Archive for June, 2021

Female Blue Grosbeak

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

On a mild, unusually gentle June morning, with a soft blue sky veiled in high white clouds, a brown bird with a slightly crested head and a long, expressive tail flew back and forth several times between a dense privet thicket and a wide strip of tall grass along the roadside. It seemed to be capturing insects in the grass, most likely grasshoppers and crickets, and as it hunted, it frequently called a strong, ringing clink! Once when it flew out of the privet, it clung to a tall-stemmed weed among the grass, facing in my direction and in full, clear view for a few moments, lit by the sun. 

It was a beautiful Blue Grosbeak – a female or an immature male, with handsome coloring in shades of cinnamon and brown, rather than a breeding male’s deep blue. Its crested head was held high, with a very large, pale beak. When it flew from the tall stem, back to the edge of the shrubs, it remained in view for several more moments, switching its long tail rapidly and often, as Blue Grosbeaks often do. Then it went deeper into the vegetation and disappeared.

Blue Grosbeaks are colorful, very interesting songbirds that may not be as familiar as other species because they prefer to nest in scrubby, rough habitats like this old field. They nest during the summer season across a large part of southern North America, including here in this part of Georgia, but they are not generally common or frequently seen. A male in breeding plumage is deep, ink-blue with orange-brown wing bars and a large, prominent silver beak. He sings a melodious, warbled song, often from the top branches of the tallest tree or bush around, but he and his mate nest low, in a small tree or bush or briarpatch or tangle of vines, usually well hidden in dense vegetation.

A great deal about the biology and habits of Blue Grosbeaks is not yet known, maybe because they are so widely dispersed and live in habitats like this one here that are often overlooked. I’ve been lucky enough to find Blue Grosbeaks here in this part of an old field most summers for the past decade or more. They’re not often easily seen, but when they are out, their behavior can be very animated and fascinating to watch. 

Scarlet Tanager, Summer Tanager, Wood Thrush – After a Summer Rain

Monday, June 7th, 2021

Late this afternoon, a thundershower and briefly heavy rain cooled off a day that had been muggy and hot. When I sat down on the screened porch, the air felt wonderfully cool and fresh, and rainwater still dripped from the trees all around, so I sat in a green, wet world. With dark-gray clouds still lingering, light seemed to be fading already, even though it was more than an hour before the sun would go down. It looked like early twilight. 

The fluted notes of a Wood Thrush drifted up through the woods, and a second Wood Thrush also sang. One was closer, and slightly to the east, the other further away, to the west. The soft, ticking pik-a-tuk calls of Summer Tanagers moved through the trees much closer, on the eastern side of the yard. And the quiet, crisp chick-brrr calls of Scarlet Tanagers came from oaks on the edge of the woods, not far away. These tanager calls both are among the most alluring sounds of the spring and summer woods, little-noticed hints to the presence of the brilliant-colored and exotic birds. Just knowing they are here is a gift.

On the east side of the yard, where young trees and vines and shrubs blend into a very dense and leafy area, a Northern Parula sang its buzzy song – a small, blue-gray wood warbler with a green back and a black and dark-coral band across a yellow breast. It stayed well hidden in the leaves, but sang for several minutes. 

The call of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo – which always sounds sudden and surprising – came from a treetop just inside the woods. A loud, percussive, exotic-sounding ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-cawp-cawp-cawp. A Louisiana Waterthrush whistled its bright anthem from somewhere along the creek that runs along the bottom of the wooded hill that slopes down from our back yard. And a Great Crested Flycatcher called a full-throated Breeet! from a tall pine.

To have all of these birds around our own back yard and woods this spring and summer seems to me an amazing and hard-to-believe abundance. The Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Northern Parula, Louisiana Waterthrush, Great Crested Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cuckoo all are neotropical migrants that are only here in the summer breeding season, and will leave for winter homes much further south in the fall. A Red-eyed Vireo often comes to sing here, too, though it’s not as frequent as the others. I’m more likely to hear its song in the mornings than late in the day. Earlier in the spring a Yellow-throated Vireo was sometimes here singing here, though I haven’t heard it in a while. 

A pair of Gray Catbirds may be nesting in some of the large wax myrtles in our front yard, but I’ve only seen and heard their raspy, mewing calls and awkward, distinctive song now and then. I’m not sure they’ve stayed around. 

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird twittered as she came to the feeder just outside the porch. She sat and sipped nectar for several moments, looked up and around, sipped some more, then flew away, around the corner of the house. Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee all were singing too, at different times, and Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee. Red-bellied Woodpecker rattled, and Downy Woodpecker whinnied its delicate call. A White-breasted Nuthatch made small, nasal calls as it traveled over the branches and trunks. An Eastern Phoebe sang.