Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Other Winter Birds on a Quiet, Cloudy Day

Late this morning, under an iron-gray sky, the air felt cold and still. But quite a few small birds brought the front yard to life. Chipping Sparrows, Carolina Chickadees and American Goldfinches crowded the feeders, justling for space. Several Northern Cardinals, male and female, foraged on the ground, perched in shrubs and flew from spot to spot with flashes of red. I think we’ve seen more Cardinals here this winter than ever before. I didn’t see a White-throated Sparrow but heard lots of rustling in dry leaves from hidden spots, and some quiet tseet calls. Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted in the bare branches of the oaks and pecan trees. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet called jidit-jidit as it traveled through shrubs – and very briefly paused close enough so that I could see its tiny gray-green head, bright, white-ringed eye and quickly flicking wings among the leaves of a Savannah holly.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker called its dry chucking calls, and an Eastern Bluebird sang from somewhere near – the most musical sound on this rather quiet morning. I looked especially for a Hermit Thrush – but didn’t see a sign of one today.

Birds along most of my walk through the neighborhood were much more quiet and less active than around our own yard, but it was still a fine walk in crisp and cold fresh air, and I counted 21 species in all, though very few birds in number, most of them heard, not seen. I especially noticed the complete absence of any blackbird flocks. This has been a sad change this winter season here. For the past many years blackbird flocks have been almost daily visitors to Summit Grove, spreading out across the many large, grassy yards. Most have been Common Grackles, but we’ve also been lucky enough to see a fair number of Rusty Blackbirds too. Watching and following them as they fed in grassy spots and standing under the sudden whoosh! of their wings when a large flock suddenly flies – those are happy memories from years past. And – I can hope, maybe next year. This year I have seen very few, very small numbers of blackbirds now and then, but they’ve been sporadic and infrequent. And in general, there certainly have been fewer birds here this winter than in the past – a lot has changed around the neighborhood and I think our observations here also reflect the fact that birds are disappearing at a frightening rate almost everywhere.

But it’s still worth watching and listening – and you never know when an unexpected sighting or sound will come along. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker mewed several times from trees well back from the road, too far away to see. And a small flock of Cedar Waxwings showered high, needle-like calls from the bare branches of trees along the roadside. When they took flight, I saw about ten together – and I think there were others still in the trees.

As I was approaching home, about a dozen Chipping Sparrows flew up in sprays from our front yard grass and I stopped to say good morning to two of them perched in the small, bare-limbed redbud trees. The Chipping Sparrows looked pert and pretty with bright, rusty-red crowns.

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