Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Botanical Garden Walk

As I walked along the trail beside the beaver pond, I heard an emphatic “tsuk!” repeated in the shrubs beside me. A small olive-green bird flitted from branch to branch – and then I saw its face, a brilliant yellow-gold, with black markings around the eyes and trailing down its cheeks. A Kentucky Warbler.

I had heard at least four Kentucky Warblers singing at different places along the river, but didn’t expect to see one, because they usually stay so deep in the under-story vegetation. So this was a happy surprise, and the highlight of a beautiful morning walk in the State Botanical Garden in Athens. The weather was sunny, unusually cool, and birds were active.

Another highlight was earlier in the morning, in a section of power cut near the Oconee River. Here, the tall vegetation seemed to be popping with the colors and sounds of brilliant Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings and Common Yellowthroats. Both male and female Grosbeaks flew from stalk to stalk, and sometimes up in the branches of trees at the edge of the woods, frequently calling their metallic “plink!” An Indigo Bunting sat in the branch of a small tree and sang. Common Yellowthroats called “chttz!” and sang “wichery-wichery-wichery” from deep in the vegetation, and one flew up and paused on top of a stalk with a wriggling insect in its bill. In the bright morning light, its yellow face and throat, black mask, and even the blurry band of white above the mask glowed.

Meanwhile in the background, a Kentucky Warbler, White-eyed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Parula Warbler and an Acadian Flycatcher were singing. A Red-shouldered Hawk flew from a perch in a tall tree over the river and began to circle and cry, “keee-yer!” and was joined by two more Red-shouldered Hawks, all three calling back and forth as they circled and climbed higher.

From the White Trail that follows the river, I watched two Louisiana Waterthrushes hunt among the exposed roots and murky holes in the opposite bank. They moved quickly, with bobbing tails and frequently called out “chip!” A Prothonotary Warbler and a Hooded Warbler sang, along with more Parulas, White-eyed Vireos, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Acadian Flycatchers. A Great Blue Heron and two Wood Ducks flew over.

In the beaver pond area, where I saw the Kentucky Warbler, two Red-headed Woodpeckers flew from place to place around the pale trunks of standing dead trees, their wings flashing white and their crimson heads gleaming in the noon-day sun. Two Phoebes sang and hunted from low perches, and another Common Yellowthroat sang – along with the thrumming songs of Green Frogs, and a clacking song that I think may have been Northern Cricket Frogs.

It’s a perfect time of year to be outside, when birds and other wildlife are so active, and was a perfect way to spend a fine Sunday morning.


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