Archive for September, 2011

Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, and Magnolia Warbler

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Although many migrating songbirds are being reported as they move through this part of Georgia, neotropical migrants so far have been few and far between here in our neighborhood, noticeably fewer than in previous years. This was also true in the spring – so I’m afraid it may be the result of more development and habitat loss – but I’m not really sure. We do still have many wooded areas and creeks and a variety of habitats that might attract migrants. Maybe it’s only my own failure to find them.

This morning – another sunny day with a big, clear, deep-blue September sky – few birds seemed to be around. But in one spot, where sunlight was falling on pecan trees in a large, grassy yard, there was a small flurry of activity, including a few migrating songbirds.

A female Scarlet Tanager – yellow-green with shadow-dark wings – searched the leaves for insects. A Summer Tanager called pik-a-tuk from somewhere hidden among the foliage. A Black-and-white Warbler crept silently over the trunks and larger branches. A Red-eyed Vireo – sleek, creamy white breast, gray back and elegant white stripe over the eye – also searched the leaves for insects. A small bird with a gray head, bright yellow belly, a throat that appeared pale, and two prominent wing-bars emerged from the leaves to sit for a few moments on a branch – a Magnolia Warbler, high enough up in the treetop to show the white and dark-tipped tail from below. Another bird I’m not so sure of – larger, with distinct touches of cinnamon in the edges of the wings and edges of a rather long tail – I think it was a Great Crested Flycatcher, but did not see it well.

Two Brown-headed Nuthatches chattered as they fed in the same trees, and an Eastern Phoebe hunted quietly from low branches, and when it paused to sit and bob its tail, it showed pale, lemon-yellow on the breast, its fall color. A Pine Warbler trilled its song from the woods across the street.

A bit further up the road, several Eastern Bluebirds perched in treetops – in one pecan tree with bare branches sticking up at the top, six bluebirds perched together, all facing the morning sun and preening. One Eastern Wood-pewee called puh-weee.

Northern Mockingbirds were singing this morning in at least three different places, for the first time in a while. A Belted Kingfisher flew over, rattling. A Northern Flicker called a loud kleer! And a Red-shouldered Hawk cried kee-yer from somewhere beyond the trees. A White-eyed Vireo continues to sing, and a Gray Catbird calls a raspy mew in the old field – which looks very bedraggled, withered and dry.

After several cool, fall-like days last week, our weather is warming up again – and still very, very dry. No rain at all, to speak of, since late July, I think. And none in sight. Today the forecast is for low 90s again. The trees and all the vegetation are showing signs of stress from lack of rain, and I can’t help but think that songbirds and other birds must be having a hard time in the hot, dry weather, too.

Common Nighthawk

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Early one evening last week, a cool, sunny day with the sun low in the west, and clouds turning pale pink in the east, a slender bird with long, bent wings appeared among small white clouds overhead, very high, barely more than a sliver, a Common Nighthawk. Its back and wings were dark, the belly white, and a white bar crossed each wing. It soared and circled, passing in and out of sight for only a few minutes before disappearing.

Many nighthawks have been reported recently as they gather in flocks and begin migration, but this is the only one I’ve been lucky enough to see.

A Great Horned Owl

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Just after sunset last night, the western sky was flushed with warm-orange and gray clouds, two or three bats circled overhead, and in the east, a big orange full moon had risen, glowing through a screen of trees.

A deep, spectral, hooted call echoed from somewhere toward the southwest. HOO-hoo-HOO-oo; hooo-hooo. This rhythmic pattern of three low, softly booming hoots, followed by two slightly longer hoots was repeated several times, with pauses of several seconds between calls. The hoots sounded very low, deep and muffled – but there was no mistaking the call. A Great Horned Owl.

This is the first Great Horned Owl we have ever heard here in our neighborhood, during the 11 years we’ve been here, and it’s the first one I’ve heard for many years. When we lived in a different part of northeast Georgia several years ago, we used to hear them fairly often, and occasionally caught a twilight glimpse of the huge, shadowy owl in flight – and we never heard a Barred Owl. Here, it’s just the opposite. We have Barred Owls, and until now, never a Great Horned.

While Barred Owls prefer deeply-wooded habitat, Great Horned Owls are found in a variety of habitats – forested areas, but also more open woodlands with a mixture of fields and meadows. The habits of both may be adapting and changing as forested habitat is fragmented and lost – both may be found in suburban areas like wooded neighborhoods and parks, as well as in wilder, undeveloped places.

It will be interesting to see if this one was just passing through – a temporary visit – or if we hear more.

American Redstart – A Flash of Fall Color

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

This morning under a fresh, pale blue and white sky, a small bird flew ahead of me, from one tree to another, and its sunny color caught the light. When I found it again in the foliage, it turned out to be a bright orange and black male American Redstart, very pretty, fluttering among the leaves in its butterfly-like way.

This is the first migrating warbler I’ve seen here this fall, though many warblers and other migrants are now being reported by other, more vigilant birders in this area. The migration season is fully underway. For me, it’s a nice start – a small, animated, colorful bird, with a coal-black head, throat and back, white belly, and bright orange patches in the wings, sides and tail. It often fans the tail and spreads its wings, and flutters in a quick, airy way, searching leaves for insects and sometimes catching insects in flight.

Some American Redstarts may spend the summer here for nesting, but in our own neighborhood I usually see them only in spring and fall, when they’re moving. During these seasons, they’re one of our more common warblers – but their populations have declined in much of their range, especially in areas where suburban development has fragmented the second-growth woodlands they need for habitat.

This morning also, a Pileated Woodpecker called its cuk-cuk-cukcuk from the woods; a Red-shouldered Hawk cried kee-yer as it soared; an Eastern Wood-pewee repeated its fall puh-WEE; a Northern Flicker called a bright kleer! A Hairy Woodpecker rattled, kingfisher-like and silvery. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird zipped past me and stopped to perch on a branch of a tulip poplar, its green back glittering. One Summer Tanager called pik-a-tuk from a small group of water oaks and persimmon trees.

A Pine Warbler sang near the edge of the woods. A White-eyed Vireo sang in the field, and a Gray Catbird mewed. Chipping Sparrows and American Robins foraged in grassy yards, with Eastern Bluebirds that flashed down from low branches.

And all the usual suspects – lots of Blue Jays, Crows, Mourning Doves, Eastern Towhee, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker – and the songs and calls of Carolina Wrens, the most varied and vibrant music at this time of year.

A Barred Owl’s Call on a Cool, Dark Night

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Returning home to Georgia after a long Labor Day weekend visit to the coast, it felt as if we came back to a different place. We left a sunny, very hot dry summer, with temperatures day after day in the mid to upper 90s – and came back to cool, gray, damp weather with highs in the mid 70s. It’s only a preview of fall, I know – the heat will return. But it’s nice.

The change came as the remnants of tropical storm Lee moved up from the Gulf, and here, we only got a little rain, not enough to do much to help the very dry conditions. But the change has been cool enough to open the windows at night – so last night around 3:00 or 4:00 am, for the first time in months, I heard the calls of a Barred Owl somewhere around our back yard, very near by. I think it was a female. She only hooted twice, two good strong hoooo-uhs, and the call seemed to vibrate, almost a purr, that I could feel, as well as hear. Though the call looks so simple when I try to transcribe it into words, it is rich with variations, fluid with low, subtle sounds impossible to capture, like rippling reflections of colors – mesmerizing to hear, to listen to, and imagine what it might be telling. There’s a world of mystery in that one deep, resonant call.