Archive for July, 2012

Eastern Bluebirds and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Eastern Bluebirds are among the least hidden and most flashy, colorful, active birds right now – they seem to be everywhere, all through the neighborhood. In the early mornings, several perch in the bare branches that stick up from the tops of pecan trees, facing the sun, and sing their chorry, chorry songs. Several days ago, on a warm early morning after an overnight rain, I passed many Bluebirds hawking insects in the air, almost hovering over the road and around treeetops and over grassy areas, catching insects in flight. The air was full of tiny, swarming insects. One caught in my throat, and after that I tried to keep my mouth closed, but the Bluebirds looked like they were enjoying an easy feast – or maybe it was just a snack.

As July comes to an end, with hot sunny days, broken often by afternoon thunderstorms and soaking rain, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds come and go from the feeder on our back deck all day, at least one male and three or four females or juveniles, maybe more, in constant humming, zipping, swinging motion except when perched in the limbs of the nearby oaks or resting briefly on the feeder, in uncontested moments, to sip.

An Indigo Bunting and White-eyed Vireo still sing in the Old Field, but Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers are quiet now – or at least not singing. Cicadas sing loudly all day, and Katydids all night.

Summer Quiet

Monday, July 30th, 2012

When I first stepped outside early on a warm, humid Sunday morning in late July, the only sounds were the background buzzing and chirping of insects. Not a single song or call of a bird. The woods and yard seemed very quiet. It was about 15 minutes after sunrise, the sky a pale silk-blue, with rumpled morning clouds spread across the east and a red-gold sun behind a screen of trees. Then crows cawed in the distance. An Eastern Towhee called to-wheee.

As I walked down the street, a Northern Cardinal fled without a peep into a bush. An Eastern Phoebe hunted from low branches of oaks. In the leaves of two persimmon trees at the first corner, several small birds rustled around, among them two tiny, silvery Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, flashing the white sides of their tails.

And that’s the way it was – though the morning seemed so quiet on the surface, all along the way as I walked, birds appeared in the grass and shrubs and trees, preening, hunting, foraging, calling in chips and peeps, mostly quiet but a few singing here and there. And for every one I saw or heard, I’m sure I walked past many more without ever knowing they were there – like a Red-shouldered Hawk perched low in an oak in a wooded yard. I wouldn’t have seen it if something hadn’t caused it to fly, low across the road in front of me and into another stand of trees, a brief but clear view of broad dark-brown wings and back checkered with white, ruddy breast and banded tail, before it disappeared into the shadows of leaves again.

A White-breasted Nuthatch called a nasal awnk-awnk-awnk, and two Brown-headed Nuthatches chattered in some pines. A Red-bellied Woodpecker rattled. A Downy Woodpecker gave a bright whinny from the top of a tree. A Carolina Wren sang jubilee-jubilee-jubilee, and another wren answered with a trill. A Mourning Dove cooed.

From the highest part of a tall tulip poplar tree came the ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-cawp-cawp-cawp of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a dry, exotic call that cracked the hazy quiet of the morning like a shell. I could see the dense green leaves shudder as it moved, but could not see the Cuckoo. A tall, slender, elegant bird with creamy-white breast, smooth brown back, down-curved bill, and long dramatically spotted black and white tail, the Cuckoo is a beautiful example of how much stays usually hidden behind the screen of the summer woods.

An Acadian Flycatcher called a sharp, crisp whit-seeet from down in the woods along a creek, the kind of sound you wouldn’t notice unless listening for it. It was too far away to see – though if I did walk into the woods and down toward the creek, it probably wouldn’t be hard to find. A small jewel of a bird, greenish-gray, with a slightly crested head, pale breast, white wing bars and a thin white ring around the eye, it sits in low branches in the lowland along a creek and gives its quick call often. Because they usually stay secluded in the woods, Acadian Flycatchers are not often seen, but they’re not really shy. Often when I walk near a creek an Acadian Flycatcher comes around to check me out, seeming as curious about me as I am about it.

Further on, two Summer Tanagers called back and forth to each other from opposite sides of the road, on either side of me, soft, repeated calls of pi-tuk, pi-tuk, as they moved through the trees. Then one of them came out into view near the top of a pine, a male, rose-red all over, with a large, heavy bill, and a quizzical tilt to his head as he looked around.

