17 April 2024

Archive for June, 2010

Crazy, lovely day

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
Common yellowthroat (male), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 June 2010.

Common yellowthroat (male).

What a gorgeous day! But strange.

First, just as we were about to step into the pickup, Jack and I, a jay began to call from the oaks out back. I looked up about the time it began to mimic the call of a broad-winged hawk. Expertly. It was indistinguishable. And I was actually watching the jay as it emitted the call. Incredible.

Savannah sparrow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 June 2010.

Savannah sparrow.

Then, when we got to Beech Hill at the same time of morning as we did in the thick fog of yesterday (but conditions sunny, dry, and cool), instead of a red-eyed vireo, the first bird I heard was a crow. Then a chickadee. And a catbird. Not exactly the usual early list.

In fact, despite the lovely weather, my list had only a dozen species on it by the time we reached the top of the upper wooded trail. (Typically, lately, it’s had about twenty species by then.) Very quiet on the trail. Not a lot of insects. And the perhaps the oddest thing was I didn’t hear my first red-eyed vireo until just below Beech Nut. Crazy.

Never did list a phoebe, or a redstart, or a white-throated sparrow. Never did hear a jay. No raven. No Nashville warbler.

Cedar waxwing, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 June 2010.

Cedar waxwing.

But I heard at least three black-billed cuckoos—and spotted one. The first was calling from the big grove of popple on the eastern slope; the second was calling from the woods just north of the Beech Hill Road trail head; the third began calling—an odd, croaky call—as I was sneaking up on the location of a singing field sparrow (the most difficult-to-photograph bird of all up there, in my experience), in a birch along the trail. I turned to look for the cuckoo just as it flew down to the woods just north of the Beech Hill Road trail head. Come to think of it, maybe it was the same bird.

Still, adding twenty-one species after reaching the top of the wooded trail is highly unusual. Typically, I’ll ID more than half the day’s birds coming up that trail. But today there came the strains of a cardinal and titmouse and nuthatch, the appearance of a herring gull and hairy woodpecker, the voices of black-and-white, black-throated green, and black-throated blue warblers. No hawks or fowl today. But what a fine early hike.

Today’s afternoon bicycle ride proved a good workout: a stiff (20-mile-an-hour?) southwest wind made pedaling in one direction really easy, and in the other—excruciatingly hard.

Common yellowthroat (male), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 June 2010.

Common yellowthroat (male).

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 7:15 a.m., I walked all trails.

1. American crow
2. Black-capped chickadee
3. Gray catbird
4. Cedar waxwing
5. Chestnut-sided warbler
6. Common yellowthroat
7. Veery
8. Ovenbird (voice)
9. Eastern towhee
10. American robin
11. American goldfinch (voice)
12. Northern flicker (voice)
13. Mourning dove
14. Herring gull
15. Black-and-white warbler (voice)
16. Yellow warbler
17. Red-eyed vireo (voice)
18. Savannah sparrow
19. Song sparrow
20. Tree swallow
21. Field sparrow
22. Hermit thrush (voice)
23. Purple finch (voice)
24. Tufted titmouse (voice)
25. Black-billed cuckoo
26. Chipping sparrow (voice)
27. Northern cardinal (voice)
28. White-breasted nuthatch (voice)
29. Hairy woodpecker
30. Black-throated green warbler (voice)
31. Herring gull
32. Wood thrush (voice)
33. Black-throated blue warbler (voice)


34. Blue jay
35. American redstart (voice)

Mourning dove, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 June 2010.

Mourning dove atop Beech Nut.

Raven in the fog

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Common yellowthroat (female), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 June 2010.

Common yellowthroat (female).

First glance out the window comfirmed it: thick fog. The muffled moans of the fog whistles hung in the cool, humid air as dog and I headed for Beech Hill.

It promised to be a quiet hike, bird-wise. Or so I thought. First I heard the ever-vocal red-eyed vireo, and then the ovenbird, commonplace. And that was all for a good hundred yards—coincidentally, about as far as you could see in the fog. But coming up the drippy upper wooded trail, I began to hear the other resident species: towhee, catbird, chestnut-sided warbler, yellowthroat, waxwing. A rose-breasted grosbeak’s squeak-toy alarm note sounded from the canopy. A robin’s tut-tut-tut came from somewhere in the dim soft light amid the trees.

Trail head, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 June 2010.

Trail head.

