Vireos Singing, and Red-shouldered Hawks

After an unusually gray and rainy summer, the end of August has brought several days of very warm, sunny, beautiful weather, a gift, with cool mornings, soft blue and white skies and light breezes.

Because summer birds have seemed so quiet and scarce this year, some I would usually see or hear almost every day now are less frequent and seem more special each time I find them. This morning, a Red-eyed Vireo sang its clear, quick, repeated series of phrases, in the trees around one corner, not far from the woods.

A Yellow-throated Vireo sang its similar, but more burry, mellow song in an area of crowded crape myrtles and tall shrubs. Though distinct, it was singing rather softly. Then it surprised me by coming out into the edge of the branches as it foraged, and showing its bright yellow throat and breast, yellow-green head, very white wing bars, white belly, and yellow spectacles around the eye.

A small round whirring form zipped past me, twittering as it went, and hovered over a big mound of orange and yellow lantana – a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This is one species whose numbers seem to be about normal this summer. At least three or four now visit our feeder on the back deck almost constantly all day every day, and several of our neighbors also report watching hummingbirds at their feeders. Every once in a while, like today, one will pass me in other parts of the neighborhood, twittering as it zips by in a speedy blur, like a very tiny Road Runner cartoon.

Along a mostly quiet, wooded stretch of road, cicadas sang, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher called spee, and a pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches chattered as they moved through some pines. The sudden, loud kee-yer calls of a Red-shouldered Hawk nearby were startling, and abruptly, a hawk flew out of the trees on one side of the road and glided on open wings across an open space and into more trees. It flew low across the grass and up as it came to the woods, showing a breathtaking view of the upper side of its checkered wings, and black and white banded tail. The warm deep-red shoulders glowed.

It disappeared into the trees, and was immediately followed by a second Red-shouldered Hawk gliding low along the same path, showing just a glimpse of its ruddy-red breast as well as the back, head and tail. One or maybe both cried kee-yer loudly several times more, after they were out of sight.

To see Red-shouldered Hawks like this, so close, and in such clear light and colorful detail feels dramatic and stunning. Their presence fills the moment in every way with life – and then, they are gone. Though not far. Much of the time they blend quietly into the trees, and sit unseen, like spirits of the woods.

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