Birds 101

Our four resident frogs are enjoying the lap pond’s 66.4 temperature. More my style would be a balmy 82 degrees but that’s not going to happen any time soon due to clouds and rain and cool weather. But that’s okay because that allows for time to clean the pool of green algae, and to listen to and look for the birds that are all around us. I am trying to learn and remember their songs and which species sings the scale, and which how-to-drink-your-tea? To aide and abet, we invite specialists. 

A few weeks ago, we had a couple of grassland specialists from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies visit us here at Darwin’s View to look about and train us in on how to monitor for grassland birds. A birder friend of ours joined us as well. All three shared their knowledge and thoughts on how we might maintain the property to entice grassland birds such as the bobolink.

We had a bobolink couple nesting here a couple of years ago but weren’t sure if they had come back since then because . . . what do they sound like again? Bobolinks prefer acres and acres of open grassland. Trees and big brush, not so much. Thus, Carl and I were concerned that all those permaculture swales that we put in and planted with blueberries and kiwi and fruit trees might have removed the sense of space and acreage that bobolinks require. Granted, we’d cleared five acres below the field to finish off our USDA grant to maintain brushland habitat but birds can be picky creatures as our chickens have taught us.

A tweet, tweet in the brush and all three birders exclaimed “Warbler!” Each named off a different species, finally agreeing it was a Prairie Warbler. And then “Great-crested flycatcher!” And isn’t that something to strive for? To know, just by a song, what the bird is, and its needs and comforts. Alas! Towhees, Prairie Warblers and Great-crested flycatchers we might have but the bird specialists all expressed doubt that the bobolinks would come back. They noted that some scruffy trees had grown up in one of our stone walls that bisects the field, and suggested we cut them back, and then wait and see.

We’d been meaning to clear out of that stone wall anyway. Within a day or two, the brush was gone, leaving us free to return our attention to garden creation, burying seedlings and a frozen chicken-who-died-back-in-March, and the feeding of black flies and deer flies with our blood. We pretty much forgot to pay attention to things bird. Though every morning, preferably by 5:30, I try to get up and go outside to listen to the morning chorus of birds wakening. I note the Phoebes. The Eastern Towhees. I keep forgetting who does the little scale tune. The rest? A blur of beauty.

Last week, as we drove up the driveway, around the sharp turn and on up toward the house, I looked to the right and saw a bird flitting. It landed on a tree. (Can you find it?) After a brief kerfuffle and study, we determined it was a male bobolink. We emailed the specialists who were thrilled for us, though they qualified the happy news: Likely as not, the bobolink had been displaced by a nearby field being mowed. It was unlikely that it would nest here. This year, anyway.

This happens a lot these days. Bobolinks are small blackbirds who like big fields. Lots of space to swoop over, blades of high grass to perch on. They nest in those fields, on the ground. And if those fields happen to be hayfields, which they often are, the nests and the eggs and chicks in the nest get chopped up by the mowers. Though there is a suggestd protocol to not mow until after the chicks have fledged in late July, that’s relatively unreasonable for farmers who are trying to get sufficient hay to feed their cattle in winter. And so bobolinks flit from just mown hayfields to ours. Happy days for us!

That same day, a Scarlett Tanager appeared. Carl got it on camera through our telescope.