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Birds of Lewiston-Auburn
In February, especially after the middle of the month, we begin to see signs of spring in the bird world. Chickadees that have left our city feeding stations during the severe weather of December and January return and sing their "phe-be" note interpreted by some one to say "spring soon." The tree sparrows have a tiny song which Chapman says sounds like the tinkling of icicles, we hear the caw caw of crows flying over, for in February they become more noisy and numerous. A herring gull is seen sailing over the river and the winter birds are more in evidence.
About mid-February when horned and prairie horned larks are seen, we say the first spring migrant has arrived.
In March the tree sparrow changes his song to the sweetest warble that reminds me of the beginning of a song sparrow's but much lighter. Another song of his makes me wonder if a canary has commenced to sing.
During the winter we have heard the sweet call notes of redpolls, goldfinches, grosbeaks and chickadees, but this song of the tree sparrow seems to me to be the first spring singing. It always reminds me of a sunshiny, frosty morning in March when I heard them for the first time as they flocked about a feeding station near the Androscoggin river — south of Riverside Cemetery. If one is where the chickadees are, either in the woods or at some feeding place, he will hear the most delightful warbling song in March that has no quality of "dee-dee-dee" in it. Twice I have heard it, once in a shrub near one of the city streets and once in the deep woods. Purple finches may also be seen, probably some who have wintered near, and on the trees about the city a woodpecker's "tap, tap," or a nuthatch's "yank, yank," is heard. The sparrow hawk, followed immediately by bluebirds, robins and blackbirds arrives and soon, perhaps the next day, song sparrows, juncos, meadowlarks and fox sparrows are seen. Then every bird lover gets busy, for one must go out in the morning for best results.
Those first spring morning choruses after the silence of winter are as H. K. Job says "the symphony of Nature, a grander one than even the immortal Beethoven could devise."
In April the last winter birds go north. During the warm days of this month there will be migrations, then long cold spells which retard the passage of the birds, but May keeps us busy all the favorable days and we see the last migrants arrive either to live with us or to pass on to summer homes in the North by the first week in June, if the season is normal.
THE BIRDS IN SUMMER
By early June the migrants have come and gone. Then I enjoy trips to the country for Burroughs says "June of all the months the student of ornithology can least afford to lose. Most birds are nesting then and in full song and plumage." When the excitement of the migration is over in the residential sections of the city, a June walk in the suburbs where many birds are housekeeping is very enjoyable.
June is the time when I most enjoy the evening songs and the morning chorus, for it is the month of long days. The robin awakes the world as early as three o'clock with his clarion notes and the hermit sings his vesper hymn as late as eight o'clock.
How the bird lover delights in those sunsets and those evenings of song that may be experienced on the nesting ground of the feathered musicians! As darkness creeps on and the stars come out, the last strains of a white-throat, field sparrow, robin, veery and hermit are heard and the whippoorwill begins his even-song. Such experiences give one as Burroughs says "that serene exaltation of sentiment of which music, literature and religion are but the faint types and symbols."
As Audubon expresses it, when day breaks, how delightful it is to see fair Nature open her graceful eyelids, and present herself arrayed in all that is richest and purest before her Creator!
When daylight is coming on a nighthawk flies over the sleeping wood with his call as if his duty were to arouse the sleepers, the whippoorwill awakes from one of his intermittent naps to give the world his last strains of "whip-poor-will." Soon robins, hermits, martins, sparrows and swallows pour forth their songs till the full chorus of feathered musicians fills the June air.
As most warblers rear but one brood, before June is over, their young being strong on the wing, they begin to ramble and the afternoon chorus diminishes slightly. The singing continues through the first week in July, then grows gradually less. By the first of August the bird-lover's year is rapidly waning. Warblers are beginning to move south, water birds are returning from farther north, bobolinks no longer sing "Robert of Lincoln spank-spank-spank" and have changed their nuptial dress for the humble garb of the female.
Little is heard but the wood pewee's pensive notes and the monotony of the red-eyed vireo. Field and song sparrows are still in tune, orioles burst forth with an occasional song, the meadowlark whistles rarely, catbirds practice a little, the "laughing" notes of the robin are heard more than the spring song, goldfinches have become numerous and break out in canary-like songs and the bluebirds sing their "dearie" or "far away" notes with an occasional strain of the spring song.
The swallows and flycatchers, especially kingbirds, hold carnival with the flies and insects that fill the air and the songs are heard less and less frequently. No morning chorus greets our ear.
We come to the season when
"They steal away, give little warning,
Choose their own time;
Say not good night, — but in May's brighter clime
Bid us good-morning."
