Archive for May, 2013

Yellow-throated Vireo

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Still later in the day, in early afternoon, the rich, burry three-eight song of a Yellow-throated Vireo moved through the woods beyond the back yard, another woodland bird that I was happy to hear, even though it stayed too well hidden in the trees to see. A small songbird with a colorful and striking appearance – olive-green back and head, white wingbars, bright yellow throat and breast, and bold yellow spectacles around the eyes – a Yellow-throated Vireo has become less common around our neighborhood in recent years.

Though it prefers habitat around the edges of forests, a Yellow-throated Vireo also needs a fairly large forested area in order to breed successfully, so it may be that changes in habitat here and in the surrounding area have made these woods less attractive for them.

By this time of day, the dusky clouds of early morning were long gone, leaving a deep-blue sky and gleaming white cumulous clouds, and a bright, very warm sun. A juvenile Eastern Bluebird, spotted and wide-eyed, perched, pecked and preened a little, on a low, dead stub of a branch in a large pine. A Northern Cardinal, House Wren, Tufted Titmouse, House Finch, Chipping Sparrow and Carolina Wren sang, Carolina Chickadees chattered, Blue Jays cried, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds twittered as they came to the feeder on the deck.

And so this is how the month of May has ended – with warm, sunny, humid weather; blue sky and dreamy, drifting, towering white clouds; and with many active birds  – though still remarkably few of our usual neotropical summer birds.

Indigo Bunting

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Later in the morning, clouds had begun to melt away and open up to a deep blue sky with a warm sun. In the old field along the highway, just outside our subdivision, an Indigo Bunting chanted its sweet-sweet, chew-chew, sweet-sweet song. Although it’s late in the season, this is the first time I’ve heard or seen an Indigo Bunting here this spring – I’d almost given up – so on this last day of May, it’s a second new arrival.

The small, intensely-blue bird perched in a scraggly dead tree on the edge of the power cut that runs through the field, in full and beautiful view. Though it appeared as little more than a tiny, shimmering, deep-blue dot, it sang and sang, a cheerful, sunny, summery song.

Acadian Flycatcher

Friday, May 31st, 2013

The last day of May began – as most days recently have – with the song of a Carolina Wren from the branches of the white oaks right outside our bedroom windows. When the Wren moved further away, an Eastern Phoebe began to sing nearby.

The morning began cloudy, softly gray, warm and muggy, with the blurry kind of clouds that would gradually melt away. By mid morning, the sun had begun to burn through, opening patches of blue.

A pair of American Goldfinches came to the hummingbird feeder on the deck to drink from the moat – the flashy, bright-yellow and black male sat on top of the crook that holds the feeder and waited as the female – more subdued in color – inched her way down to drink upside down from the moat. Then she flew to a branch of the nearby oak and waited there while he drank. Then they flew away together.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird zipped up to the feeder and hovered to sip. Some baby birds begged in wheezy voices from somewhere nearby in the trees, and a Northern Cardinal, House Wren and Chipping Sparrow sang from neighboring yards. A Mourning Dove cooed. A Red-bellied Woodpecker called its musical quurrr, and a Red-eyed Vireo sang so very far away through the woods that it was almost a rumor. A Summer Tanager also sang – even further away, it seemed.

From the woods came a sharp, crisp call, like a check-mark in the morning air – peet-sah, repeated. It was the first time this season I’ve heard an Acadian Flycatcher singing in our woods. At first it sounded as if it was down near the creek, then the “song” – which doesn’t really sound like a song, but is – came steadily closer and closer, as the small neat bird made its way up the slope through the woods, close to the edge of our back yard. I never saw it, but didn’t expect to, and was happy enough just to hear its dry but expressive song and know that it’s nearby.

An Acadian Flycatcher is a small gray flycatcher – olive gray on the head and back, and pale underneath – with white wingbars and a white ring around the eye. Though unobtrusive and seldom noticed, it’s one of my favorite woodland birds, and its presence in our patchy, but persistent woods is a reassuring sound, especially since the species prefers mature forest habitat, and is considered particularly vulnerable to forest fragmentation.

