Sunday, July 12, 2009

And the Jays Go Wild

I never cease to be astonished at the mesmerizing rewards for nothing more than sitting still outside at length. Today's hour has presented such an array of avian spectacles about which to wonder, I'm hard pressed to focus on only one. Will it be the newly audible house wren nestlings, the pair of whee-he-ing white breasted nuthatches, the adolescent bluebird (small and dull in color/maybe adult female),the red-bellied woodpecker spiraling the pine trunk, the red-tailed hawk soaring overhead, whatever that large silent swooping black & white striped bird of prey was that so elevated the blue jays' ire, or the overlapping activity of all of them within a ten minute span, after 45 minutes of less notable observations? I've not even mentioned the trio of cardinals at the birdbath.

A bluebird and two nuthatches spark the most curiosity. The three of them arrived in the center grass together, as if play or travel mates, but I think now it was chance. They've ignored each other the rest of the hour. The nuthatches flirted with each other around the yard while the bluebird came back and back to the same dead dogwood branch by the housewren box to watch for lunch in the grass beneath. Every now and then it fluttered to the ground to go after something delectable. Right now it sits atop Moe's tomato stake with---surprise, surprise---a second blue bird on adjacent stake. There they perch for the longest, not taking their eyes off each other. Thrilling---but not so mystifying as the nuthatch that investigated the baby wrens in the rhombus house by climbing all over the top and sides, poking its head inside several times, and eventually flying away---all without so much as a chirp from the parent wrens. By their cavorting I'm guessing the nuthatches are mating and searching for a nesting site. But how did the tiny nestlings know to be silent for the nuthatch when they've been cheep-cheep-cheeping at the regular arrivals of their parents? And why did the parents not attempt to chase off the intruder? One of them was perched nearby in the flowering quince, and appeared to watch the proceedings, as did the bluebird from the dogwood branch.

Now, half an hour later, no sign of the nuthatches, bluebirds on tomato stakes, and the regular feeding activity of housewren family has resumed. The yard returns to the peace of a summer Sunday, but not for long. Ambles Calicat up the path---creating sudden havoc at every silent step. The frenzy of avian flutter and screech surrounding her slow progress cannot be described. Jays, titmice, house wrens, bluebirds, cardinals, and nuthatches alike coordinate forces. Do they all have nests in the vicinity, or is it professional courtesy? The usually secretive titmice come out in furious number. Have none of them discovered Calicat's incompetence as a hunter? She can't catch a blind mole.

Roger Tory suggests the mysterious bird of prey seen earlier was a short tailed hawk in dark phase---but that it would not be found north of Florida. By its markings, however, it could be nothing else. It was the size and color of a large crow, with distinctively black and white striped tail, observed in a silent near-vertical diving swoop out of pinetree, at first with wings and tail spread, then streamlining into a bullet shape as it disappeared into the lower canopy of green---and the jays went wild. dkm

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