Archive for May, 2020

Pine Warbler Feeding a Fledgling

Friday, May 8th, 2020

This morning brought a cool, gray, moody day, breezy, with the damp feel of rain in the air, though showers didn’t come until early afternoon. Clouds in many shades of gray layered the sky, rumpled and scalloped and constantly changing. Birds seemed quiet and not very active. Few were singing. 

When I heard the deep, foggy who-cooks-for-you call of a Barred Owl, I first thought I had imagined it. But the call came again, and again, coming from somewhere back in a wooded area, not close, but not too far away. I’ve often heard a Barred Owl call in the daytime, especially on a cloudy day like this, but the past year or two or three, we’ve been hearing them less and less often at all. So it’s nice to know they’re still around.

Later in the morning, I stopped to check out a burst of activity in trees on both sides of the road as small birds flew back and forth. Some were Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice and Brown-headed Nuthatches – but there were others I couldn’t see well. They were moving too fast, flitting along the branches very quickly and constantly in motion. When I finally did get one in focus, I saw a yellow bird moving over the pine branches very fast – almost frantically. It was a Pine Warbler, with a bright yellow throat, streaked sides, olive-yellow head, a broken yellow eye-ring, and white wing bars – but because of the way it was moving, I briefly thought it might be some other kind of bird. Pine Warblers usually move through the branches, searching for food, more slowly than other warblers, and I’d never seen one foraging as hurriedly as this. 

Then I realized that I was hearing, all this while, the cheep-cheep-cheeping of baby birds. And then I saw one – a little grayish bird sat on a pine branch and fluttered its wings and begged to be fed – and the yellow Pine Warbler, a male, hurried up to feed it. Of course! Another bird also moving frantically through the pines nearby was probably the female. And I could hear other babies cheeping too, though I only saw this one very clearly. It was sweet to watch. And interesting to observe that Pine Warblers can be such harried parents. I don’t know how many fledglings they had to feed, but they were working very hard.

Indigo Bunting

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

A tiny spot of neon-bright blue shined in the middle of the big, privet-choked field that separates the road where I walk from highway 441. A very small bird stood out against the tangled background like a drop of purest blue. An Indigo Bunting. And it chanted a song as bright as its color, sweet-sweet, chew-chew, sweet-sweet, that rang clear, even through the constant traffic noise of the highway. 

It was sitting in the top of a bare dead branch that stuck up above the leaves and flowers of a chinaberry tree, facing the morning sun and singing and singing. It’s the first Indigo Bunting I’ve seen here this season – one of our last summer birds to return. An Indigo Bunting is a very small, compact bird, intensely blue all over. It prefers shrubby, weedy habitat with dense cover, like this old field. If we’re lucky, it may stay here to nest.

Somehow this morning that little spot of color lifted my spirits immensely. As I walked, my thoughts had often wandered to other things, especially to the changes the coronavirus pandemic has brought into our lives. I think I’ve known from the beginning that this is not something that would soon be gone, though there was the temptation to think of it that way. Our lives are likely to change for a very long time, though we don’t yet know exactly how. And today this was much on my mind. Despite the actions of our governor and the president, and despite the very natural desire in us all to get back to our normal lives – it simply isn’t going to happen easily. Or soon. And I think that’s just very hard to fully comprehend. And even harder to accept and begin to adjust, to figure out exactly what kind of changes we need to make, and how. 

So this morning these thoughts and many more were on my mind, when the cheerful song and brilliant blue of the little Indigo Bunting brought me back to the moment. This moment. This day. This small miracle of a tiny, beautiful bird, singing in an overgrown field.

Gray Catbird

Monday, May 4th, 2020

May has begun with warm, sunny days that feel like almost like summer, a gentle, storybook version of summer. Clear blue skies and high white clouds and warmth that soaks in and feels good. Daisies and dandelions and other yellow wildflowers bloom, and a butterfly floats by now and then. Most of our winter birds have left and the rush of spring migration is coming to an end, with the last few birds arriving for the summer.

Today the new arrival was a Gray Catbird, one of my favorites. I’ve been watching for the Catbirds to return for the past week or more, and today I finally saw one. It was in the same area where I’ve found them the past few summers, sitting in the very top of a large Leyland Cypress tree, against a deep-blue, cloudless sky, and singing.

A Gray Catbird is a dapper-looking bird, slate-gray all over, with a neat black cap, and rusty-orange feathers under the tail – which I couldn’t see today. It’s shaped like a Mockingbird, slender, with a long tail. Related to Northern Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers, it sings a song that also includes mimicked sounds – though it’s not at all as fluent as a Mockingbird. A Gray Catbird’s song is a long series of notes, and many of them might be described as nasal or creaky – or they might be described as individual and different, more artistic and inventive. Going his own way. A Gray Catbird has character. It has a sense of style.

Some Gray Catbirds might spend winters here, but most seem to move at least a little further south for the winter, closer to the coast, then return here for the breeding season. They generally live in dense, tangled shrubs and thickets, so I’m not sure why they like this particular area, in a very suburban environment with well-kept yards and shrubs – though there are a lot of large trees, including evergreens. 

When I first saw it today, the Gray Catbird was just emerging from the thick green foliage of the Leyland cypress and making its way to the top of the tree. At the same time, a Northern Mockingbird sat on the peak of the roof of a house in the same yard, singing exuberantly. When the Catbird reached the top of the cypress tree, it sat for a few moments, and I wondered if it would sing.  The Mockingbird’s song was so loud and so flamboyant, it seemed that any other song didn’t have a chance of being heard above it. But finally the Catbird began to sing, too, first one note, then another, and another, and it kept going. Not musical, but distinctive. One note was like the Catbird’s raspy, mewing call, others were whistles and gurgling notes, one note at a time, not repeated. It kept singing, growing more confident, apparently undaunted by the competition. And in the end, it was the Mockingbird that stopped singing first – and flew away.

Blue Grosbeak Singing in a Chinaberry Tree

Friday, May 1st, 2020

On a perfect May Day morning – sunny, with a deep-blue, cloudless sky, breezy and mild – a Blue Grosbeak sang from a branch just below the top of a chinaberry tree in bloom. The green leaves and pink flowers of the tree sheltered the singing bird and framed it in a very picturesque way. 

Because it was shaded by leaves, the brilliant, ink-blue color of the Blue Grosbeak looked more gray than blue, but the orange-brown bars in the wings and the big silver beak stood out clearly. Its eyes looked very black. It lifted its head and parted its beak again and again to sing a shining, flowery series of notes. Like the shaded color of the bird, the song sounded a little softened, gentled, maybe by the wind. 

Each spring I watch for the return of a Blue Grosbeak to the old field above the highway where I found it this morning. It’s almost always the song that lets me know it’s back. Blue Grosbeaks are considered to be widespread in southern North America, but are widely scattered and not easy to find. They nest in forest edges, shrubby places, and in old fields like this – overgrown with privet, honeysuckle, blackberries and other shrubs, vines and weeds, as well as a good many trees.