Monday, May 12, 2008

Kings Of The Canopy

It was 5:00am on Saturday morning when I noticed that the sky was just starting to get lighter. I gathered my binoculars and camera ready to head out for what I expect will be an exciting morning of birding. We are entering the peak of Spring Migration and reports of warblers have been promising this week.

I arrived at Portland Reservoir at 5:30am, not wanting to miss one moment of what is a perfect spring morning. The sky is clear and the forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 60's. There's something magical about the early part of the morning. It's the time of the day that my mind is at its sharpest with only the sounds of nature to compete with my thoughts. Most people are still asleep at this time allowing me to walk through the woods slowly with no distractions.

A few birds had started to already. There were the slurred singing of the Baltimore Oriole, the lyrical notes of a Song Sparrow, and the squeaking cackle of Canada Geese on the far end of the reservoir. As I walked along the path lined with towering trees, the sun made it's first appearance as its golden glow cast upon the long, soft needles of the white Pines. As I passed the small bog on my left, a beaver smacked its tail against the water letting me know that I was crowding its space.
As I walked further into the forest, things quieted down again. I thought about what I had read in the Bible the night before. I rarely read the Bible but when I do, I'm left with a lot of questions. Most of them start with the word how? Science has tried to answer many of the questions we have about life. They have even come up with theories about how life first began. I find these theories to be fascinating but they leave me with one big question--why? Scientific explanations seem to imply that life was created by a series of cosmic accidents causing a chain reaction which led us to where we are at this very moment. I'm not buying the theory that the miracle of life was just a lucky coincidence. Although I'm not a follower of any particular religion, I believe someone or something definitely had a plan. The truth is I'll probably never know who, what or why. These are the kind of thoughts that run through my mind when I drink coffee and go walking in the woods at 5:30 in the morning.
As I came to the end of my walk, I started to hear a sound from the canopy above. Chick-brrr, Chick-brrr. That is the call of Piranga olivacea, more commonly known as a Scarlet Tanager--beautiful!

It was an excellent day of birding for me. I saved money on gas by staying in my hometown of Portland. I was able to see 14 species of warbler:

At Portland Reservoir- Northern Parula, Yellow , Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Pine, American Redstart, Black & White, and Ovenbird.

At Old Marlborough Turnpike-Blue-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and
Chestnut-sided Warbler.

I took a ride over to Gadpouch Hill Road and parked my car across from the blue-marked trail which leads to the top of Great hill. This seems to be a reliable place to find Worm-eating Warbler during Spring Migration and this year was no exception. I could hear the insect-like trills of two Worm-eating Warblers just before the trail winds through the cliffs along the blue trail. Another reliable migrant that can be found here every spring is the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I had my first look at a male singing jubilantly as he flew from one treetop to another.
Once I reached the top of the hill I started to hear the low, croaking call of a Great-crested Flycatcher. I didn't hear its weep call at all. Maybe it was such a nice day that he had nothing to weep about. Here is a photo looking at the back of the bird sitting in a tree at the top of the 400 foot Great Hill.
Later in the morning, I stopped at the Portland Fairgrounds. Things didn't start out to well as I got my truck stuck in the mud. AAA sent out a truck that arrived within an hour. They pulled me out of the mud with no problem. The nice thing was that I was at a place that I could watch the birds while I waited. The fairgrounds were loaded with swallows chasing each other around. They were mostly Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows like the two in the above photo. There was also a variety of sandpipers to be seen including 12 greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, and Least Sandpipers. I was really pleased with the variety of species that I saw which totaled about 50.
I will leave you with two videos that feature brilliant colored male migrants that love to sing from the tops of trees. I shall call them- " KINGS OF THE CANOPY."

The first video is of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. He was quite easy to hear but getting a clear look at him was another story. I lost the bird at the end of the video but left it running so you could hear him sing a repeat verse of his song.
Our second King Of The Canopy is a male Scarlet Tanager. He never got into his full song but you can clearly hear him repeating his call notes.


