24 June 2024

Archive for July, 2012

Vanishing acts

Saturday, July 28th, 2012
Savannah sparrow (juvenile), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 July 2012.

Savannah sparrow (juvenile).

Hiking the wooded Beech Hill trail this afternoon with Jack, I heard the chip note of a white-throated sparrow. It was the first evidence I’d had of this resident species since probably mid-spring. This got me thinking—which of our nesting birds are most adept at hiding out, laying low, apparently simply vanishing?

Two generations of chestnut-sided warbler, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 July 2012.

Two generations of chestnut-sided warbler.

Understandably, most birds will make themselves scarce once their young have fledged and begun moving around. Witness the decline of my daily list these past few weeks of summer. Ovenbirds, hard to spot in any case, have gone silent lately. So have veeries. And several other abundant species are just now shy to sing or call. Most warblers, for instance. Savannah sparrows, so vocal until just a couple weeks ago, have clammed up. And although you can catch sight of catbirds here and there flitting through the understory, they’ll only deliver a quiet mew! or two.

Jays, field sparrows, yellow warblers—before today, I’d heard none call for weeks.

Until, for some reason, today. E.g., the white-throated sparrow. And while out cycling this early afternoon, I heard a jay. And at the Beech Hill summit, out of nowhere came the full, loud song of a field sparrow. Still no yellow warblers, but I did spot a young Nashville warbler—quite a surprise. We also happened upon an adult and fledgling chestnut-sided warbler (the adult was chipping like crazy). Hermit thrushes are singers at this time of year, and several were letting fly down in the lower woods, but I heard no wood-pewee. I did, however, hear a singing ovenbird, its voice echoing through the trees. Ovenbirds are everywhere up there, but this was the first hint of them for a long time.

Common yellowthroat, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 July 2012.

Common yellowthroat.

I’d have to say the white-throat is the best at vanishing. Certain warblers—black-and-white, yellow, Nashville—are pretty good at it, too. Phoebes, once their youngsters leave the nest, are good at making themselves scarce. As are Savannah sparrows. As are ovenbirds. And where have all the veeries gone? (Nowhere, they’ve just gone incognito.)

But today they began to emerge. The white-throat. The Nashville. The field sparrow. A phoebe at the summit. And out of nowhere a young Savannah sparrow perched on the porch wall of Beech Nut and, obligingly, posed for photos.

An anomaly? A reemergence? It’ll be interesting to watch and see.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 4:30 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

1. Red-eyed vireo* (v)
2. American goldfinch* (v)
3. Eastern towhee
4. Cedar waxwing*
5. Gray catbird
6. Chestnut-sided warbler
7. White-throated sparrow (v)
8. Alder flycatcher
9. Black-capped chickadee (v)
10. Common yellowthroat
11. American crow* (v)
12. Song sparrow*
13. American robin*
14. Savannah sparrow
15. Eastern phoebe
16. Herring gull*
17. Field sparrow (v)
18. Nashville warbler
19. Northern flicker
20. Hermit thrush* (v)
21. Ovenbird (v)


22. House finch
23. Northern cardinal (v)
24. House sparrow
25. Rock pigeon
26. Osprey (v)
27. Jay (v)
28. European starling
29. Chipping sparrow (v)
30. Mourning dove

v = Voice only
*Also elsewhere

Birds at evening

Friday, July 27th, 2012
Chestnut-sided warbler (Juvenile female), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 July 2012.

Chestnut-sided warbler (Juvenile female).

The day begin with a little rain but ended with a hazy sun. I worked for much of it, dashed out for a quick bike ride after things had dried up, and hiked Beech Hill later than usual. But Jack and I were joined by our friend Liz.

Common yellowthroat, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 July 2012.

Common yellowthroat.

Despite an evening sun angling through the trees, the woods were dim and glowed green. Plenty of deer flies and mosquitoes, but also plenty of birds. Still skittish and secretive, still not very vocal, but they were moving about before hunkering down for the night. Again vireos sang, and goldfinches and waxwings were out flying around. Crows were active and vocal down the lower slopes, preparing for their late-summer conventions. In the berry thickets about half-way up the slope, we saw several silent catbirds flitting back and forth along the trail.

At one point, I heard the chip of a yellowthroat, so we stopped to get a peek. The bird, a male, scolded us from the undergrowth as I attempted photographs. Then another bird popped up—one I assumed at first to be the female but turned out to be a young chestnut-sided warbler. That’s twice this year I’ve seen those two species hanging out together (or seeming to).

Sailing was still going on out in the haze-cloaked bay, we could see. More waxwings were flying around. A song sparrow made an appearance. I spotted a house finch and heard a distant cardinal.

