Monday, April 09, 2007

Onward, Spring!

This is an Eastern Phoebe. And, I might add, one of the first decent pictures taken through my binoculars. Not exactly Audubon Calendar quality, but oh well.

It seems that every year there’s a new bird that I consider my official harbinger of Spring. More people are using bird feeders. The planet is warming up. Cities are growing, sprawling. And I’ve moved around a bit, myself, since I became a birdwatcher, from Northern Ohio to Southern Ohio to Northern Illinois back to Southern Ohio and east to coastal Massachusetts, and the bird life has changed each time.

Nonetheless, there seems to be a definite progression of birds staying longer, coming back sooner, staying farther north. Once upon a time the American Robin's arrival was a sure sign of Spring (though even that species had a few hardy overwintering individuals when I started birding in college). Then it was the turkey vulture, an easy spot from the highway as soon as they began drifting up with the warmer air. Then, for a number of years it was the Red-winged Blackbird. Their sudden, noisy arrival to any patch of freshwater, large or small, seemed to work like clockwork for mid-March. This year, however, I repeatedly saw a mid-sized flock of them during the depths of winter down at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary. So they’re out, now, as my official sign of Spring (though they didn’t start their cacophonous chattering until mid-March as usual).

Last week I went out for a hike at the Broadmoor Audubon Sanctuary in Natick, my first such outing in probably a month, and as it was already late March by then, there were some new birds that hadn’t been around when I'd last been out. The most notable of these were the numerous Eastern Phoebes, singing and flycatching, flicking their tails and chasing each other in rambunctious pair-bonding exercises, lurking about by bridges and branches overhanging the water. They were in the fields, too, clinging to dry, yellowed and stiff stalks of last year's grass, fluttering to and fro as they picked off the early risers of the insect world (speaking of which, there were some beautiful butterflies about already).

Anyway, this year, I have designated the Eastern Phoebe my official harbinger of Spring.

Next year it will probably be the Keel-billed Toucan.