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Friday, September 9, 2011

A week to remember

It has been an exciting week in the backyard.  There has been a constant stream of migrants, in addition to my permanent resident birds, to entertain me.

Most exciting, of course, has been the Rufous Hummingbird that I told you about yesterday, but before that, the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers had arrived and they continue to ply their trade here at week's end.

Not unlike the hummingbirds, and not much bigger than them, the little gnatcatcher is constantly in motion and it is difficult to get a good picture of the bird among the leaves where it hunts for its food, but I was finally able to get this shot.  Gorgeous little creature!  But the gnatcatcher was only the beginning.

Yesterday, as I was outside watching the Rufous Hummingbird, as well as the other hummingbirds, hoping I might find a Black-chinned or another anomaly among them, I heard a call from the area of the big pine trees which are behind our property.  I trained my binoculars on the spot from which I thought the sound had emanated and what to my wondering eyes did appear,  not one, not two, but THREE Yellow-breasted Chats!  They were scouring the trunk of a dead pine tree (several of them have died in the drought) for bugs.

Now, the Yellow-breasted Chat is one of my "marker" birds of spring migration.  It is a bird whose quirky calls and behavior are emblazoned on my memory from childhood when I used to be entertained by their antics in the trees around our farm, and  I always look forward to seeing and hearing it in the spring.  But this last spring I waited for it in vain.  I never saw or even heard a single bird passing through my neighborhood.

I never see these birds during fall migration for the simple reason that one usually hears one before one sees it and, in fall, migrating birds are usually silent.  The flocks have been likened to a retreating army that wants to get out of town as quickly and quietly as possible.  It's not a bad analogy, but for whatever reason, one of the chats chose to announce its presence yesterday afternoon and so I was able to see my old friends, at least briefly.  I tried to get a picture of the birds but they were too far away for the lens I had on the camera, so the only picture remains the one I stored in my mind.

Shortly after I saw the chats and was still smiling from that observation, I was sitting in my favorite backyard chair looking at nothing in particular when a flash of yellow caught my eye.  I focused my vision on the spot, a branch of the old apple tree, thinking that one of the chats had flown into the yard and I might still get a picture, but it wasn't a chat.  It was the size of a Red-winged Blackbird but much more colorful.  It was, however, one of the blackbird's cousins.  I recognized it immediately from its size and posture, the size and color of its beak, and the color pattern of the feathers.  It was a Baltimore Oriole!  It was not the distinctively and unmistakably colored adult male of the species.  I wasn't sure at first if what I was seeing was  an adult female or a first year male.  It wasn't until I was able to consult my field guide later that I confirmed for myself that it was a first year male, not yet as bright as his father but a beautiful and unforgettable bird.

Did I get a picture of him?  Surely you jest!  By the time I got my camera in my hands and raised and focused it, he flew, taking cover in some dense shrubs at the back of my yard.  I never got a clear view of him again.

It was just one of the memorable days of this memorable week of backyard birding.  To cap it off, late in the day, I heard a Pine Warbler singing.  The Pine Warbler is one of the three signature warblers of my yard in winter, along with the Orange-crowned Warbler and the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  His trill was a reminder that, though the summer seems endless, autumn and winter really are coming.


  1. Yea!! You have your own blog;) I was reading your post on the Chronicle, but it was very difficult to leave comments.

    Saw a baltimore oriole for the first time in my life today. Beautiful bird. I've also seen some Warblers, Ruby Red Throat and a Summer Tanger.

  2. Welcome, Rambling Wren! I'm glad you found me.

    Hasn't it been an exciting week for migrants in our area? Every day seems to bring new ones. I was resigned to having a not very eventful fall migration season because of our awful drought. Happily, I was wrong.