20 May 2024

Archive for July, 2011

Blueberry season

Sunday, July 31st, 2011
High-bush blueberries, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 July 2011.

High-bush blueberries.

Around here, at the end of July, you can wander out in a high field somewhere and snack on blueberries. Dependably.

I’m not sure this could’ve been a more lovely day—unless you don’t like sun, warmth, shade, a breeze, the faint smell of the sea. First bird I heard was a titmouse singing out my bedside window. Then a cardinal. I heard a house finch again—not a song, a series of chip notes from (I’m pretty sure) a youngster. Song sparrows were singing, also. Crows stalked the roadside.

Gray catbird, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 July 2011.

Gray catbird.

Got a lot of Sunday work done, then took off on a bike ride. The kind of ride with no destination. Just a ride. A ride under the sun, against—and with—a fair southerly breeze. A ride through downtown Rockland, then up through downtown Camden, then past Alderemere Farm in Rockport, then home. Heard blue jays, chipping sparrows, goldfinches, waxwings. Saw mourning doves, rock pigeons, crows, gulls, starlings. Ended up drenched in sweat and endorphins.

Then it was time for a quick Beech Hill hike with my dog.

Red-eyed vireos sing a lot. They deliver their ceaseless, rambling, discursive, phrases over and over again. Thousands of times a day. The woods were echoing with the voices of the little birds—but not much else. I did spot a towhee flitting around in the trailside undergrowth. We surprised a catbird, then I watched a pair of them for a while (at least one of them was a juvenile). And I spotted a cedar waxwing in the greenery of the upper wooded trail. In fact, this bird frequented a section very near the area I saw a waxwing yesterday with a blueberry in its beak. And then I found the source of its blueberry—a high-bush blueberry, growing in the shade. You can find several of these along the wooded trails. Their little white, bell-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds in spring, and their plump, hard berries are tasty.

Eastern phoebe, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 July 2011.

Eastern phoebe.

As are the smaller, more delicate low-bush blueberries at the summit. As we approached, I heard the voices of children off the trail a bit and assumed they were snacking. At the hut, a phoebe flitted around. A gull soared overhead.

Just as we began to descend, I heard a single, sharp chip! in some brush and stopped. It turned out to be a chestnut-sided warbler. The only warbler on my list today—though at least four or five species are lurking around up there. As we got back down to a view of the summit, I looked back and spotted a little family apparently picking blueberries off the trail up there, an adult and two kids—no doubt the voices I heard. They didn’t have containers, though. Looked like they were simply snacking.

Before entering the lower woods, I paused to pick a few blueberries of my own—and a couple for Jack. I can’t think of any candy as delectable as a little handful of blueberries, right off the bush, on a sunny, late Sunday afternoon at the end of July.

When we got home, I couldn’t help but notice a large flock of laughing gulls soaring and veering low in the sky above my place. I figure there’d been a fly hatch or something, because it looked like they were feeding, and I’ve seen the go after swarms of flying ants before. I’ll never know of course (although I doubt they were snacking on berries).

And tonight, a minute ago, this side of a very starry sky, a bat is darting back and forth, soundlessly,  in the general direction of where I saw the laughing gulls.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4:45 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

Laughing gull, Glen Cove, Rockport, Maine, 31 July 2011.

Laughing gull.

1. Red-eyed vireo (voice)
2. Gray catbird
3. Eastern towhee
4. American goldfinch (voice)
5. Cedar waxwing
6. American crow (voice)
7. Black-capped chickadee
8. Hermit thrush (voice)
9. Eastern phoebe
10. Song sparrow (voice)
11. Herring gull
12. Chestnut-sided warbler


13. Tufted titmouse
14. Northern cardinal
15. House sparrow
16. House finch
17. Rock pigeon
18. Mourning dove
19. American robin
20. Blue jay
21. Chipping sparrow
22. European starling
23. Laughing gull

Standing still

Saturday, July 30th, 2011
Chestnut-sided warbler, Beech Hill, Maine, 30 July 2011.

Chestnut-sided warbler.

What a beautiful summer Saturday. And what a heap of errands I got done. First breakfast. Then I worked on a font for a couple hours. Then I took a quick bike ride to the post offices. Then I collected two-three months worth of returnable bottles and took ’em to the redemption center. (Got twenty bucks, even.) Then I hit the grocery store. Then Jack accompanied me to the town transfer station, where I unloaded a passel of recyclables. Soon after, we hiked all the Beech Hill trails. And then I mowed the lawn.

Black-capped chickadee, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 July 2011.

Black-capped chickadee.

Not a lot of bird activity to report (in fact, I haven’t heard a singing house finch in several days)—until we hiked the hill.

High blue sky. Lumbering cumulus. Red-eyed vireos calling to each other as we came through the sugar bush. Waxwings overhead, chickadees in the wood, crow in the distance. The usual towhees, goldfinches, yellowthroats. Not until we got about half-way up the hill did things get interesting.

I heard a clear, rapid chip, indicative of a young bird begging for food. Not as rapid as the chestnut-sided warbler juveniles’ voices I’ve come to know only this year, but insistent enough—and near enough—to cause me to stop and peer into the thick trailside tangles. Within a minute or two, the bird appeared: a young redstart. And near it, an adult female scrambling to fill its gaping maw. (I haven’t heard redstarts in a while up there—nor ovenbirds, for even longer—no doubt because of just such a preoccupation with fledglings.) As we stood there, as I attempted a photo through the foliage, a sharp chip! came suddenly from the other side of the trail behind me. I couldn’t help turn to look. A chestnut-sided warbler had popped up to check out the interlopers. It hopped down to a twig not four feet away, in fact—far to near to focus.

