Birding Bonanza

by Eugene Martin | Feb 8, 2022 | 0 comments

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo © Kevin Shank.

Slowly I walked down beside the row of trees—binoculars, field guide, pen, and paper in my hand, drinking in the beauty of the predawn morning. A killdeer called even before I got to my secluded little circle beside the placid brook, which wound lazily through the willows and hickory trees, a peaceful spot where shy warblers often twittered about in search of tiny morsels.

The other side of my circle consisted of a “cabin,” only it wasn’t a real log cabin. It was an unused storage shed we boys had adorned with furs and makeshift bows and arrows. This would be my headquarters.

Beside the cabin was a plowed field overlooking a hay field where I hoped to spot some raptors. In the center of the circle was a meadow where our horses and cow grazed.

Another killdeer called as I stepped through the dewy grass into my circle, and a flock winged overhead, their white undersides flashing in the semidarkness.

After jotting down “killdeer” on my paper, I left all my gear in the cabin except my binoculars, and headed to the dock overlooking a frequently inhabited stand of willows. A startled Blue Jay let out a sleepy “Thief, thief” which, of course, aroused a number of other jays. They flew about bewilderedly, looking for the “thief,” who had by now blended into the shadows of the trees. After searching a bit more for the poor “thief,” the Blue Jays left in search of something more worthwhile to do.

With the coming of the sun, bird activity increased. A Red-headed and a Downy Woodpecker hammered for breakfast while a Carolina Wren sang cheerily in his little honeysuckle bush.

A familiar whistling filled the air, and I looked up to see a flock of Mourning Doves fly to a nearby hickory and look about nervously. Their soft brown eyes beheld me with distrust, and, after a short discussion among themselves, they took flight to land in a safer place.

A flash of wings caught my attention as a flock of Rock Doves wheeled in the brisk morning air and alighted in a freshly harvested cornfield in search of tasty tidbits. A few wheezing European Starlings and a flock of House Sparrows followed them, to fatten themselves on the tasty corn.

The rich warble of a Purple Finch drifted through the air, accompanied by the soft chick-a-dee-dee-dee of a Carolina Chickadee. I was almost startled by the sharp clear whistle of a Bobwhite, which followed shortly afterward. Now that is one sound of nature I especially love to hear.

Quickly I stepped back to the cabin and jotted down the names, then went to another side of the circle. A small hawk darted out of a tree and soared gracefully over the flower-spangled hay field. Cooper’s Hawk? Sharp-shinned? Its small body gave it away as an elusive little Sharp-shinned Hawk, a bird I had seen but once before. As it swooped up to another tree, a startled robin flew out screaming indignantly, almost drowning out the sound of a nuthatch’s persistent “Yank, Yank.”

Then from far up in the heavens I heard the bugle-like calls of a flock of Canada Geese winging southward.
At the same time I heard a growling sound. What was that? Oh, my stomach! Okay, breakfast time. I scribbled down the bird names again and headed for the beckoning house.

After eating a delicious breakfast of pancakes topped with maple syrup, Mom and I headed down to bird some more. Bird activity had slowed down somewhat with the heat, but a flock of three crows winged overhead, cawing raucously among themselves.

“Hey, what’s that?” asked my mom, pointing at a tall erect statue standing silently out in the hay field.

A quick glance through the binoculars revealed a Great Blue Heron hunting mice in the grassy field. Now I thought Great Blue Herons belonged in the creek. Apparently he got tired of fish, and thought a mouse or little snake appealed to his taste.

A flicking caught my attention, and I looked over to a walnut tree to see an Eastern Phoebe eyeing me and flicking his tail spasmodically. Suddenly he erupted from the branch, caught a fly, and darted back to the same place with a rusty “Phoebe, Phoebe,” and resumed flicking his tail.

Now our gaze shifted to the row of trees beside the brook as a dry “chip” caught our attention. What could that be? I wondered. A slight movement revealed its whereabouts, and I focused my binoculars on it. It appeared to be a vireo by its slow movements and drab colors. Sure enough, a look in my bird guide revealed a Yellow-throated Vireo. That was a lifer! What a find!

There, what was that? A middle-sized raptor sailed above us and gazed down fiercely. His nearly perfectly white underside broadcast the news that he was a Northern Harrier, also a new one for me! Now that is what I call exciting birding!

But now it was time for lunch, and after writing down the bird species on my trusty paper, I headed in to eat and read Nature Friend.

That afternoon I headed out to bird some more, but I didn’t expect to see many new species since a warm wind had sprung up. However, upon arriving, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture soaring way up in the misty edges of a cloud.

Since the meadow enabled a wide field of view, I chose a comfortable spot to sit down and still be able to see any bird that chanced to come my way.

After sitting there awhile, I heard a muffled snort. Startled, I jumped around and … Oh! A visitor. “Why hello, Mrs. Flower.”

Mrs. Flower mooed softly and looked at me with dark brown eyes.

But now I had real visitors. My little cousins Justin and Ethan came running down to greet me.

After telling them what I was doing, I took them on a tour through the cabin, showing the excited young boys how to shoot an arrow or how I made those wooden chairs.

“What kind of bird is that?” asked Justin. I followed his gaze and saw a Belted Kingfisher alight on a branch and rattle out his song.

The boys had never seen such a bird, so I found a picture for them in my Bird ID Guide. We all thought he looked beautiful.

But now I figured we wouldn’t see more new species, so we went fishing for chubs. The rest of the day passed with no new species sighted, and the boys left to happily tell their parents of the beautiful kingfisher they had seen and the big fish they had caught.

That evening I listened for owls, but, sadly, I heard none. Nonetheless, twenty-four bird species were more than I had figured on.

Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Chickadee. Photo © Kevin Shank.

Bird List

  • Killdeer
  • Blue Jay
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Carolina Wren
  • Mourning Dove
  • Rock Dove
  • English Sparrow
  • European Starling
  • Purple Finch
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • American Robin
  • Bobwhite
  • Nuthatch
  • Canada Goose
  • American Crow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Belted Kingfisher

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