When it comes to the Cape and Islands “birdscape”, which is the word I just made up for the collective avian sights and sounds at any given time, a lot has changed in the last month, and the influx of new birds will only accelerate from here on out. I can’t do much for you in terms of a visual identification review, this being radio and all, but with new birds arriving every week, I think it’s time for a spring bird sounds “tune up”, if you will.
The most obvious of the early spring arrivals are the Common Grackles that start to show up in late February or early March. Being grackles, their arrival is exciting for about five minutes before they get a little old. But they are nonetheless a welcome sign of better times to come at an otherwise bleak time of year.
In open grassy areas like ballfields and airports, agricultural fields, and marshes, listen for our most optimistic and vociferous shorebird – the Killdeer. These less discerning cousins of Piping Plovers don’t require beach-front real estate, and will nest around the edges of construction zones, driveways, soccer fields, and gravel pits. Legend has it they have nested on the roof of Stop & Shop in Orleans, though I’ve not personally verified this. I’m sure it has a nice view, but that first step for the new chicks would be a real doozy.
Soon after, the hardiest of our flycatchers start to appear – the Eastern Phoebe. These tough insectivores with the eponymous call somehow survive the winter on occasion, and at minimum are willing to put up with our often wintry March and April weather to get a leg up on the competition for territories.
American Goldfinches are here year round, and I’m not clear on whether we are seeing migrants or local birds at any given time. But one thing is clear – they have the longest singing period of any of our songbirds. Though they don’t nest until July and August, male goldfinches are in full song by late winter. Once you learn their buzzy, frustratingly variable song, you realize just how ubiquitous they are. Listen also for the fun little call they give during their deeply undulating flight – the pneumonic I learned in my college Ornithology class was “potato chips, potato chips”.
On the beaches, it’s now time to listen for the spring mirth of newly arrived Laughing Gulls,
and at select locations, American Oystercatchers, giving us their prelude to summer.
The far-carrying flight call of the oystercatcher betrays the presence of an approaching bird often well before they can be easily seen. Here, a bird flies in to join another, precipitating a classically noisy interaction.
Whether on the beaches or your backyard, I hope you get a chance to get out there and hear spring happening for yourself.