Archive for April, 2014

Great Crested Flycatcher

Monday, April 7th, 2014

This morning began with the soft, sleepy sound of rain, and rain continued for most of the day, a steady, lush green rain that seemed to bring out the leaves of the trees as it fell, so that by end of day the woods had turned from thinking of green to a deeper flush of wet new-green, laced with the white blooms of dogwood.

Late in the afternoon, after the rain had stopped, it was a nice surprise to hear the deep, rich whreep and burrrt calls of a Great Crested Flycatcher in trees on the edge of the woods, the first one here this season.

Eastern Towhee Threat Calls

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Three Eastern Towhees perched in some tall, dense shrubs along a fence, close to each other but not too close, flashing their tails and appearing agitated. Brightly colorful, with ruby eyes in a black-hooded face and breast, black back and tail, snow-white belly and red-orange sides, all three were males. One of them was making a kind of clicking, percussive noise that at times almost became a trill, but not musical at all. I’ve never heard Towhees make this call before, but found this description of their threat calls in Birds of North America that includes sounds like what I heard:

Variable, abrupt, explosive, often metallic-sounding notes, given singly or repeated with variants in short sputter; included are sounds like tip-tip-tip! tep!, tip-tep!, chp-cht!, stee!, chp-chee-chee! . . .  chp-ste!, teek!, etc., all uttered as outbursts during male-male encounters (fights, chases) and male female chases.*

The species account in Birds of North America also notes:

Despite its popularity and wide occurrence across eastern North America, many details of the Eastern Towhee’s natural history remain poorly known . . . Because the bird spends much of its time near or on the ground in dense habitats and scrubby growth . . . it is usually difficult to study.

While Eastern Towhees are common around my own yard and throughout the neighborhood, I think it’s the bird I am most likely to overlook or forget about having seen. I’m not sure why, because they are fairly large, boldly colorful, and interesting to watch. Maybe it’s mostly that they do stay hidden much of the time, but I also think I tend to take them too much for granted, and that paying more attention to Towhees might be one good way to remind myself to fully see and hear what’s here, instead of looking for the unusual. As the species account in BNA also notes, there’s a great deal still to be learned by watching Towhees – and other common birds.

* Jon S. Greenlaw. 1996. Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.) Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Cedar Waxwings

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

On a cloudy, breezy and surprisingly cool day, I cleaned up the hummingbird feeder, filled it with fresh nectar, and in less than half an hour, looked out the kitchen window to see a bright male Ruby-throated Hummingbird already there, sipping from the feeder. A second male came zipping up, chasing the first one, and they both flew away. I think hummingbirds have been here for several days now, but I’m late putting up a feeder.

Much later in the day, late afternoon, when I stepped out the front door at least a dozen Cedar Waxwings were scattered around like colorful enameled ornaments in the trees. I stood for several minutes just watching them, listening to their high, lisping calls go back and forth in the oaks and pecans, and admiring their sleek colors and style – crested head, black mask, smooth taupe shoulders, lemon-yellow belly and the edge of glistening gold on the pearl-gray tail, the small touch of wax-red in the wing. Some were preening, others were gleaning insects from leaves and branches.

The juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker this afternoon quietly flew from trunk to trunk in the yard where I’ve always found it. I had just about decided until today that it must have gone because I hadn’t heard it for several days. It’s vividly colored now in bold red, white and black.

Three White-throated Sparrows whistled, long, sweet, lingering songs.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Late this morning a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher called its crisp, wispy spee-spee as it moved through the green leaves in the tops of water oaks. Tiny, quick, and silver-gray, with a long, expressive tail, it always looks and sounds to me like a kind of wood sprite in the trees. This is the first one I’ve seen here this season.