For the Birds: A migratory turn of events

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

My birdwatching fortunes this spring migration made an abrupt turn for the better last week.

The cool, wet weather – in addition to working and coaching youth baseball – had limited my time looking for birds. When I did get out there, the birdwatching was relatively slow: a towhee here, a thrush there.

I love my towhees and thrushes, of course, but the day of seeing a flurry of spring migrants had escaped me. The dry spell ended during a walk in the woods last week.

The woods themselves were alive with the sounds of ovenbirds, thrushes and even barred owls, which often sing during the day.

The ubiquitous “teacher-teacher-teacher” call of the ovenbird reminded me of a spring camping trip I did with the boys about five years ago. We canoed to a site on Grout Pond in Green Mountain National Park in southern Vermont. Once settled we walked through the woods and ovenbirds seemingly surrounded us the entire way.

It was a highlight of an otherwise, let me say difficult, camping experience. The wood was wet and wouldn’t burn, and rain fell throughout most of the cool day and cooler night. A steady wind made fishing impossible. The boys – then nine and five – fought and bickered the entire time.

I’ve had plenty of great camping experiences with the boys, but this was not one of them. I did have those ovenbirds, though.

Back to my walk last week … The birding action picked up greatly when I came to a clearing in the woods. It was more than a clearing, I guess, and more of a field surrounded by woods. Great habitat for birds.

The buzzy song of a blue-winged warbler greeted me as I stepped out of the dark woods and into the bright field. The bird’s appearance with a bright yellow plumage and black eye stripe is even more dramatic than its unique song.

A chestnut-sided warbler was next to show itself. It doesn’t have a particularly catchy song, but I’ve always liked chestnut-sided warblers. It’s a handsome warbler with overall black-and-white plumage, highlighted by a yellow cap and chestnut lines running down the sides.

Until that day, a decent photograph of a chestnut-sided warbler had eluded me. I don’t see them often enough and when I do, they are usually too high in leafed-out trees to capture on film. (Older photographers explain to younger photographers what “capture on film” means.) On this day, however, a particularly curious individual came to a low perch to check me out. It hopped around a bit and eventually settled and sang a few bars for me.

As I made my way across the field, the colorful birds kept on coming. An indigo bunting perched near the top of a medium-sized tree in the middle of the field. A small group of goldfinches took lower perches on the same tree, but didn’t stick around for long before flying off in their undulating fashion.

A scarlet tanager sang near the top of a tall oak at the field’s edge. I heard, but couldn’t spot, a Baltimore oriole in a nearby tree. For as bright and large as orioles are, they can be awfully difficult to find in trees.

A rose-breasted grosbeak sighting would have rounded out the sightings nicely, but if they were there, I missed them. I did see one the next day in a tall oak at my house, so that was nice.

Time eventually ran out on my walk, but the ovenbirds and thrushes escorted me through the woods and back to the starting point.

No wonder birders like the spring migration so much.

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