Northern Parula

The day began with the buzzy, summery song of a Northern Parula around the edges of the woods. The morning was cool, sunny, colorful and full of birdsong, and the Parula’s rising zzzzzzzhhhh-ip! that trips over and falls at the end was the highlight. It even came to a low branch right over my head to sing for a few minutes – a charming little wood warbler with blue-gray head, yellow throat and breast, and a mottled dark-coral band across its chest. Of all the returning neotropical migrants, the Northern Parula seems to me the one that sings most alluringly of the tropics and of warm air and sun and forest-filtered light, of rippling creeks and dense green leaves. It almost seems to bring spring with it. During breeding season it’s at home in forests with streams or wetlands throughout much of the eastern U.S. and into Canada, and it doesn’t winter as far south as many other migrants – still, it always makes me think of the low country, live oaks and tropical breezes, and it does prefer bottomland forests, using Spanish moss or beard moss for its nest.

Meanwhile, two Louisiana Waterthrush continue to sing along the creek, especially early in the mornings. The wheezy songs of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Black-and-white Warblers are still rumors in the trees for me – I hear them but haven’t yet seen one. Ruby-crowned Kinglets sing their elaborate, neat little songs, White-throated Sparrows whistle plaintive, heart-breaking come-a-way-with-me, on the brink of leaving for the north. And all the year-round residents seem to be singing. An Eastern Phoebe, Carolina Wren and Northern Cardinal usually are among the earliest around our yard, then Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Pine Warbler, American Goldfinch, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Towhee, American Robin, House Finch. Woodpeckers drum and rattle. Mourning Doves coo. A small flock of Cedar Waxwings sprays high, thin calls from hidden spots in a stand of pines.

Chipping Sparrows sing a delicate string of chipper-chipper-chipper-chipper that I think is one of the prettiest songs, when heard close by, though so often they’re described as mechanical and dry – at this time of year they can sing with an airy, musical touch.

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