glimpse into a part of the usually hidden or unnoticed life of these woods all around us.

Northern Flickers in a Ritual Duel

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

On a bare branch near the top of a pecan tree this morning – a cool, gray, wet morning with clouds just beginning to break up and blue sky showing through – two Northern Flickers performed an interesting duel that appeared as much like a ritual dance as a confrontation. From perches close together on the branch, the two Flickers repeatedly lunged at each other and stabbed with their very long, sharp bills, making low wicka-wicka-wicka sounds as they fenced.

Meanwhile, a third Northern Flicker perched higher, among the withering leaves of the pecan, not taking part in the action, but staying near by.

All three were Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers – fairly large woodpeckers whose habits and appearance are quite different from other woodpeckers – with rich tawny-brown faces and throats, bold-spotted breasts, gray cap and a red crescent on the nape of the neck. The two dueling Flickers were males, with black moustache stripes. I couldn’t see the third Flicker well, but suspect it was a female. Both of the dueling Flickers showed deep-yellow feathers on the underside of their wings.

I first noticed them when I heard a Flicker’s loud kleer call, then saw three fly across the road ahead of me and into the upper branches of a pecan tree near the side of the road. There, the two males perched several inches apart on the same branch, more or less facing each other, and repeatedly came closer together and made the wicka-wicka-wicka sounds and lunged toward each other over and over, making flashy, circular and up and down movements with their bills. They never actually seemed to touch each other, though at times they came close.

They made these forays at each other several times, and between them retreated to the same positions and sat still. The lower one looked larger, plumper, more arrogant. It sat erect with its bill slightly raised. The one further up on the branch perched sort of stretched out sideways, and only turned to face its opponent when they engaged each other again. It looked smaller and less confident, but that may have been only my angle of view. During one bout, this smaller Flicker seemed to be forcing the larger one slightly backwards on the branch and to be winning the confrontation. Then it fell back, and they both resumed their original positions.

Each wicka-wicka-wicka encounter lasted several seconds, followed by a longer break of several seconds more, but probably less than a minute. When I left after about 10 or 15 minutes, they were still there, still dueling, with the female screened among the leaves above them.

Although we have Northern Flickers here year-round, they become more conspicuous in the fall and winter months, very often feeding in grassy yards with flocks of smaller birds.

The species account for Northern Flicker in Birds of North America Online says these mock “fencing duels” or dances play a role in territory establishment and pair formation and are most common in breeding season, but are also seen at other times of the year. The account also mentions that these dances show a great deal of variation in their movements, intensity and other characteristics, and that much remains to be learned about the dances and their meaning and purpose. Usually the duels end when one bird flies away, but the encounters can go on for hours.*

*Karen L. Wiebe and William S. Moore. 2008. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.) Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Trees Full of Golden-crowned Kinglets

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Yesterday and today, the oaks and pines around our house have seemed at times to shimmer with the high, light calls of an unusual number of Golden-crowned Kinglets. They come and go all day. This afternoon I went outside one time when I heard them moving through. The first one I saw showed a yellow-gold crown, the second, a bright orange crown. Both were low among the branches, moving quickly around, gleaning tiny insects and calling their crisp, almost whispered ti-ti-ti. With bold black and white stripes surrounding the colorful crowns, white wing bars and greenish backs, they brought flashes of color and animation to the trees – which have seemed remarkably quiet for the past couple of weeks or so. For some reason, I have seen fewer migrant species here this fall than in any year I can remember, though I’m not completely sure if there were fewer birds – or if it’s because I’ve been outside less often or been too busy and preoccupied and not fully observant when I do get out.

Meanwhile, a Northern Flicker called kleer! from an area just inside the woods with a good many dead standing pines. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker mewed from further away in the woods – I haven’t yet seen the first one here, but its calls are familiar, and it’s nice to know they are back. Several times I’ve thought I heard the nasal call of a Red-breasted Nuthatch, but I haven’t yet seen it and am not certain.

Other sounds of the warm, sunny fall day came from our year-round resident birds – the loud kee-yer of a soaring Red-shouldered Hawk, the softly-trilled song of a Pine Warbler, the tsup of an Eastern Phoebe, the chatter and fussing of Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees, the bouncing burble of a Carolina Wren, an Eastern Bluebird’s blurry churry-churry, the squeaking calls of Brown-headed Nuthatches, the chuck-chuck and rattle of a Red-bellied Woodpecker and pink! of a Downy, the harsh squawk of a Northern Mockingbird – and a silent Brown Thrasher stood on the rim of the bird bath.

