26 May 2022

Ode to swallows

Monday, June 28th, 2010
Beech Hill fields, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Beech Hill fields.

Tree swallows are the best flyers. I’ve been saying that for years, ever since I planted a bluebird box on an island in the water-filled limestone quarry my old house overlooked, and swallows took up residence right away. They nested there every year I lived at that house. I loved to watch them fly. They’d zip and veer and skim the pond’s surface and fly straight up and hang there for a second and then pull in their wings and plummet in a jaw-dropping dive, only to pull out at the last minute and zig-zag away again. Even the fledglings were amazingly adept flyers. Like graceful athletes, or dancers on the wing.

Tree swallow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Tree swallow.

As it happens, tree swallows have also nested in at least a couple of the bluebird boxes standing in the open Beech Hill fields. For the past couple weeks, I’ve heard their liquid, burbling notes, have watched them sweep and slide and skim low above the tall grasses on the summit, hunting flies. And I’ve thought, Man, it’d be so great to get a photo of these birds doing what they do so well. But after a couple attempts, I realized it was useless. They fly too fast, I can focus or follow or snap the shutter in time.

But today—as swallows dipped and zipped around me—I had an idea: just focus on the corner of Beech Nut, and wait for a swallow to shoot by at about that distance, and fire off a flurry of photos. So I did this. Over and over. Did I get anything work looking at? Well, I guess I’ll let you be the judge.

Tree swallow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Tree swallow.

Elsewise, an interesting, different, unorthodox day. Steady rain was falling at dawn, so dog and I didn’t take our usual early Beech Hill hike; we went in early afternoon instead. The rain had stopped, fog cloaked the bay and inland hills. Despite fairly cool temperatures, humidity combined with exercise to make for volumes of perspiration. And whereas the birding started slow, it picked up. Thirty-one species by the time Jack and I arrived back at the pickup. Including all five resident sparrows, two of three thrushes, and quite a few warblers again.

Tree swallow, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Tree swallow.

But the most interesting revelation came as we started back down the wooded trail just as a purple finch began to sing, loudly, from a nearby treetop. As it sang, I heard the single call of an alder flycatcher coming from the same direction. That’s it. Just a single alder flycatcher’s call—all jumbled in among the purple finch’s warbling. I hadn’t heard an alder flycatcher, and it was tempting to count this one call, but it just seemed a little fishy. So we continued down the trail, which wound around the tree this finch was singing from. Just as we got below it, I heard the single call of an eastern phoebe. Coming from the same direction. Just one call. That’s all. I didn’t dare count the phoebe.

Could a purple finch be a mimic? I’d never heard of such a thing—but on doing a web search for the possibility later, I discovered that, yeah, they’re known to be copycats. Wow. So this particular bird liked to imitate flycatching birds. Weird.

Flowers are everywhere, but I don’t know the names of plants. I did take photos of some lilies, though—I’m pretty sure they’re lilies—and the eastern fields were damp and green. The realm of swallows.

Eastern towhee, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Eastern towhee.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 1:15 p.m., I walked all trails.

1. Red-eyed vireo (voice)
2. Cedar waxwing (voice)
3. Chestnut-sided warbler
4. Common yellowthroat
5. American robin
6. Hairy woodpecker
7. Rose-breasted grosbeak (voice)
8. Black-capped chickadee
9. Veery
10. Ovenbird (voice)
11. Eastern towhee
12. Gray catbird
13. American goldfinch
14. Yellow warbler
15. Mourning dove
16. Northern flicker
17. American crow
18. Tree swallow
19. Black-and-white warbler (voice)
20. Field sparrow
21. Savannah sparrow
22. Herring gull
23. Chipping sparrow (voice)
24. White-throated sparrow (voice)
25. American redstart (voice)
26. Song sparrow
27. Nashville warbler (voice)
28. Purple finch (voice)
29. Hermit thrush (voice)
30. Black-throated blue warbler (voice)
31. Black-throated green warbler (voice)

Elsewhere

32. House sparrow

Lilies, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 28 June 2010.

Lilies.

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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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