A Brown Creeper on the Last Day of the Year

2010 came to an end with a brief warm spell and a softly-clouded, sometimes sunny, quiet day, the sky a gentle blue with high white clouds and several turkey vultures drifting low over the treetops.

We took advantage of the warm weather (in the low 60s) to eat lunch outside on the deck. A Carolina Wren, Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Towhee were around in the yard and the woods. One Black Vulture sailed over very high. The balmy air and soft blue sky felt relaxing, perfect for lying back and watching the clouds drift by, so when I began to hear some high, vaguely sibilant calls, at first I didn’t fully pay attention and sort of thought some Golden-crowned Kinglets had come around, as they often do. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn’t hearing kinglets, and what it might be – and to my great surprise, there it was – an exquisite little Brown Creeper on the trunk of one of the oaks on the edge of the woods. A tiny bird with a dark back of mottled brown, black and white, an intricate pattern of sharp, clean colors that blended in with the bark of the trees, a white breast, and a long, thin, curved bill that it used to probe the bark.

Brown Creepers are not considered uncommon, but they are so quiet, small and inconspicuous they are not often seen, and in our neighborhood they seem to be less common than a few years ago, as more wooded land has been converted to homes and other suburban development.

It crept up and around one trunk, moving insect-like, close to the bark, upward in a spiral, then flew abruptly to another trunk, and another, staying in view for maybe four or five minutes, moving quickly – and best of all, calling again and again. The call is a high, thin tseeeee, an almost whispered sizzle, one long syllable at a time, but frequently repeated. It’s a distinctive and enticing call, fairylike and delightful – but very easily overlooked.

That was the best part of it for me – to recognize the call, and have a chance to hear it several times. It still makes me smile to think of it. A nice gift to end the year.

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