Sandpiper (Lin) said...

Fantastic post, Larry! You saw a lot of really great birds this weekend, and not run of the mill either! I really enjoyed your videos, too. I don't think there are many birds that sound as good as the RB Grosbeak. Nice shot of the Tanager. I haven't seen one in a couple of years. Glad you got to see so many things. More than I did, but I had a good weekend, too. There seemed to be a lot of really interesting things to see. I came across an area in Litchfield, while I was out walking, that had more chestnut-sided warblers than I could count. A life bird for me, so I was happy. We also went down to Hammonasset again this weekend and saw a number of Glossy Ibises. I haven't put the pictures on my blog yet, but I'll get to it eventually. I always loving coming here to see what is happening in my old stomping grounds. Thanks.

J. Karl Clampit said...

Great post Larry! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your pics. I agree with you about the plan, the Good Lord knew what he was doing!

I've had the Rose-Breast Grosbeaks visiting for awhile now. They are beautiful birds. Love the videos. I feel like I'm there with you.

Jayne said...

I agree Larry. There is nothing like the dawn song you can hear when it's early in the day and everything is just waking up. Sounds like it was a delightful day... well, other than the getting stuck in the mud part. ;c) Love the videos of the Kings!

Larry said...

Sandpiper-It sounds like you've been getting your share of Spring Migration.-I heard the on Chestnut-sided Warbler but didn't get a good look at him.-It must have been something to see so many of them.I've never seen more than two in one place.-Hammonasset does it again!

JKarl-They are around here but I have to work for them a little bit.I'm glad that you liked the videos. Of course it would be nice if I used a tripod but that's tough to do when you're trying to keep up with the action.

Jayne-Thanks Jayne-Is it better to be stuck in the mud or be a stick in the mud?

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Sounds like a wonderful day in spite of the mud. I really loved your carlet Tanager video. I've only ever seen one. I'm with you in not believing that life didn't result from random coincidence. When I'm immersed in nature I'm humbled by the complexity of life and believe it was planned and chosen by God. Terrific post.

Mary C said...

Larry, I'm envious of all those wonderful birds, especially the warblers you saw Sunday. What a great way to spend some time early in the morning and absorb those lovely bird sounds. You sure did a great job getting the RB grosbeak and scarlet tanager sounds in your videos. It makes me realize that I need to get out and do some birding.

Larry said...

Lynne-The complexity of life is humbling.Scarlet Tanager is that one bird I always wanted to see before I started birding.I found out it was a matter of looking in the right place at the right time which turned out to be high in the forest trees during spring migration/summer.

Maryc-Earlier is better-no doubt about it.When I ge up late, I feel cheated.-Yes-by all means-Get out there and do some birding!

troutbirder said...

As a novice birder I found your pics and commentary quite interesting. Also your first binocs. I have inherited a Bushnell with a rocker bar and a zoom which drives me crazy. Time to move up to a better focus.

Barbie ♥ said...

Hi Larry - my first time here and I greatly enjoyed your pictures, videos and your commentary! I too, have the same thoughts on an early morning walk...but I enjoy the simple faith of a child and give all the glory to God as the Creator -- now way could such marvels be the result of a big bang OR evolution (that's my story and I'm stickin' to it ;-)
You sure had one great birding day (except for getting stuck in the mud). Very nice blog, Larry!

Ruth said...

This is one of your best posts, Larry. I couldn't imagine seeing 50 birds in one outing (or starting at 5:30 AM) I am sometimes overwhelmed by the beauty I see and hear when I am walking outdoors. I feel as if I am in the grandest cathedral that was designed by a Creator for a purpose.

Kathie Brown said...

Looks like tanagers are everywhere now as I saw two varieties here this weekend. You are way ahead of me in the warbler department. I haven't seen most of the species you listed. I saw my first Common yellow-throat this weekend. What a bright yellow throat! Nice writing today. Love the bird songs! Thanks for the view of the woods in spring in New England!

Unknown said...

