Sunday, April 27, 2008

'tis the season (for warbler neck)

For a few weeks, Chrissy's got rehearsals on Saturdays from 4-6 p.m., so today I took advantage of this time with my binoculars in the Ramble. The weather was pretty good, just cool enough for a jacket, and the sky was overcast, but not in a rain-threatening way. I started on the mulched path that leads from the Pinetum area down to the restrooms near Turtle Pond. I had seem palm warblers here before, but today the ground was populated largely by pigeons, starlings, and robins. I did get a great view, however, of a brilliant male red-bellied woodpecker fairly low on a tree trunk.

I visited the great egret at Turtle Pond, and while I was scanning the far edge, I saw a bit of tawny-brown fluff in a duck-like shape resting in the hollow of some rocks. I couldn't get a good view from so far away, so I climbed the castle and peered down, only to discover a Canada Goose (boo, that's so regular) on its nest (yay, that's so awesome)! The nest was lined with downy feathers, and a sparrow kept lurking nearby, perhaps hoping to steal some of them for its own nest. Once I saw the goose stand up and reposition itself, and I could see a few big eggs. What a thrill!

The Ramble was alive with birdsound. I walked though pockets of dense singing sound and pockets of quiet leaf-litter sound. The first bird I noticed gave me a hard time. I took a lot of notes, and it obliged me in this endeavor by sticking around a good long time. I thought I was getting a new bird, but when I consulted my field guide on the subway, it turned out to be a female eastern towhee, with a brown head, throat and back rather than the black I had seen before. I felt a little silly, of course, because I flipped through the book twice before I found it. But I also felt good at having done some detective work and making a successful ID. I won't be tricked by that one again!

As I was gathering my things to move to a new area, a small black and white striped bird landed on the tree trunk not seven feet away from me. I watched it climb, or rather, hop, quite actively up the trunk. The amount of movement and activity the bird displayed gave it an air of flightiness, excuse the pun. I enjoyed watching this bird, and I had the gut feeling it was a black-and-white warbler. When I consulted my field guide later, it mentioned a similarity in behavior to that other adored bird of mine, the white-breasted nuthatch, so I knew I had the right bird.

I spent some time craning my neck near what I think is called Azalea Pond in the Ramble, and spotted a Baltimore oriole way up in the leaves. Other birders flocked (boy, the puns are just begging to be used) to this area too, perhaps drawn by the density of birdsound. Several species of birds were fighting over this one patch of tree bark about five feet up the trunk. I wondered what could be so special or delicious about this one patch, and when no birds were on it, I went over to look. It looked regular to my eyes, but something about it certainly attracted the attention of house sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, starlings, and downy woodpeckers. In this area I also had my first yellow-rumped warbler.

My time was almost up, and I was wandering back toward the Castle when I spotted a rock just the right size and angle for reclining to get a good view of the birds in the canopy with less neck strain on my part. It was here that I met Doug, a friendly birder who helped me identify a palm warbler far above us by the tell-tale tail-pump. Apparently not many yellow birds pump their tails.

Overall an excellent day of birding, with three life birds - black and white warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, and Baltimore oriole.

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