Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Suddenly, the wind is blowing out of the south.

Suddenly, bare trees have foliage, sprouting bright new red flowers or yellow skeins of seeds or green leaves. Even the larches, the only conifer that sheds its needles and goes bare in fall, look alive again as I hike through Greystone.

Carolina wrens will sing just about any time of the
day or year.
Suddenly, there is bird song, usually in the early morning but frequently all day. The carolina wren likes to sing anytime, and so do the titmouse, the white-breasted nuthatch and the cardinal. I go on my early morning walks into Greystone and find these birds plus robins, chipping sparrows, bluebirds, white-throated sparrows, mockingbirds and redwinged blackbirds. Even the fish crows are doing their croaking song. Vultures circle over my head and rise as the sun warms the air.

This is the most wonderful time of year for me. Every day there’s something new. One day the phoebes show up to build their nest under the bridge over a brook. Another day a female hooded merganser comes to a Greystone pond, joining the wood ducks and mallards. A lovely, trilling and unfamiliar song turns out to be a rubycrowned kinglet.

Suddenly, there are birds on nests. Harold and Maud, the redtails, are taking turns sitting on their eggs as the trees leaf out and make it harder to see the nest. A robin is suddenly seen sitting snugly on her little nest on a lower branch of a tree. A Canada goose is sits still on her nest on the side of a pond, a good place, undisturbed by people (although vulnerable to animal predators) but easy for someone who knows where it is to see her.

The other morning I watched a Cooper’s hawk break branches and take them to the top of a spruce over a busy street. Cooper's are agile flyers, able to hunt birds in deep woods, so this one could easily make its way through the branches to its nest and disappear into the evergreen foliage.  When the young are born and need feeding the other birds will have to watch out.

Suddenly, just as the trees are covered in seeds and the leaves obscure the branches, the warblers show up.

This pine warbler was singing, making it easy to find
despite the bad light and how high it sat.
Of course they do. If there is anything more aggravating than a warbler WAY UP THERE in the leafy treetops with the sun behind it, making a silhouette of its identifying pattern, I don't know it. They can literally be a pain in the neck.

I don’t know why it is many birders tend to go nuts when it comes to warblers. Maybe it is because when they come through seeking them among the leaves makes it almost a game. Maybe it is because there are so many different types to find. Maybe it's the sheer joy of suddenly realizing by that certain leaf movement that something is up there, something new and different that you don't see every day.

For me it is because in spring the warbler males are in their bright breeding colors and singing, so even if you can’t see it, you can identify it if you know the song.

It took until early April before my husband and I found palm and pine warblers - the early ones - along with some myrtle warblers that didn't mind New Jersey's relatively warm winter and cold, windy spring. They were all looking for insects in trees along the Passaic River. It was weeks later that I heard a prairie warbler and saw a black and white warbler - one of the few with no yellow in it - in a Bergen County park. I feel as though I'm way behind on my warblers.

At Garrett Mountain, which towers over the gritty city of Paterson, warbler seekers have already found hooded warbler and Louisiana waterthrush along with the myrtles, pines and palms. Garrett is one of those places known as a migrant “trap,” an area of natural habitat surrounded by an urban area. Birds tired after a night of flying with the south tailwind need a place to feed and rest, and that bit of green in a built-up area looks very appealing.

Central Park in New York City is probably the best known migrant trap, but anywhere you have a park or at least some greenery you will find a migrant. Even the enclosed courtyard of my office building, in the middle of a glass box, has had birds fly in for a day or two.

You never know what you’ll see, and it’s the prospect of something new that makes one willing to get out of bed in the dark and walk for miles hoping to see a bit of movement, hear a tiny chip call, something that will draw you to a bird you’ve never seen before or haven’t seen for years

It’s nuts, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s why you’ll see me out there absurdly early in the morning at this time of year.

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