14 April 2024

Archive for April, 2011

Big ol’ day

Saturday, April 30th, 2011
Ruby-crowned kinglet, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 April 2011.

Ruby-crowned kinglet.

In the course of a year—at least in my experience—only a handful of days will really get a diehard birder’s heart a-pumping. Well, today was one of those days.

Rose early, dressed quickly, got Jack’s leash on him, and headed out into a cool, mostly cloudy morning. On the way out I noticed that the phoebes were still hanging around, so I suppose it’s possible they’ll tend the nest they’ve built above one of the windows on the back of my place. That’d be nice, if so.

Yellow-rumped warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 April 2011.

Yellow-rumped warbler.

As we piled into the pickup, I heard the resident house finch singing. Then, driving up Powerhouse Hill, I spotted a black-backed gull dining on roadkill—a big lump of an animal, in fact, that looked to be a beaver. A few robins and mourning doves flitted out of our way as we motored along South Street. We pulled into the parking lot at right about 6:30.

And as soon as I got out of the truck, I knew I was in for a good one: two ovenbirds were calling, and a black-throated green warbler, and a hermit thrush, a chickadee, and a chestnut-sided warbler—three of those five being first-of-year species. In my first dozen steps or so, I added to that list a white-breasted nuthatch, a phoebe, a Nashville warbler (first-of-year bird), a white-throat, a towhee, a goldfinch, and a robin. And before we reached the first turn, I heard the cries of a herring gull, the caws of a crow, and the chips of a yellow-rump.


We climbed the upper wooded trail—the best spring birding trail on the hill, I’ve found—and heard the rattling of a flicker and the mews of a catbird (first-of-year). Then I caught wind of a rollicking, unfamiliar song. It sounded almost like a Carolina wren. I thought about leaving the trail to chase it down, but the swarms of black flies around my head reminded me that ticks would certainly be awaiting us off in the tall grass and brush. Besides, I got distracted by the sibilant wind-up call of a black-and-white warbler (FOY) coming from ahead of us and thought maybe I could track that down instead.

Palm warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 April 2011.

Palm warbler.

Didn’t manage to find the black-and-white, but the unfamiliar call seemed to be following us up the trail. Or perhaps these were other individuals of the same species. I kept my ears peeled.

Then we stumbled into a big, moving flock of white-throats. They were calling and singing and scratching all around us—must’ve been a score of them, at least—but they’re so adept at keeping low and hidden that, try as I might, I never managed a decent photo. However, I did hear the call of a pileated woodpecker and the song of a purple finch.

Suddenly, coming around a curve through low, tangled, leafing-out foliage, I heard the unfamiliar song very nearby. We stopped. And a small plain bird flitted into some brushy growth directly in front of us. I recognized it right away as a ruby-crowned kinglet. (So that’s what their song sounded like! I won’t soon forget it.) I nearly got a great photo, even, but my focus was off.

Entering the upper fields, I heard field sparrows and the witchety-witchety-witchety! of a yellowthroat. Then the burbles of tree swallows. There were four swallows—the most expert flyers of all—chasing about in the spring air.

Chipping sparrow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 April 2011.

Chipping sparrow.

A few blackbirds flew over. Then a solitary kestrel. And then we came upon the yell0w-rumps.

There must’ve been a hundred yellow-rumped warblers dashing about the edges of the trees beneath the eastern side of the hill. Singing, flashing their yellow sides and crests and butts, diving into the brush, darting up into low limbs. We stood for a good while just watching their antic behavior. I heard a sort of rattling song then and noticed that a few palm warblers were mixed in with the ‘rumps. And while I was watching them all, to my surprise, the riveting squeal of a cowbird came from the crown of a tree directly above us.

Heard a hairy woodpecker, heard a blue jay, heard (then saw) song sparrows. Coming up over the hill, I thrilled to the sound of three of four dueling savannah sparrows, each singing loud (or as loud as they can) and declaratively. The little males’ yellow eyebrows really pop out during breeding season.

Field sparrow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 April 2011.

Field sparrow.

Several field sparrows were singing and flying around down along the open trail. Also a chipping sparrow’s rapid-fire call was coming from the same tall spruce it claimed last year. (I feel sure it’s the same bird). Saw other chippies, also, and heard a titmouse, a robin, and another black-throated green.

After having compiled such a long list already, I couldn’t imagine adding a single other species—but coming back up and over, I heard the telltale, disjointed phrases of a blue-headed vireo (FOY). Soon the hill will ring with the calls of red-eyed vireos, but the early bird is the blue-headed. I won’t hear them very often later in the season, so I plan to enjoy their music while I can.

In all, we spent more than two hours on the hill this morning, Jack and I. We got back home before 9. Elsewhere, I spotted cormorant, vulture, pigeon, starling. And last I checked, the phoebes were still flitting around out back.

