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