The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Photo by Mary Curry

Birds and Beyond
A Spring Stroll
Claire Curry, April 2003, Wise County Messenger, © 2003

Mid-afternoon rolled around, warm and slightly windy. I was tired of standing around in the yard fidgeting with my currently small garden. It took me a few minutes to grab all my birding equipment, but I soon started through the yard and along the path to the woods. I went in hope of watching a hummingbird nest that we had recently found.

As I walked I heard a mockingbird singing from the direction of the woods. Each of the several mockingbirds scattered around the property has its favored hang-outs, and the one currently singing preferred a brushy area near the woods. A Bewick’s Wren also declared its dominance of the woods.

In less than ten minutes I arrived near the woods. An unfamiliar, quiet song was emanating from a brush pile. Intrigued, I moved closer to the clump of brush and thorn trees. With the wind I was having a difficult time figuring out precisely where the soft song was coming from. Then, success! A Lincoln’s Sparrow (a migrant through our area) was moving about in the lower parts of the brush pile, singing in an unobtrusive voice.

While I was sitting and writing my notes about the sparrow, I was told that a gnatcatcher nest had been discovered! I hurried through the grass into the woods. There, at the corner where we always see two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers flitting around in the oaks, was the well-hidden nest! The tiny nest was quite a work of art. It’s hard to see, as it is 30 feet up in a tree, tiny, and covered in flakes of lichen, but it is a natural work of art anyway. In fact, the gnatcatcher’s nest seems rather like an overgrown hummingbird nest, the nest I had originally taken my walk to see.

We watched the gnatcatchers a few minutes more, and then found out why one of them was scolding us. The other member of the pair was on the nest! A tell-tale gnatcatcher tail peeked over the edge of the nest. So, we all departed to give the antsy birds peace.

I now decided to head over to the hummingbird nest. I stopped along the path where the hummer’s nest was located. The problem was, though, I couldn’t find the nest! It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, since hummingbird nests are as camouflaged as a gnatcatcher’s. Plus, they’re a whole lot smaller! I finally realized that I was looking at the wrong spot, and I then relocated the nest.

The female hummingbird perched nearby when I first set up my chair, but after that I didn’t see her much. The nest, which we had discovered two days before, seemed to me to be almost finished. I sat for nearly an hour, and even moved out of sight of the nest, but I don’t think she worked on it. I suppose that she had other important things to do, like eating.

Despite the lack of activity in the hummer department, other birds were around to keep me busy. The resident mockingbird and cardinals sang frequently, while the excited calls of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers popped into the air. After sitting for a while I started to hear other, quieter call notes in the trees. I turned and faced a different direction, and began to see occasional movements in the trees. Another unknown song also piqued my curiosity. I wondered if it might be a louder version of the Lincoln’s Sparrow, but the true singer soon set me straight. A male Yellow-rumped Warbler was singing as he foraged among the leaves. As an extra treat, this winter resident and migrant was in crisp breeding plumage instead of its duller winter plumage.

Another delightful bird, the Chipping Sparrow, was looking for a snack up in the oak trees. It too gave me a thrill with its breeding colors: a rich chestnut crown, a bright white over the eye, and a bold black eyestripe. What a bird!

It occurred to me that I ought to glance at the titmouse nest. Titmice nest in cavities, and this particular hole was a good ways up a dead tree. So although I couldn’t actually look in the nest, I gave a quick look at the tree. I didn’t see anything happening, but the titmice had been seen working on the nest earlier.

After sitting for almost an hour, I was ready to walk again. I headed down the path, and noted a Mourning Dove and a Lincoln’s Sparrow as I went. I found a spot where I could see the tireless mockingbird singing his head off. I watched him for several minutes, and then walked onward. It was almost dinnertime, and about time for me to meander home. As I headed home, I heard the tinkling version of a Grasshopper Sparrow song. The other version of their song is a short “tick” note, followed by a buzz. It may not be impressive to us, but I guess the lady sparrows like it!

Over two hours after I started, I was once more in the front yard. A mockingbird was rambling away from a commanding perch, while Eastern Meadowlarks were whistling their clear songs from areas around the yard. An afternoon walk sure is a pleasant way to end a weekend!


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