During the autumn the bird student finds observation difficult because there are many immature birds and some mature ones have changed their bright spring plumage for quiet tones; the foliage is very thick and the birds sing much less.
However I find the pursuit interesting for one almost feels a new specimen is discovered when a blackpoll warbler is seen dressed in green, black and yellow.
Also there are many surprises in song, especially among the young birds who are getting their voices in tune. To me it seems like the birds' playtime for, family cares being over, they coo to themselves in such contented little gems of song. Especially is this true of the white-throated sparrows whose cooing seems more choice than the spring singing, for one needs a reserved seat to hear it.
Sometimes a bird gives a strain of the spring song but more often the music is so different one goes on the hunt for a new specimen only to find a familiar bird with an unfamiliar tune. The first harbinger of fall is the bobolink's change of plumage from black, white and yellow to the modest yellowish gray of the female during the first of August. We learned in the waning summer that by mid-August there are several reminders that autumn approaches. Water birds begin to move southward and a stray migrant warbler or kinglet may be seen. On our walks we miss the spring chorus, birds are numerous, the telegraph wires are covered with swallows, the grass is full of chipping sparrows, robins fly hither and thither, bluebirds are plentiful, but all except the swallows are comparatively silent.
The migration really begins the last days of August and the first of September when the "chink chink" of the bobolink is heard as he flies to the rice fields of the South and the air is full of the twittering of the migrating swallows.
Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers are heard near the city and if one is out in the evening there are tiny notes in the air indicating migration. The flycatchers, most warblers and other insect-eating birds migrate in September.
During this month blue jays are heard more, thrushes that have nested north return, hawks are more in evidence and purple finches are abundant. October sees white-throated sparrows, myrtle warblers and juncos arrive in flocks. Sparrows and finches migrate, late warblers and kinglets return. Suddenly they all disappear and after the middle of October few are seen but juncos and white-throats. The fox sparrow comes and goes, blackbirds leave and when we see the large hawks flying south we know the bluebirds, robins, white throats and juncos will soon depart and we must say "good bye to summer."
What a pleasure that some birds revel in cold weather, for they cheer our walks, and our homes if we have feeding stations.
The flash of white from a flock of redpolls on a cloudy day, the color scheme of yellow, black and white of evening grosbeaks as they fly about our box elders along the city streets or are visitors at some feeding station, the carmine red of the pine grosbeaks as they feed over our heads in the pines towering above a mantle of snow, the blue and white of the blue jay as he flies across the winter fields are a surprise, delight and reward of winter rambles.
What is more exhilarating than a flock of snow buntings so happy in a storm making us wonder if a bit of the Arctic world has come to us. The bird-lover never enjoys the chickadee so much as in the winter for he is so social and friendly, feeding from our hands if we will have a little patience.
To hear the sweet call-note of many of the winter birds makes us take notice that life still exists over the sleeping world.
Occasionally a tree sparrow, Arctic three-toed woodpecker and goshawks are seen in late September and early October, but most winter birds arrive from the North during November. Much depends on the temperature and food conditions whether or not many are seen. The winter of 1916-17 was favorable and I saw the winter birds during the winter months instead of in late fall, or early spring when they were migrating north.
There are two classes of winter birds, those that come from the North in late autumn and return in March or April and those which are permanent residents.
To the former class belong the brown creeper, snow bunting, Hudsonian chickadee (rare), American goshawk, evening and pine grosbeak, redpoll, northern shrike, pine siskin, tree sparrow, Arctic three-toed woodpecker and if one is in the woods golden-crowned kinglet. To the latter class belong the black-capped chickadee, goldfinch, blue jay, junco, red and white breasted nuthatches, ruffed grouse (partridge), downy Woodpecker, seen near the city more than any other species, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, where the remnants of wooded districts are left, and some of the owls. Crossbills, purple finches and cedar waxwings belong to the erratic class and may be seen. Crows migrate to the coast but are seen inland during the winter months. The same is true of herring gulls and sheldrakes if there is open water; also shore larks may be seen. Some bold or careless individuals of our summer birds have been known to remain or return in actual winter. This accounts for an occasional robin, song and white-throated sparrow, hawk and meadowlark being seen.
A great delight of the winter is to visit at one of our feeding stations. Flocks of redpolls, tree sparrows, chickadees, snow buntings, goldfinches and individuals of other winter birds feed so contentedly under the windows of four of my friends, giving life to an otherwise cheerless day. If the winter has been so severe that the birds have left our city feeding stations, we know when they return in February that they hear the call of spring.