Eventually, the chestnut-sided backed off enough to snap a photo or two. Also eventually, a cedar waxwing appeared low in the greenery near the redstarts with a blueberry in its beak. Then a chickadee flitted up to where the warbler had been—in fact, they sat on the same branch for a moment—and beyond it I caught heard, then saw, a little flurry of chippy activity that turned out to be a vireo feeding a couple youngsters of its own. Five species in about three minutes within no more than thirty feet of each other. Score.

Dragonfly, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 July 2011.


Which got me thinking about a pretty basic birding trick: go to a place that looks birdy, then just stop and wait, listen and look, and the birds will come to you. That’s how I’ve taken at least ninety percent of my best bird photos—by just stopping and standing still.

At the summit, I decided to descend the open trail for a change. As a result, I heard the songs of field sparrows, savannah sparrows, and a black-throated green warbler down by Beech Hill Road. Returning, I heard—then saw—three tree swallows fly over. And seconds later, I spotted a hummingbird zipping uphill toward Beech Nut.

Heard no hermit thrush or veery down the lower wooded trail. No pewee, no alder flycatcher. In fact, I heard only vireos down there.

And what a beautiful summer Saturday night. I hear Sunday will be beautiful, too.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4:15 p.m., I hiked all trails.

Sailing, view from Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 July 2011.


1. Red-eyed vireo
2. Cedar waxwing
3. Black-capped chickadee
4. American crow (voice)
5. Eastern towhee (voice)
6. American goldfinch (voice)
7. Common yellowthroat
8. American redstart
9. Gray catbird (voice)
10. Chestnut-sided warbler
11. Song sparrow
12. Eastern phoebe
13. Field sparrow (voice)
14. Savannah sparrow (voice)
15. American robin (voice)
16. Black-throated green warbler (voice)
17. Tree swallow
18. Ruby-throated hummingbird


19. Northern cardinal
20. House sparrow
21. Rock pigeon
22. Mourning dove


Friday, July 29th, 2011
American crow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 July 2011.

American crow.

There was a change in the weather. The morning had a few glimpses of sun, but mostly a gray overcast cloaked this section of planet, and a cool, blustery breeze whipped the limbs around. I heard a cardinal singing, and a song sparrow. Then, at my desk, I quickly got in the Groove, the Zone. (This is unusual for a Friday, but there you go.) Not until about 4:30 did I figure I’d better get on my bicycle—the lowery sky (and the forecast) threatened rain.

Young fern, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 July 2011.

Young fern.

A quick trip, a good trip. Gulls overhead, doves on the utility lines, chipping sparrows singing up in Rockport Village. A cool, damp breeze against my ears. Got home, tied up a few loose ends, grabbed Jack-my-dog, and took a quick drive to Beech Hill.

The air had gone somewhat still. The clouds seemed closer. Deer flies swarmed, but not too annoyingly.

And birds were scarce. Even the ever-present red-eyed vireos (ever-present at this time of year) were less vocal late this afternoon—I caught only snippets of their songs. I heard a distant crow. I heard a solitary goldfinch fly over. I heard the wheep! note of a single towhee. This got me thinking about my main birding method. I’m mostly a bird-listener.

Perhaps I’ve got a discriminating ear, don’t know. But for the thirty-plus years I’ve been birding in Maine, my forays have concentrated on sound. What’s that call? Whose is that song? Is that a bird or a chipmunk? Over the years, I’ve grown familiar with the typical—and even the not-so-typical—vocalizations of our resident species. I listen first, look later. Maybe that’s why I’m so compelled to take photographs of birds: their voices I can remember, whereas their feathers, their colors, the changes in their plumage at various times of year seem particularly precious and beautiful. I know the sound of their wingbeats (some of them), but an actual view of a bird through binoculars seems rare and fleeting. The photos help me remember them visually. They’re harder to see than to hear.

At least to me.

Beech Nut, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 July 2011.

Beech Nut.

And today exemplified this dichotomy. For at this time of year, with vulnerable new fledglings about, you’re far more liable to hear a bird than to see one. E.g., my list today included: an eastern towhee, based on a single bird’s alarm note; a song sparrow, thanks to one individual song; waxwings, based solely on their voices from above. It might also have included a yellowthroat strictly because of a series of two or three chip notes, had I not managed to spot a comely female flitting through the undergrowth on our way back down the hill. I did see a catbird (after first hearing it), crows (after first hearing their caws), and a pair of purple finches (although they were far enough away that their voices are what confirmed the ID). I also saw the Beech Nut phoebe.

So many people hear birds’ voices and think of them as “birds.” Maybe I’ll write a book about how to stop and enjoy their company through use of our ears. It’s something I think I’d like to elaborate on, anyway. It’s a different sort of paying attention. Bird-listening just seems so natural to me.

Tonight, sure enough, it began to rain. Lightly. In fact, the rain in the foliage sounds exactly like a lovely, extended sigh.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 6 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

1. Red-eyed vireo (voice)
2. American robin (voice)
3. American crow
4. American goldfinch (voice)
5. Eastern towhee (voice)
6. Black-capped chickadee (voice)
7. Gray catbird
8. Cedar waxwing (voice)
9. Eastern phoebe
10. Song sparrow (voice)
11. Hermit thrush (voice)
12. Purple finch
13. Common yellowthroat


14. Northern cardinal
15. House sparrow
16. Herring gull
17. Mourning dove
18. Chipping sparrow
19. House finch
20. Golden-crowned kinglet

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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