These quiet summer days offer what might be my second-favorite kind of birding. My favorite, naturally, is in the company of a plethora of birds, of species—the month of May, island migrations, amid great flocks of shorebirds. But these days you’ve really gotta hunt and stalk and pay really close attention. Because all you get are tiny signs: subtle notes, silent flittings, faint motion in the canopy. It helps to know the landscape, the place. It helps to have learned chip-notes and behaviors. But you’ve still gotta step quietly, sneak around, stop and look and listen. It’s more of a series of mind games. Many small riddles.
Late today on Beech Hill with Jack, I heard the voices of the first three species: chickadee, crow, catbird. No real puzzles there. But coming up the quiet trail, walking slowly past leafy thickets, I had to use my wits and tune my senses. Mainly, I just followed the lead of chickadees.
We stopped at a curve where they were peeping softly above us. Waited, just gazing into the brush. Sure enough, a white-throated sparrow jumped up out of nowhere and fluttered quickly over into a shady hollow. I heard only its wingbeats, saw just enough of the bird for a positive ID. Then not much farther along, following the same band of chickadees up the hill, I spotted other small birds up in the trees among them (as I often do). The other birds turned out to be red-eyed vireos, possibly a family. I got a couple photos of a young one. They made no sound. They were not easy to see.
And as I was stopped there, photographing vireos, I caught sight of another little bird flitting low to the ground then disappearing. A second later, from where it disappeared, I heard the abbreviated call of a common yellowthroat.
Only crows at the summit. But returning into the woods, near where I’d seen the flock of smaller birds, I heard the high voice of a waxwing. It took a solid minute of slow walking and careful peering to spot the bird in the thick foliage of a small tree.
Heard two distant pewees (still) down in the lower woods. And two loud croaks of a raven as we neared the parking lot. And that, today, was that.
(Sure was a lot of fun.)
Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5 p.m., I hiked the wooded trails.
1. Black-capped chickadee
2. American crow*
3. Gray catbird
4. White-throated sparrow
5. Red-eyed vireo
6. Common yellowthroat (v)
7. Cedar waxwing
8. Eastern wood-pewee (v)
9. Common raven (v)
10. Herring gull
11. Rock pigeon
v = Voice only