Wildlife: Spring birding a rite of May

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If November is for deer hunters, and April is for trout anglers, May is for birders. Migration peaks and colorful old friends return on an almost daily basis. I spent a few hours in the old field below the house earlier this week watching and listening.

A male field sparrow established a nesting territory several weeks ago. His series of whistles accelerates into a trill, much like a ping-pong ball bouncing on a table.

Field sparrows often place their first nest of the year on the ground. There's really little choice if they hope to hide it from predators, especially snakes. Woody vegetation is still leafing out, so the best cover is on the ground under tufts of dead grass entwined with new growth.

When I heard another familiar voice, I turned my attention to the top of a tall snag. Male indigo buntings are easy to find and even easier to recognize. They sing a complicated song of double notes from high atop exposed perches. They want to be seen. And no other bird shares its deep metallic blue body.

Female indigos, on the other hand, are drab, secretive little brown birds. I suspected there was a nest in the blackberry thicket below the snag. Suddenly the female popped into view and scolded me. Her alarm notes attracted her mate's attention, and he joined in the nest's defense.

In another nearby blackberry thicket, a white-eyed vireo spit out its noisy song. Its voice is loud, emphatic and not particularly musical. I remember its phrasing as, "Quick! Pick up the beer check! Quick!"

As I made my way back to the main trail, three new arrivals caught my ear. A yellow warbler sang, "Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet." A blue-winged warbler belted out its simpler, "Bee-buzz," and a yellow-breasted chat hooted and rattled as it flew overhead.

With warblers in the old field, scarlet tanagers in nearby woods and rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeders, May is prime time for birders. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, sshalaway@aol.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, W.Va., 26033.

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