Yesterday morning as I walked up the slope of our driveway shortly after sunrise, twelve Chimney Swifts came flying out of the north in a pale blue sky flecked with small orange-pink clouds. They flew spread out widely, moving directly from north to south, as if on a mission, flew up and over me, and disappeared. I don’t know for sure that they were leaving – but they looked as if they were, the way they flew in one direction, with purpose, not circling around, like a perfect image of the last birds of summer, finally on their way.

Last Friday, October 8, we still had one female Ruby-throated Hummingbird coming to our feeder. I haven’t seen one since then, though our weekend was busy so I’m not sure they all have left.

Hooded Warbler and Other Fall Migrants – Missing a Lot

Monday, October 4th, 2010

One warm mid morning in late September, the trees in our front yard seemed lively with little birds. A Pine Warbler sang, an Eastern Phoebe hunted from low branches, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds swept down to the grass for insects and back up into an oak, and an Eastern Wood-Pewee repeatedly flew off and returned to a high bare branch in a pecan tree. A Carolina Wren fussed and trilled and came to the birdbath for a drink. Two Chipping Sparrows chased each other through the wax myrtles and river birches. Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers called.

With a flash of bright yellow, a small bird flew down from the branches of a water oak onto the ground a few yards away from where I stood. It snapped up something from the mulch, took a quick look around and flew back up into the tree – a female Hooded Warbler, with brilliant yellow face, throat and breast, dramatically framed by a smooth, dark-olive hood and back.

This brief, colorful view of a Hooded Warbler was one of the few migrants I’ve seen this fall season, mainly because of traveling and other commitments. I know I’ve missed a lot. But despite being often away or distracted, there still have been some other nice highlights.

Chestnut-sided, Magnolia and Black-and-white Warblers, American Redstart, and Eastern Wood-Pewees have passed through. The Eastern Wood-Pewees stayed around for two weeks or more, hunting from high open perches and giving soft puh-wee calls. I’ve come across a good number of Red-eyed Vireos, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos – some probably migrants, as well as those that spent the summer here. But so far I haven’t seen a single spotted thrush – Wood Thrush, Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, Hermit – one September not so long ago, I found all four in one big dogwood tree at the edge of the woods, eating red berries.

But each year is different, and the habitat around the neighborhood and around our own yard changes from year to year. We’ve lost a good many pines near the edge of the woods, opening up some new scrubby habitat, although there still are some large pines and plenty of oaks, tulip poplars, sweet gums, dogwoods and other hardwoods.

Acorns shower down from the white oaks all day and all night – sounding like hailstones as they land on the deck outside our bedroom windows. The pecans don’t fall because the squirrels get most of them first. Almost every day we see several white-tailed deer grazing in the yard – does, young fawns, and young bucks, and I hope they’re mostly eating acorns, though they also munch on just about anything green along the way.

One female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was still visiting our feeder toward the end of last week, but I haven’t seen her in two or three days now, and I haven’t heard a White-eyed Vireo sing or a Gray Catbird mew in the old field for about a week, so I think they’ve gone. Most active in the field are dozens of Northern Mockingbirds. Fiery orange Gulf Fritillary butterflies flicker like tiny flames over the grasses and dense stands of yellow goldenrod and ragweed. The Red-tailed Hawks that used to sit on the utility poles have drifted away to spend most of their days in some other territory. Instead, two or three Black Vultures often are perched on the poles or soaring.

In more wooded areas, the cries of Red-shouldered Hawks have become more common, I’m not sure why. One morning recently, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew low across the road in front of me as I walked through a wooded section, out of pecan trees scattered around a large grassy yard and into deeper woods. The kleer! calls of Northern Flickers also have become more common, as more Flickers drift in here for the season.

And very welcome cooler weather has arrived. Temperatures dipped into the 40s last night for the first time, and all day today has been beautifully chilly and breezy. Barred Owls called several times during the night.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet – First of the Season

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Late this afternoon a little bird came flitting through water oak branches and into a Savannah holly beside our front porch where I was standing – our first-of-the-season Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The sunny afternoon had become windy and cool, and there were few other birds around. The kinglet moved quickly among the tossing limbs and leaves in the holly and back into the water oaks, gleaning from leaves, a stubby, roundish little bird with quick flitting movements, gray back and head with a distinctly greenish tint, a round white eye-ring, and neat shape of white wing bars on darker wings. The ruby crown was not visible, and the kinglet was quiet. After several minutes, I heard just a couple of stuttering little jdit-jdits, a piece of its usual chatter.

As I watched, I wondered if it was here to stay for the winter, or just passing through on its way further south. And has it been here before, returning to a familiar place, or is this the first time? How many summers and winters has it seen, and what was it like to fly so far, from the deep evergreen forests in the far north where it lives and nests in spring and summer – and come here, where the habitat is so different and more open to spend the fall and winter.