I love the recordings. I can only identify a handful of birds by ear. Currently my back yard is crawling with White Crowned Sparrows and they are serenading me while I work. The white throats have largely moved on and I can hear a cardinal as I type. I wish spring lasted longer.

Larry said...

troutbirder-Thanks for the kind comments. Binoculars that you are comfortable with can make a big difference in your level of enjoyment when it comes to birding.

bird girl-Thank You bird girl.There is something special about early mornings. I am not a doubter of every scientific discovery. I just believe that science explains some things but not everything. Mistakes are made in the scientific world-It isn't perfect.

ruth-thanks ruth.-I do have some good ideas for post in my head but don't always have the ambition or energy to follow through with them. Nature itself has the grandest catherdral of all.

Kathiebirds-Glad you liked it.I will be checking tonight to see what you've been up to on your blog.

Sarala-Crawling with White-crowned Sparrows! That sounds odd to me because they are pretty uncommon around here.-Glad you liked the bird song.

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Great day for you! And the more I hear about others seeing Scarlet Tanagers, the more anxious I get about seeing my first this year!

Anonymous said...

Larry, I enjoyed this post and your pictures. I've never been to Portland but it sounds like a beautiful place. I just always envisioned city. Thanks for the look at your wildlife and wild places.

Amila Salgado said...

Morning walks are very fulfilling. Well done with the Scarlet Tanager. He sure looks to be ruling the canopy.

RuthieJ said...

What a great day you had Larry! I loved seeing the picture of the beaver and also your birdsong videos. How nice that you had a calm day and the recordings were so clear.
P.S. I get up at 4 AM every day and the first thing I do is go out to the backyard and fill my birdfeeders. I'm amazed that at 4:10 AM--when it's still completely dark--the chipping and song sparrows are already starting to sing in my backyard! I love the early morning times for birding!

steadyjohn said...

Larry, King of Local Birders reports on King of the Canopy. Great post btw.
You say: I'm not buying the theory that the miracle of life was just a lucky coincidence.
Me neither! Here's what I wrote in another forum about Intelligent Design. This has nothing to do with any organized religion. It's just about things that cannot be explained by Darwinism which I'm sure you are aware of.
"The launching of the intelligent design movement dates to the publication of Michael J. Behe's Darwin's Black Box (1996) which I have not read. I am presently reading his follow-up, the recently published (2007) The Edge of Evolution - The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. Behe, a professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University, makes the case that Darwin's theories are generally useful and correct but that there are limits to what can be explained by Darwinism. Exciting recent developments in microbiology including the genetic deciphering of the complete genomes of many organisms have shed much light on cellular processes and the limits as to how much can be explained by Darwinism alone . The machinery of the cell has been analyzed in great detail and tens of thousands of generations of microorganisms have been studied in relation to their antibiotic resistance. Studies of human responses to malaria and certain viruses have proved particularly revealing. Behe asserts, that at the cellular level, there is a limit to what can be explained by Darwin's theories."
I recommend the book highly!

Aunt "B's" Backyard said...

Hi Larry...You are certainly on a roll. The mornings are the best time to catch every type of species at it's best. You've gotten quite the variety. Love to listed to the RB Grosbeak sing. Wow, this was such a pleasing excursion, thanks!

Larry said...

Zen Birdfeeder-I'll bet by the time I've responded to this post you will already have seen your first of the year!

laurao-Portland is a fairly small town that is fairly well developed. It does have a few nice areas that are good for birding though.

gallicissa-Thanks! Early morning is key.

ruthiej-Yes ruthiej-Good for you-filling feeders at 4am.-I can't say I'm quite that ambitious but I do love the early morning.

Steadyjohn-Thanks for the fascinating comments! That sounds like a book that I may take with me while I'm on vacation in New Hampshire.

aunt B's-Glad you liked the RB groasbeak singing.-I am having pretty good results for Spring Migration.

Anonymous said...

Hey, love this time of the year with so many warblers around!

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Not yet.....