Awaiting the Rise of a Full Moon – Carolina Wrens Singing Back and Forth

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Not long after sunset this evening, a clear, quiet, blue-gray sky looked empty of clouds. A Carolina Wren began to sing nearby – chur-eee, chur-eee, chur-eee. It was answered by another Carolina Wren in a neighbor’s yard, singing the same two-syllable song. They sang back and forth a few times, before a third Carolina Wren down in the woods chimed in with the same song, and I could even hear a fourth Carolina Wren responding with a similar chur-eee, chur-eee, chur-eee, very far away to the southeast.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird came to the feeder hanging from the deck; an Eastern Bluebird sang its blurry notes; a Red-bellied Woodpecker called quurrrr, a Great Crested Flycatcher called a full-throated whreeep from somewhere down in the woods, and a Scarlet Tanager began to sing its strident song from a tall oak on the edge of our yard, interjecting a chick-brrr call several times.

As the twilight deepened, birds fell silent, and a big, gleaming, white-gold moon drifted up through the trees in the southeast, in a clear and cloudless evening sky. Crickets chirped, though the air felt cool.

Two Mississippi Kites Flying Over a Busy Parking Lot

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Late this afternoon two Mississippi Kites circled and soared over the parking lot of a Target store on the Atlanta Highway in Athens. It was a sunny, very warm and humid afternoon, with lots of big white clouds. The two Kites were not flying particularly low, but low enough to see their round white heads, as well as their sleek, slender shapes and graceful pattern of flight.

I was just beginning to back out of a parking space when I saw them – and I think I caused a minor traffic jam as I stopped right there to watch as long as they were in view. The traffic jam was not because of me – but the SUV that was waiting impatiently for my spot.

It seemed strange to see such wild and graceful raptors in such a busy, noisy urban place, but there’s a wooded ridge above the shopping center and the Middle Oconee River and more wooded areas are, perhaps, not far away as a Kite flies.

Late Afternoon Calls of Scarlet and Summer Tanagers

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Early this evening, the chick-brrr of a Scarlet Tanager and the pik-a-tuk calls of a Summer Tanager both laced through the trees around the edge of our back yard – very welcome sounds that brought a happy end to the day. So far this spring we’ve heard and seen both tanagers now and then, but not often and not regularly.

Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees came to bathe in the shallow saucers on the deck rails, as they usually do at end of day, and a Brown-headed Nuthatch came to drink from the moat in the hummingbird feeder.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird made several trips to the feeder. Then a female arrived. She went first to the feeder and started to settle down for a sip – then suddenly zipped up and directly over toward me. I was sitting in a chair nearby and she came so fast and so close it startled me. She hovered in front of me for several seconds, checking me out, I guess, then flew away, wings humming in what sounded like an eloquent expression of annoyance.

Blue Grosbeak and Common Yellowthroat

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

The first half of May has continued to bring unusually cool, fresh, sunny weather, but I wonder if today will be the last in our string of such mild spring days. The morning began with temperatures in the low 40s and warmed up to the low 60s by noon. Perfect. It felt wonderful. The sky was a clear, cloudless blue, the sun bright, the trees and grass in many shades of green.

So it’s been gorgeous weather – but with very few birds. It hasn’t been a Silent Spring here – but it certainly has been much quieter than usual. By now, with migration season almost at an end, I still have heard or seen very few neotropical migrant birds here in our neighborhood, either passing through or returning for the summer. This is unusual.

But this morning there were some highlights – including two gracefully soaring Red-tailed Hawks, rising together in a slow, easy, spiraling climb in a deep blue sky; a colorful Blue Grosbeak singing from the top of a pecan tree; and a Common Yellowthroat singing its exuberant wichity-wichity-wichity from somewhere hidden in a hedge of shrubs.

The Common Yellowthroat sang from a brushy area of a large yard that’s a mix of tall grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and trees – beautiful habitat. It’s a small roundish bird with a bright-yellow throat and upper breast, and a broad, rakish black mask over its eyes. It’s almost always found in low, thick, dense vegetation, not far from the ground. I had no chance of seeing it because I didn’t want to intrude on the yard, so I just stood and listened for a while, enjoying its song – which has always sounded to me a little richer and more golden, less sibilant, more like gregory-gregory-gregory than the way it’s usually described – but that’s in the ear of the listener.

