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In Cautious Song, Early Birds Proclaim Vernal Awakening
By Tor Hansen, iBerkshires columnist
05:56PM / Sunday, May 24, 2020
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Left, a ruby crowned kinglet male can flex and display full crest when competing with other males for a mate. Right, the scarlet crest is retracted while looking for insects.

Oh what a joy to see goldfinches in small feeding flocks dining on sunflower seeds provided in the porch feeders. It is time with a steel bristle brush to clear out last year's thistles and scrape away any rust clogging the tiny holes suited so well for their small bills.

What a treat to watch showy yellow and black males, their mottled feathers shifting to peak molt. Female goldfinches are overall more drab in softer hues of field grey-green but on the nest will be less obvious in camouflage. For several weeks ahead they wait until late spring to commence nest-building.

Their fleecy basket is woven securely in poplar trees with tight fibers to adjust for wind. Whether foraging on elm blossoms in the tall neighboring elm tree, or gleefully riding their parabolic flight path, their zesty songs are music to our ears.
 
As the prolonged cool of early spring on Mount Greylock delays the purple trillium bloom, guess who is a dapper chatterbox along a service road leading to solar grid installation? With new fallen snow still evident in the higher elevations in late April, these warblers are the first to greet me, soon to be followed by the full diversity of the 23 species, family Parulidae.
 
Calling a deliberate zizzizizzi-from sylvan edges of a wide clearing, a fleet burst of yellow and field marks of rufous in the head cap and bold red streaking on throat, breast, and belly is a male palm warbler (Dendroica palmarum). Watch for their constant tail wag. Eagerly they to flit and forage about mossy trunks and budding ground story, hopping and darting through fern and old decaying logs. These aerial acrobats cut deft sorties into the air to snag tiny flying insects stirring at last from winter's seclusion.
 
Take Notch Road and skirt around the reservoir and park, finding another service road that follows the rocky brook burgeoning with gurgling clear mountain runoff. rushing under tangled thickets and over sparkling stones glittering with copious mica. Past the chutes so well engineered that harness the racy mini-rapids, the brook bends into lazy loops, meandering over shallow trellises that to a musical ear may echo a Bach passacaglia and fugue, or more.
 
Listen for faint bleats and chirps. Moreover for their reward of foraging ahead through winter's last inclement remnant, our creator awards the male kinglet with a brilliant scarlet crest, hence our dubbed name ruby-crowned Kinglet!
 
These stalwarts have forged their way up valleys to feed on bugs and flowers as the understory opens buds and flowers despite the chilly even freezing overnights. Our tiniest of birds, Regulus calendula graces winding brooks in small feeding flocks, first a male bachelor group and then on another day — a female sorority, males calling a persistently buzzy cadenza, to quote David A. Sibley, distinguished author of "Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America", "a whistled chant of 'si sisisi berr berr berr pudi pudi pudi see!'" Without the red crest, females will sing nonetheless.
 

Purple trillium starting to bloom despite persistent cold waves earlier this month. 
As to the immediate relations of bird and man, I found myself in awe of these tenacious yet tender encounters, especially close up, when a tiny kinglet bursts forth from a confining thicket, I exchanged greetings in a welcoming voice, and presented my own devised bird calls that actually drew them out. They appeared eager to exclaim a message in a few vocalizations, endearing to say the least. I am remindful of accounts by brother Celano, referring to episodes and legends of Saint Francis, especially "The Saint and the Cicada." 
 
No doubt, having read these stories, I am indebted to gain his inspiration and thus to take my lead to talk to kinglets. From these writings we learn of his life with both birds and insects, particularly birds including swallows, rooster and little black hen, nightingales, and of course the larks. An excellent read is the University of California Press book titled "Saint Francis: Nature Mystic." And in music, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a sumptuous violin sonata called "The Lark Ascending," another wonder work available for listeners on YouTube. Google them.
 
That first day at Bounding Brook gave me another surprise. I heard the familiar click-clack call from out on the lake, and recognized it as Ceryle alcyon. Scanning with field glasses I followed its windswept flight, and became so satisfied that it is once again here, and not a casualty of migration. I halted at a respectful distance. The kingfisher landed near the reservoir dam, and it stayed perched on a limb long enough for us to exchange reassuring glances — a stout female with long bill, auburn chest feathers, peering into shallows below, adept at capturing a fish and eager for adventure. Kingfishers need to tunnel into a vertical bank of open soil, not stoney nor overgrown with flora, near a lake or large pond, not to far from their mainstay fish.
 
Landscapers must leave alone such slopes free from walled-up boulders or revetments, for species continuity.
 
Briefly frequenting their habitat, as the kinglets lingered long enough to savor the tiny insects, I noticed some snatches and catches, but to say they satiated their appetites is a stretch, even though the flying bugs abound. This leads me to say, like many astute ecologists: Our normal abundance of food chain insects may be in many habitats severely lacking. Despite such abundance of old fallen rotting trees throughout the woodlands, I have yet to find one colony of stag beetles (Pseudolucanus capreolus). 
 
More likely any remaining colonies have vanished because of the successive waves of Pleistocene ice ages, considering our local cold climate was once much warmer, even subtropical. Safeguarding the places where nature has procured its holistic diversity through millennia of evolutionary time, is our charge as faithful stewards and guardians of raw materials, natural resources, and living genera. 
 
At home within the protection of parks and nature preserves, we can see life in our Berkshires must include the complete food chains, safeguarding our pollinating fauna and amazing resilient flora.
 
Tor Hansen is a naturalist writer, photographer, and musician. His column Berkshire Wild looks at especially butterflies, birds and other small creatures at home in the Berkshires and Massachusetts. He does talks and presentations and can be contacted at torhansen46@gmail.com,
 

 

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