Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrow, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk

The day began gloomy, with low gray clouds and a slow, cold rain that fell for a couple of hours. But as soon as the rain stopped, the clouds began to break apart and lift, turning pearl-gray and luminescent. Over the course of the morning, more and more blue sky appeared, leaving a loose, cottony quilt of small, high white clouds and sunshine.

Late this morning, like the past three or four days, birds were delightfully active in several spots. One of the highlights of the day was the arrival of Dark-eyed Juncos – our first of the season. Several fed around our yard, and flew in and out of shrubs and the low branches of trees, flashing the white edges of their tails. I paused to watch two that flew into a small tree, seeing once again the smooth charcoal-gray hood that covers the head, the small pink bill and white belly.

Then another sparrow-size bird flew up from beneath some wax myrtles and into the bare branches of a crape myrtle – a Song Sparrow, a heavily streaked brown and gray bird, switching its tail nervously from side to side, and raising the dark feathers on the top of its head into a slight crest. The brown streaks on its chest came together in a central dark spot. Though I’ve seen and heard Song Sparrows in other parts of the neighborhood this fall, this is the first one in our own yard – and I’m happy to see it and take it as another sign of more activity here, where things had been too quiet for too long.

On the edge of one hilly section of woods, a brown, long-tailed, medium-size bird glided from one tree to another nearby and sat there, quiet, still and unobtrusive, on a branch. With leaf-brown back and head and brown-streaked chest, it blended in so well with the trees I would never have seen it if I hadn’t seen it fly. A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk, its head was small and round, with pale markings on the face, and overall, it looked neat and almost delicate. Its lower half was mostly hidden by branches, so I could not see the tail well, except that it was long and narrow.

Although sometimes the presence of a small raptor like a Sharp-shinned Hawk can make smaller birds fall silent and still – in this case, the woods nearby continued to seem full of a good bit of activity and chatter, maybe a feeding flock moving through together – Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wren, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Phoebe, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet or two.

After I watched the small, sleek brown hawk sitting in the tree for a few moments, not moving except to turn its head one way and another, I walked on. About the same time, it flew out of the trees and across the road ahead of me, and I could see its crisp, compact shape in the air, and its quick flap-flap-flap – glide flight pattern.

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