In the rather tall green grass of a yard, lush from a good bit of rain this month, four Common Grackles, two Starlings, five Robins, two Mourning Doves and two Northern Flickers were foraging, widely scattered and almost hidden in the overgrown grass. The Flickers were especially nice to see – recently I’ve been hearing their kleer calls and long, trumpeted rattles more often than earlier in the summer. In the deep grass, I could barely see the round, handsome gray head of each, brown back barred with black, and a red crescent on the nape of one.

Summer Birds

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Though early July has been very hot, and birds have seemed relatively quiet on most days, today I kept an informal count for the first time in a while, and was surprised to find at the end of the day a total of 47 species. Most of these are species I usually hear or see, and would expect to find here on an ordinary summer day, not unusual sightings.

The Cooper’s Hawk is an exception. I have seen them only a few times this summer, including this morning, when a juvenile flew out of a low tree into a bush close to a house, just as I was walking past. The hawk stayed for several seconds, standing on the ground, mostly hidden in the bush but with its tail sticking out. Then it backed out, looked around and flew. It did not seem to be carrying anything.

Most of the species listed below I saw or heard along a walk through our neighborhood early this morning. Both Black and Turkey Vultures I did not see until later in the day, and though one Ruby-throated Hummingbird did zip past as I was walking, I saw them far more often at home during the rest of the day, coming and going frequently from the feeder on our back deck.

Among our most interesting summer birds are Red-shouldered Hawks – their kee-yer calls are frequently heard, and I’ve often been surprised by the sudden quiet rush of their wings as one flies suddenly from a perch low in a wooded area as I walk by; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, whose dry, echoing cawp-cawp-cawp calls are one of our most characteristic summer sounds; Acadian Flycatcher, calling a crisp wheet-sit from down around a creek; Great Crested Flycatcher – a pair continues to come to sunbathe on our back deck most days; White-eyed Vireo, its percussive chick-a-perioo-chick is one of the most consistent songs in the dense, weedy thickets of the old field; Wood Thrush, singing so very beautifully from a low, wooded area near the creek; Gray Catbird – this morning one was singing a hesitant and strangely pretty series of gurgling phrases and whistles from somewhere in a large, bushy stand of shrubs at the head of a driveway.

Black-and-white Warblers sang this morning in at least three different places, their high, sweet weesa-weesa-weesa. One or two sang here all through the month of May, then I didn’t hear or see one again until July 6 – and they’ve been singing again each day since then. Louisiana Waterthrush whistle their anthems early in the morning near the creek; a Blue Grosbeak – though I rarely hear or see one in the old field along the highway this summer, there’s one that sings in a large, meadow-like yard in the neighborhood with lots of shrubs, widely-spaced trees and tall grasses. And an Indigo Bunting sits almost every morning in the top of a tree or tall shrub in the old field, a tiny dot of deep, intense blue, chanting sweet-sweet, chew-chew, sweet-sweet against a noisy background of highway traffic.

The following is a very informal list, and I may well have missed some species, but these are the ones I have seen or heard most days in early July (plus the Cooper’s Hawk).

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Mourning Dove

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Chimney Swift

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

Acadian Flycatcher

Eastern Phoebe

Great Crested Flycatcher

White-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Blue Jay

American Crow

Barn Swallow

Carolina Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

Brown-headed Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Carolina Wren

House Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Eastern Bluebird

Wood Thrush

American Robin

Gray Catbird

Northern Mockingbird

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

Pine Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

Louisiana Waterthrush

Summer Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Eastern Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Northern Cardinal

Blue Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting

House Finch

American Goldfinch

In a Heat Wave – The Cool Song of a Wood Thrush

Friday, July 6th, 2012

As in much of the country, late June and early July here have brought one of the worst heat waves I can remember, with temperatures reaching 107 and 108 degrees for three days in a row, and several other days at or near 100. While these days have brought us some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded here, they also have brought one of the coolest sounds of summer. Down in the woods along a creek, usually in a spot not far from the road, well shaded and screened by green leaves, a Wood Thrush sings.

It’s been singing almost every morning since the last week in June, around 7:00 or 7:30 when I walk by. The song sounds impossibly lovely. Clear, fluted, echoing notes, tut-tut-eee-oh-lay, tut-tut-eee-ooh-zeeee. For several minutes each morning, I stop and listen. With the sun already burning in a hot blue sky, and the early morning air heavy and oppressive, the song drifts up from the woods like a chilled fresh breeze.