Archive for September, 2013

Black-and-white Warbler

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Still later in the afternoon, our back yard at home felt warm, drowsy and mostly quiet. Two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds zipped to and from the feeder, one chasing the other. An Eastern Phoebe hunted quietly. The chucks of a Red-bellied Woodpecker and day-day fussing of a Tufted Titmouse came from the woods, and an Eastern Bluebird sang in a neighbor’s yard. Cicadas, grasshoppers and other insects whined, chirped and buzzed. The distant cries of a soaring Red-shouldered Hawk could barely be heard.

In the low branches of a white oak at the edge of the woods, a female Black-and-white Warbler crept over the branches, a small, slender bird striped all over in a fine, varied black and white pattern, especially bold on the back and head, more muted on the under side. She caught a very long, wiggling, gray-green caterpillar and for several seconds, more than a minute, struggled to subdue it and eat it – and finally did. After a short pause, she flew to another oak nearby, where again she quietly, methodically crept over the trunk and large branches, searching the bark and leaves.

Chipping Sparrow, Female Blue Grosbeak and Swainson’s Thrush

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Much later in the morning, near noon, in a scrubby area of grass, weeds and wildflowers, three very different birds foraged together near the ground – a Chipping Sparrow, a female Blue Grosbeak, and a Swainson’s Thrush. They were interesting to watch, in part, because they were feeding close together, but were all so different in appearance and behavior – one small, unpretentious and focused; one flashy, animated and richly-colored; one quiet, watchful and cautious, with an air of dignity.

The Chipping Sparrow fed on the ground, eating seeds. Although its coloring was crisp and pretty, with bright red-brown cap, clean gray breast, and a black line through its eye, it kept its head mostly down, and its behavior seemed designed to avoid attention, so that it blended in with the background and might have gone unnoticed.

The female Blue Grosbeak, on the other hand, clung to the stems of tall weeds, flashing a long tail flamboyantly. Her several shades of brown and tan became a copper-brown on her head, where the feathers fluffed up in a crest.

The Swainson’s Thrush fed on the ground among the weeds, but unlike the sparrow kept its olive-gray head more up than down, with buffy spectacles giving it a wide-eyed look. With olive-gray back and wings, and dark but blurry spots on the chest, the thrush had a cool and shadowy look, even out in the noonday sun.

Yellow-throated Vireo and Chestnut-sided Warbler

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Highlights from a walk in the State Botanical Garden in Athens this morning included the sunny song of a Yellow-throated Vireo; the brilliant crimson, white and black of a Red-headed Woodpecker; a glimpse of a Chestnut-sided Warbler among leaves; and a Chipping Sparrow, a female Blue Grosbeak, and a Swainson’s Thrush feeding together in a patch of weeds.

The day was very warm and bright with a clear blue sky and hardly a cloud. The trees and shrubs almost all are still deep, dark green, with hints of crusty brown and yellow.

The Yellow-throated Vireo was singing in a tall pine near the parking lot when I first arrived. I stood for several minutes below, listening to its song and hoping to see the bird, but couldn’t find it until it suddenly left the top of the pine and flew away to trees in the distance – where it continued to sing. After I heard Yellow-throated Vireos singing several more times during the morning, without ever seeing one, it became the bird of the day for me.

The colorful but elusive vireo – with yellow throat and breast, yellow-green head and back, yellow spectacles, clean white belly, and two white wingbars – all of which I could see only in my imagination – seems a good parting image as this summer of few birds nears an end.

Better luck came when I was watching three Eastern Bluebirds in a sweet gum tree when a gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker flew into the top of the tree. Its ink-black back, broad patches of white in the wings, and blood-red head were brilliant as it clung to the trunk in clear view for two or three minutes, before flying again.

