Here is my most recent For the Birds column that runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Ct) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.). Also, be on the lookout tomorrow for the archive of Sunday’s BirdCallsRadio show with the Soundkeeper, Terry Backer. Thanks.
Ah, the whims of migration.
Last Friday evening I stepped into Selleck’s Dunlap Woods in Darien and was treated to one of the best birdwatching days I’ve had in years. It was actually a scouting trip for a walk I was to be leading the next morning.
Warblers danced among the tree tops in high numbers on Friday. I picked out Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped, Magnolia, Black-throated green and Yellow warblers, as well as American Redstarts. Ovenbirds, another wood warbler, were commonplace along the ground.
Ten minutes into the walk a raucous over my head captured my attention. An impossibly red male Scarlet Tanager was chasing another impossibly red male Scarlet Tanager from tree to tree. Two more male Scarlet Tanagers joined the fray and offered great looks at their brilliant plumage.
As I delved deeper into the woods I was surrounded by the wonderfully odd and beautiful song of the Wood Thrush. I found a few of the birds and simply enjoyed the flute-like music provided by several others. Those Ovenbirds joined the chorus with their “teacher-teacher” song, too.
It was already a tremendous walk, but it got even better when I stepped out of the woods and into an open, brushy area. I looked to the left just in time to see a Great-crested Flycatcher jump up into a higher branch. Baltimore orioles filled the trees that formed the border between the woods and brushy areas.
As I walked along the trail I heard a familiar buzzy insect-like song. I knew it wasn’t an insect, however. It was the unique song of the Blue-winged Warbler. I’ve never seen more than one or two Blue-winged Warblers at a time on any walk before.
There must have been a dozen of them flitting among the thick brush. I caught mere glances of most of them, but was able to single out a few individuals for good looks. Blue-winged Warblers are neat-looking yellow birds with blue-gray and white wings and black stripe through the eye.
As I worked my way back through the woods — surrounded again by the sounds of Wood Thrushes — I couldn’t wait until the next morning. People on the walk are going to love this, I thought. They’re are going to think I’m some sort of bird whisperer with all the great birds I’m going to show them.
Then another thought entered my head to throw water on that whole bird whisperer thing. What if all these birds migrate out of there tonight? Many birds, including most songbirds, migrate at night. These birds could be in New Hampshire by the time the walk starts tomorrow, I thought.
Well, as you may have guessed by now, my fears were realized. Not only was Saturday morning cool, gray and misty, nearly all of the birds were gone. Not a single Wood Thrush sang in the woods. I think we may have heard one Hermit Thrush, but that song was fleeting. We heard some orioles, but saw only one. The warblers, those that remained anyway, looked like gray blobs in the tree tops with the gray sky behind them.
We did hear an Eastern Towhee, which was a good bird to hear. It proved to be shy and didn’t show itself, but we did get to hear its call and song. Yellow Warblers made some close appearances and Gray Catbirds were constant companions, so the walk was still a success — it just wasn’t the bird fest I was hoping for following Friday evening’s walk.
Oh well, any walk in the woods is a success, whether the birds are around or not.
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Perhaps you noticed I capitalized the names of specific bird species in this column. After more than 625 For the Birds columns, I am making the switch to capitalizing bird names. More on that coming up in a future column. (I know. How will you sleep at night awaiting the explanation?)