Community Columns

A season alive with birds

Paul Stoutenburgh photos
The jack-in-the-pulpit, which can be found growing in moist soils, is one of nature’s most interesting plants. It is propagated with seeds that form in a cluster in the fall.

A good friend of ours has a large piece of wooded property that runs from the North Road to the Sound. He told us there had been a solitary sandpiper feeding around one of his ponds. We were anxious to try to get to see it and photograph it.

The solitary sandpiper is a loner during migration. It can often be seen around freshwater ponds picking up small frogs in the mud as it works its way around the pond edge. It is unique in its nesting habits in that it lays its eggs in old abandoned tree nests.

When we stopped by, the sandpiper wasn’t around but we decided to see if there were any migrating birds moving through on their way to cooler areas to the north. We walked around the pond looking for the sandpiper, and big bullfrogs at the edge jumped in as we passed.

Near the pond we could see a pair of mallard ducks and Ken told us there had been a pair of wood ducks in the pond as well. They are such beautiful ducks. We’ll go back and try to see if we can see them.

A noisy great crested flycatcher flew by. That bird has nested in our woods each year right near our house. Years ago I was able to get good photographs of the adults feeding the young. As I sat in my hot camouflaged burlap blind I could see that they were feeding the young a particular kind of moth that must have been hatching out at the time.

Luckily, the other day while walking through our old orchard and garden we heard and then spotted the male flycatcher and not far behind was the female. It is often easier to hear them than to see them. They are noisy birds. This treetop feeder nests in cavities of trees and often the nest includes a snakeskin. No one is sure why they use the snakeskin; some think it’s to scare away predators. Hopefully seeing these two together hanging around in the garden means they are looking for a place to nest and will stay with us for a while.

The place was alive with birds; a yellow warbler flew down on the road near us. A letter from a reader this week told of having a yellow warbler perch on the mirror of her car while checking out the Peconic River area in Riverhead. This yellow warbler is one of the few warblers that nest in our area. The catbird we heard singing also nests here. Catbirds are friendly birds. It reminded me of my good friend Judd Bennett, who was able to train a catbird to eat small pieces of cheese from his hand.

Ken told us of seeing more birds arriving, like the indigo bunting, the red-breasted grosbeak and the cedar waxwing. I was lucky enough to find an indigo bunting nesting over on the south side some years ago. It is one of the most beautiful of all blue birds. They are beneficial to the farmer and fruit-grower, consuming insect pests and weed seeds.

The rose-breasted grosbeak has one of the most beautiful songs, quite similar to that of the robin. It’s time to look for them for they are now passing through our area. While the female is heavily streaked with brown on white the male is striking in his black and white coloring with a conspicuous rose-red patch on his breast and under wings.

When we were sitting and visiting under our friends’ grape arbor recently we began to hear little lisping sounds — “tsee tsee” — and looked around to see where they were coming from. Soon we spotted not one or two but many of the sleek crested cedar waxwings with their black masks and yellow tips on the tail feathers busily feeding on the cherries in the big tree over the driveway. It has been said that waxwing parents store the food in their crops and may regurgitate as many as 30 chokecherries one at a time into the gaping mouths of the young. What a sight these striking birds were in the late afternoon sun! They are one of the best dressed of all birds.

In some of the wet spots as we drove along the roadway we saw the familiar Jack-in-the pulpit. Years ago in the late fall we took some seeds from a plant and put them in our rock garden, where they did well. There is still one plant near the house that comes up each year. Some think the plant looks like a cobra about to strike and others think it looks like a preacher standing in a pulpit.

We could see why this area attracts so much wildlife, for they had good cover and food of all sorts available. Along the roadway were wine berry bushes and blackberry bushes and if you looked up into the trees you could see wild grape vines that will help feed the wildlife this coming season. Our morning adventure was a pleasant one and one that we will repeat as the season moves on, looking for other birds in the area.