Summer slows some birds song

Published 8:55 pm Thursday, July 1, 2021

As we progress into high summer it’s harder to observe birds. Some have stopped or slowed singing; earlier in the spring they were establishing their territories or finding mates with songs.  Now they sing less often as they have already nested and are feeding fledged young.

The loud droning sound of cicadas blocks out birdsong more often. Field birding becomes less appealing as the heat and humidity rise.

But several summer birds are easily observed and worth checking out.  Chimney Swifts, for example, are ubiquitous fliers. Their tiny feet are suited only for clinging to vertical surfaces and they actually cannot stand, so they spend the entire day from earliest light twittering after insects high in the air, coming down only to their nesting spots inside hollow trees and industrial or home chimneys. Sometimes they have raised a nest of young in my chimneys.  The nestlings invariably seem to fall down into the fireplace.  For this reason, my grandmother always kept a plywood board propped against her fireplace surround in the summer, with a heavy poker to weight it in place.

Grandchildren were definitely not permitted to move the board for just a peek at the baby birds, but we could hear them cheeping each time they were fed by the parents.

In summer the swifts occupy chimneys only in nesting pairs one

at a time.  By September they will begin to gather in group roosts, swirling into the top of a chimney hundreds at a time at dusk. They nestle wing to wing in their chimney roost each night for warmth, and organize themselves into flocks for their migration back to Central and South America.

Now for recent observations around the county.  I am encouraged to have heard several Northern Bobwhite locally this year, at VOA Site B near Bear Grass and in cut-overs near Dinah’s Landing on Goose Creek.

I even heard one calling in a field near Smallwood a few weeks ago.  Quail have been scarce in North Carolina since the eighties, so it’s nice to hear the “bob-WHITE!” song as more than a distant memory.

Green Herons are on the move.  July evenings I often see them fly over a water’s edge, probably moving from a daytime hunting ground to a nighttime roost.  These stubby herons have a notable lack of green coloration, being to my eye mostly russet and teal blue!  In flight they are fat-winged and seem to have no tail but just a rather thick heron neck, drawn in.

Chuck-Will’s-Widows have been heard singing their eponymous nighttime call, and especially can be heard in the vicinity of Camp Leach Road and Dinah’s Landing.  I believe moonlit nights are best for hearing them.  These often are erroneously called “Whippoorwills” when heard.  The Whippoorwill is a different species and also has a call that sounds like its name.  To me it says “pu-wip, pu-wiw”, if that helps. Both breed in our county, but the Chuck-Will’s-Widow is more common here.

Watch for the family of Great Horned Owls that roost on Castle Island during the day and fly over to the mainland each evening at dusk.  If you go to the boardwalk near the Estuarium, and watch during the 15 minutes straddling sunset, you will very likely see a couple of these owls fly over from the island to the Historic District where they hunt and call at night.  The juvenile owls have a scratchy “yeek” call and the adults say “Hoo. Hu-hu. Hoo, hoo.” Neighbors on East Main and Second Street compete to see whose backyard will host the owls from night to night!

Betsy Kane is a Washington resident who enjoys nature and describing what she sees.