Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Blackbird Flock

Early this morning I stepped out into a foggy, wet, copper-brown world that seemed to have changed overnight. The leaves on all of the white oaks – only yesterday still half green – this morning are mostly brown. There’s still yellow in the sweet gums, red in the maples, rose-coral in the dogwoods and some green in the oaks. But a big change came overnight, and we’re more and more surrounded in deep autumn-brown.

From somewhere in the trees on the edge of the woods came the sweet chup, chup calls of a Hermit Thrush. It’s been around for several days now. I haven’t yet succeeded in seeing it among the speckled leaves, but haven’t really tried too hard. It’s just very nice to hear its calls. It feels like a fall and winter counterpart of the Wood Thrushes that sang last summer. Not singing, of course, but with its very lovely, liquid calls, reflecting the background and sense of the season. 

Lots of little birds flitted around in the branches and leaves of the oaks – mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, which I’m very happy to see. Also three or four Carolina Wrens, two Eastern Bluebirds, and some Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice. 

Later in the morning, on a walk through the neighborhood in very cloudy, soft gray light, things seemed mostly quiet in a peaceful way. The clear mewing call of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drifted through the trees. Too far away to see, but the call was very clear, and repeated. A White-breasted Nuthatch called a nasal ank, ank, ank. An Eastern Phoebe sang. I passed the mewing calls of two more Sapsuckers, in widely different places, and the whistled songs of White-throated Sparrows from the thickets in the field. Around Pond Corner, I stopped to watch a handsome Northern Flicker searching for food in the grass. The bright red crescent on the gray nape of its neck reflected the softer, coral-red leaves of four dogwood trees nearby. 

The blackbird flock was around the area where it’s often been since late October, at least three hundred and probably many more pleasantly noisy birds spread out across grassy yards and in the bare branches of pecan trees, constantly moving from one spot to another, flowing like a river. Almost all were Common Grackles, but I saw a handful of birds that I think were probably Rusty Blackbirds, though I didn’t see them well enough to be sure. This is always a challenge for me. I think a better birder would be able to spot Rusty Blackbirds among a flock much more quickly – but for me, I always have to look hard, especially when the flock is steadily moving even on the ground, and often startled into flight. A Common Grackle is easy to identify – big, bold, iridescent black, with a long, heavy bill and long tail. But when I do find other blackbirds among the grackles, smaller, with a different shape and thinner bills and tails not quite so long, it takes me longer to be sure, and most of the time the flock flushes up with a rush of wings and moves further away, just when I’m finding a good clear view. The rusty color rarely shows up so well that they’re easy to spot from a distance. But it’s fun to try. And I’m very happy to have such a good flock around again this fall. It’s a good year for pecans here, and acorns, which may help.

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