Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Hermit Thrush

On another spring-like morning, this one clear and sunny and cool, as soon as I stepped out the door, I heard the scattered chek calls of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and found two of them flitting from branch to branch around the front yard. In their winter plumage Yellow-rumped Warblers are small, rather plain, gray-brown birds with some white in the wings, a touch of yellow on the sides – and a prominent yellow rump. One of the two looked uncommonly bright yellow for this time of year, and I was happy to see – and hear – them both. It seemed a good sign. Yellow-rumped Warblers used to be very common and abundant here in the winter – but this year, like the past year or two, I see disturbingly few. The drop in their numbers here in our neighborhood has been dramatic, and it’s really amazing how their absence has changed the feel and sound of a winter day. They don’t sing at this time of year, but just the sound of those quiet little cheks all around in the trees is something I had always taken for granted.

So those chek calls this morning were a happy start to the day, and the whole front yard was bustling with birds. A male Eastern Towhee called a rich, musical chur-whee from a bare crape myrtle, looking bright in his pattern of black, red-orange and white. Another male and two female Towhees were noisily scratching up leaves and mulch around shrubs, all of them calling back and forth, and the females only slightly more subdued in their leaf-brown, orange and white.

 A Brown Thrasher lurked under the azaleas, a pair of Northern Cardinals peeped, an Eastern Bluebird called a blurry chorry-chorry, a Brown-headed Nuthatch or two squeakily chattered. A Red-bellied Woodpecker called quurrr, a Carolina Wren sang and another wren trilled, an American Goldfinch called as it flew overhead. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet stuttered jidit-jidit as it moved through the bushes quickly, flicking its wings in a fairy-like way, a tiny little green-gray bird with a smooth round head, crisp white wingbars and white ring around the eye, the ruby crown hidden this morning.

 A Northern Mockingbird sat in a young pecan tree in the middle of the grassy circle in our cul de sac, its usual spot, and this morning it had some company there – a White-throated Sparrow perched in the top of a dense stand of hollies that surround the small tree.

Walking on down the road, I passed Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, a Downy Woodpecker and an Eastern Phoebe hunting from a low branch of a persimmon tree. From a tall stand of pines across a busy two-lane road came the lovely, musical trill of a Pine Warbler’s song. And then, the rest of the way seemed surprisingly quiet. There were Blue Jays and American Crows, as always, and a scattering of other birds here and there, but many big patches of woods and yards looked empty, even on this lovely, strangely warm, sunny morning. But then came a nice surprise.

On the edge of what used to be a big, rambling, tangled thicket under a strip of oaks and pines, a robin-like bird stood quietly in the shadows, almost blending into the background in a spot where there’s still a little privet and some fallen branches littering the ground below the trees. It was a Hermit Thrush, standing on one of the fallen branches, among the skimpy cover of a few old vines and weedy plants. The spot felt sad and empty. Most of the thicket was cleared below the trees several months ago, leaving very little cover for ground- and shrub-loving birds like the Hermit Thrush. But here it was. It may have returned to the spot it has come to in previous winters. It seems to me that Hermit Thrushes do this, returning year after year not only to an area, but to particular places – there’s almost always one that spends the winter in the shrubs around our front porch, and there are other spots where I also can count on finding one from year to year. I stopped to watch it for only a few moments – a sweet and modest bird with soft brown back, bright dark spots on its upper breast, an erect head and watchful eye. The cinnamon tail raised up – and lowered slowly. It’s one of my favorite winter birds, but I didn’t linger long, not wanting to disturb it more.

Leave a Reply