Then through the understory came the eerie, human-like cry of a raven. A young bird, I’m guessing. A single note. Plaintive. Loud. Like a falsetto wail in the middle distance, All else was quiet but for the echoing song of a solitary chestnut-sided warbler and the sound of droplets falling from tree leaves. I felt a crazy sort of déja vù—as if I’d stepped into a fairy tale first told a thousand years ago. Jack and I stopped and listened. The raven called. And called. And called again.

By the time we reached the summit, my jeans were soaked from the knee down, and I’d counted only fourteen bird species, including the raven. Only a female yellowthroat came near enough to photograph. As we approached Beech Nut, it near-about seemed invisible in the fog.

Common yellowthroat (female), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 June 2010.

Common yellowthroat (female).

But then came the voices of tree swallow, alder flycatcher, savannah sparrow, black-and-white warbler (that odd, late-season call), and wood thrush. Mourning dove and phoebe at the summit. And coming down the open trail, a number of other songs and calls. Oddly, I didn’t hear a crow until late in our hike. But perhaps my most interesting sighting was a northern flicker.

A couple days ago my bird-identification skills were challenged when an expert birding friend pointed out I’d misidentified a purple finch as a house finch. I took it hard. But today, I recaptured my confidence with the flicker ID. I’d first detected it at the end of the upper trail on our ascent. I didn’t see it—I simply heard wingbeats, barely whistling, but coming in two flurries, with a pause between. Given the wooded locale, the slight whistle, and the suggestion of undulating flight, at once I figured it for a flicker. But I didn’t see it. I couldn’t count it.

Gray catbird, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 June 2010.

Gray catbird.

On coming back over the hill and into the junction of the upper and lower wooded trails, we startled a bird in the path itself, which fluttered away, flying swift and low. All I could tell was that it was mostly brown and seemed to be a medium-sized perching bird. Right away I thought of the flicker. So we walked slowly and quietly several yards along the upper trail—and, sure enough, before we’d gone twenty or thirty feet, a bird took off from the ground, in undulating flight, flashing a white rump.

“Flicker,” I said to myself. “Thirty-one.”

Then we returned to the junction and took the lower trail, as is our routine. Heard the familiar vireo that hangs around up there, and a distant black-throated green warbler. And about half-way down, as we approached the big oak grove, again, the raven. Like a falsetto human cry. Spooky. Timeless. The sort of memorable sound that’s put plenty of people in a state of awe over the millennia. Both Jack and I stopped and our ears perked up. Then we also heard the croak of an adult raven. And the pair of them must have detected us, because all I saw was a flurry of big black wings in the canopy, and then the raven calls faded in volume as the birds moved away in a northeasterly direction.

Savannah sparrow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 June 2010.

Savannah sparrow.

Nearing the parking lot, we heard the voices of blue jays—at least one parent, at least one fledgling. Smaller birds were chipping all over the place in an effort to drive them away.

On our way home, I spotted a hawk on a power line and stopped my truck and grabbed my camera and stepped out for a photo. The hawk had flown. Back at Glen Cove some time later, I heard the distinctive trill of a pine warbler coming from up the hill. In early afternoon, I heard a gang of crows cawing at a hawk or owl or other predator up where the pine warbler had been. And during my afternoon bicycle ride, I watched a red-winged blackbird chase a pair of crows.

Finally, in lingering gray daylight, I heard the call of a titmouse: peer, peer, peer!

Black-and-white warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 June 2010.

Black-and-white warbler.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 7:15 a.m., I walked all trails.

1. Red-eyed vireo (voice)
2. Ovenbird (voice)
3. Chestnut-sided warbler
4. Cedar waxwing
5. Common yellowthroat
6. Rose-breasted grosbeak
7. American robin
8. American redstart (voice)
9. Black-capped chickadee
10. Veery
11. Common raven (voice)
12. Eastern towhee
13. Gray catbird
14. American goldfinch
15. Tree swallow
16. Alder flycatcher (voice)
17. Savannah sparrow
18. Black-and-white warbler
19. Mourning dove
20. Eastern phoebe
21. Field sparrow (voice)
22. Wood thrush (voice)
23. Song sparrow
24. Yellow warbler (voice)
25. Nashville warbler (voice)
26. Hermit thrush (voice)
27. White-throated sparrow (voice)
28. Chipping sparrow (voice)
29. White-breasted nuthatch (voice)
30. American crow (voice)
31. Northern flicker
32. Black-throated green warbler (voice)
33. Blue jay


34. House sparrow (voice)
35. Unidentified buteo
36. Pine warbler (voice)
37. Herring gull
38. House finch (voice)
29. Red-winged blackbird (voice)
39. Tufted titmouse (voice)

Fog, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 June 2010.


