Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ed's World

Ed Jylkka, who had built the nesting boxes for the Halibut Point bird families we looked at last week, invited me over for a walk behind his house on Pigeon Hill Street. Pigeon Hill - named for the most plentiful of American birds that was hunted to extinction in the generations following John James Audubon.

Two of the three novelties Ed wanted to show me were right on his property. When he tapped on a 'bird' nesting box by the vegetable garden out popped a flying squirrel. It darted right back inside to its newborn brood. I had a momentary glimpse of the outsized black eyes and 'wings' that enable it to glide through the trees at night when it's out and about unseen by most of us.

Flying squirrel
On the way into the woods we passed Ed's prize wildflower. For years he'd been searching the environs for a white ladyslipper. This one materialized right beside his driveway.
White ladyslipper

Just a bit up the trail an exquisite trilling added to the other-worldly atmosphere. "American toad," Ed identified. "Wonderful to hear, especially if there's a pond with a lot of them joined in chorus. Each one seems to have its own unique voice. It's amazing how such a pretty sound can come from a toad that's not so pretty, unless you're another toad. The hermit thrush is my favorite songster. It's even more beautiful than the American toad."
Hermit thrush
We walked deeper into the woods. A haze of little white flowers carpeted the emergent groundcover. Ed noticed a starflower among the Canadian mayflowers.
Curiously this plant doesn't seem to grow at Halibut Point. But then neither do ladyslippers. Different ecologies only a mile apart. 
Pink ladyslipper
The forest opened at Steel Derrick Quarry, an industrial act of man that has healed artistically.

Steel Derrick Quarry
Ed says it's the best warbler spring he can remember. The birds may help slow down the invasion of winter moth caterpillars that are defoliating maples and oaks. Insect hunters are feasting in the treetops.

Winter moth caterpillars
Trees leafing out, caterpillars hatching, and warblers migrating are interconnected events. The pleasure to birdwatchers is complicated by the difficulty of seeing warblers clearly up in the canopy. The trick is to develop an ear for their distinctive vocalizations. Ed points to the zoo-zee, zoo-zoo-zee from a nearby black-throated green warbler as an easy song to identify.

Black-throated green warble
Ed's base line for recognizing certain bird songs is the robin. I listened closely as he discriminated between a robin up the street and the red-eyed vireos trilling non-stop above us. Later I concentrated on the difference from recordings on the Cornell Ornithology website. The vireo strings together endless warbling riffs, sweet, clipped, higher pitched than the robin's fuller, rounder, more resonant notes. That's the way I hear it.

Ed scanning for scarlet tanager
We turn up the road to Johnson's Quarry where Ed wants to show me an indigo bunting that's been singing there. Along the way he hears a call from another robin sound-alike, a scarlet tanager. He quotes a field guide description, "a robin with a sore throat."

Ed says "the indigo bunting - just like the scarlet tanager - people don't believe they're here. It's just that they're not that easy to see. The bunting is usually silhouetted near the top of a tree so the bright blue doesn't look like it. But you'll know the song. And the tanager usually spends its time inside the canopy. You could walk right by its velvety black and beautiful red."
Scarlet tanager
Sure enough, Ed homes in on a tanager in the thicket of branches. He congratulates me on my unobstructed photo of a tanager at Halibut Point earlier in the week.

Scarlet tanager at Halibut Point
We fail to find the indigo bunting to complete the desired trinity. "Too windy," Ed concludes, "but two out of three isn't bad." Especially when he serves coffee and home-made rhubarb-blueberry pie back at his house, the pie crisp and tart, wonderfully sweetened by an allotment from the one quart of maple syrup Ed distilled last winter on a burner in the back yard.

Indigo bunting
Ed Jylkka photo
Ed's pretty good with a camera too. He didn't want us to be skunked on the bunting. He didn't want his credibility, or my pleasure, to be tarnished. We made another date for a sure sighting. An inducement photo was waiting in my email inbox when I got home.

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