Birding Notes

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

Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Hour

As I was walking past a window overlooking the birdbath in our front yard this afternoon about 4:00, I saw two Bluebirds down in the water taking a bath. By the time I’d gotten my binoculars, they were gone, of course, but in less than a minute one of them, an unusually bright-colored female, came back and got right back down in the leaf-spotted water for a long, full, energetic dip. She stayed for several minutes, repeatedly fluttering her wings. Four or five other small birds tried to approach, but she discouraged them and wouldn’t give up her place. Although her head and back were a subdued blue-gray, parts of her wings and tail were bright blue, her breast and flanks were rich rusty-orange, and white eye-rings gave her a wide-eyed, fresh and eager look. I was especially happy to see her because Bluebirds have been conspicuously absent from our yard since late August.

After several small birds had tried and failed to join her or take her place, a big Red-bellied Woodpecker flew to the edge of the bath and stayed to take several sips of water, undeterred by her feints at him, then it hopped up and into the water, sending the Bluebird flying away in a splash. The Red-bellied Woodpecker then repeated the same performance, dipping down low in the water, ruffling his feathers and fluttering his wings over and over to soak his feathers all over.

He took his time for a leisurely wash, and it wasn’t until he flew up to a branch to shake off and preen that a Phoebe came and perched on the edge watchfully, for several delicate sips of water. When a Blue Jay swooped down with a noisy flourish for a drink, the Phoebe flew away, but as soon as the Blue Jay was gone, the Phoebe returned for several more sips. Then a squirrel hopped up and curled awkwardly over the edge for a long drink, and when it was gone, two Carolina Chickadees came together to drink, followed by two Brown-headed Nuthatches, which always cling to the trunk of the water oak beside the birdbath first, and then flit down to the edge to dip their bills into the water and tip their heads back to swallow.

Meanwhile, the Chickadees, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice and a Downy Woodpecker were busy going from one feeder to another, and a pair of Cardinals fed on the ground and visited the other birdbath to drink. A Pine Warbler sang from the edge of the woods, about a half-dozen Chimney Swifts circled overhead, and a Northern Flicker called Kleer!

Happy Hour was about to come to a close when I saw a small bird foraging among the speckled and faded water oak leaves, and it turned out to be a female Bay-breasted Warbler. Several Bay-breasted Warblers have stayed around this week – and I’ve seen a number of other reports of them, so maybe it’s a good year for Bay-breasted Warblers – but all the others I’ve seen so far have been males. This one, with intensely green-yellow head, face and back, a very faint streak through the eye, and a pattern of muted streaks on the back, looked feminine and pretty. Her throat was white, her breast and flanks pale yellow, with soft streaks on the flanks and no hint of the reddish-brown coloring on the males. She had two bright white wing bars, with a white belly, and the typical sturdy Bay-breasted shape and way of moving.

I think I’ve seen more Bay-breasted Warblers this fall than ever before, and have enjoyed several really nice close-up looks at them, and feel as if I’m much more familiar with them now – instead of just catching brief, passing sightings.


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