Mental note: get up at 6 tomorrow and have another memorable early morning hike up Beech Hill.

Savannah sparrow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 April 2011.

Savannah sparrow.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 6:30 a.m., I hiked all trails.

1. Ovenbird (voice)
2. Black-throated green warbler
3. Hermit thrush
4. Black-capped chickadee
5. Chestnut-sided warbler (voice)
6. White-breasted nuthatch
7. Eastern phoebe
8. Nashville warbler (voice)
9. White-throated sparrow
10. Eastern towhee
11. American goldfinch
12. American robin
13. Herring gull (voice)
14. American crow
15. Yellow-rumped warbler
16. Northern flicker
17. Gray catbird (voice)
18. Ruby-crowned kinglet
19. Black-and-white warbler (voice)
20. Pileated woodpecker (voice)
21. Purple finch (voice)
22. Field sparrow
23. Common yellowthroat
24. Tree swallow
25. Red-winged blackbird
26. American kestrel
27. Palm warbler
28. Brown-headed cowbird
29. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
30. Blue jay (voice)
31. Song sparrow
32. Savannah sparrow
33. Tufted titmouse (voice)
34. Chipping sparrow
35. Blue-headed vireo (voice)

Hermit thrush, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 April 2011.

Hermit thrush.


36. House finch
37. Greater black-backed gull
38. Mourning dove
39. Double-crested cormorant
40. Turkey vulture
41. Rock pigeon
42. European starling

Black flies

Friday, April 29th, 2011
Hermit thrush, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 April 2011.

Hermit thrush.

Sunshine came softly through my window today.—”Sunshine Superman” (Donovan)

I awoke at about 6 or so but didn’t manage to roll out of bed. When I did manage to roll out of bed, sunlight was already angling through the blinds. After yesterday’s weather front, I imagined this morning’s Beech Hill bird activity was impressive—but all I saw were crows and gulls and an osprey (screaming out its territorial call above Clam Cove), and of course I heard the ever-present house finch. Then, out the back glass door, I heard the abrupt song of a phoebe coming from very nearby. I grabbed my camera and looked out for the bird, but I didn’t manage to see it until it flew from one of the railing posts of the deck. Phoebes were considering the back of my place as a potential nesting site, it seemed to me.

Eastern ribbon snake, Glen Cove, Rockport, Maine, 29 April 2011.

Eastern ribbon snake.

Later in morning, I heard the calling phoebe out there again—and actually spotted it. And took its photo.

The day—a partly cloudy one—warmed up to 60 degrees (F) and beyond. By early afternoon, I couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer. I pulled on my bicycle attire and headed out. Warm, a little windy, lovely. The wind was southerly, so the trip to town took a little effort. (Rock pigeons chasing around the business block.) But coming back north toward Rockport Village was a breeze—I don’t believe I’ve ever traveled so fast down the Route 1 hill to Pascal Avenue, and in fact I even got a “Woo-hoo!” cry from a motorcylist coming the other way.

Returning south, though, took a little effort. I did hear two or three chipping sparrows calling along the way.

As I pulled into my driveway, I had to veer around a good-sized ribbon snake crossing the parking lot. Kept my eye on the snake—it wasn’t going anywhere, for some reason—as I changed clothes inside, dashed upstairs, and grabbed my camera. Of course when I got back, it was gone. But I found it in the daffodil bed, looking for a hole in the rock wall. I snapped off a couple photos of it testing the air with its remarkably red tongue.

Yellow-rumped warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 April 2011.

Yellow-rumped warbler.

Then my friend Gus dropped by. We had a nice chat. Jack loves Gus.

On the back deck, late in the day, I surprised the phoebes. One was standing guard, apparently, as the other suddenly appeared with a mouthful of nesting material. Watched it hover for a moment at the top edge of a back window, where I saw about half a phoebe’s nest had already been constructed. But then it flew off. I hope Jack and I didn’t scare the birds away.

The sunshine persisted until after four, when my friend Liz dropped by to accompany Jack and me on our Beech Hill hike. We headed over at right about 5. First bird? A white-breasted nuthatch, whose faint beeps descended from the upper reaches of some maples. The air was too warm for my insulated overshirt, but when the black flies appeared, I didn’t much mind. Black flies usually arrive a little earlier, I think, but the dismally rainy month so far has kept them back. Still—whereas most might decry these little biting insects and the insufferable itch they cause—I like them for the fact that they’re food for warblers.

Tree swallows, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 April 2011.

Tree swallows.

Coming through the sugarbush, we heard a couple of goldfinches—then saw one singing from the tip of a maple tree. Soon after, I spotted a silent thrush pop up into a low branch. A hermit thrush. Lovely brown bird.

On up the hill we heard gulls, robins, many towhees, and even the quacks of a mallard flying over. Chickadees, of course. A crow. A mourning dove.

