Perhaps the most abundant warbler and certainly one of my faves, the masked Common Yellowthroat is easy to photograph. Or at least it is in my experience. The male will sit up on weedy sticks at roadside edges, in overgrown fields, hedgerows, salt or freshwater marshes and on woodland edges. While I do not have them on the mountain, they are easy to find.
Last year, there was one that claimed territory next to the parking lot at Oil City Road in the Wallkill. I seriously think it was nesting there. He would sing away, then hop down and disappear into the weeds for a short visit only to fly up to his perch to belt out his song again. He was quite the brave soul.
A long time ago, when I lived in the city in a walk-up apartment above a store and next to a bar; I had a small plot in a community garden. Working the earth was part of my childhood and I hoed, planted and weeded with abandon. It brought me peace and contentment to be in touch with my roots. I always drove to the garden at first light before the sun dried the dew from the leaves and sucked the moisture from the soil. Mostly I had the garden to myself. One day I arrived to find I had company. A Killdeer ambled around the scraggily grass to one side of the path. As I approached, it flew a short distance ahead of me then started to flop, piteously dragging one wing. I froze, scanning the stones nearby for the nest that was surely within trodding distance. Finding the speckled eggs was a study in patterns. When I finally found the stones that were not stones, I scavenged a rusted and misshapen tomato cage from the weedy pile of rotting leaves and abandoned gardening supplies. I up-ended the cage over the nest and tied strips from an old t-shirt that I found moldering behind the compost. The other gardeners were equally protective of our new family and we watched and waited for the eggs to hatch; walking in a wide berth around the make-shift fence with its fluttering black flags. Three little puff balls with legs were soon running around the gravel lot. We were all as proud as if we had actually hatched them ourselves. It was a long time ago, yet in my mind’s eye, I can still see that papa bird in a flail trying to lead me away and the joyous gleam in ancient eyes as they finally took wing.
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I sat back on my haunches, twisting my shoulders this way and that, trying to ease the strain of pulling weeds for hours on end. I had neglected the weeding last year; with the result of not only lots of weeds but lovely Butterfly Weed seedlings; a few tiny Russian sage plants; Monarda that had wandered from the other end of the flower bed and a weensie 2-leafed sprout of a red Lace-leaf Maple. I leaned back on my hands listening to the birds around me; sweat tickling my ear.
I looked up as a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks kir-ed overhead; floating in lazy spirals. The backyard House Wren belted out his song; making sure it was very clear where his territory lay. Not to be out-done, a Great-crested Flycatcher called from an oak at the top of the property. I searched high in the trees for the Flycatcher, but didn’t see him. From the thicketed forest, a Pewee moaned his lament and a Phoebe croaked from the wire. The Great-crested called again. I staggered to my feet, cursing my tingling leg and stumbled up the hill to the pile of mulch. As I shoveled the fragrant wood into my plastic tub, the Great-crested Flycatcher sang close by. I called back to him, WeeEEEP! Leaning the snow shovel against the mulch pile, I grasped the handles of the tub and jerked it up only to come face-to-face with the yellow-bellied bird. He eyed me, then the mulch, me again. I inched past him. As soon as I cleared the trees, he hopped down to gobble up the beetles scurrying back under cover in the mulch.
He and I hung out side-by-side for the rest of the afternoon. I shoveled mulch, he ate the beetles while I tossed, patted, and smoothed my load. He patiently waited for me to come back uphill for another tub-full, to fling back the plastic tarp and reveal the smorgasbord.
I heard them first. When I looked up, following the sound, I saw dozens of Cedar Waxwings on the overhead wires, kibitzing among themselves. Like all travellers, I’m sure they were complaining about the weather, the lack of appropriate food, the boredom of flying all day and Junior in the back asking “are we there yet?”
Long shafts of dying light
filter through the trees,
illuminating the stillness with a cathedral grace.
Padding through shades of citrine and emerald,
I am alone in the hush;
a woodpecker drums on a distant bough
and a Hermit Thrush
with the twinkle of wings,
throws off his invisibility cloak
to search the leaf litter
before alighting on a twig,
brown on brown with a rust tail.
Is it me or does there seem to be a lot of Hermit Thrushes around this year?
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