Saturday, July 11, 2009

Titmice, Thrushes and Towhees

Saturday morning, cool, sunny and breezy (for the middle of July anyway). No family or friend obligations. No pressing work issues. What's a girl to do with a whole summer day stretched ahead of her? Go birding, of course.

I usually bird Peace Valley Park only 3 miles from my house. Beautiful Lake Galena, woods, paved trails, hiking trails, whatever strikes my fancy. But today I wanted to try Lake Nockamixon, a state park about 10 miles away. So fortified with coffee and doused in bug spray, off I went - spotting turkey vultures in the sky for the first bird of the day.

I turned off the state road at the first hiking trail sign I saw and hiked into dense woods. Bugs everywhere, but the bird songs were loud and there was lots of movement in the trees. Yup, worth it. The first birds I saw were a family of noisy and rambunctious titmice chasing each other in spirals up the tree trunks. So inquisitive and cheerful. I know most birds don't participate in "play", but these titmice sure looked like they were playing. Time to move on.

Hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers were in attendance. White-breasted nuthatches (hello, old friend) and red-eyed vireos were singing up a storm (a monotonous storm at that). Peewees, catbirds, robins and phoebes were also collecting moths and other small bugs and feeding youngsters noisily begging for breakfast. A hermit thrush jumped from low limb to limb keeping an eye on me and allowing me a good look at his rufous rump patch. Chickadees and a lone rose-breasted grosbeak rounded off the forest trail birds I spotted in the first half hour.

Next, I headed to Lake Towhee and hiked into the "campground" areas in the woods surrounding the lake. The woods were silent. Tried using my new Birdjam (hi Jay!) to call in anything. No luck. So back to the car and as usual, the most bird action was in the parking lot. Doesn't it always happen that way? Robins, phoebes and catbirds were flitting around the edges of the woods. Chipping and song sparrows were on the manicured lawn of the playground area. Purple martins and barn swallows glided over the water. Eastern bluebirds flew in and out of two nest boxes near the playground.

Heard a wood thrush (gotta' love that eee-o-lay) and used Birdjam to call it in. Got a nice look and then saw another thrush-sized bird on the ground that wasn't a hermit or wood thrush. What the heck is that? Not a lot of chest streaking. No rufous rump patch. Juvenile robin or wood? Nope. Swainson's???? Nope, no eye ring. A song like a muted wood thrush (Peterson's describes it as liquid and ethereal). I took out the trusty field guide and found it - Veery! A lifer for me! I did the life bird wiggle (a condensed version since I was alone) and used Birdjam to call to it. Yup, it sang right back to me. Wow. How nice to get a totally unexpected life bird today. I got nice long looks at it and left the lake satisfied.

I drove to another hiking trail and went into the woods again. Something singing loud and insistently sounded familiar and very, very close, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I am not at all experienced at birdsong. I soon saw movement directly ahead of me about 10 feet up. Wow - gorgeous! Larger than a warbler but smaller than a robin. Black head and beak, white belly and chestnut side patches. Bright black button eyes. White outer tail stripes. What is it? This little bird was singing his heart out. Chestnut-sided warbler? Nope. Bay-breasted warbler (that would be a lifer!!)? Nope. What other birds have chestnut sides? I finally pulled out the guide. There it was. Eastern towhee. A bird I have seen a hundred times at feeders. Why didn't I recognize it? And isn't the lake nearby called LAKE TOWHEE???? And that distinctive song - drink-your-tea. I felt foolish for not getting it right away, but here was an opportunity to see a towhee (I still think of them as Rufous Sided Towhees - I don't like the name change) in the forest and not at a feeder.

Three hours had passed and I was getting eaten alive by gnats and skeeters despite my dip in DEET. So I packed it in for the day. Not a bad haul for 3 short hours.

Turkey vulture
Mourning Dove
Rock Dove
American Robin
Gray catbird
Wood thrush
Hermit thrush
Eastern bluebird
Tufted titmouse
Northern cardinal (looking a bit ragged - feather mites?)
Black-capped chickadee
Rose-breasted grosbeak
Eastern towhee
Purple martin
Barn swallow
Canada goose
Great blue heron
Chipping sparrow
Song sparrow
Hairy woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Eastern phoebe
Eastern wood peewee
Red eyed vireo
Blue jay
American crow
White-breasted nuthatch


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Hooty-hoot on the Veery! Glad you first of the day was a TUVU. Hmm... maybe it's your totem bird too...

Sounds like a really fun time.

KatDoc said...

Wow - what a good day! Three thrush species, including that magical Veery, all the baby birds begging (I love to see and hear that!), and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I have dipped on that bird every time I have looked for it this year.

Glad that BirdJam (Hi, Jay!) is working for you.

Yeah, it seems that parking lots are prime territory. I swear, some days I wonder why we leave them for the field! If I ever write a book about birding, I am going to call it "All the Best Birds are in the Parking Lot."

Beth said...

Hi Lynne - I don't know if I would count a TUVU as my totem bird. I think they are kinda' skeevy. I kind of like the Blackburnian Warbler. :)

Hi Kathi - LOL about the book. I will gladly contribute a chapter. I've seen most of my best birds in lots, at edge of roads and on bridge overpasses. Why do we even bother going into the field?! :)


sureshcsharma said...

What a thrilling experience to go through the narration. Enjoyed it a lot. Will like to read more.

Suresh C Sharma
Haryana, India