Archive for November, 2010

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.