Walking at dawn at this time of May is a very interesting adventure. Despite the recent snow and cold, many migrants have returned and in the calm conditions at daybreak, songs are numerous. As soon as I leave the house, I hear phoebes, robins and chipping sparrows in the yard.
The woods are the location of the flute-like songs of hermit and wood thrushes. And an ovenbird shouts its “teacher-teacher-teacher” song from the underbrush. This bird is one of the many returning warblers now in the region.
I proceed on a trail through the woods and hear from other warblers. Redstarts, chestnut-sided and black and white warblers are all very active here. Higher in the tree is a singing yellow-throated vireo. Loud songs come from the colorful rose-breasted grosbeaks and Baltimore orioles.
Looking down, I see plenty of spring wildflowers below the trees; starflowers and baneberries have joined the trilliums and bellworts. They can tolerate the growing shade better than most.
I go on to the wetlands and much is happening at this site, too.
Out on the lake, a loon calls a pair of wood ducks and ring-neck ducks move along the edge. Also at this lakeshore, I hear songs from song sparrows and three more kinds of warblers — yellow, palm and yellow-rumped.
Much more vocal is the rattling call of the local kingfisher. Pausing and looking, I see it dive from an overhanging branch to snatch a small fish. The swamp has its own morning chorus.
Red-winged blackbirds that have been here for more than a month and a half continue their “conk-a-lee” songs. The male was first seen at this site March 27. About a month later, the female arrived. Now they are nesting.
Another early migrant, the Canada goose, is with its family of small goslings. Two more songs come from the cattails. A swamp sparrow does its trilling call and a colorful yellowthroat gives a “wichety-wichety” song of its own.
And there are the wading birds. Largest of these is the great blue heron, standing patiently in the shallows. A “squawk” call gives away its smaller cousin, the green heron. A sandpiper bobs along the shore and the elusive sora rail calls from the reeds. I never do see it. Another one not seen is overhead as a snipe does its “winnowing” flight.
Also from the cattails comes a weird booming gurgling sound. I stop to listen to it again. This noise often described as lumber pumping comes from another member of the heron family, the American bittern. Different descriptions of the sound from this cryptic bird are given, but I like “oonk-a-lunk” or “bloonk-anoonk.” The bird gives this call several more times.
Like other vocals on this May day, the bittern is proclaiming its territory and seeking a mate. Normally solitary, it uses this sound to get attention. It is hard to see and when I finally do find it, I need to separate it from the surrounding swamp growth.
Though more than 2 feet tall, their bodies are almost entirely brown. Undersides are streaked and when alarmed, they often stand with head up and blend in with the aquatic flora. Stopping its calling, it continues hunting in a bent walking pose. And after hearing this remarkable sound and seeing this hidden bird, I also move on.
All of these sights and sounds make walking here such a delight at this time of spring. The woods is rapidly greening and soon, new birds migrating and nesting will be here.