Our Bird of Late Summer – An Eastern Wood-Pewee

On one of the last days of summer, an Eastern Wood-Pewee’s drowsy puh-weee began a cool, clear, beautiful morning, after a day of heavy rain two days ago, slow clearing yesterday, and welcome, cooler weather moving in. Most other bird songs and calls – if there were many – were drowned out by the cawing of several American Crows as the sun came up – then the day-day fussing of Tufted Titmice, the chatter of Carolina Chickadees, the song of a Carolina Wren and the peeping of Northern Cardinals – the usual suspects. Big soft dusky morning clouds crowded a pale blue sky with a warming sun. Pine Warblers sang. Red-bellied Woodpeckers rattled, Downy Woodpeckers tapped on trunks, an Eastern Phoebe called tsup as it hunted from the branch of a holly tree.

But the bird of the morning – our bird of late summer – has been the Eastern Wood-Pewee. Its dreamy puh-weee fall song could be heard in several different places in the neighborhood, and colored the day – as it has for much of September, as the small, neat gray flycatchers with white wingbars and slightly crested heads, move through on their fall migration, heading South, but lingering here for a while. Their languid, sensual whistled puh-weee reminds me of the days when they used to be here all summer long, singing their full pee-a-wee; whee-ooo. So even these shorter, fall songs evoke the best parts of the summer, and can bring back memories of lazy, shady afternoons; hot blue skies with orange cloud-castles far away; the taste of a fresh tomato from the garden, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the drowsy drone of bees and wasps, and the scent of summer roses.

The first Wood-Pewee sang this morning in a tree in our own yard. Another sang and hunted from the bare branches in the top of a pecan tree down the street – and then I realized there were two Wood-Pewees there, both calling and hunting from the same high spot. They seemed to be contesting that particular desirable perch, at least for a few minutes. Then one flew away, and the other flew after it.  Another Wood-Pewee sang from trees around the pond, and another from an area of mixed woods and open grass.

Several Northern Mockingbirds also sang, and there seems to be a more relaxed and sweeter sound to their songs right now – or maybe it’s in the ear of the listener. My mood today. Eastern Towhees called chur-wheee; Eastern Bluebirds flashed their colors, sweeping in and out of trees, down to the grass and back up; three Chipping Sparrows with brown-streaked back, gray breast and bright reddish crown flushed up from the grass along the roadside, into the limb of a pecan tree.

In the old field, morning glories still spill out gloriously over and among the tall grass, goldenrod, ragweed, asters, camphorweed, kudzu, foxtails, pokeweed, and myriad other weeds of all kinds – the morning glories now even more colorful, with big open blooms of white, pale blue, pink, magenta, and deep purple, and the separate, tiny bright red ones, too. A White-eyed Vireo was singing again, a Gray Catbird mewed, two or three Brown Thrashers called a harsh tchack repeatedly. And a Pine Warbler sang from the dense, tall stand of pines at the south end of the field.

As I headed back toward home, I heard the cries of a soaring Red-shouldered Hawk, and paused to look up to try to find it. The last few morning clouds were melting away, leaving filmy veils of white and mostly open blue. I couldn’t find the hawk, but saw one Chimney Swift, flying very high, and apparently alone, though others may have been around. It’s the only Chimney Swift I’ve seen in a very long time, and I don’t know if I’ve just not been listening and looking closely enough – that’s possible – but it seems to me they’ve been scarce around here in the later part of the summer.

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