I know, I know, it’s almost the end of May and I have so many posts to catch up on! I’ll try to get them in by the 31st!
In the migration months of May and September, birders gather at 7:00am for the Early Birders walks at Five Rivers. I managed to make it to all of them this month, despite clouds, drizzle, mud, and my general hatred of getting up at dawn o’clock. The morning starts with bagels and coffee in front of the big observation window, counting the feeder birds. At 7:30 we move out onto the trails, depending on what’s been seen where and how the conditions underfoot are. Around 9:00, the official part of the walk breaks up for those unfortunates who have to go to work, and I ramble on for a few more hours.
5/5 — My first spring EB walk. Cool and damp, on the edge of drizzle. Today was my last sighting of Dark-eyed Junco for the season. They’re off to their northern nesting grounds after being nearly daily visitors since late September, and the White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows weren’t far behind. An Osprey glided overhead as Blue-winged Warblers gave their ‘bzee-bzzz’ and Catbirds mewed and squeaked from every tangle. Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows valiantly fought off invading House Sparrows. Everyone (except me) saw an Eastern Meadowlark in the fields. The Meadowlark is my nemesis bird — a not-uncommon bird in a predictable habitat, that I Just. Can’t. See. I’m always looking in the wrong direction… 39 species.
5/12 — What a beautiful day! See, we did have a few days this month without rain! I’m really working on bird song, writing my own phonetic description and listening repeatedly when I get home. I’ve ‘claimed’ one or two birds each week this way. Now to keep practicing during the off-season. My list of confident IDs includes House Wren, Yellow Warbler, Prairie Warbler (a quick ascending call, like a thumbnail on the teeth of a comb), and Great Crested Flycatcher ( ‘an emphatic wheep!’. I watched a pair of Baltimore Orioles work on their bag nest — actually she did most of the work while he flew off to a treetop and sang about how wonderful it all was. My best sighting was during my solo wanderings. A male American Redstart danced through the treetops, teasing me with glimpses of his bright red patches. 48 species.
5/19 — Another overcast squishy day. The cool damp has worked against us in warbler sightings. They’re bug-eaters, and while it’s pleasant to walk without being eaten alive, if the food’s not there, neither are the birds. We did see or hear Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Blue-winged, Chestnut-sided, and Prairie Warblers, and Ovenbirds. Eastern Towhees and Common Yellowthroats abandoned their usual skulky habits and proclaimed their territories in full sight. I tend to give up quicker on trying to tease out those LBJs and scan the treeline instead, so I frequently say, “Hey, raptor up there.” Two weeks ago it was the Osprey, this week it was a Kestrel hovering over the field. The Red-eyed Vireo is one of those treetop birds you never see, but once you know his song it’s ubiquitious. “I’m here. Where are you. Here I am. Over here.” More songs this week: Field Sparrow (a string of notes speeding up like a ping-pong ball bounding) and two of the Baffling Empids, small flycatchers distinguishable only by song, Least Flycatcher (a quick ‘chbek!’) and Alder Flycatcher (‘frre-beo’, with a roll of the ‘rr’). A hardy few of us headed down the Vlomanskill Trail, a creekside walk where Louisiana Waterthrushes nest. The ground was saturated and in an effort to avoid standing water, I stepped onto the railroad ties edging the path. BIG mistake. My foot flew out under me and I slowly tumbled down onto my back, soaking myself from right foot to shoulder but landing with my binocs held high. I know my priorities! 46 species.
5/26 — Even more than numerous eyes, the advantage of these walks has been numerous experienced ears. I’m pretty confident now with a number of birdsongs I didn’t know at the beginning of the month. I now think more about audio ID, writing down approximations in the field even for birds I know well by sight, and visiting sites like Xeno-Canto for all the variations. I don’t feel I have a handle on Warbling Vireo yet (a rapid tumble, ending on a high note), but the Eastern Wood-Pewee is like a more mournful Phoebe.This week’s highlight was flocks of Cedar Waxwings. It’s always a pleasure to see these sociable, subtle colored birds. And I did a raptor ID on my own! Insead of assuming a soaring hawk was a Red-tail, I birded it carefully, noticing no flash of red in the tail (duh) and shoulders, and distinct white patches on the wing-top in the primaries. Rough-legged Hawk! Add to that a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers tearing apart a rotten snag 15 feet from me and the Peregrine banding I watched on the way home, and it was a satisfying end to the Early Birder spring season. 46 species.