Eastern Wood-Pewee, Scarlet Tanager, Red-shouldered Hawk, and a Partially-leucistic Northern Cardinal

Today was another in a stretch of very hot and very dry days, with temperatures in the mid and upper 90s by mid-afternoon. But early morning, around sunrise, the air still felt soft and fresh, and more birds than I might have expected were singing – Carolina Wren, Eastern Phoebe, Pine Warbler – and an Eastern Wood-Pewee that sang its pretty pee-a-wee from a tree along the edge of the woods. It sang several times, a clear, languid, whistled song – most of the time only the first half, now and then adding the last, descending, weee-ooo.

Crickets and grasshoppers chirped, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds twittered as they flew back and forth from the branches of oaks to the feeder on the back deck. Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees chattered. A Downy Woodpecker gave its silvery whinny. American Crows cawed and Blue Jays cried in the distance. 

About an hour later, as I walked through a low, wooded area near a creek, a distinct, electric chick-brrr call came through the trees. I stopped to listen, the call came again, and again – the chick-brrr call of a Scarlet Tanager. At first it seemed too far away to hope to see, but as I listened for a few minutes and the calls continued, it came closer and I was hopeful – but then it fell silent. This call of a Scarlet Tanager is one I love to hear, not musical, but expressive and more intimate than its song.

As I stood listening, a Red-shouldered hawk suddenly flew out from somewhere to my right, maybe from a low branch on a tree, and sailed low through the trees, wings outstretched. For just a few moments it was close and big and brilliantly vivid in its colors – then it glided out of sight, back into the trees. I finally gave up on the Scarlet Tanager, settling for the pleasure of knowing it’s around. One Chimney Swift twittered as it flew over, apparently alone. Two Brown-headed Nuthatches squeaked their high, cheerful-sounding chatter in some pines. A Red-bellied Woodpecker rattled. A Mourning Dove flew by.

A little further on, I had stopped to watch a Red-spotted Purple butterfly in some flowers and grasses around a mailbox when a Great Crested Flycatcher called a clear, strong whreep from high up in the leaves of a tall sweet gum tree. A Northern Mockingbird flew to the top rail of a wooden fence, quiet. Several birds along the edge of a large grassy yard turned out to be a pair of House Finches, the male looking very red, and a half dozen Chipping Sparrows.

Two White-eyed Vireos called in the old field outside our subdivision, and I heard the spee calls of several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in water oaks across the road, in the area I’ve begun to call the Lost Woodland. 

Along the edge of a neighbor’s yard, I watched one Northern Cardinal that I think was partially leucistic – meaning it had areas of white mixed with its usual colors. This one appeared also to be a mix of male and female plumage, as well as areas of white. Its back was warm brown like that of a female, while its crest and breast and belly were mostly bright red like those of a male, but with large areas of white. It was foraging in some grass around large cedars, with House Finches, Chipping sparrows, two Brown Thrashers and one American Robin.

All in all, songbirds seemed to be more active this morning than any day this week until now, though there still were not very many – even our most common birds were widespread and few in number. 

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