Warblers & Mysteries At Alley Pond

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A normal robin in spring
A normal robin in spring

It’s a cool, cloudy spring morning at Alley Pond Park. In the parking lot two frisky robins put on a show. One jumps purposefully over the other, soon both are “helicoptering” straight up very close to one another in a swirling flash of rust and black. One flees quickly followed by the other. This is either a mating or courting ritual. It’s spring.                                                                 

Warbler Haven

The air is filled with the constant sound of unseen birds. There’s movement at the base of a tree trunk in the shrubbery. I have a partial view of black heads, dark suede gray bodies and black bills. It’s the signature stillness and silence of gray catbirds. Suddenly there’s the bright yellow side of a black warbler that looks stunning before it flies. More movement. There’s small white streaks on black feathers going around a log. I go to where the bird should soon arrive. There’s a black tail streaked with white, a black head with a ruby eye and the chestnut side. It’s a rufous-sided towhee a ground bird nicknamed the ground robin Now it forages in plain sight for insects, and seeds, flies to a tree offering a full profile and jets into the cloudy morning.

The sharp gurgle of a red-bellied woodpecker pierces the air. The woodpecker climbs part of a tree and leaves flying like a wavering arrow through the woods. There’s another red-bellied call. Lot’s of ‘em today. A kettle pond below the trail looks like it might be promising. Cancel that. There’s a pair of young human lovebirds sitting by it.

 

A yellow-rumped warbler jumps into focus in my binoculars. The yellow of its side against the body’s black and white streaks is brilliant.  But it’s gone in an instant. Now a black and white warbler, looking like a miniature zebra, is flitting tree to tree. Its breast is so plump that the feathers seem close to bursting. The bird flies up and down like it’s on an invisible silky thread of a spider’s web. When it flies horizontally the warbler appears to be magnetized, coming back to the same spot. Another warbler steals my attention and my heart. It’s a stunning black-throated blue warbler. The dark blue/gray body has white streaks while along the throat, breast and sides, a blanket of black peeks out from under the blue. A work of art. A few more black and whites are here. They flit, fly and return methodically working an area’s trees for insects. Were those two cardinals that just flew by?  This spot is warbler haven.

Wetlands

At a flooded wetlands a male red-wing blackbird flies to a cattail. The reed bends deeply when the bird lands. Another red-wing lands on one that buckles so deeply that I wonder if the blackbird isn’t going to be catapulted into the air as the cattail comes up. Both birds disappear into the cattails’ unseeable depths. A mourning dove flies in and walks the water’a edge. Another dove flies in and both fly off but for a split second their reflections held in the water. At the far end of the wetlands, trees stand in gray water as some grackles disappear into its recesses. The scene is silent and still while the sounds of birds ring around it. What secrets does it hold?  A nondescript brown warbler works the trees and has something bent and red in its bill. Is it vegetation or a worm? Directly in front of me is another black and white warbler with a breast so white and a bill so sharp. It’s replaced by a yellow-rumped warbler so sleek, so black, so bright with a yellow spot on its head.

 

From the eaves of an old stone building a male house sparrow flies onto a bush.  The black bib on its neck and breast is in contrast to a light, bright rust on its sides. I wonder about the light color of its sides. Will it darken? There’s movement on the adjacent bush. It’s the female. I guess they both had to get out of the house.

Mystery

Off the beaten path in the recesses of the woods, dirt trails lead me to the back end of a long pond. Near the ground is a male American redstart, a black warbler with twin orange/red markings on its sides and tail. How nice is that! There’s something about this 5.25-inch warbler, while superficially duller than most others, that burns bright and always stays with me. A few days later, wondering if it has a nickname I open an out of print book that tells me that the Cubans call the redstart candelita while they refer to  most other warblers, with their kaleidoscope of colors, as mariposas, or butterflies. Elegant.

 

A flurry of white and black landing on a tree catches my eye. Getting binocs on the bird, I’m looking at something I’ve never before seen. It’s rust, white and black splotched. Whatever it is I want a picture. Later I see the bird return to the same spot but quickly leave. At home I stare at the bird’s image on my computer. It’s a robin like no other I’ve encountered. I send the image to a friend who sends it to another and the answer comes back that it’s either an albino or a leucistic adult, the latter meaning its plumage is abnormal and the bird’s color pattern is also. Then I remember that a few years ago I saw an albino robin about a quarter mile from here. I wonder if they are related? It’s a mystery in a small area of a huge park. I’ll be going back soon for another look.  Who know’s what will be there? Spring’s not over yet.

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