In the Catbird Seat

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Spring mornings are one of the most beautiful times of the year for so many of us, certainly for me. The scent of the soil, the perfume of blossom, the beautiful palette of greens from trees and plant, and the song of birds all come together to create a blissful time. And with a cup of coffee in my garden it seems all is right with the world. (Oh, if only!)

One of the birds that makes spring mornings something really special is the Gray Catbird. This trim bird dressed in suave charcoal with a darker charcoal cap is one of our mimic thrushes. The male sits high in a shrub or tree and pours forth a medley of songs. None of them are ravishing or really melodic, but he does it with such panache and joy, yes, I think we must call it joy, that you can’t help smiling. You can understand at times like this the rather weird phrase we use, “In the Catbird Seat.” He sits there like king of the world giving forth this endless stream of song, and we as listener are entranced–so the question for me is who is in the catbird seat, the singer or the listener? Both are privileged!

To go along with the variety of birdsong we enjoy at this time of year, frogs and toads add their own music. The Spring Peepers kicked off the show in the still cool spring; then the toads with their high thin trill started; and now that the heat has hit, the Gray Treefrogs with their blurted exclamation are adding to our nights. Oddly the peepers call all night right up to the birds’ dawn chorus, while the treefrogs decide to call it quits around 1 in the morning. The guitar twang of the Green Frogs is also now starting and will continue into July.

Also from our  ponds and wetlands the turtles have begun issuing forth to lay eggs and find new hunting areas. The dinosaur-like Snapping Turtles are most evident. We’ve all seen them valiantly trying to cross a road or even a highway. The females’ nesting activities usually happen around the weekend of the Millbrook Fair. Please keep an eye out for these creatures and check under your parked car before driving away. Although not beautiful, these amphibians perform the useful function of cleaning up carrion in our waterways–yes the majority of what a Snapping Turtle eats is dead flesh.

Construction of the new dam on our millpond has meant a lowering of the level of the water by several inches. This has exposed vast areas of silt and shows how shallow most of the pond had become. But one type of bird is rejoicing in the “mud flats”: the sandpipers. These small birds with long stilt-like legs totter along the shore and through sandbars and shallow water thrusting their bills down to capture their food. They seem to twinkle as they fly. Sometimes while watching, I think I am seeing a swallow only to realize it is indeed a sandpiper.

And finally if you find yourself at the millpond, whether it is checking on the construction or bird watching, look over at the island. Any day now it will burst into colour as the flowers of Dame’s Rocket open. This attractive wildflower covers large areas of the island. Its blooms can be white, mauve or pink. If conditions are right you should also be able to smell the lovely perfume the flowers give off.

This time of year is a feast for our eyes, our ears and our nostrils! Get out! And enjoy!

By Glen Spurrell

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