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Always on the lookout for seasonal changes, I was surprised the other when I drove past an old field of uncut grass. Granted, there’s nothing too exciting about grass except when it first turns green in spring and, alas, turns that hazy, almost white color that is a harbinger of the end of summer. Gardens are full of zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes and cucumbers, offering another subtle sign that we’re nearing the far end of the growing season. Blueberries are nearing their peak and raspberries are close behind. That the pasture grasses are already giving up suggests that it’s time to take a closer look at what’s going on out there and to make the most of what’s left of this very short summer of 2014.
To me it seemed that the nesting season for the local songbird population started later than usual due to the lingering winter, but in recent days I’ve noticed all sorts of young birds taking their first flights across the field. Just this week I’ve seen robins, bluebirds, phoebes, finches, grosbeaks and Baltimore orioles fluttering past my office window, most of them doing a less-than-fair job of negotiating their way from tree to tree. One group of three robin fledglings crashed into a high bush blueberry and spent considerable time figuring out how to stand upright, gobble a few berries and then flutter on to the next perch. The last I saw of them they were resigned to hopping from twig to twig along the edge of the field. Getting the hang of flying apparently takes time!
I think the nuthatches have the better time of it. Rather than fly everywhere they simply walk along the tree trunks and limbs, digging out sunflower seeds their parents had lodged in various crevices. The younger birds seem to enjoy walking vertically and even upside down among the oak branches, content to exercise their legs rather than their wings. A pair of brown creepers utilize the same technique, although they seem to be more adept at flying from tree to tree than their bigger, more flamboyant cousins.
Walking seems to be the order of the day for juvenile crows, too. Each morning at 5 a.m. a family of crows shows up to take advantage of my seed pile, which happens to be just outside my bedroom window. Their routine has been the same for over a week. The “murder” (which is what a flock of crows is called) swoops down the ridge out of their overnight roosts and land in the field near the house. After checking out the surroundings for danger (cats, foxes, coyotes and hawks), the birds make their way, on foot, across the field, down the logging road, over the fence and into my yard – a distance of about 100 yards. All the while the fledglings are squawking their loudest. I find the caw of an adult crow to be pleasant, almost soothing, but the screech of a juvenile crow? Not so much! Those who cringe at the sound of a fork being dragged across a dry plate will understand. I have been a fan of crows since the 1950s and enjoy seeing and hearing them year-round, but the cries of young crows reminds me of a teenage rock bank doing its best to ruin a perfectly good punk tune!
Fortunately, young crows don’t stay that way. By the end of summer they’ll be grown and gone, wiser in the ways of crowdom and less likely to walk 100 yards across enemy territory. Crows are among our most intelligent wild birds but they sure don’t start out that way!
Another sign of summer’s waning is the appearance of young mourning doves in the yard. Most folks don’t know that doves often nest multiple times per year, as many as six times in the South and, in Maine, two or three times. This means there are always fledgling doves fluttering around, though their post-nest antics partially explain why these fast-flying cooers need to nest so often. In a given summer I will find young doves sitting on my porch, among my cucumber plants, under hedges and in the middle of the lawn. In my younger days I could run up and grab one before it realized it had been caught, which makes me think that predators (cats, dogs and hawks, especially) must love to see a dove chick come fluttering down from the nest. Creepers, nuthatches and even phoebe chicks have sense enough to stay in the trees where it’s safe, but doves seem to have a real weakness for courting danger. I go with the “leave them alone” mantra and try to avoid drawing attention to them, but there are keen eyes in the woods and they miss nothing. I learned long ago that if I pause to observe a dove on the ground, or visit a duck’s nest a crow, raccoon or hawk will notice and come in for a look, all with ill intent.
I am always surprised to stumble across a fledgling dove or two while weeding in the garden or picking berries in the yard. The young birds sit quietly, stare up at me and do everything a bird in danger should do – except fly! Doves are among the fastest of all birds (reaching speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour with a brisk tailwind) and yet doves just out of the nest seem to put more trust in their dusky gray-brown plumage. In recent days I’ve found six young doves in and around my yard, all in places they should not be – usually on the ground and in plain sight. Nationally there are millions upon millions of doves so they must be doing something right. I’m sure that nesting six times a year is an important part of the equation!
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