A little further on, a rustle in the lower leaves of an oak on the edge of the woods drew attention to a small warbler with two yellowish wingbars, a green back, and gray face with a white eye-ring – a first-fall female Chestnut-sided Warbler. It moved in a quick, light way through the leaves, searching for insects. This was the only warbler I found during the morning, except for Pine Warblers, which trilled their musical songs from the woods. But I also heard the sharp chick-brrrr calls of a Scarlet Tanager and the song of a Red-eyed Vireo, and though this was fewer migrants than I had hoped for, it was a beautiful morning, with lots of other bird activity, and a good way to enjoy one of the last days of summer.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, Northern Flicker, Barred Owl

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Early September afternoons feel warm, green and golden, lulled by the buzz and hum of insects. Very few birds sing. A Northern Flicker calls sharply, kleer! An Eastern Phoebe calls tsup and swoops from branch to branch, pausing low in the shade, with soft-yellow breast and dark-gray head. It pumps its tail impatiently and looks around, not staying long before flying off to catch another insect and perching again in a different place.

An Eastern Wood-Pewee calls a dreamy wheee-ooo from a higher perch on a dead, bare branch, flies up to catch an insect and returns, again and again, to the same spot to hunt.

Three scrappy persimmon trees stand on one corner of a neighbor’s yard, growing closely intertwined with four water oaks. The trunks of one persimmon and one water oak seem melded together at the bottom, and then grow up into separate trunks. The persimmon trees now are loaded with fruits, and the water oaks with small acorns. Further down the road a tall, lanky, craggy old apple tree holds a good crop of ripening apples. Squirrels already have begun to harvest pecans and acorns, and a few are dropping early to the ground.

A scattering of crusty brown and yellow leaves have begun to show here and there, though most of the trees all around are still a dark, dense, deep summer green. This afternoon in a low spot near a creek, a golden shower of leaves, lit by a shaft of sunlight, swirled gently down in a breeze.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers call chuck-chuck-chuck and rattle. Downy Woodpeckers whinny more delicate rattles and pink calls. The traveling kuk-kuk-kuk of a Pileated Woodpecker moves through the woods. A Carolina Wren trills, another burbles. A Northern Cardinal peeps. A Mockingbird flashes its white wing-patches as it flies into a bush and calls a harsh djeeerk. An Eastern Towhee whistles a rich chur-wheeee.

The big, finely woven webs of orb-web spiders have begun to appear in many places. There’s one fat, reddish, fierce-looking spider that spins a very large circular web across part of our deck each day and hangs in its center until one of us walks into it. It’s placed so that it hangs between the deck umbrella and the side of the house, so the early morning light shines through it when it’s still new and fresh, and we can admire its intricate pattern. Then later, the big web becomes less visible and we get busy and forget, and end up with a face and hair full of sticky not-so-pretty spidery silk, and the spider scurries to collect what’s left of its grand creation, to spin another day.

Very early one recent morning, in the gray light of dawn, a Barred Owl near our back yard hooted a series of deep, haunting who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-aawl.

Red-shouldered Hawk and Crows

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Red-shouldered Hawks have continued to be especially vocal and active the past two or three weeks. Lately their kee-yer calls can often be heard around a low, wooded area bordered by a creek. I’ve watched as many as three together, calling vigorously and moving from tree to tree. Often one or two are soaring.

This morning – a sunny, hot and humid day – a Red-shouldered Hawk flew from a pecan tree in a large, grassy yard shaded by many trees that the hawks especially seem to like. Several times I’ve seen one there, quietly watching the ground from a perch in a low branch. This time it flew across the road well ahead of me and into the woods.

Then I heard the cries of a second Red-shouldered Hawk coming from the opposite direction, and found it sitting in a bare branch in the top of a large oak near the crest of the tallest hill around. It sat facing in my direction, broad red breast glowing in the sun, head turned in profile, surrounded by at least five noisy and agitated Blue Jays. Some of the Blue Jays perched in branches fairly close to the hawk, others flew around and toward the hawk, and all cried harsh jay-jay-jays, but didn’t seem to get close enough to strike it. The hawk looked placid, though it called a strong, full kee-yer from time to time, with long pauses in between. As the Blue Jays flapped and screeched, it turned its head deliberately, one way and then the other, watching the jays, but it didn’t fly. After watching for several minutes, I walked on, leaving the hawk and the jays still there.