Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunday at Crooked Run

It's been a while since I've visited Crooked Run Nature Preserve, and I thought you might like to take a stroll with me this Sunday morning. The weather is great - warm, but not hot, with low humidity - and the cicadas are at a tolerable level. There are just enough to make things interesting, but not so many that you are driven mad by the incessant trilling.

We start on the gravel lane that leads back into the preserve. I can hear a Warbling Vireo singing away, but can't find the plain little bird high up in the leafy tree tops. The Common Grackles are easy to hear and see, though - they are everywhere along this drive.

Turning onto the path that leads to the small pond, we can hear many more birds than we can see. Gray Catbirds are thick this year, and we find one 'round every bend. Just ahead are two Wood Thrushes counter-singing their flute-like tones. Ee-o-lay!

We pause for a break at my favorite of three bird blinds along Crooked Run. The water is high today, with all the rain we have had this spring, but this spot is disappointingly un-birdy. Other than a pair of Carolina Wrens singing and scolding from the brush to the left and an unidentified flycatcher across the estuary, there's not much here. Usually, I can count on at least one Great Blue Heron, and I often see a Belted Kingfisher, but we are striking out today. Time to move on.

Further up the path, we can hear our second Red-eyed Vireo of the morning, but I stop when I hear a different song interspersed with the Red-eyed's constantly repeated phrases. It is a White-eyed Vireo, exhorting me to "Pick-up-the BEER check!" I am determined to track this bird down, since it is my first White-eyed of the year. It is frustrating, because he sounds so close, and yet we cannot find him amongst the leaves. Finally, he decides he is not thirsty, but hungry, and flies out after a convenient cicada. Now we've got him, and we spend a few minutes watching him shred and eat his snack.

White-eyed Vireo*

Moving from the woods along the water's edge, we cut through the meadow. We can hear Common Yellowthroats everywhere, but not one responds to my "psshing." These curious warblers can usually be counted on to pop up and investigate, but they seem to have other plans keeping them busy.

Indigo Buntings are out in force, like the male below, whose photo I borrowed from the Web. I can hear them singing in a number of places, but we only get a good look at one. He chips at us and flies back and forth in front of and behind us. Are we near his nest? Maybe so.

Indigo Bunting*
Bob Royse, photographer

We find a male Orchard Oriole, like this fellow, who seems quite agitated as we walk the meadow path. We are near the spot where I have seen oriole nests in the past, but can't find one today. Still, he acts like we are invading his turf, so we walk on.

male Orchard Oriole*
from River Bend Nature Center,

photo by John Blackmer

Another tantalizing singer is the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. We've heard at least three different birds today, but haven't gotten a look at any of them. Here's one from the Web which shows off both his signature yellow bill and the fantastic underside of his long tail.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo*
Sutton Center, OK Birds Listserv

Our walk is over, and we are headed home. I think back to where I was in my birding career just three years ago, when I didn't know many bird songs. My trip list for today would have included Blue Jay, Mourning Dove, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, and American Robin, but not the cuckoo, wood thrush, or any of the vireos. Knowing bird song not only increased the number of "heard-only" birds on my trip list, but helps me find birds visually as well. Take the time to learn bird songs, if you haven't already. It will greatly enhance your birding experience, especially at this time of year, when the foliage is thick and the birds are well hidden.

Trip List:

Common Grackle
Gray Catbird
Northern Cardinal
Carolina Chickadee
Indigo Bunting (1 M, 1 M:F pair)
Orchard Oriole (2M)
Scarlet Tanager (F)
Song Sparrow
White-eyed Vireo
Mourning Dove
Amer. Robin
Tree Swallow
Red-winged Blackbird
UFO flycatchers (2)

Heard Only:

Wood Thrush (2)
Eastern Towhee
Carolina Wren
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Wood-peewee
Red-eyed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay

*My thanks to the named and unnamed bird photographers whose pictures helped illustrate today's post.

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