Returning just below the summit, we surprised the Partridge Family—the young birds scattered, and the mama grouse put up a fuss while snaking away through the shadows.

Cedar waxwing, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 27 July 2012.

Evening cedar waxwing.

Hermit thrushes and a wood-pewee down in the lower trees. Also plenty more deer flies and mosquitoes, so we descended in kind of a hurry.

Sixteen birds on today’s Beech Hill list is more than I’ve had in a good while.

Tonight has fireflies and a waxing moon setting off behind the trees.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 6:30 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

1. Red-eyed vireo* (v)
2. American goldfinch*
3. Eastern towhee
4. American crow
5. American robin*
6. Gray catbird
7. Cedar waxwing*
8. Common yellowthroat
9. Chestnut-sided warbler
10. Alder flycatcher
11. Hermit thrush* (v)
12. Song sparrow*
13. House finch*
14. Northern cardinal*
15. Ruffed grouse
16. Eastern wood-pewee (v)


17. Herring gull
18. Blue jay (v)
19. House sparrow
20. Rock pigeon
21. Chipping sparrow (v)

v = Voice only
*Also elsewhere


Thursday, July 26th, 2012
Alder flycatcher, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 July 2012.

Alder flycatcher.

Ah, summer in the Northern Hemisphere—the time of greatest biomass. Luxuriant foliage, swarming insects, grasses gone to seed, berries gone to fruit. And birds, birds everywhere. At least three, four times the number of birds that arrived in spring. Trouble is, it’s pretty damn hard to find ’em.

Gray catbird (juvenile), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 July 2012.

Gray catbird (juvenile).

Glimpses, really, is about all you get. Glimpses of the numerous offspring of the successful mating pairs that hooked up just short weeks ago, youngsters learning to hunt and hide, trying out their wings. Faint peeps and chips in the undergrowth or high in the leafy canopy. Take a walk in the woods and you can almost feel them there. Believe me, they’re everywhere.

Today was cloudy and cool. I turned off the fans and closed a couple windows. Rain in the forecast, but it didn’t rain much. (Or hasn’t yet.) Still, I skipped my bike ride for a change, and we hiked up Beech Hill a little early, dog and I.

Where once were many voices of veeries and ovenbirds now is no trace of either species. Oh, they’re there all right. But where? Red-eyed vireos are about the only dependable singing birds—they and hermit thrushes. But coming through the berry patch, we stopped for a listen. Heard the chip! of a stealthy yellowthroat. Heard the faint mew! of a gray catbird. Then, after a minute, an actual catbird popped up into view—or barely into view, hidden by layers of foliage. A 2012 bird, a young one (you can tell by the speckles and the long mouth line). And I knew there were several more where that one came from. Somehow, I even managed a photo.

Eastern towhee (juvenile), Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 July 2012.

Eastern towhee (juvenile).

On up the slope and into the open fields, and I began to hear the peeps of alder flycatchers. In spring, I must’ve heard males singing from four of five points up there, whereas now there have got to be at least a couple dozen birds around, flitting secretively between trees. I caught sight of a couple young ones, fluttering after flies. Got a distant photo of one of their parents.

At the summit, I heard a couple of singing song sparrows but didn’t glimpse a one. I did, however, glimpse a solitary phoebe. This, after seeing none for a while.

Some birds move in the upper air, like the parties of cedar waxwings and goldfinches you can dependably see or hear. But many others hunker down in the undergrowth, hanging together in little families. Like the group of towhees I spotted coming back into the woods, scratching about the leafy forest floor. (I find that the young birds, still learning what to fear, are actually much easier to see.) As we stood near the towhees, I heard chickadees moving in the trees above them and the chip of some warbler or other—then the sound of something gently rapping, which turned out to be a downy woodpecker.

In the deeper woods were singing hermit thrushes (but still no trace of a veery). And robins, too, and the voice of a black-throated green warbler. But although there must’ve been scores around—maybe even a hundred—I neither heard nor saw a single ovenbird.

Downy woodpecker, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 26 July 2012.

Downy woodpecker.

But I have little doubt they noticed dog and me.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 3 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.

1. American crow*
2. Red-eyed vireo* (v)
3. Eastern towhee
4. American goldfinch* (v)
5. Cedar waxwing
6. Alder flycatcher
7. Gray catbird
8. Black-capped chickadee (v)
9. Common yellowthroat (v)
10. Hermit thrush* (v)
11. Eastern phoebe
12. Song sparrow* (v)
13. Downy woodpecker
14. American robin*
15. Northern flicker (v)
16. Black-throated green warbler (v)


17. Northern cardinal (v)
18. Herring gull
19. Rock pigeon
20. Osprey
21. Mallard
22. Mourning dove

v = Voice only
*Also elsewhere

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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