Very Late Summer – Broad-winged Hawks and American Redstart

Near noon on a late summer day, temperatures back up in the sweltering mid 90s after a few days of slightly less hot weather, and a general quiet settled over most of the woods and fields, I heard the alarm calls of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice around a spot near the edge of the woods. The Titmice, especially, were giving harsh, raspy alarm calls and gathering in agitation around a brushpile of fallen limbs and logs. There might have been a snake there, somewhere among the debris, though I could not see it.

The alarm calls attracted other small birds to see what was going on – including a Downy Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Carolina Wren, a Black-and-white Warbler that crept along the branches in the brushpile, near the Titmice, and a young American Redstart that came to low, overhanging branches of trees nearby. The Redstart had me puzzled for a moment, because its back and wings and head looked smooth gray and olive, no sign of any markings in the wings, but it fanned its tail several times, flashing neon-yellow panels. So I think it was a first-year Redstart and maybe the dappled light and shadows obscured the yellow in the wings and on the sides. It fluttered around and flashed its tail in typical Redstart fashion.

After a few minutes, the Titmice and Chickadees and all the other small birds drifted away. Wish I knew what they had seen.

But just about that time, I heard the whistled cry of a Broad-winged Hawk very nearby, just up the hill in the same patch of woods – which surprised me, because I thought they were gone for the season. Almost immediately, one Broad-winged Hawk flew out of the trees and passed directly over me, wings outstretched and tail fanned, showing the wide bands of white and dark, and whistling. At the same time, I could hear the cries of a second Broad-winged Hawk coming from a perch somewhere in the trees. The one that had flown disappeared from view, over the trees, but the other one kept crying. I walked up the hill and tried to find it, but it stayed well screened and high in the foliage.

I don’t know if these were migrants passing through – or if they might be two of the same Broad-winged Hawks that nested here this summer, still hanging around, not yet on their way South.

Earlier in the morning, the songs of an Eastern Phoebe and a Pine Warbler greeted the day, a mostly cloudy early morning and very warm, though the clouds had lifted by the time the sun was fully up. A Red-shouldered Hawk flew around our house for a few minutes, mid-morning, crying kee-yer several times – I heard its calls while I was still inside.

By the time I was able to get out for a walk, things had gotten pretty quiet, and there seemed to be very little bird activity around – but it was almost noon by then. A White-eyed Vireo continues to sing in the field, and a Gray Catbird gives loud, complaining mews. A few young Mockingbirds practice their songs – sounding rather sweet and carefree, with a light, clear quality that’s different from the full-throated virtuosity of a Mockingbird song in spring and summer. Phoebes hunt and Bluebird families chase each other around. One Eastern Wood-Pewee hunted quietly for a few minutes from the stub of a tall dead pine. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird came zipping past me, tiny green back shimmering, and disappeared into the leaves of a tree.

Hummingbirds are the most active and noticeable birds around – two or three females or juveniles zip and zoom and twitter around the feeder and red flowers on the deck all day long, and perch in branches nearby when they’re not feeding. Big yellow and black Tiger Swallowtails float and feed among the purple blooms of the butterfly bush, almost always at least four or five or more.

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