It looked young, fresh and a little tentative or uncertain in new surroundings, a little stunned, without the bold, inquisitive air of most Ruby-crowned Kinglets – but that was probably in the eye of the beholder.

Last Days of Summer

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

In these last days of summer, one of my favorite places has been the weed-choked old field that stretches along one side of a dead-end road just outside our neighborhood, blocking the view (though not the sounds) of Highway 441 beyond it. For the past two or three weeks the field and roadside have been glorious with furry foxtails, tall red-top grasses gone to seed, pokeweed, yellow bitterweed and camphor weed, lush yellow-green ragweed, and – best of all – a profusion of white, purple and pink morning glories and tiny tubular red morning glories blooming on vines that tumbled over the ditches and climbed up the stalks of rough weeds.

I know many of these are invasive species, “aliens,” weeds, not generally considered desirable plants. But they’re also part of a community that has colonized an abused and abandoned field of poor red soil and helped to bring it back to life over the past two decades or more.

Persimmon trees, chinaberries, and other trees and shrubs hang full of fruit and berries. Pines, sweet gums and water oaks have grown tall and formed a small, dense woodland at one end of the field. Kudzu vines spread all over, but have not completely covered more than a small tree here and there, and now they’ve begun to wither from the summer’s heat, though still in bloom with shabby purple, grape-scented flowers. Blackberry, wild grape and honeysuckle vines crowd the privet and other shrubs.

Grasshoppers sing and snap and fly, and butterflies animate the browning, thorny, tangled mess with flutters of yellow and orange – Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, Gulf Fritillary – with its bright orange wings and silver-white shimmer of spots underneath, Buckeye, Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple – and these are only the ones that I know, the most common and familiar and fairly large ones, not counting all the skippers and tiny little hairstreaks and blues.

A White-eyed Vireo continues to sing in the field. A Gray Catbird mews. Brown Thrashers lurk in the thickets. Mockingbirds chase each other and flash their white wing-patches. Mourning Doves, House Finches and Eastern Bluebirds perch on the wires. Eastern Towhees sing. Eastern Phoebes hunt among the bushes. Now and then a Ruby-throated Hummingbird zips by. One early morning recently, three white-spotted fawns fed together along the edge of the field in the damp, cool air, and two Black Vultures crowded on the top of one pole, while a third perched on another.

The young Red-tailed Hawk that sat on a utility pole somewhere over the field every morning since mid summer hasn’t been around the past few mornings. I still see and hear a Red-tailed Hawk or two in the neighborhood or soaring most days – but the young one’s habit of hanging out here daily seems to have changed.

Among my favorite memories of the field this summer are the two female Orchard Orioles that I watched many days, feeding among the weeds and thickets, their round, olive heads bobbing up on long necks like otters in a river, bright yellow throats and breasts glowing, and always so animated and fun to watch. I haven’t seen them since late August. The Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings have been gone for even longer, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find some migrants passing through.

This morning I walked out of the entrance to our subdivision and found that the roadside along the field was mowed yesterday in a big wide swathe – it was bound to happen soon, I know. But all the foxtails now are gone, and the big tall red-top grasses, and – oh, the morning glories! Gone. Or almost. Only a couple of wilted purple blooms lay flat in the ditch.

I can’t help wishing the mowing could have been put off until a little later in the season, but nothing lasts forever, and for a while the roadside was beautiful in a rough, wild, messy way – the kind of beauty you probably have to be walking to appreciate. From a passing car – as most people see it – I guess it just looked neglected and not neat.

On the bright side, the field itself remains happily neglected, untamed and thick with the most disreputable and rampant weeds, and fall is just beginning. There still are many butterflies – just further away from the edge – though right now, there are fewer flowers in sight, especially the tiny roadside white and yellow and pink ones, and I especially miss the morning glories. But I don’t think many of the birds were inconvenienced by the mowing, and it won’t be long before White-throated Sparrows arrive for the winter, and Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Cedar Waxwings – and you never know what else might show up here.

Very Late Summer – Broad-winged Hawks and American Redstart

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Near noon on a late summer day, temperatures back up in the sweltering mid 90s after a few days of slightly less hot weather, and a general quiet settled over most of the woods and fields, I heard the alarm calls of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice around a spot near the edge of the woods. The Titmice, especially, were giving harsh, raspy alarm calls and gathering in agitation around a brushpile of fallen limbs and logs. There might have been a snake there, somewhere among the debris, though I could not see it.

