The last few days have seen an extended, pleasing reunion with the steady stream of returning, summer residents appearing one after the other on the home property. It began in earnest last week when I walked out the door early in the morning and was greeted by the insistent “teacher, teacher, teacher” call of an ovenbird from the adjoining woods. The next day, it was the lilting, joyous song of a male Baltimore oriole that caught my attention on an appropriately bright and sunny afternoon. Awake early last Friday morning, the ethereal, haunting, flute-like song of the hermit thrush floated out of the woods. Yesterday the cheery “very, very pleased to meet you!” song of a chestnut-sided warbler emerged from a nearby birch tree. Today, the “robin with a soar throat” call of a male scarlet tanager came from a tree across the drive. Who will it be next?
This is always the happiest time on a birder’s calendar. After an absence of nearly nine months, the bright songs of summer are returning renewing old and valued friendships. The timing of these arrivals is the same every year sometimes almost to the day. I had been expecting to hear the Baltimore oriole at any moment most of last week. His return and melodious singing has made the yard that much more cheery a place.
I marvel, as I enjoy these returnees, that these likely are the same birds that were here last summer. It seems incredible that it might be so, yet we all have stories of the phoebe or robin pair that always seems to show up in early April and begins going about the business of setting up household on the rafter where they nest every year. There is ample evidence to support that this is not coincidental. People who band birds to track their movements regularly recapture ones that they’ve banded. Vermont Center for Ecostudies Director Chris Rimmer has reported netting Bicknell’s thrushes on Mt. Mansfield that he and his colleague’s banded there in a prior season.
According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, this remarkable feat of returning to the same spot every year is accomplished through a variety of tools that could include sense of smell, following the earth’s magnetic field, using the sun and the stars as a compass and/or landmarks (see the Lab’s “All About Birds – Navigation”). As I’ve noted before, “Birds are Amazing!” (see 2014-08-04 UV Blog – Birds are Amazing!).
The heroic achievement of surviving all of the trials and tribulations of migration are a wonder, but for now I’ll just take satisfaction in the presence of these old friends and speculate about who will arrive next. Will it be the great-crested flycatcher? Perhaps it will be the eastern wood pewee? I have yet to hear a rose-breasted grosbeak for that matter. It's due any day.
Yes, we're enjoying the avian equivalent of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and it is meant to be savored, because it is so fleeting.