Archive for June, 2013

An Indigo Bunting on the Summer Solstice

Friday, June 21st, 2013

The first day of summer brought a break in the rain, with a sunny blue sky, huge white clouds and warm, humid weather. The day began with the whreeep of a Great Crested Flycatcher hunting from trees around the back yard. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds already were coming and going from the feeder as early as I looked outside.

Late in the morning when I went out for a walk, a Brown Thrasher flew to the top of a pecan tree and began to sing, and all along the way many other birds also were singing, maybe welcoming the sun. Most were our year-round residents – Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal and Chipping Sparrow – whose sweet, level trills sounded especially bright and cheerful. Eastern Towhee, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Phoebe, House Finch – all were singing.

From the woods came the musical trill of a Pine Warbler. Brown-headed Nuthatches chattered in the pines. American Goldfinches flashed like tiny yellow lights as they flew over. Mourning Doves cooed. Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker and even one Hairy Woodpecker called.  Three Chimney Swifts twittered as they swept overhead. As usual, there were plenty of active and vocal Blue Jays and American Crows – but today, no hawks, no vultures. Maybe I was just out at the wrong time to see them.

A pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers called a whispery spee-spee from a tangle of vines and privet on the edge of the woods. An Acadian Flycatcher gave a sharp pit-sah from down near the creek. A Summer Tanager and a Red-eyed Vireo sang in different parts of the woods, and a Scarlet Tanager sang from near the top of a large Red Oak, where I could just barely make out its fiery red and black plumage.

Long before I got to the old field that stretches along the highway, I began to hear the sweet-sweet, chew-chew, sweet-sweet chant of an Indigo Bunting. It’s not the first time I’ve heard one here this season, but it’s not been here every day, just now and then. Today it was singing from the top of a small tree on the edge of the power cut that runs through the field – a tiny, intensely blue spot of a bird, an exclamation point of brilliance on the first day of summer.

A White-eyed Vireo also sang in the field, from a hidden spot in the weedy thickets. Cicadas, grasshoppers and other insects whined and buzzed and chirped, but no butterflies. A dragonfly zipped over.

Missing Summer Tanagers

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, almost all of our neotropical birds – birds that spend the summer here and winter in Mexico, Central or South America or the Caribbean – have seemed fewer and farther between than usual in our neighborhood this year. This may be, at least in part, because the month of June has been very gray and rainy so far, though I’m not sure that’s the only reason. All the trees and other vegetation are lush and green, and it’s hard to complain about rain when we’ve had so many hot, dry years. But it’s begun to seem like a very wet and soggy summer – and a summer with few birds.

Most of the usual summer species are here – I can find them – but they’re harder to find, not as common a part of a summer day. In past years, for instance, Summer Tanagers have been among our most familiar birds. Their lilting, Robin-like songs and the quiet pik-a-tuk calls of the pair are among summer’s most characteristic sounds. The rose-red male and yellow female haunt the trees around our back yard and in wooded areas throughout the neighborhood, hunting for insects. But this year, although I hear a Summer Tanager singing most days, it’s usually in the distance, and I only see one now and then around our own yard – and even less often in other parts of the neighborhood.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Monday, June 17th, 2013

This morning the exotic, percussive call of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo came from somewhere among the dense green leaves of a tall pecan tree in a neighbor’s yard – ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-cow-cowp-cowp-cowp. Though I didn’t manage to see the elegant bird among the leaves in the treetop, the call alone was bright and welcome enough. I had just about given up on finding even one Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the woods around our neighborhood this summer, so it’s great just to know at least one is here.

Moving quietly through the canopy, where it prefers to stay, the sleek, slender bird – with velvet-brown back and head, creamy white breast and belly, long, down-curved bill, yellow on the bottom, and long, dramatically-spotted black and white tail – deliberately makes its way through the branches, eating caterpillars and other insects, now and then giving its clear, expressive call.

A Barred Owl at Dawn

Friday, June 7th, 2013

In a gray and dripping dawn, after a night of heavy rain, a Barred Owl called from somewhere not far away, maybe in a branch of the white oaks right outside our bedroom windows. It called several times, a single hoooo with just the slightest –ow at the end of each, and with a rich, low, purring quality that I could feel as much as hear, a purring growl.

A beautiful way to begin the day.

Queen Anne’s Lace

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Under a clear, bright, sunny sky, dusty-white Queen Anne’s lace has begun to bloom along the roadsides, joining dandelions, yellow asters, camphorweed, daisies, and deep-purple stiff verbena. In the old field, prickly purple thistles are opening their blooms, and hundreds of sprawling wild pink roses spread across the rough grasses and weeds.