Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

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

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

May weather has not been good. There have been hot days but they have been intermittent. Mostly the days have been cooler and wetter.

What has been good has been the birding. May is prime migration month in my part of the country, the time when the birds that have been wintering in South America, Central America and even the southern U.S. start heading north to their summer breeding grounds.

En route they stop to eat. When they do their internal systems tell them to sing loudly to proclaim their feeding territory and perhaps look for a mate. They are at their most colorful, but when they pass through, it is usually when the trees have finally begun to leaf out, making the search for these birds a pleasure and a challenge.

Yesterday morning, I got out later than I intended but still before 7 am to travel not very far from my home. My town is on the plains of a nearby mountain. Traveling a few minutes up the road takes you up the mountain. You pass through McMansions I remember going up 20 years ago, some for sale for the third or fourth time. At the top of the ridge is a playground and a parking lot, off which are several hiking trails.

However, I prefer to leave the lot, walk along the road to a power line cut, listening all the way.

Sometimes you get lucky. When I got out of the car I heard a ton of birds, most of them warblers, there in the parking lot. Now I had to use my memory because seeing the birds high up in the trees was not easy. Which bird sounds like this? Which bird sounds like that? I am not one of those birders who knows every single call for every single bird, although I wish I did at times like these.

Baltimore oriole (Margo D. Beller)
After noting what I thought I heard, I moved on to the cut, where the birding was easier. Yes, there was the prairie warbler I expected -- no wait, there are two singing at each other! Prairie warblers like shrubby, second-growth areas such as power line cuts, and I've heard at least one singing for years up here. It's call, once heard, is easily remember.

Now up pops a brown thrasher long enough for me to identify it before it dives into a shrub. What's this moving stealthily along? Why, it's the little yellow bandit known as the common yellow-throated warbler that acts more like a wren than the warblers I was hearing in the parking lot.

What's that flying into that treetop? An indigo bunting, shining deep blue in the green tree. It is doing an unintentional duet with the Baltimore oriole that flew across the road, allowing me to find this black and orange bird in the seeding oak.

Black-throated green warbler (Margo D. Beller)
Time flies fast when you are looking at and for birds. After what I realized was 30 minutes, I walked back to the lot. With the exception of the one bird I wanted to see because I see it is infrequently - a Nashville warbler - I was lucky enough to discover the birds I'd been hearing were now in closer trees. So there was the black and white warbler clinging to a tree branch. There was the American redstart flycatching in the treetop. There was the chestnut-sided warbler saying it was "pleased ta meet cha" with its song. There was the northern parula, a little bird with a very loud song.

And there, softly, from within the woods, I managed to hear the other bird I expected, the black-throated green warbler, singing its alternate song "zoo zee zoo zoo zee." 

A lot of birds in 60 minutes in an area hard by a residential area five minutes from my home. Only in May, the most wonderful time of the year.

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