Blue Grosbeak in the Old Field

Late on a warm, cloudy, windy morning, a single sharp, metallic chink! caught my attention as I walked past the old field along the dead-end road outside our neighborhood. I walked back a short way, heard a chink! again, and found a small dark shape with a slightly crested head in the top of a chinaberry tree, surrounded by huge, ragged, swelling mounds of dusty-white privet in bloom. The bird flew almost immediately, and perched in the top of another, taller tree in the middle of the field, where I could see him a little more clearly, even in the cloudy gray light – a male Blue Grosbeak. Not really a small songbird – more medium-size – a deep, dark blue all over with rusty-orange wing bars and a big silver, conical beak, he perched quietly, not singing, and not calling again, but switching his long tail back and forth, and swaying a little as the treetop swayed in the wind. He stayed there for three or four minutes before flying again, to another treetop at the far north end of the field.

Each year I hope Blue Grosbeaks will return to the field, where one or sometimes two pairs have nested in past seasons. Last year, I think only one sub-adult male stayed and sang for several weeks. The one I saw today might stay, or it might be only passing through.

Maybe because it was late in the morning, or because it was cloudy, or maybe because of the wind, few birds were singing in the field – a Northern Cardinal, an Eastern Towhee, an American Robin in a hedge across the road and a Brown Thrasher up in the top of an oak. A shadowy Gray Catbird flew across the road and into some shrubs, disappearing before I could see it well. A Black Vulture sat hunched on a utility pole just beyond the field, overlooking the busy highway below. A small flock of about 15 Cedar Waxwings flew over.

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