For the Birds: One of those May walks

Sometimes you just have to be patient. I tell myself that every year but rarely, if ever, do I heed my own advice.

I am so eager for the spring migration to hit full swing that I start tromping through the woods starting in mid-April expecting to see all the explosive colors of the northward songbird migration through New England.

Walk after walk in late April and early May yields some great birds but not the full-on spring spectacle. Finally, one day in mid-May, I get that walk I have been waiting for with colorful birds all around. Patience is key, sure, but that’s easier said than done. 

That walk happened for me the other day when I got up early and hit the nearest park. The action started right away with an eastern towhee. It was one of the few towhees I saw on the walk compared to the dozens of towhees I had seen during my late April walks. Most of the towhees have either moved north or settled into their nesting season and are remaining quiet and out of sight.

Then I heard a familiar song from the tree above me. The distinctive “chick-bree” call could only be a scarlet tanager. Despite their awesome coloration, male scarlet tanagers can still be difficult to find among the leafed-out canopy. I had little trouble finding this guy, however, as he flew from one tree to the next revealing its impossibly red plumage in the golden morning light of the rising sun.  

As I continued down the trail, the colors continued: the beautiful red upside-down triangle of the rose-breasted grosbeak, the electric orange of the Baltimore oriole, the dazzling blue of the indigo bunting, the bright yellow of the blue-winged warbler and the slightly darker yellow of the yellow warbler. Bobolinks and red-winged blackbirds brought life to the meadow. 

The great sightings didn’t stop with the colorful birds as there were plenty of “dull” birds to see as well. Among the highlights were yellow-billed cuckoo, field sparrow and ovenbird. And lots of catbirds. Lots and lots of catbirds. 

The sounds of the birds add to the magic. The insect-like buzzy song of the blue-winged warbler and tropical-like odd song of the cuckoo stood out among the rest.

It was the walk I had been anticipating for nearly a year. I enjoy New England year-round and each month has its special gifts for birdwatchers, but that mid-May walk when everything comes together never gets old.

If only the magic lasted longer. It’s called the peak of migration for a reason. Just as it has to build to its high point, so too will it now taper off as birds continue to push north or settle into nesting and go quiet.

Enjoy these days while they last. The color and variety are spectacular and unmatched by any other time of year. 

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