Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.
No matter how long you’ve been at it, birdwatching always presents firsts.
Wait, I used that sentence to start my column a few weeks ago. Oh well, another birding first happened this week, so I’m going with it again.
This time, it was a new bird to my feeding station. I’ve been feeding birds for a long time, and I’ve seen some great birds eating seeds or suet in my backyard.
Every year I’m thrilled when the rose-breasted grosbeaks show up. This year, a male and female have paid periodic visits for the last couple days.
It took years for me to attract hummingbirds, but now — knock on wood — it seems they are annual visitors.
A few Octobers ago, a small group of pine warblers discovered my suet feeder and stuck around the yard for about three days.
The other day, a new arrival. Settling into my lounge chair on the deck, I noticed a bright blue blotch among the leaves on the branch used by “my” birds before they flit over to a feeder. Even though it was obstructed by the leaves, I knew right away it had to be an indigo bunting.
I didn’t have my camera handy — as is the case with many birding firsts — so I gingerly got up, walked into the house and hoped the bird would still be there when I got back.
Sure enough, it was still there and had moved from the branches to a feeder filled with sunflower seeds and a few handfuls of a finch blend. I gingerly settled back into the lounge chair, this time with camera at the ready, and hoped the bird would tolerate the movement on the other side of the deck.
It did and I watched the bird for a good period of time. It’s not often that I get to study such a spectacular bird so closely. It was a first-spring male and hadn’t yet achieved full indigo bunting brilliance. Instead of an electric, shiny blue and black coat, he was a bit muted and mottled. Still spectacular, nonetheless.
I’ve seen plenty of indigo buntings at local parks and preserves, almost always in or near shrubs or fields. My yard is best described as wooded, so I didn’t expect to get a visit from an indigo bunting. But, sure enough, there he was. He preferred the small seeds from the finch blend, but also grabbed the occasional sunflower seed.
A blue jay scared him off eventually, but that only cleared the way for Mr. and Mrs. Rose-breasted Grosbeak to take over the feeders. The bunting would return later in the day for an encore performance.
What’s next to cross off my list?
I’ve seen photos of scarlet tanagers on feeders, but have never seen one at my station. I’ve seen them high in my treetops, but never at my feeders. That would be a nice first.
An oriole would be nice, too. I’ve tried to entice orioles with orange halves and grape jelly, but to no avail. I hear them in the treetops mocking me, but they never seem to want to come down to test my offerings.
Scarlet tanager, oriole or something else … I’ll be on the lookout for my next feeder first.