Friday, June 17, 2011

Sharing a hazy June morning with pewees

Morning comes late to the narrow valley between the two mountains. The sun doesn’t appear above the eastern hill until 10 a.m. even just a few days before the year’s longest day. And so many of the avian denizens of these deep woods are first active later than their counterparts that live up on top of Roundtop.

Down here, crayfish don’t appear out from under a rock much before noon. The minnows aren’t very active until the first patch of sunlight warms their pool. The haunting call of the pewees is the exception. Their call echoes through the valley at all hours, and the birds themselves are as tame as robins, tamer even. These little birds are a drab gray color but make up for their lack of beauty with their antics and flying ability, swooping across the stream like a circus performer, snatching bugs out of the air and then pausing to eat or return with the prize to their hidden nest, soon to reappear and repeat the performance.

Pewees are considered to be a declining species, though are still common. A few thoughts about that are in the literature. One is that the forest habitat in their wintering range of the Andes and Central America is disappearing. Another cites the heavy whitetail deer population here in the east. That idea suggests that deer thin out the lower story of vegetation, the very foraging space favored by the little gray birds. Perhaps that’s true. All I can say is that Roundtop is flush with both pewees and deer.

Pewees are pretty much the last summer resident to arrive in the spring. It’s usually well into May before I hear the first haunting call. Pewees are the first bird to call in the day’s pre-dawn hours and are also the last call I hear well after dark, sometimes as late at 9:30 p.m. during these long June days.

On this day, I realize the pewee I’ve been watching off and on for the last hour is actually two pewees. The one is happy to sit within two arms’ reach of my chair and bob its tail in between bouts of flycatching. The other seems a bit shyer. They are likely a pair with their tiny nest somewhere nearby.

The nests are typically perched on some thin, horizontal branch, perhaps one that extends over the stream. Wherever it is, it will be held together and onto the branch with strands of spider webs. In it will likely be three eggs or perhaps by now, three tiny balls of gray fluff. If they survive, the little pewees will soon join the parents in flycatching over the small stream. Perhaps next week or the one after that, I’ll get to see them.


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your "ruminations", though I don't often get around to commenting. You paint a lovely picture with both your words and photograph. I really must get a book on North American birds. We have a little bird called a Spotted Flycatcher which is largely silent but feeds in the same mesmerising way which you describe.

Scott said...

Beautiful post, Carolyn. It's a shame that you can't get the unbelievably plaintive peewee call onto the page for a crowning touch to your words

Carolyn H said...

John: Thanks! I'm glad you enjoy my posts!

Scott: Thanks to you as well. Pewees do have a neat call, but the recorded versions I've heard don't do them justice. You need to hear that little call fill the woods around you, and the recordings just don't capture that