20 May 2024

Archive for March, 2012


Saturday, March 31st, 2012
Leaflets, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 March 2012.


“Whispering while you cuddle near me, whispering so no one can hear me…”

On this calm, still, partly cloudy day, my dog and I stopped at a turn on the Beech Hill trail to listen to something. We both heard it—a soft scraping sound in the depths of a clump of brush. And above the scraping, I could hear the very faint song of a song sparrow. The song was so faint, in fact, that I moved a few paces back to see if I could triangulate its source. What I discovered is that its source was the same source as the soft scraping sound in the brush. The song sparrow, not eight or ten feet from us, might as well have been whispering.

Oak grove, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 March 2012.

Oak grove.

I’d heard birds sing very quietly before, but typically they whisper only a few notes—a partial song, not a full score. This bird was murmuring a full-fledged song sparrow melody. Chimes, trills, the whole deal. So faintly, it was nearly inaudible.

As we continued along the trail, it occurred to me that I do the same thing as I hike, whisper out a few bars of whatever song I might’ve heard last, breathing the notes in time with my footsteps. The other day (inexplicably) it was “Funeral March of a Marionette.” Yesterday it was Johnny Horton’s “Honkey Tonk Man.” Today I’m not sure what it was—some crazy combination of “Yankee Doodle” and “Camptown Races,” I think.

Then again, it’s a good time of year for it. Stuff is happening, magic is going on, new birds will be arriving, change is afoot. Love is in the air.

I guess that’s plenty to whisper about.

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

1. House finch (voice)
2. American crow (voice)
3. American robin
4. Song sparrow (voice)
5. Herring gull (voice)
6. Black-capped chickadee (voice)
7. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
8. Pileated woodpecker (voice)


9. House sparrow
10. Tufted titmouse
11. Northern cardinal
12. Mallard
13. Mourning dove

Opposite day

Friday, March 30th, 2012
Northern harrier (male), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 March 2012.

Northern harrier (male).

I crossed paths with no chickadees today. Weird. And otherwise, the day was kind of weird, too. Kind of the opposite from yesterday. Clear, windy, dry (as opposed to overcast, still, and wet). The house sparrow was singing across the road, not the house finch. And at Beech Hill this afternoon, the first bird I saw—i.e., not one of the last—was a brown creeper. It was creeping up the wide sunny trunk of a gigantic maple near the brook. Would’ve been a great photo, but I couldn’t focus in time.

Harrier riding the wind, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 30 March 2012.

Harrier riding the wind.

Only a third as many species on the hill today as yesterday. But I saw them all (as opposed to only hearing many). Aircraft were flying over: what appeared to be a Coast Guard helicopter, a small plane, a jetliner. As we neared the summit, I’d been distracted by the helicopter and nearly missed the handsome male harrier riding the wind low down the western slope. It must’ve seen us, though, because it headed straight away to the north, windward. It veered and swooped and teetered in the fast-moving air. And just as I finished snapping off a few distant photos of the male, I spotted a female down the same slope, but it headed quickly southward—exactly the opposite direction as the male–and dipped down over the hill. I wonder what that was all about.

A few clouds that had crept in moved away as night fell. A woodcock sounded from across the road, and I could hear it’s call get louder and softer as it turned in a circle while calling. At the crest of the hill hung Jupiter, above it Venus, above that the waxing moon, and Mars overhead.

I was happy to hear the woodcock. Love those little guys.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Brown creeper
2. American crow
3. American robin
4. Northern harrier
5. Eastern phoebe


6. Tufted titmouse
7. Northern cardinal
8. House sparrow
9. Herring gull
10. Rock pigeon
11. Song sparrow
12. American woodcock

Hearing things

Thursday, March 29th, 2012
Brown creeper, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 March 2012.

Brown creeper.

Lord knows I’d hate to lose my sense of sight. Mainly because it’d make it tough to get around—and see what I was typing. But I honestly don’t know what I’d do without my sense of hearing.

White-breasted nuthatch, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 March 2012.

White-breasted nuthatch.

I suppose I’m more aware of the sounds around me now that it’s spring. Titmice, chickadees, crows, cardinal, house finch—all these were piping up this chilly morning, as tiny snowflakes wafted slowly around in the still air. But mostly I heard humdrum indoor sounds until late in the day, when Jack and I slipped out for a hike.

As soon as we hopped out of the pickup at the wooded Beech Hill trailhead, I heard a house finch singing along the roadside. Its not something I usually hear there, so it was a nice surprise. We hadn’t gone a dozen paces when I heard a subtle peep! and spotted a tail-wagging phoebe near the kiosk. Likely there’ll be another active nest there again this year. Then off in the dripping trees I heard chickadees. Then a crow. Around a couple of turns, I spied two robins flitting in the understory. Then heard a herring gull’s cry and found the bird sailing above the canopy.

Not much else on our way up—a couple more crows and chickadees in the distance, and the close-by sounds of our footfalls on the soggy forest floor.

A little trace of snow remained at the summit. A look around revealed that some of it had collected on the higher ground. We stopped to breathe and look and feel then began our descent through the trees.

Spruce cones, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 March 2012.

Spruce cones.

A minute or two down the lower wooded trail, I heard a faint sound, and we stopped. Not chickadees. Possibly kinglets. I looked and listened. More faint peeps. Echoing sounds of water falling from the trees. Crows somewhere. I saw movement. Two tiny birds flitting high in a young maple. At that moment I heard the three-note confirmation: golden-crowned kinglets. I also heard the sudden spring song of a brown creeper beyond. And the rattle of a hairy woodpecker farther down the wooded hillside. The distant gobble of a turkey. A goldfinch in singing flight in the gray sky.

This was The Moment, by the way. Just standing in the woods, listening.

Eventually, we began to walk again. I saw a pair of creepers shinnying up tree trunks. A bit farther down, I heard what sounded like the syncopated barking of a dog. Well, I knew what that was, so we stopped again. And it hooted again, the barred owl. And a flicker cried from behind us somewhere. And a white-breasted nuthatch began to chatter in the trailside trees. Took a while, but I finally got a look at the nuthatch.

Nearing the parking lot, I heard quacking and the whistling of wings. Sure enough, there above flew a male mallard, zipping in a great arc, headed in the direction of the little cow farm up Rockville Street.

Saw the phoebe again along the last stretch. Heard more chickadees. One last listen, and we hopped back into the pickup and headed home.

Beech Nut, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 29 March 2012.

Beech Nut.

Where would I be without my ears?

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

1. House finch (voice)
2. Eastern phoebe
3. American crow (voice)
4. Black-capped chickadee
5. American robin
6. Herring gull
7. Golden-crowned kinglet
8. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
9. Wild turkey (voice)
10. Brown creeper
11. American goldfinch (voice)
12. Barred owl (voice)
13. White-breasted nuthatch
14. Northern flicker (voice)
15. Mallard


16. Tufted titmouse
17. Northern cardinal
18. Mourning dove
19. Rock pigeon
20. Ring-billed gull
21. Song sparrow

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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