Birding Notes

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

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Summer Morning – Songs of Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo

My walk this morning was a reminder that even in the heat and slower pace of mid-summer, there’s still a lot going on. Often there are stretches of quiet, during which I’m likely to get lost in thought and forget to listen or look around – but even then, there’s almost always something interesting if I just pay attention enough.

As I stepped outside this morning about 8:00, the first thing I heard was the clear, close song of a Red-eyed Vireo, singing in a small wooded area near the house. It sang a little more slowly than earlier in the season, with less urgency and more as if with pleasure – maybe. The sky was a soft, fresh-washed blue, with high white clouds, and a few cicadas had begun to hum and whine. All the usual suspects were chattering around the yard – Goldfinch, Chipping Sparrow, Cardinal, Titmouse, Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker – and from the woods in the back, I could hear the calls of a Hairy Woodpecker and an Acadian Flycatcher. In the woods across the street, a Scarlet Tanager sang and sang, as it has been doing tirelessly for many days now.

At the entrance to our cul de sac, a Mockingbird and a Towhee perched in the top branches of two tall, thick cedar trees. The Towhee whistled a rich To-WHEE. The Mockingbird preened and mumbled slow and half-hearted phrases, not really into it yet. To my right, from a densely-shaded wooded area that slopes down to a creek, came the flute-like notes of a Wood Thrush, and the dry, cowp-cowp-cowp-cowp of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

On down the street, a dozen or more Chimney Swifts twittered overhead. Several Bluebirds and Chipping Sparrows flew across the road, hunted in the grass, perched in the tops of some trees, and flew from mailboxes to bushes. A Brown Thrasher hopped across the road in front of me, then flew low across the grass of a yard. A Phoebe hunted from a low branch. Goldfinches called potato-chip as they flew over. A few Robins foraged in the grass here and there, and at least one Robin was singing, and I heard the cheery song of a House Wren. We don’t seem to have as many House Wrens in the neighborhood this year as last year, but I’ve heard them singing in three different spots along my usual walk.

A Red-tailed Hawk screamed, and flew rather low over the trees, chased by several Common Grackles. In all, spread out in a loose flock, there were at least 40 Grackles, and it surprised me to see so many of them together at this time of year here, but it’s probably not unusual. Just something I haven’t noticed.

As I came out from under a shady tunnel of branches formed by several tall pecan trees on both sides of one stretch of the road, a Gray Catbird flew across the road in front of me and perched only a few feet away, in a crape myrtle full of big pink blooms. I stopped to watch it for a few minutes, because I’ve heard its calls several times recently, but this was the first time I’d seen it.

A second Wood Thrush was singing near the pond as I got closer to the entrance to our subdivision. About that time, I also could hear the high, baroque notes of a Blue Grosbeak coming from the thickets ahead – but when I got up to the road along the Old Field, it had stopped singing or moved away to some other part of its territory, and I couldn’t find it.

Instead, there was an Indigo Bunting singing brightly from a perch on the end of a waving tendril of a kudzu vine in the top of a chinaberry tree. The vine looked too slender to hold up a bird, but the little bunting perched there with ease, very bright and blue in the early morning sunlight, singing and singing, sweet-sweet, chew-chew, sweet-sweet.

A White-eyed Vireo also sang, and at the north end of the field, an immature Red-tailed Hawk perched on a kudzu-covered utility pole near a small billboard, hunched over, with mottled brown feathers fluffed out roughly. Mockingbirds were the most active birds along the edges of the field, but there also were Cardinals, House Finches, Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Phoebes, Downy Woodpeckers, Goldfinches, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Mourning Doves, and Brown-headed Cowbirds – a few up on the wires or poles, but mostly out of sight in the tangle of trees and weedy shrubs and grasses. Just as I was about to turn back down the road into our neighborhood, I realized that I was hearing the chet-chet-chet-chet-chet of a Yellow-breasted Chat singing from somewhere out in the middle of the field, well hidden in the thickets and vines.

On my way home, for the first time in several weeks (finally working back up to it as the injury in my foot has healed), I walked up and down the hills on the road that makes a circle back to our street and – as I had hoped – saw two Barn Swallows sweeping over the open expanse of a large grassy area. I think I could stand for hours and just watch the way they fly, with glistening blue-black wings and back catching the light, brick-orange breasts and deeply forked swallow-tails, they swoop and soar and turn and sail as if for pure joy.

Finally, passing through a low area with woods and a creek along one side, I heard the squeaky calls of a couple of Brown-headed Nuthatches, the twitter of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird zooming over my head, and then – one of the best parts of the walk coming at the end – the calls of not one, but two Yellow-billed Cuckoos very nearby in the trees – ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-COW-cowp-cowp-cowp-cowp.


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