Hot, Quiet, and Ugly Birds!
Summer Yard Birding
(click links for audio)
I miss New York summers, the lower humidity, cooler nights, a summer breeze. And, when I watch our birds and squirrels flatten themselves on the wet ground in the yard, I suspect they would miss it as well. For the past 20 some years I have not done much summer birding, mostly due to my disdain for the heat. Yes, that. But, in August I also had to get ready for school to reopen, but now being fully retired, I have begun to appreciate more what is happening out in the hot and humid forests of Piedmont North Carolina, eastern Durham County.
To fully enjoy summer yard birding in Piedmont North Carolina, a few things are needed up front. An alarm clock set for 5:30 am, cool clothes, a big water bottle, yard feeders, including hummer feeders, a bird bath, and patience, lots of patience, and maybe a little deet.
Sitting out on the deck at first light, birds begin to make their presence known about 30 minutes before sunrise. With a little luck, the local owls will make a few morning calls to say good-day/night. Normally, the Cardinal loudly enters the morning songfest first. Next, the Carolina Wren, Towhee, and Robin let loose with a few calls. Other early risers – Summer Tanager, White-eyed Vireo, and Mourning Dove. Before sunrise occurs, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Blue Jays, and American Crows also make first appearances. Then, at sunrise, the yard seems to go silent for 10-15 minutes before the rest of the birds wake up.
In our yard, or more accurately, over our yard, a large murder of crows announces their arrival at the crack of dawn. If there are no owls or hawks in the tall pines, the crows often fly silently overhead on their way to breakfast, I suspect the nearby Walmart parking lot. Other times, all heck breaks loose with the discovery of a Barred or Great-horned Owl, or a Red-Tail or Red-shouldered Hawk, the crows begin a relentless mobbing that has lasted as long as two hours.
As the sun rises, birds take turns checking in for the day. Some, like the House Finches, begin a day of constant chatter as they zip around the yard, and others, like the White-eyed Vireo, make their presence known, then remain totally silent the remainder of the day. The most noticeable birds during July, besides those already mentioned, have been Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Bluebirds, a few chippers, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Indigo Bunting and Yellow-breasted Chats across the road. We have had both Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks hunting in the yard, but no accipiter since May. Other, quieter species, such as Prairie, Pine and Black & White Warbler (one sighting), American Goldfinch, White-breasted and Brown-headed Nuthatch have also regularly been seen or heard. And, this year, due to more feeder diligence on our part, we have at least FIVE hummers, so far. Please check out my sound recordings page to hear some of our backyard birds.
Most excellent summer yard bird this year – a flyover (very high, but calling) Broad-winged Hawk, and yes, a BOBWHITE heard calling on two separate days in June (nearby power line habitat). It is possible, since my neighbor manages that land for wild turkeys, that the Bobwhite was released.
By 10:00 am, both birds and birders are often subdued by the heat of the sun that has taken over the morning shadows. Except for a random song or call, the sounds of construction and airport rumblings rule the air. It is now time to watch more closely, good time for a “little sit” in the shade, to locate the birds, because they ARE still ALL there, somewhere. If it just weren’t so hot, I might do this. Thank the bird-gods for hummers, easily viewed from air conditioned comfort.
Wait! The title mentioned “ugly” hot birds! Now, the birds can’t read, so no risk of hurt feelings, but hey, what do you look like when you molt? Yeah, not so good. It happens. At times, immature and molting birds add extra identification challenges for birders, especially in unfamiliar territory (habitats). Whether immature birds or molting adults, birds often take on a “special” look in July/August and often seem to “hide away” from the prying binocular eyes of birders. Sometimes they look down right funny, but again, they can’t read, so no PC here. It is actually a great time to learn feathers.
So there you have it, 2017 summer yard birding in our 4 1/2 acre wooded Piedmont yard. I am headed to Georgia soon to begin birding what I hope will be an epic migration season. There will be a more cool, summer birding adventure in August, as we cruise up to the UP, followed by eclipse birding in Clemson. Then, in September, plans are to bird from Nags Head south, until I arrive in Litchford Beach, S.C., at the CBC meeting and field trips. I deserve retirement, and I am going to take it. Hope you have enjoyed this new edition to the TTU blog. Look for more to come, and subscribe below to receive email alerts of new posts.