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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Sunday, April 06, 2008

This Just In

Blue-gray gnatcatcher. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

When I woke up this morning and saw the sun (that unfamiliar bright yellow light in the sky) shining and the maple trees in flower, I knew it might be the day they arrived.

And sure enough it was today.

Just about the time I was throwing the hotdogs on the grill, and shellacking the kids at a game of P-I-G on the basketball court, I heard the telltale high-pitched, buzzy lisp of our latest spring returnee.

The blue-gray gnatcatchers got in today here in Southeastern Ohio. An undeniable sign of spring. Hallelujah!

I ran to the house for my binocs and when I came out I could hear the gnatcatcher's call, but at some distance. Where to look? .....DUH! Look in the trees that are flowering. That's where the gnats AND THUS the gnatcatchers will be. Ah! Look there! In the crown of that red maple. It's a male blue-gray and he's looking natty!

Happy spring to you, my fellow bird watchers! May a gnatcatcher soon arrive to catch your gnats.

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