Walking on a morning in May is a terrific way to see and hear what is going on in the surrounding spring. The calm conditions are cooler than what will happen in the afternoon, but in this windless time, bird songs and sounds permeate the air. And there is plenty happening at this hour.
Without leaving the yard, I note the presence of robins, phoebes and three kinds of sparrows: chipping, song and white-throated. The local woodpeckers drum from trees in the adjacent woods. Each tries to make its call resonate through the morning.
As I pass a swamp, I hear calls of Canada geese that are loudly protecting their family. In the nearby waters are ducks — ring-necked, wood and bufflehead — and a hooded merganser paddles about. A camouflaged bittern sends out its weird squelching sounds, while a loud calling sandhill crane flies over.
Here too, I listen to the red-winged blackbirds that are nesting in the cattails and swamp sparrows along the edge. A far-off mourning dove calls and the local loons of the nearby lake add sounds of their own. Over the wetlands, a few tree swallows do their acrobatic flights and feeding while a snipe winnows in an aerial performance.
Going by a forest, I stop to watch a hermit thrush, silent this morning. Movement in the nearby trees causes me to pause and look more closely. A few active, but silent, warblers are finding insects among the opening tree buds.
I note three early arrivals — yellow-rumped, palm and orange-crowned — and they are joined by black and white and Nashville warblers. None are singing, but one that I do not see is singing loudly; the local ovenbird. Others are a bit easier to locate.
The patient ruffed grouse sitting on its favorite log, continues the wing-beating sound that he began weeks ago. Recent additions to the avian morning crowd are the rose-breasted grosbeak and Baltimore orioles. Both of the colorful males sing musical vocals with enough emphasis to be heard well.
But it is a different avian songster along this morning route that demands attention: a brown thrasher.
Thrashers are a regular part of our local bird life, though not really common. Related to the smaller cousins and more common thrushes, brown thrashers are about a foot long. They are more closely related to the gray catbird (also here this morning) and the well-known mockingbird, the state bird of several states in the south. The brown thrasher is also a state bird of a southern state, Georgia.
The birds are reddish-brown on the back, streaked below with an extended tail and a slightly curved bill. But it is not the size or color that catches my attention each time I pass by — it is the long, loud song. Birds find an exposed branch and sit here to sing a series of varied melodious phases. Each phrase is usually given two to three times, not normally imitating other birds as the catbird or mockingbird does.
Returning from a winter in the southern part of the country, the brown thrashers seek thickets for their homes. Here, they nest on or near the ground. And here they walk about using their long-curved beaks to find meals of insects and seeds. But when it comes to singing, they select a high, open branch to perform.
With binoculars and patience, I look forward to more spring morning walks and many more songs from this brown thrasher along with other birds living here.