Ode to swallows

Monday, June 28th, 2010
Beech Hill fields, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Beech Hill fields.

Tree swallows are the best flyers. I’ve been saying that for years, ever since I planted a bluebird box on an island in the water-filled limestone quarry my old house overlooked, and swallows took up residence right away. They nested there every year I lived at that house. I loved to watch them fly. They’d zip and veer and skim the pond’s surface and fly straight up and hang there for a second and then pull in their wings and plummet in a jaw-dropping dive, only to pull out at the last minute and zig-zag away again. Even the fledglings were amazingly adept flyers. Like graceful athletes, or dancers on the wing.

Tree swallow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Tree swallow.

As it happens, tree swallows have also nested in at least a couple of the bluebird boxes standing in the open Beech Hill fields. For the past couple weeks, I’ve heard their liquid, burbling notes, have watched them sweep and slide and skim low above the tall grasses on the summit, hunting flies. And I’ve thought, Man, it’d be so great to get a photo of these birds doing what they do so well. But after a couple attempts, I realized it was useless. They fly too fast, I can focus or follow or snap the shutter in time.

But today—as swallows dipped and zipped around me—I had an idea: just focus on the corner of Beech Nut, and wait for a swallow to shoot by at about that distance, and fire off a flurry of photos. So I did this. Over and over. Did I get anything work looking at? Well, I guess I’ll let you be the judge.

Tree swallow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Tree swallow.

Elsewise, an interesting, different, unorthodox day. Steady rain was falling at dawn, so dog and I didn’t take our usual early Beech Hill hike; we went in early afternoon instead. The rain had stopped, fog cloaked the bay and inland hills. Despite fairly cool temperatures, humidity combined with exercise to make for volumes of perspiration. And whereas the birding started slow, it picked up. Thirty-one species by the time Jack and I arrived back at the pickup. Including all five resident sparrows, two of three thrushes, and quite a few warblers again.

Tree swallow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Tree swallow.

But the most interesting revelation came as we started back down the wooded trail just as a purple finch began to sing, loudly, from a nearby treetop. As it sang, I heard the single call of an alder flycatcher coming from the same direction. That’s it. Just a single alder flycatcher’s call—all jumbled in among the purple finch’s warbling. I hadn’t heard an alder flycatcher, and it was tempting to count this one call, but it just seemed a little fishy. So we continued down the trail, which wound around the tree this finch was singing from. Just as we got below it, I heard the single call of an eastern phoebe. Coming from the same direction. Just one call. That’s all. I didn’t dare count the phoebe.

Could a purple finch be a mimic? I’d never heard of such a thing—but on doing a web search for the possibility later, I discovered that, yeah, they’re known to be copycats. Wow. So this particular bird liked to imitate flycatching birds. Weird.

Flowers are everywhere, but I don’t know the names of plants. I did take photos of some lilies, though—I’m pretty sure they’re lilies—and the eastern fields were damp and green. The realm of swallows.

Eastern towhee, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Eastern towhee.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 1:15 p.m., I walked all trails.

1. Red-eyed vireo (voice)
2. Cedar waxwing (voice)
3. Chestnut-sided warbler
4. Common yellowthroat
5. American robin
6. Hairy woodpecker
7. Rose-breasted grosbeak (voice)
8. Black-capped chickadee
9. Veery
10. Ovenbird (voice)
11. Eastern towhee
12. Gray catbird
13. American goldfinch
14. Yellow warbler
15. Mourning dove
16. Northern flicker
17. American crow
18. Tree swallow
19. Black-and-white warbler (voice)
20. Field sparrow
21. Savannah sparrow
22. Herring gull
23. Chipping sparrow (voice)
24. White-throated sparrow (voice)
25. American redstart (voice)
26. Song sparrow
27. Nashville warbler (voice)
28. Purple finch (voice)
29. Hermit thrush (voice)
30. Black-throated blue warbler (voice)
31. Black-throated green warbler (voice)


32. House sparrow

Lilies, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.


Bird Report is a (sometimes intermittent) record of the birds I encounter while hiking, see while driving, or spy outside my window. —Brian Willson

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