Archive for February, 2019

Winter Morning Birdsong

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

This morning would have been a lovely day in April or May. But in early February, it didn’t feel right. After a few cold, crisp days to begin the month, the weather has now turned unseasonably warm. The air drifting through my open windows between 7:00 and 8:00 felt soft and balmy, and birds filled the morning with song. Pine Warbler, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Bluebird, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Chickadee all were singing. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown-headed Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, and Downy Woodpecker called. A Red-bellied Woodpecker purred its spring-like quurrr. A Mockingbird squawked harshly, and Northern Cardinals peeped. American Crows cawed, and a flock of blackbirds scattered their calls as they flew over. A Mourning Dove cooed.

By afternoon on a sunny day, the temperature had risen to 80 degrees. 

A Red-headed Woodpecker Winter

Friday, February 1st, 2019

A little later in the morning I stopped for a while to watch a Red-headed Woodpecker that has spent this winter in trees around one particular yard in our neighborhood. I can usually hear its somewhat harsh, rolling churrr, or – if it’s quiet and I stop to look for it – can find it high up on the trunk of one of the trees. When it’s quiet, a Red-headed Woodpecker can be surprisingly unobtrusive. Despite its flashy coloring, somehow it can manage to blend in with the black and gray and white of the winter trees. But once found, those colors pop out and amaze – a full deep-red head; a snow-white breast, black back, and broad white panels on the wings. It looks like a flag in flight – with its big, bold pattern of red, black and white.

I found it this morning on what seems to be its favorite tall, bare, half-dead water oak, up near the very top, working on a stub. It’s the same craggy tree that a pair of Mississippi Kites seemed to like for a perch last summer. For a few moments I stayed, admiring its colors and watching it work, before it flew, heading deeper into the trees along a creek. 

This winter at least four Red-headed Woodpeckers have spent the winter months here in Summit Grove. This is the first time I have ever been aware of more than one – though, of course, I might have missed one now and then. So this year I’ve tried to take advantage of the opportunity to watch them as often as possible. 

They all stay well spaced-out and solitary, each one in its own particular area of the neighborhood. Two are mature and vividly colored. One is a juvenile, in more subdued colors, with a full brown head and dark-brownish back. The fourth, I haven’t seen, but have heard calling many times from a low, wooded area near a creek and a power cut and a water treatment plant. Their distinctive rolling churrr has become very familiar this season – in part because one of the mature woodpeckers has stayed in trees around the edge of our own back yard, which slopes down steeply to a creek. It’s a rare delight on a winter day to walk out and hear its call and sometimes see it fly to a tree nearby – it never fails to surprise me with the simple, remarkable fact that it is here. 

A Pine Warbler’s Song

Friday, February 1st, 2019

February began with a cold, frosty morning, around 28 degrees very early, clear and sunny, with pale, almost white light, and a soft blue sky with high, feathery clouds and spreading jet trails. When I first stepped outside, I caused a flurry of wings and leaves as Eastern Towhees, a Brown Thrasher, and maybe some sparrows or wrens fled into the shrubs. Towhees called chur-whee, and a House Finch and an Eastern Bluebird sang. Three Northern Cardinals, two females and a male, were foraging in a small strip of grass along the road. Some Brown-headed Nuthatches called their squeaky-dees from nearby. 

As I walked uphill along our driveway, a Pine Warbler trilled its song from a wooded area across the road. Pine Warblers have been singing for almost a month now, since early January, which is about the time I usually begin to notice them again. I haven’t heard many, but here and there, a lyrical trill brings a touch of spring-like color to the grim gray woods.

The rest of a walk through the neighborhood was pleasant and mostly uneventful, with the usual suspects along the way – American Robins scattered out in big, grassy yards; a Ruby-crowned Kinglet calling its dry jidit-jidit in thickets on the edge of Colliers Woods; Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens fussed and sang; an Eastern Phoebe hunted from a low branch; Red-bellied Woodpeckers called chuck-chuck; and one Downy Woodpecker called its silvery, descending rattle. In one rough patch of trees and tangled undergrowth, a well-hidden White-throated Sparrow called a clear, repeated alarm – chink! chink!

All in all, the day felt mostly quiet and peaceful. Mourning Doves cooed. A Turkey Vulture drifted above, the only soaring bird in the sky. One Northern Flicker fed in some grass, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker worked on a pecan tree. A flock of around 200 blackbirds, mostly Common Grackles, as well as I could tell from a distance, moved restlessly around in several yards, flying constantly in small groups from trees to grass and back to trees.