After the Rain – Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in a Dogwood

Our long spell of hot, dry weather finally came to an end early this week with a cloudy, cooler day and rain that began slowly. About 4:30 the next morning I awoke to the beautiful, welcome sound of heavy, steady, hard rain. It fell for hours, and continued to rain all the next day, slacking up now and then to only a drizzle for a while, then becoming heavy again. It’s the kind of rain we should get in the fall – a familiar rain, feeling tropical, dark and moody.

Although the heavy rain had passed through by Wednesday morning, the day began with deeply clouded and gray skies, and a misty rain still falling. It was almost ten before the mist faded away, leaving the air damp and warm, the ground saturated, trees dripping.

The same dogwood full of red berries, on the edge of a thicket by the roadside, was again attracting several small birds. Most of them were even more difficult to see in the gray, blurry light, but after a few minutes, a flash of black and white wings was the first sign of a brilliantly colored male Rose-breasted Grosbeak that emerged just long enough for me to get a good look, before he slipped back into the foliage – a big, sturdy songbird with black back, head and face, a large conical bill, white markings in the wings, white belly, and a splotch of deep rose-red on the upper breast.

At almost the same time, another Rose-breasted Grosbeak flew into a sweet gum tree close beside the dogwood and perched in full view for a longer time – showing a completely different look. This Rose-breasted Grosbeak was a study in brown, with a face boldly striped in brown and white, white cheeks, and finer, more tawny brown-streaked breast. Its back was darker brown and streaked, with a dull brown tail. While not so flamboyantly colored and eye-catching as the first, this one had a more subtle, varied beauty, in colors made for an autumn day. At first I thought it was a female, but later realized the tawny breast and finer streaks were those of a first-year male. Interesting, and another reminder that what appears to be obvious often is not.

A female Scarlet Tanager emerged from the dogwood leaves, softly colored in muted shades of yellow and yellow-green. And there was also a thrush of some kind – it appeared to have no eye ring and a plain gray-brown back, and dark spots very high on the breast and a pale belly. I did not ever get a clear enough look to be sure, but because of the very plain gray face, think it was probably a Gray-cheeked Thrush, and can only wish I had seen it better.

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