And then came the yell0w-rumps. This was Liz’s first experience with yell0w-rumped warblers, which was fun to see. And they persisted, the yell0w-rumps. Their chips were incessant; they were flitted about everywhere. We heard a flicker calling in the distance. (And, later, another.)

Song sparrows singing from the open fields. A phoebe sighting. And then the tseet! note of a white-throated sparrow. Then another. Suddenly, at the upper juncture of the wooded trails, the white-throats began to sing. Two of them together, in fact, with slightly different phrasing. I never did see one, but we heard them scratching all over the place in last fall’s leaves.

We also saw a pair of tree swallows engaging in what I imagine to be some kind of aerial mating dance. It’s nearly impossible to capture a photo of swallows in flight. (At least in my experience.)

Earlier this evening, I heard some cardinals chipping about out back. I saw no trace of the phoebes, though. Nor even the nuthatches nesting (I presume) in the hole in the limb of the big overhanging oak.

Eastern phoebe, Glen Cove, Rockport, Maine, 29 April 2011.

Eastern phoebe.

Still, I’m not worried or anything.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5 p.m., I hiked the upper wooded trail.

1. White-breasted nuthatch (voice)
2. American goldfinch
3. Hermit thrush
4. Herring gull (voice)
5. American robin (voice)
6. Eastern towhee (voice)
7. Mallard (voice)
8. Black-capped chickadee
9. American crow (voice)
10. Purple finch (voice)
11. Mourning dove (voice)
12. Yellow-rumped warbler
13. Northern flicker (voice)
14. Song sparrow
15. Tree swallow
16. Eastern phoebe
17. White-throated sparrow


18. House finch
19. Osprey
20. Rock pigeon
21. Chipping sparrow
22. Pileated woodpecker
23. Northern cardinal

Rain is a good thing

Thursday, April 28th, 2011
Yellow-rumped warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 April 2011.

Yellow-rumped warbler.

It’s been the dreariest April in a while. Three straight overcast, rainy, foggy days. Not that I mind the rain and fog—I rather like it, in fact. OK, I guess I did call it dreary. Probably should’ve just described it as “the least sunny April in a while.”

Crows are always here. (And I do love crows. Check this impressive photo gallery.) Also the ever-present house finch.

Chipmunk, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 April 2011.


The water heater stopped working this morning, and that little unexpected fix-it project took a little time. Especially since I couldn’t fix it and had to call for service. But I can do without a hot shower for a day or two, no problem.

Somewhat drizzly at first, but then things dried up before a little thundershower blew through. After that happened, dog and I made our usual round of errands. Gulls in town.

By the time we arrived at the wooded Beech Hill trail, the wind had grown strong. Not a thin, harsh, sharp, cold wind—a big, stout, hard-blowing, voluptuous, warmish wind that roared in the little red-blooming crowns of the maple trees. I wouldn’t be identifying many birds from their distant calls, I figured. Then, as we rounded the little turn by the stream, I happened to spot a turkey sneaking off into the brush. Oddly, Jack didn’t see it and wondered why we’d stopped (astonishingly). An interesting first bird sighting.

When we turned left onto the upper trail, I did hear the voices of herring gulls over by the little cow farm. Gulls voices will carry in a wild wind.

Coming up through the sumac, I heard the chips of yell0w-rumped warblers close by. Then saw ’em, a half dozen or so. And I learned something interesting: among the chips were tiny peeps—chickadee-sounding peeps, but they didn’t come from chickadees. They came from among the yell0w-rumps. (I spent a lot of time making sure.) It seems yellow-rumped warblers have a subtle little alternative chip-note that’s far sweeter than their harsh, distinctive chip! Never knew that before.

Old stone wall, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 April 2011.

Old stone wall.

I really didn’t need my hooded sweatshirt, that’s for sure. The big, moving air was warm. A towhee called from somewhere up the hill. At the foggy upper fields, a song sparrow’s voice rang out, and I heard the tseet! of a white-throated sparrow. Didn’t see a phoebe at Beech Nut—but we’d barely started back down when one flitted across the trail down in front of us.

And then it began to rain. Kind of a hard rain.

And then I heard some rolling thunder.

We picked up our pace down the lower wooded trail, splashing in the muddy spots, flushing no grouse or woodcock. (No birds at all down there.) We made the whole trip, up and down, in just 45 minutes.

Driving back, I saw a mourning dove on a power line and a little flock of blue jays fly over. At home, I heard a little thunder in the distance and the slight intimate murmings of a pair of nuthatches nearby.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

1. Wild turkey
2. Herring gull (voice)
3. Yellow-rumped warbler
4. Eastern towhee (voice)
5. Song sparrow
6. White-throated sparrow
7. Eastern phoebe


8. American crow
9. House finch
10. Mourning dove
11. Blue jay
12. White-breasted nuthatch

Beech Nut, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 April 2011.

Beech Nut.

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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