Some of my best birding lately has come while I’ve been washing breakfast dishes. This morning—a brisk, cloudless one much like yesterday’s—I looked out to see a crow grabbing at a long twig beneath one of the big oaks out there. It yanked and yanked, but the twig was still connected to a good-sized branch, and it couldn’t grapple it free, so it hopped a short distance away. Then another crow appeared and began pulling at the same little branch. Again, no dice. Within a minute, both birds had managed to collect less intractable twigs and, one after another, flew toward me and up over the roof. But what interested me most was the third bird—one that’d been hanging back a bit—that pulled up its own scrap of woody material and quickly followed the first two.
There’s that three-crow mystery again.
And just as the third crow disappeared above me, I spotted a large woodpecker whacking at a dead snag about ten or twelve feet above where the crows had been collecting nesting material. A pileated woodpecker, in full view.
I abandoned my dishes, reached for my camera, and hurried out onto the deck in my robe. A little nippy out, but I must’ve stayed there five or ten minutes waiting for a decent photo op (damn you, intervening branches). At one point, it reared back and called. Thrilling. And what’s more, as I stood out there freezing, I must’ve heard eight, ten, a dozen other species calling: robin, nuthatch, chickadee, house finch, house sparrow, goldfinch, mourning dove, song sparrow, titmouse, cardinal, jay.
Finally the woodpecker scrambled around and out of sight, so I returned to the sink to keep an eye on it. A herring gull flew by. I could barely see the woodpecker’s black back around there—and then, suddenly, I noticed another pileated on the same snag about six or eight feet below the first. I dashed out again to attempt more photos. Couldn’t really get a good shot of the pair together, but as I focused on the first bird—the male—a (male) hairy woodpecker flitted up into my viewfinder. I did manage a photo of the two dissimilar species.
All that early birding made me late to work. A typical Monday, handcuffed to my desk. But finally, about 4 or so, I roused Jack from his nap and we headed out. Did a couple errands in town then drove over to the wooded Beech Hill trail. (Saw a pigeon at the dump on the way.)
Not so many robins right off—but several were poking about farther on, in the sumac grove. These looked to have more faded plumage than the recent large flocks, and I wondered if they could be our resident birds (i.e., not the darker Canadian migrants). Still some fox sparrows up there, too, and I heard a flicker’s cry.
Windy at the summit. No one but us on the hill that I could see—just brown, wind-ruffled fields and a wide blue sky streaked by a scant few wispy clouds. I’d counted four species by then and thought I’d like five, so I cast a glance down over the bay and, sure enough, spotted a dozen or so soaring gulls. Satisfied (and chilled), I convinced Jack to return the way we came.
Took the lower wooded trail, as usual, and realized that we might’ve reached a sort of milestone: more than half the wooded trails were free of snow. Stopped to listen from time to time—robins, chickadees.
Crossing the boardwalk over the little stream, we spooked a bird that’d been foraging in the leaves somewhere. A blackbird. I saw it wasn’t a red-winged and figured it for a grackle—which would’ve been a nice enough sighting—but then it began to call. A call like a squeaky screen door. Chip-chip, squee! Chip, squee! Rusty blackbird, first-of-year.
And in twilight, from my back deck, I heard a robin singing. Not alarm notes, not a series of calls—out-and-out thrush song.
Seems nesting season is upon us, after all.
Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4:30 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.
1. Black-capped chickadee
2. American robin
3. Fox sparrow
4. Northern flicker (voice)
5. Herring gull
6. Rusty blackbird
7. American crow
8. Herring gull
9. Hairy woodpecker
10. Pileated woodpecker
11. White-breasted nuthatch
12. House finch
13. Song sparrow
14. Tufted titmouse
15. House sparrow
16. American goldfinch
17. Mourning dove
18. Northern cardinal
19. Blue jay
20. Rock pigeon