A Blackburnian warbler

Prime time for plumage



The song of a hermit thrush is like none other and very special as the day ends. You hear its lovely song far more often than you see the bird itself. Hermit thrushes are very shy birds living in both deciduous and evergreen forests. They seem to crave privacy. The hermit thrush slightly resembles the larger, outgoing wood thrush, for both of them have spotted breasts. On the wood thrush, look also for its slightly reddish tail and its habit of slowly raising and lowering this tail. For those of you who like poetry, look up Walt Whitman’s tribute to Abraham Lincoln and read what he said about the hermit thrush in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” These thrushes are usually seen on or near the ground.

The wood thrush, a larger cousin of the hermit thrush is right out for all to see, and it also has a great voice and sings with vigor. If the wood thrush is around your home, you’ll know it, for it is not a shy bird.

Familiar birds in the thrush family include robins and bluebirds. They don’t look like the others in the group, but they have speckled young and good voices. Members of the thrush family you can expect to see on this island include the American robin, bluebird, veery, wood thrush, hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush and gray-cheeked thrush. An unexpected visitor would be a varied thrush.

Warblers take center stage now with their wonderful colors and beautiful songs. A birdwalk recently in Somesville found a gorgeous Blackburnian warbler. You can’t mistake this gorgeous warbler, for it is a black-and-white bird with flaming orange about its head and throat. The spring plumage of the male is unmistakable. I have lived many years, and I can still see in my mind’s eye the first Blackburnian warbler I ever saw in a big blue spruce tree near our house at the time.

The female is much paler, as usual, but you can still see some orange on her as well. These beauties breed in evergreen woods. Blackburnian warblers travel many miles from Peru and the Guianas to reach Maine and Ontario where they nest. It is a long journey for such a small bird. While they are here in Maine, they manage to raise four or five young. They will leave us again in late August.

A black-throated green warbler also put in an appearance as our walk progressed. This, too, is a beautiful bird, one that often lets you get quite close while it is taking care of young birds. For many years, a pair has nested next to our driveway and given us great pleasure watching them feeding and rearing their young. It is one bird call that does match the words describing its lisping call, sounding like ” Zee-zee zee zoo zoo zee.” There are excellent aids for learning bird calls on the internet, especially at the Cornell University bird site.

Grebes are not common here in the summer but are definitely a possibility, for nests with their eggs have been found occasionally in Seal Cove Pond. During migration, however, they are spotted here and there on small ponds and along the coast near shore. A friend described to me what she had seen on a small island pond recently, and it sounded like a pied-billed grebe. Grebes are funny little birds that can dive very quickly, and they also can sink slowly as you watch them disappear below the surface — going, going, going, gone, like magic. Always look for its thick, rounded bill. The birds’ feathers are kept well waterproofed with oil spread by means of their bill from glands located on the rump. Because of this, the bird never hesitates to dive or pop under the water in search of food or to escape danger while using its wings and feet for propellers for high speed. The length of time the bird can stay underwater is still to be determined. The young go into the water soon after they hatch and quickly learn how to be a pied-billed grebe. Frequently, several of them will ride on their parents’ back. This is a nice sight to see. The horned grebe, also seen here, has a slender, pointed bill.

Grebes feed by diving underwater to catch fish and aquatic insects, frogs and crayfish. They often appear here on this island before the ice is all gone from our ponds and lakes. Watch for them whenever you are out and about, especially in a canoe or kayak.

This is prime time for seeing warblers and other birds in their best plumage. Take time to be out and about and enjoy it all.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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