A Summer Tanager Returns

After being out of town over the weekend, I stepped outside this morning into a beautiful, clear spring day, and the first thing I heard was the song of a Summer Tanager, the first one I’ve heard around our neighborhood this year. A rose-red, medium-sized bird with a heavy bill, he stood out brightly against a blue and white sky, among the new green leaves in the top branches of a pecan tree, singing his rather hoarse, Robin-like song repeatedly. Nearby, I heard the dry, staccato “pik-a-tuk, pik-a-tuk” call of another Summer Tanager –– and thought it was probably the less colorful female, but couldn’t find her.

A faint smell of woodsmoke hung in the air, and I later heard in the news that winds had carried smoke from large wildfires in southeast Georgia, near the Okefenokee Swamp, up through the state.

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly wove in and out among the pines and the green leaves of water oaks and sweet gums. The bare limbs of white oaks and many pecan trees still have only the shriveled husks of leaves killed in the freeze two weeks ago. Many birds were active. A Great Crested Flycatcher called “Whreep! Whreep!” Tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatchers hissed “Spee-spee!” Cardinals, Titmice, Goldfinches, a Pine Warbler, a Mockingbird, a Phoebe, and a Black and White Warbler all were singing. Chimney Swifts twittered overhead. A Red-bellied Woodpecker whirred, a Mourning Dove cooed, and a Robin sang sweetly in the top of a water oak above me. Our Bluebird pair was hard at work hunting insects and flying them into the house – but I couldn’t yet hear the small peeps of the young.

With all this activity, a few birds seemed to be missing – most noticeably, Ruby-crowned Kinglets. On Thursday before we left, their stuttering calls and exuberant songs were still heard frequently all around our house and in the neighborhood. But after listening and watching for them all day today, I suspect many, if not most of them, may have left over the weekend for their summer homes. Until last Thursday, we also had several Chipping Sparrows – small gray-breasted sparrows with brownish wings and bright rufous caps – around the yard all day long, often singing their monotone trills. But today I neither saw nor heard one.

Other winter residents have been gone for some time now – Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Dark-eyed Juncos, and our one Hermit Thrush. On the other hand, Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows remain, though it seems like not as many of them as two or three weeks ago. So every day there are changes now, as winter birds leave and summer birds return.

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