A Solitary Serenade and a Silent Nuthatch

On a cool, gray, rainy morning, I was feeling kind of gloomy and thinking nothing much of interest was likely to happen when I stepped out the door, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. At first, there was nothing unusual – the front yard was quietly busy with Chickadees, Titmice, a couple of Downy Woodpeckers, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker around the feeders. Several White-throated Sparrows were feeding below the wax myrtles and on the edge of the grass along with two Eastern Towhees, a Mockingbird and a pair of Cardinals. A Phoebe with a pale yellow breast hunted from low perches.

Except for the dripping of the rain, the sounds were more like conversation than music – the calls of the White-throated Sparrows and Towhees, the chatter of Titmice and Chickadees, the sharp pink of the Downies, the tsup of the Phoebe, and the rustling of squirrels in the trees. Brown water oak leaves and acorns littered the ground, and misty smudges of autumn rust, orange and red were beginning to show in the trees across the road.

Against this background, the familiar sound of a sweet, musical song came as a surprise, and at first I was puzzled to hear it at this time of year. But it wasn’t long before the singer came close enough to see – a Blue-headed Vireo looking as elegant as its song was lovely, with a blue-gray head, white spectacles, cream-colored bars on dark wings, and a light wash of yellow on the sides of a white breast. It stayed around for several minutes, catching insects in the oaks and singing a pattern of slow, high, clear, slightly plaintive notes.

As if that wasn’t enough of a gift for one day, as I was watching the Vireo and listening to its song, I noticed another, smaller bird with a muddy red breast, steel-blue back, stubby tail, and a vivid black stripe through the eye, with a white stripe over it – a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Finally! They’ve been widely reported around here this year, and I’ve heard their calls several times in the high pine tops around the house, but had not seen one until this morning. It was worth the wait. This one fed in the low branches of a pecan tree for several minutes, and came out into full view several times. It was a brightly marked male intensely focused on his search of the pecan leaves and branches, moving quickly and deliberately – and completely quiet the whole time. He made no sound, and he showed no interest in the two feeders very near by.

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