20210510-RNR-bosak catbird

A gray catbird strikes an odd pose on a branch in New England.

It was the type of walk you anticipate for about 11 months.

It started fairly slowly with robins and red-winged blackbirds as my only visible avian companions while a lone song sparrow sang in the distance. Soon enough, I heard a mockingbird going through its repertoire from a nearby shrubby patch. They usually belt out their songs from a fairly obvious perch and this guy was no different as I found him easily at the end of a branch.

As I watched and listened to this talented songster, a female ruby-throated hummingbird entered the scene. It hovered briefly at the honeysuckle but did not stay long as the blossoms were not quite ready to provide nectar.

A familiar song then permeated the area as dueling male yellow warblers proclaimed ownership of their respective patches. I was stuck in the middle of the rivals and enjoyed the sweet music. To us, it’s entertainment. To them, it’s a turf war with much at stake.

The next shrub-dweller to beckon me was a gray catbird. It sang its warbling, squeaky song, not its cat-like meow from which it gets its name. Catbirds are not dressed in fancy colors, but they brighten a winter-weary heart as much as any warbler, tanager, grosbeak or oriole.

Speaking of orioles, a Baltimore oriole’s loud whistles suddenly drowned out the song sparrows, yellow warblers and mockingbird, which was now several dozen yards behind me. I never did find the oriole in the leaf-filled treetops, but just knowing it was there made the walk feel even more like spring.

Two other colorful birds soon made an appearance as an eastern bluebird perched on a branch overhanging the field and an American goldfinch sang from a Y among the branches. Bluebirds and goldfinches are not exactly “spring birds” as we see them year-round, but I certainly will never complain when I see them, regardless of the season.

It was the type of walk that can only happen in late April or early May. Winter is a memory but not yet a distant one. The spring birds and their songs, however, put winter that much farther in the rear-view mirror.

Those who feed birds in their backyard are having similar experiences. Deb from Royalston, Mass., reported that her hummingbirds have returned right on schedule. She also saw a male rose-breasted grosbeak the other day.

Janice from Rindge changed suet brands and was immediately rewarded by visits from a yellow-bellied sapsucker and brown thrasher — two great yard birds for New England. Sue from Jaffrey used an orange to lure an oriole, while evening grosbeaks also visited her feeders on the same day.

Mimi from Troy played host to a catbird and house wren the other day, two good spring arrivals. She also had a male bluebird with some odd coloration. Spring is a time when birds don’t always look like their field guide drawings. It could have been a molting phase or a first-year bird not quite in adult plumage.

A comment on my website from the Lakes Regions of New Hampshire noted that yellow-rumped warblers consumed eight cakes of suet in three days. They showed up “by the hundreds,” according to the commenter. Yellow-rumped warblers are one of the few warbler species that will readily visit feeders.

Finally, Rusty from Colebrook sent me a few photos of a bird doing some sort of mating dance and asked what I thought it was. I’m quite sure his mystery bird was a spruce grouse and Colebrook, being way up north, is good habitat for those sought-after birds. Oh, the miles I’ve walked in northern New Hampshire hoping to find a spruce grouse to no avail — yet.

Happy spring, everyone. Be sure to send me your sightings.

I will be doing a virtual presentation about birdwatching during spring migration on Thursday, May 13, for the Norwalk (Conn.) Library. If you are interested in attending, do an Internet search for “Norwalk Library calendar” and find the entry on May 13.

For the Birds runs Mondays in The Sentinel. Chris Bosak may be reached at chrisbosak26@gmail.com or through his website www.birdsofnewengland.com