Friday, April 24, 2009

Gnatty Sign of Spring

Though far away, he hears me spishing at him.

On of the birds whose arrival I note each year as a solid sign of spring is the blue-gray gnatcatcher. Male gnatties come back well before the leaves are out on most trees—and just after the male red-winged blackbirds have started conk-a-reeing in the cattails. How the gnatsters find anything to eat I'll never know, but they must.

I often hear this species before I see it. It has a high-pitched, sibilant call that sounds more like an angry mosquito than a territorial bird. Hearing the gnatcatcher's call I scan the treetops, hoping for a sign of movement—these are very active birds. But the gnatsnatcher's gray-on-gray plumage is a perfect match to the still-leaden winter skies, and I often miss seeing this tiny bug-eater of the treetops.

Gnatcatchers ARE very susceptible to spishing, however. And, as you can see from this series of photos, their curiosity sometimes brings them quite close to the spisher. Try it for yourself.

I'm glad that the gnatties come back early. Even though they don't add much color to the woods as some later-arriving migrants do, they add sound and activity and life, where everything else seems dormant, still slumbering under winter's sedation.


I've got his attention now.

He's hopping mad that he cannot find the rival gnatcatcher.

His face shows that he realizes he's been duped.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Mr. Brown is Back in Town


The brown thrasher returned to our ridge-top farm on Sunday morning. Zick heard him first and yelled it to me from the other end of the house. I stuck my head out the window and heard his jumbly sing-song coming from the spring trail.

This is a photo of the same dude (I suspect) from a few years ago. He was singing from the same tree yesterday and I would have gone after him with the camera for some fresh images, but I was simply not able. I've been down with some weird flu-like affliction since Friday night and have not been feeling anywhere close to myself.

Nice to know spring goes on, rolling around on Nature's giant wheel, even when we, ourselves, feel more like roadkill.

I am thankful for brown thrashers. Knowing that Mr. Brown is back in town has me feeling better—I'd say he's done more tom improve my health than a full dose of Biaxin—at least so far.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Like a Tiny Water Bottle Being Filled

Yesterday's most exciting arrival at Indigo Hill, our SE Ohio farm, was a male prairie warbler. He sang half-heartedly from the lower edge of the meadow, almost exactly where I took this photo of him last spring.

Phoebe and Julie and I were walking up from the east valley along the old logging road, scanning for morels, spring wildflowers, and box turtles. The only category for which we had any success was the wildflowers: Julie spotted some rattlesnake orchids.

Slogging up the muddy path toward the meadow, our ears were suddenly filled with the rising chromatic notes of a male prairie warbler.

Julie coached Phoebe with this clever tip: "It sounds like a tiny water bottle being filled up." Clearly Phoebe got this analogy judging from the "ah-ha!" look on her face.

I'll bet she remembers this audio clue the next time she hears a prairie warbler. And she should be hearing this male singing from now through mid-July right on our farm.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Waiting for Warblers

Male pine warbler.


In the movie Jeremiah Johnson, the character Bear Claw Chris Lapp (played by The Waltons' grandpa Will Geer) says "Winter's a long time going. Stays long this high."

The old mountain dude was totally on the money with that one.

He could have just as easily been talking about this endless winter we're enjoying.

I am ready for warblers and spring. So far here at Indigo Hill, we've had exactly TWO warbler species in 2008. Yellow-rumped and pine. And it's April 15! No ovenbird yet. No Louisiana waterthrush. No palm warbler (but hey, our palm trees aren't fruiting yet).

Here are a few images of the (notice I said THE, as in the ONLY) pine warbler we've had so far. He stopped by, attracted by all the activity at the feeders, and helped himself to a few peanut bits, some sunflower hearts, and a few bill-fulls of suet dough.

Then he split for points north.

It's hard to be patient for spring's arrival—and it seems to get harder each year.


Male pine warbler checking out bark cracks and sapsucker holes in a birch trunk for insects.


Sneaking closer to the bird feeders.


Dispatching a sunflower heart. Pine warblers survive cold weather by sheer resourcefulness.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The First Big Wave of Spring

Yesterday morning the first sound I heard was a yellow-throated vireo singing from the orchard to the west of our house.

The second thing I heard was Julie running into the room shouting "Get up! There's a yellow-throated vireo singing outside!"

The male YTVI was not alone. There was a red-eyed vireo out there too. And a white-eyed vireo! All of them were singing.

I was fascinated to see that the tent caterpillars were obvious all of a sudden. Perfect timing for this vital bird food source.

I hurried upstairs to get my binocs and then stepped out onto the deck. A blue-winged warbler sang from way out the meadow. I shouted the name of this new arrival in to Julie. She shouted back from the front yard with another species.

We walked the kids out to the bus, then spent about an hour on the deck listening and watching. It was sweet noting the new arrivals, after such a long wait for spring's arrival. We had a false spring with warm weather and bursting flowers. This was followed by 10 days of cold, snow flurries, and icy nights in the 20s. We were happy that few songbirds arrived early because they would have had a tough time of it.

As the morning wore on and I began thinking of getting to work, the burry song of a scarlet tanager burst forth from The Point, along our north border. Then, as if we'd willed it, the male scarlet took his place at the top of an elm sapling and sang for a few minutes. What a sight for sore eyes his scarlet color was! We drank him in through the spotting scope until he moved farther into the woods.

The first male scarlet tanager of spring. The last scarlet tanager I saw here at the farm was on last year's Big Sit!

After several weeks of anticipation, with many missed early-arrival dates, spring itself arrived--in feathered form--in a big way!

All in all we had 11 new bird arrivals for Monday, April 23:

  1. Yellow-throated vireo
  2. Red-eyed vireo
  3. White-eyed vireo
  4. Hooded warbler
  5. Prairie warbler
  6. Yellow warbler
  7. Palm warbler
  8. Blue-winged warbler
  9. Scarlet tanager
  10. Wood thrush
  11. Louisiana waterthrush
The wood thrush and waterthrush (no relation) were heard last evening just before dusk, while we sat out in the lawn, talking to our neighbor, Dave Hawkins.

Photographic proof of a pass-through palm warbler. Too bad the camera focused on the dead willow leaves.

Our broad-winged hawks got back a week ago. I have not yet heard their two note whistle, but surely will soon.

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