The alarm calls attracted other small birds to see what was going on – including a Downy Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Carolina Wren, a Black-and-white Warbler that crept along the branches in the brushpile, near the Titmice, and a young American Redstart that came to low, overhanging branches of trees nearby. The Redstart had me puzzled for a moment, because its back and wings and head looked smooth gray and olive, no sign of any markings in the wings, but it fanned its tail several times, flashing neon-yellow panels. So I think it was a first-year Redstart and maybe the dappled light and shadows obscured the yellow in the wings and on the sides. It fluttered around and flashed its tail in typical Redstart fashion.

After a few minutes, the Titmice and Chickadees and all the other small birds drifted away. Wish I knew what they had seen.

But just about that time, I heard the whistled cry of a Broad-winged Hawk very nearby, just up the hill in the same patch of woods – which surprised me, because I thought they were gone for the season. Almost immediately, one Broad-winged Hawk flew out of the trees and passed directly over me, wings outstretched and tail fanned, showing the wide bands of white and dark, and whistling. At the same time, I could hear the cries of a second Broad-winged Hawk coming from a perch somewhere in the trees. The one that had flown disappeared from view, over the trees, but the other one kept crying. I walked up the hill and tried to find it, but it stayed well screened and high in the foliage.

I don’t know if these were migrants passing through – or if they might be two of the same Broad-winged Hawks that nested here this summer, still hanging around, not yet on their way South.

Earlier in the morning, the songs of an Eastern Phoebe and a Pine Warbler greeted the day, a mostly cloudy early morning and very warm, though the clouds had lifted by the time the sun was fully up. A Red-shouldered Hawk flew around our house for a few minutes, mid-morning, crying kee-yer several times – I heard its calls while I was still inside.

By the time I was able to get out for a walk, things had gotten pretty quiet, and there seemed to be very little bird activity around – but it was almost noon by then. A White-eyed Vireo continues to sing in the field, and a Gray Catbird gives loud, complaining mews. A few young Mockingbirds practice their songs – sounding rather sweet and carefree, with a light, clear quality that’s different from the full-throated virtuosity of a Mockingbird song in spring and summer. Phoebes hunt and Bluebird families chase each other around. One Eastern Wood-Pewee hunted quietly for a few minutes from the stub of a tall dead pine. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird came zipping past me, tiny green back shimmering, and disappeared into the leaves of a tree.

Hummingbirds are the most active and noticeable birds around – two or three females or juveniles zip and zoom and twitter around the feeder and red flowers on the deck all day long, and perch in branches nearby when they’re not feeding. Big yellow and black Tiger Swallowtails float and feed among the purple blooms of the butterfly bush, almost always at least four or five or more.

Broad-winged Hawks Further From Home

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The past several days I haven’t seen or heard a Broad-winged Hawk around the wooded area where they used to be, and where I think they nested. Some days I haven’t seen them at all, on other days I’ve found them in other parts of the neighborhood.

Almost a week ago, a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk dropped down from a tree along the side of the road as I walked past, captured something on the ground, and flew across the road in front of me and up onto the stub of a pine at the edge of the woods. It sat there and ate whatever it had captured, holding it with its talons on the branch and leaning down to tear up pieces. It was something fairly small, maybe a frog or toad, maybe even a large insect. After eating, the young hawk stayed perched on the stub for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, looking around. Twice it scratched one side of its head with a foot. Dark, clean streaks marked a cream-white breast. Its back and wings were chocolate brown, mottled with pale speckles. Its eyes and bill looked dark, the head very streaked, and paler in color than the back, and the back of the neck was especially streaked. It looked as if the hawk sort of sat back, with legs folded, so that its rear end rested on the branch – but I’m not sure that was accurate. It might have been an illusion from my point of view.

More days passed when I didn’t see or hear the Broad-winged Hawks at all. Then on August 30, I heard their whistled call as I walked down the road not far from our house, and also could hear the agitated cawing of a bunch of crows. As I rounded a corner and headed down toward where all the noise was coming from, two Broad-winged Hawks, one close behind the other, flew together out of some trees, low across a large shady yard, and across a road, into another wooded area, with several cawing crows in pursuit. I think they stopped there in the trees, because the crows continued to caw.

Later that afternoon, while I was outside talking with a landscaper about some work in the yard, I heard the high, repeated whistles of at least one Broad-winged Hawk. It was not visible from beneath the trees in our yard, but was somewhere fairly close and the whistled calls continued for at least half an hour. It may have been soaring or not. There may have been more than one, or not. It was frustrating not to be able to see – but on the other hand, exhilarating to hear those cries, so close, imagining that maybe the young hawks that were born here in our woods were soaring, getting ready to go on their long migration flights.