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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At 6:03 PM, Blogger Julie Zickefoose said...

I believe dat gnat's a girl.

I found a male tearing Virginia creeper bark today for his NEST up on Dump Hill. Spring goes on, riotously!

At 7:52 PM, Blogger Heather said...

Yes Bill, The Gnatties have started hanging around our woods this past week, too. I love them because they are so small and agile, but you're right - they are durn hard to spot, especially against the sky! I'll have to try pishing to see if I can get one's attention.

Julie, how do you know this is a girl bird? Is it the eye ring?

Word verification: mooman

Have fun down in WV, y'all!

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Julie Zickefoose said...

A boy would have a jaunty black eyebrow, and be bluer above. Kind of neat to know that the females will come in to a recording, too.

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Kenton and Rebecca said...

We love how you called her in! We haven't yet seen a Gnatcatcher this season, but we're looking!

Thanks for the great post =)

At 11:34 PM, Anonymous April Lorier said...

OK, feeling obtuse right now. Not a serious bird watcher, so I have no idea what pishing is. Someone want to enlighten this poor soul?

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Rondeau Ric said...

April, it's when a guy gets caught short out in the woods.

Actually, it's when you make a sound like pisssshhh. It draws in birds who want to see what's happening.


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