Red-winged Blackbirds, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-shouldered Hawk

On a spring-like morning in late February, cool and clear, with a deep-blue sky, not a cloud in sight, a Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren and Pine Warbler all were singing. A Mourning Dove cooed. A big, boldly colorful Eastern Towhee perched in the pale brown branches of a crape myrtle and called chur-wheee.

The wintery mews of American Goldfinches and zhreeee calls of Pine Siskins filled trees in the background, and American Robins were scattered everywhere, especially in large grassy yards. Red-bellied Woodpeckers rattled and called quuurrr, and Downy Woodpeckers whinnied, and one woodpecker somewhere drummed a loud roll.

A tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet called a whispery, high ti-ti-ti as it flitted around in some oaks, hard to see, but after watching it for several frustrating minutes, trying to follow as it moved so quickly and constantly – almost like trying to watch a flying gnat – I finally caught a glimpse of black and white stripes on the face – and a tart orange crown.

Carolina Wrens and House Finches sang, and as I walked up a hill in a wooded part of the neighborhood, I began to hear the conkaree calls of Red-winged Blackbirds. The flocks of Common Grackles and Rusty Blackbirds that were common here in December and very early January haven’t been around for quite a while now. The flocks were never as large as in previous winters, and they now seem to be gone. But there’s a relatively small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds around most days, maybe 200-300 birds at most, and usually only two or three dozen. This morning I found only a few feeding in the grass in one of their favorite yards with European Starlings and Robins, and a few more Red-wings up in the trees.

A Brown Thrasher sat in the top of a tree and sang a full, fluid song; a Ruby-crowned Kinglet stuttered its jidit-jidit calls from a hedge of hollies. One Black Vulture soared over, and a Red-tailed Hawk sat on top of a utility pole overlooking the highway beyond the old field.

Along the roadsides and in yards, yellow dandelions, purple henbit and bluets are in bloom; the dandelions dotting expanses of brown grass; the frail little bluets all but invisible unless you look for them; the henbit spreading in big dark purple patches, with Yellow-rumped Warblers and Chipping Sparrows almost disappearing as they forage among the faded grass and weedy flowers.

As I walked down a hill with lots of trees on both sides, the kee-yer calls of a Red-shouldered Hawk pierced the mostly quiet morning, and after a few moments, I could see it flying low just beyond a line of trees. Then it flew into sight, still calling, and perched in a very tall, bare-limbed sweet gum, out in full view. It sat with its back to me and its head turned in profile, and called over and over, a little different from its usual cry, though only slightly – almost one syllable instead of two – Kyeer! Kyeer! The colors and patterns of its plumage were vivid in the sunlight, the black back checkered with white and mixed with dark brown, the warm red shoulders and ruddy-red breast just barely visible from behind. When it flew, the tail fanned out, showing the bands of black and white.

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