Birding Notes

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eastern Wood-Pewee – A Late Summer Song

This afternoon an Eastern Wood-Pewee’s soft puh-WEE call haunted the edge of the woods around our back yard. It moved from place to place, but I never was able to see the small grayish bird. We have not had a Wood-Pewee around regularly this summer, and I’ve missed them. So at least it’s nice to hear one visiting or passing through, and its shortened, late-summer song reflects a faded, somewhat weary, but still sweet end-of-summer mood.*

For the most part, birds have become pretty quiet. This morning when I stepped outside, at first all I heard were cicadas, grasshoppers and crickets. The sky was clear blue and the sun already high and warm, but not yet hot. Then a trill from a Carolina Wren at the edge of the woods was answered by some burbling notes from another. A Goldfinch flying over called its rolling ti-TEE-ti-ti. A Mourning Dove’s coo echoed through the trees. Several Chipping Sparrows in a grassy area across the street made little high-pitched, ringing calls to each other and flitted from grass to shrub to tree.

A Cardinal peeped, Chickadees chattered, a Titmouse rasped day-day-day, a Red-bellied Woodpecker rattled, a Downy gave a delicate whinny, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher called spee-spee, and a Bluebird called in brief little blurry, warbled blurps. Crow, Blue Jay, Eastern Towhee, House Finch . . . most of the vocal birds these days seem to be common, year-round residents, while most of the neotropical migrants – warblers, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers and others – have fallen quiet, lurking in woods or shrubs or fields – or at least they’re not singing. It may be that I’m missing a lot, and just don’t recognize their less familiar and quieter calls as well as their songs.

Often I do hear a Summer Tanager’s pik-a-tuk call, or catch a glimpse of a Scarlet Tanager in deep yellow with black wings. But not today. The Blue Grosbeak that sang for several weeks in the field has fallen silent, and it’s been a while since I’ve even heard the whreep of a Great-crested Fycatcher, the sharp wheet-sit of an Acadian Flycatcher, the steady whistled song of a Red-eyed Vireo or the raucous cawp of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

But a Red-tailed Hawk screamed overhead, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird zoomed past me and into some bushes. If anything, the Hummingbirds seem even busier and more active than earlier in the summer. Several come and go all day around the feeder and blooming plants on the back deck.

*David Sibley describes this song of an Eastern Wood-Pewee as “short, upslurred (given by migrants).” The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley, page 323.*


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