Or How Luka the dog fared as assistant birdwatcher
Three months have passed since I posted “Birding with Luka the Dog and David Allen Sibley, the App.” We are all three months older; Luka is still cute, still a faithful pup who comes along on birding expeditions, sniffing about, waiting for me to continue on our way. She is hell on moths, moles and wasps, but so far is well mannered about not bothering the birds.
Summer is indeed waning. Instead of awaking to the slow, fiery lighting of distant Kibling Hill accompanied by mournful songs of Robins, now, that we are approaching the fall equinox, I open my eyes to grey, foggy hills, and the persistent and pleading cheeps of juvenile Red-breasted Grosbeaks. In many ways, I find birding in fall to be just as exciting as the colorful, noisy spring migration. Granted, the colors are fading, the juveniles are puzzling and the foliage is still clinging, however that last glimpse of a Nashville Warbler or Blue-headed Vireo is all the more precious for its farewells.
Three years ago when “Tropical Storm Irene” (as it is now officially called) hit, hayfields along the Ompomponoosuc were underwater for days; the tall elms and ash trees along the banks, trees that I suspect were already not doing well, died. Now when looking across the fields, one sees thick undergrowth of Jerusalem Artichoke, Goldenrod, Red-osier, Speckled Alder, along with unwanted clumps of aggressive invasive plants, Honeysuckle, Buckthorn, Japanese bamboo, chervil and parsnip. Saplings are slowly filling in the mid-canopy. Dead trees stand like old vases every fifty meters or so and have become favorite perches for Kingbirds and Cedar Waxwings who survey their surroundings from on high, fluttering off to grab prey in the air. Mid-branches of these dead trees have become perching grounds or nurseries for mixed flocks of young birds. It is as if the parents said, “Now stay here with the other children while we go do adult things for a while.” The young birds are scruffy, feathers not laying down right and not colored correctly yet. The flying is clumsy and the noises they make do resemble that of their species, but have a long way to go before they can be called songs. And, like the young of many species, they are prone to fighting with each other, intra-specific and inter-specific, they chase siblings and foreigners away equally.
A couple hours of birding along the West Branch of the Ompomponoosuc River on Monday morning turned up Doves, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and young, Downy Woodpeckers and Yellow-shafted Flickers, Phoebes, eight Kingbirds—parents and juveniles, some Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos, a Swainson’s Thrush, Robins, Catbirds, Nuthatches, House Wrens, Black-and-white, American Redstart and Nashville Warblers, Gold and Purple Finches, Cardinals, at least a dozen Cedar Waxwings with many recently fledged young and a huge flock of young Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, large-bodied-birds with massive beaks trying to navigate the act of flying while cheeping.
Later that day as I sat down on the porch to write, a flock of eight Canada Geese flew noisily overhead, towards the west. A cool breeze flew across my face and I thought about……skiing with Luka.