A White-eyed Vireo and Eastern Towhees sang in the field, and though I think most of the White-throated Sparrows have left us now for the north, there was one sweet, full, whistled song of a White-throated Sparrow still here. Most of the Yellow-rumped Warblers also are gone – and I think the Pine Siskins finally have left us, too, though they stayed much later in the year than usual. I last heard them here a week ago, May 7.

Chimney Swifts swept overhead, and I heard the spee-spee calls of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and the very distant wheet-sit of one Acadian Flycatcher – but do not think I heard a single Red-eyed Vireo all morning.

Most of the usual suspects were active – Pine Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Chipping Sparrows, many Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-shouldered Hawk calling behind a line of trees, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Wren, House Finch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, American Goldfinch, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crows and the European Starlings that have become common in the area of the neighborhood closest to the entrance.

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Late this afternoon, on a sunny, mild spring day, I heard the cooing calls of a Eurasian Collared-Dove – hoo-HOOO-hoo, with the last hoo very short. The calls came from beyond the treeline of a wooded area behind a yard, much too far away to see the birds, but the calls were distinct.

I have seen and heard Eurasian Collared-Doves in and near our neighborhood only now and then, on isolated occasions. These calls came from well beyond the neighborhood, in the direction of a much more developed area.

Western Palm Warbler

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

In another part of the neighborhood, a colorful Western Palm Warbler was feeding along the roadside, gleaning insects from the grasses and weeds, with very small, pale-purple flowers in bloom all around it. This was a much closer and better view of a Palm Warbler than when I saw two in a tree a few days ago. This one was close and vivid – a small, slender bird with red-brown crown, dark streak through the eye, bright yellow throat and bright yellow under the tail, a brownish back and streaks on the sides of a pale breast. It continuously, quickly pumped its tail as it foraged, and stayed on the ground for several minutes, before flying up into a low branch of a nearby tree.

Many other birds were active in this burst of sunshine and blue sky, among them Cedar Waxwings, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Chimney Swifts, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker and one Hairy Woodpecker. Two Red-shouldered Hawks flew low out of the woods and across the road in two different spots. Eastern Bluebirds flashed their colors, hunting in grassy yards.

Birdsong seemed to be everywhere – Eastern Phoebe, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Pine Warbler, House Wren and House Finch all were singing. And I was somewhat surprised to hear the zhreeee calls of what sounded like a good many Pine Siskins still here in the trees around several yards, mixed with the mews of American Goldfinches.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

The first few days of May have been unseasonably cool and rainy. Last night a hard rain fell all night long, tapering off to lighter showers that continued for hours. Finally, late this afternoon, the clouds began to part – and when they did, the change was sudden and dramatic, giving way to an intense, deep-blue sky with huge, gleaming white clouds. Dark purple rain clouds still hung on the horizon in the north and east.

Rainwater dripped from all the trees and shrubs, the ground was drenched and water stood in ditches along the roadside – and it’s all wonderful. It feels so good to have this much rain again, after years of dry springs and summers of scorching temperatures and drought.

A short walk during this sunny break in the rain held some highlights as bright as the sunshine on the wet, sparkling leaves. The first came as I was walking up a hill with woods on one side and heard a clear, whistled wheee-ooo, and then the full, sweet pee-a-wee; wheee-ooo of an Eastern Wood-Pewee. It’s another first-of-the-season for here, and an increasingly uncommon bird in our neighborhood, maybe because more and more wooded areas have been replaced by homes and yards, or maybe because white-tailed deer have browsed out so much of the understory in the woods that remain.

The Wood-Pewee was perched in a water oak on the edge of the road, out in full view, flying off to catch insects and returning again and again to the same spot, or close to it – a small, neat flycatcher, all-over gray, much paler on the under side, with faint white wing-bars and a slightly crested head. Its flight as it sallied out to catch insects looked crisp and efficient, while its song sounds dreamy, languid and sweet.