More Birdsong Than Birds

A tangled patch of pines and oaks surrounded by a dense thicket of privet, vines and other undergrowth was an active spot late this morning, full of dozens of small songbirds.

The first to catch my attention was a Yellow-throated Vireo singing from near the top of one of the trees. It’s one of very few Yellow-throated Vireos I’ve heard so far this season here. A Northern Parula also sang its rising, buzzy tsssssup! over and over from high among the leaves in another tree. Two Red-eyed Vireos sang; Blue-gray Gnatcatchers called spee-spee; a pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches chattered in the pines; several Yellow-rumped Warblers trilled; Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice fussed; one Carolina Wren was singing and another answered cheeer, cheeer; and at least three American Redstarts tweeted their high, sweet songs from somewhere fairly low among the shrubs.

All of these I heard but didn’t see – the birds stayed hidden deep in the leaves and vines.

A female Pine Warbler that came quietly into view on a low branch of pine was one of the few birds I saw here. An overall grayish color, pale underneath, with blurry, indistinct wingbars and faint streaks on the sides, she showed only the slightest hint of yellow in her throat and a thin, pale eye-ring – as quiet in appearance as in behavior. Later, in other parts of the neighborhood, I heard other Pine Warblers singing, and several Red-eyed Vireos singing – a number of them seem to be passing through right now.

Chimney Swifts twittered as they swept overhead. Several Great Crested Flycatchers called Whreep and Burrrt. And from down along the creek in the woods across the road from the thicket came the sharp, clear peet-sah! of an Acadian Flycatcher – so nice to hear its song again this year.

Further along the road, in another wooded area, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo called its long, exotic, kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk – cawp-cawp-cawp-cawp, and a soaring Red-shouldered Hawk cried kee-yer. And as I walked through a more open part of the neighborhood, a Chipping Sparrow trilled a long, level song, an Eastern Towhee sang Drink-your-tea, tiny dots of flying American Goldfinch called potato-chip, potato-chip, and a Great Blue Heron flew slowly, ponderously, silently over a field, maybe heading toward one of the creeks in the woods, or to a pond. A Belted Kingfisher rattled harshly, also flying by.

On the edge of one yard, a handsome pair of Brown Thrashers perched restlessly in the branches of a large shrub. At least two Brown Thrashers sang in other spots along the way, and many Northern Mockingbirds are singing now, filling the morning with even more birdsong than birds.

When I got back home, four White-throated Sparrows, among the last of our winter birds still here, were kicking up mulch around bushes in our front yard, near the porch. Their markings still looked a little streaked and blurry, so I think maybe they were first-winter birds, not yet in full spring plumage.

April is almost always the month of the greatest changes here, as winter birds leave, migrants move through, and summer birds arrive for the season. This year there have seemed to be fewer birds and fewer species arriving or passing through our neighborhood. Several I still haven’t seen at all. The spring season isn’t over yet, so things could change – but maybe this difference shouldn’t be surprising. Gradual but substantial changes have occurred in the habitat here, with more development over the past few years, both in our subdivision and around it, so some species that used to be common may be either less common or completely missing now.

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