For the Birds: Patience pays off again

Photo by Chris Bosak A yellow-rumped warbler eats poison ivy berries in New England, fall 2021.

Any birdwatcher knows that patience and faith are perhaps the two most important components to a successful bird walk.

I started a recent walk with high hopes, as I always do, but as the morning went on and no birds were to be found, I started to lose hope of seeing anything. To compound matters, the field at the park had recently been mowed for the first time of the year, making bird encounters even less likely.

It still would have been a pleasant walk because the autumn morning chill had given way to a beautiful and warm sunny day. But with fall migration in full swing, I was disappointed in the birding results.

I turned around to finish my walk and decided to go off trail a bit and check out a long shrubby row adjacent to a road on one side and the recently plowed field on the other. At first there was nothing to be seen other than the magical colors of a New England fall, which were pleasing on their own.

Then I saw a few birds spring up from the field and head into the shrubby area along which I was walking. Then a few more birds popped out of the grass and went into the shrubby row. Before I knew it, I was practically surrounded by yellow-rumped warblers.

A few palm warblers were in the mix as well, but it was largely yellow-rumped warblers, and there were dozens of them. It looked like a mix of young and old, male and female.

They stuck mostly to the tops of trees at first. Then they slowly worked their way down and started gobbling up white berries from a vine that had climbed up the tree.

Poison ivy is a much-maligned plant and with good reason. But it does have some good qualities. Not only is the foliage a brilliant red in the fall, but it produces many white berries that a variety of birds love. I’m not saying that is enough to keep poison ivy growing around your yard, but when you come across a patch in the woods, just know that it serves a valuable purpose for migrating birds.

The recently mowed field turned out to be a boon for the birds as well. A bounty of easily accessible seeds and insects must have been created by the cutting because the warblers, along with eastern bluebirds and a variety of sparrows, went back and forth from the field to the berries in the shrubby row frequently. Talk about a balanced diet.

I walked under a dead tree and three eastern bluebirds held their perches on the bare branches. They made their “turalee” sounds and kept an eye on me as I moved along. A few steps later, I focused on an active patch of poison ivy, and one of the bluebirds swooped down to join the feast with the warblers.

The last bit of excitement came when I saw a red squirrel struggling to get a walnut up a tree. The walnut, still with its green husk, was a tall task for the little rodent. The squirrel eventually succeeded and it reminded me to put a few walnuts in the side pocket of my cargo shorts. I’m slowly learning the ins and outs of harvesting wild nuts in New England, and I hadn’t experimented with walnuts yet.

What started as a pleasant walk on a crisp fall day turned out to be an eventful experience only New England can offer. So many walks end up that way.

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