On this first full day of summer, a myriad of call notes rang across the Arboretum as I walked in the early morning sunshine, but regardless of pitch or intensity, all were demanding the same thing: feed me. A young tree swallow poked its head out of the nestbox, blinking in the sunlight, its yellow gape gleaming. The parent stuffed an insect in its mouth, flew away. The youngster remained in place. What about its siblings? I wondered….or is this the one that will be successfully raised, out-manoeuvring and out-competing its nest-mates?
On the dead branches of a fallen tree nearly a dozen young red-winged blackbirds congregated, calling, their newly-fledged feathers of browns and fawn crisp and shining – unlike the ragged adults that paid little attention to them. Feed yourselves, the adults seemed to be indicating: we’re tired. A short-tailed field sparrow juvenile followed its parent from branch to branch of another tree, cheeping; it received a bit more attention, but again – and I know I’m anthromorphizing – the adult seemed harried and irritated by its offspring.
The bluebird pair did not nest successfully; I last saw them carrying food about three weeks ago, but now both adults loaf around, not approaching the nest box, and there are no juveniles to be seen. The completion for the nest boxes is intense: the tree swallows have claimed most of them, but I’ve seen house wrens at a couple as well. House wrens do well here: at least four were singing today, perched high on trees and bushes.
A young male Baltimore oriole landed on the path ahead of me. Almost in full plumage, this wasn’t this year’s young, but a ‘yearling’ bird, immature, rather than juvenile. Was it raised in the tree fifty meters away from where it landed, where a nest from last year was visible before the foliage obscured it, or is it simply here coincidentally? A male sings from nearby: a pair has nested here again, although I can’t be sure it’s in the same tree. This is perfect habitat for them: open but scattered with tall deciduous trees, plus a small stream with lots of cover.
On the grassy hill meadowlarks stand on posts, singing; or rather, one – the male – is singing, one has a dragonfly in her beak. I watch her as she disappears into the grasses, to the nest hidden somewhere on the ground under the swaying stems. The eastern meadowlark was the first bird I independently identified as a child. I was ten, or so, and I had seen the picture in my How and Why Wonder Book of Birds. I still remember seeing this bird, flying up from the grassy edges of the tomato field behind our house, with the black V standing out against its yellow breast, and thinking ‘that’s a meadowlark! I’ve seen a meadowlark!‘. They still remain, in a certain way, my bird, each sighting holding a faint echo of that initial thrill of discovery.
I walk along the path towards Victoria Woods. A family of American redstarts follow their mother along a branch, begging. In the dark, still woods I look up at the Cooper’s hawk nest. A couple of weeks ago, I watched a fluffy grey nestling walk along the rim of the nest, looking prehistoric: today the nest looks deserted, and off-kilter among its supporting branches, as if it has shifted. Flies hover and dart among the loose-woven branches. It’s just possible, I calculate, that the nestling has fledged and left the nest, but its disarray bothers me. Storm-wracked, or predated? Did a great horned owl find the nest, take the young? Or did the last thunderstorm with its high winds shift the nest? A raccoon sprawled over a branch nearby, sleeping in the morning’s warmth: not likely the culprit, given the size of the nestling, although it would have gladly eaten either the eggs or a smaller chick.
The last juveniles of my walk were the most common: young, spotted American robins, foraging in the leaf litter under the trees as I approached my bicycle, parked at the entrance to the Arboretum paths. I could hear a red-eyed vireo singing from Wild Goose Woods as I prepared to leave, adjusting my helmet; it too will have young it’s feeding, high in the trees, hidden by the foliage. I could go look, but I suspect I’d just end up with a case of ‘birder’s neck’ and a dozen mosquito bites for my trouble. I leave the woods to the birds, and bike home.
Eastern Meadowlark photograph by Dominic Sherony (originally posted to Flickr as Eastern Meadowlark) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons