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In This Place

Feeder watchers rejoice! Backyard birds are abundant

 Eastern Towhee
Ryan Schain
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Eastern Towhee

What’s happening in the bird world depends a lot on the scale of inquiry. This just means what you see in your neighborhood won’t match the Cape-wide highlights I’m typically crowing about. “Duh”, you may astutely say, “doesn’t that apply to literally everything?” Well, that’s a bit harsh, but you’re not wrong. Still, I’m always trying to maintain a balance between the more mundane and universal backyard happenings and the uncommon regional things more titillating to avid birders. This week, I’ll attempt to do both.

Let’s start at the scale of your back deck, where you may have noticed some new arrivals this week. Eastern Towhees are back, scratching in the leaves and cheerfully imploring you to drink more tea. Likewise, handsome, rusty-capped Chipping Sparrows have returned to suburbia, adding their dry trill to the daily chorus. Don’t confuse it with the more liquidy trill of the equally common Pine Warbler. I will quiz you if I ever run into you, so you better learn the difference.

And it’s time to rejoice, backyard feeder watchers, for the first several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arrived in the last week, with sightings from Wellfleet to the Vineyard. So yes, it’s time to put your feeder out. Last year the first at my house was April 27th, so maybe today’s the day. We’re about a week away from both hummingbirds and orioles becoming common, so be ready.

In procreation news, more species are starting nests with each passing day. I have a local Blue Jay pair who started building their nest in the last few days, right on schedule – they always nest on the next street over, starting the third week in April, but collect most of the construction materials along the edge of my yard. Titmice have just finished their annual nest of soft, green moss in one of my yard nest boxes, also right on schedule. The other day the pair shamelessly mated right in front of me and my impressionable young daughter. Likewise, on Sunday, I watched a pair of exhibitionist Ospreys in Orleans do the deed twice in 20 minutes, while I waited for my son to wake up from his car nap. After all, as the great ornithologist Alfred Lord Tennyson said, it is the time when a young bird’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

Backing slowly away from those lascivious birds in your yard, let’s check on the broader migration scene. The April trickle of uncommon migrants became a steady flow this week, with a Prothonotary Warbler at the old fish hatchery in Sandwich, a lost Kentucky Warbler hopping around on someone’s lawn in Dennis, and yet another Swallow-tailed Kite, also sighted in Dennis. The first Black Skimmer this side of New Jersey showed up near Edgartown, which is the only place in Massachusetts these weird-looking seabirds nest.

Speaking of seabirds, you can catch some migrating around now, if you’re in the right place at the right time. And the right place is usually Race Point in Provincetown. Over 700 Red-throated Loons passed there one day last week, as did 3000 Red-breasted Mergansers. You might also catch sight of the up to four Pacific Loons folks have been seeing there – it’s the only reliable place to see this species in all the east.

Seabirds aren’t the only things lurking off the Race. Peter Trull and Peter Flood, two of the roughly 150 birders on Cape Cod named Peter for some reason, both saw Sei Whales there this week, along with North Atlantic right whales, Humpbacks, and Minkes. Seis are a rare, fast, and super sleek relative of the more common Fin Whales we normally see.

Well, I started this piece what feels like an hour ago talking about backyard birds, and somehow ended up at obscure whales. I’m not sure this week’s story arc will win me a tv writing gig, but hopefully you learned something useful. I’ll try again next week.