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Sun, Sun, Sun, And Butterflies

Originally Posted: May 14, 2012

Eric Salzman

A handsome male Scarlet Tanager right in our backyard. (Photo: Michael Lotito)

East Quogue - The sun came up this morning and shone in through our east-facing bedroom windows for the first time since we moved out at the end of April. Actually the sun's reappearance happened during the day yesterday and was accompanied by a new influx of butterflies - several species led by the Red Admirals - and the arrival of a handsome male Scarlet Tanager right in our backyard. Sunlight bouncing off the scarlet-and-black of a Scarlet Tanger perched out in the open on a branch of a big old hickory -- well birdwatching doesn't get much better than that.

The change in weather was also accompanied by some migration with a solitary Solitary Sandpiper feeding this morning in the neck of our pond and 10 species of warblers appearing here in East Quogue and in Maple Swamp a little to the north. This included the first Common Yellowthroats of the season singing away on the edge of our marsh, at least two Yellow Warblers singing in the trees around the head of the marsh plus a Black-throated Blue and Parula, also picked out by song. These same birds were also at Maple Swamp along with a Northern Waterthrush, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Pine Warbler and several female Yellow-rumped Warbler -- all except the last-named singing away. Ten species of warblers is about average for a good warbler May day in these latter-day times.

Maple Swamp had a few surprises. The biggest one for me was the absolute absence of Wood Thrushes - usually a staple in these woods - and their replacement by at least two singing Hermit Thrushes! Could I have made a mistake? Thoreau famously confused the two songs which somewhat resemble each other. But no, these were classic Hermit Thrush songs beginning with a clear lower note followed by those heavenly ascending sound spirals. Hermits are common wintering birds but uncommon to rare nesters and they only sing their heavenly song on their nesting grounds.

A more difficult question was that of a distant singing sparrow with a song that started out with a trill followed by slurred notes and ending with another trill. The location was an open area whose trees were decimated by loopers two or three years ago (but not yet invaded by pitch pines) -- a possible 'woodland' location for a sparrow. The form of the song seemed to me to be that of Vesper but, on thinking about it, I have to say that it was much more likely a slightly 'off' Field Sparrow song.

There were lots of other birds, mostly settling in as breeders. At the open pond in the middle, there was a Chebec hunting insects. What is a Chebec, you ask? It's the alternate name (based on its call) for the Least Flycatcher, the most common of the empidonax flycatchers in migration and a potential breeder. Other flycatchers included a pair of Eastern Kingbirds chasing each other around over the pond, Great Crested Flycatchers everywhere and Eastern Phoebe near the road. Red-eyed Vireos were all over the place and singing vigorously and there was a singing Warbling Vireo in a wet spot near the horse pasture (where it had been a few days ago). Blue-gray Gnatcacher and Hairy Woodpecker are both probably already nesting. The only raptors seen were a couple of Turkey Vultures soaring overhead.