BIRD WATCH: Tough to pick a favorite of the season

THERE ARE ALWAYS birds that seem to go with a particular season in the way some plants and flowers do.

When the red currant begins to flower in the early spring, we look for our first returning rufous hummingbird. In late spring, fuchsia baskets grace many decks and patios because the hummers love them. Sometimes it is the sound of a bird that brings a season to mind.

If you grew up enjoying Northwest summers, the harsh, buzzing call of the Bewick’s wren brings to mind late summer’s dry fields and woodlands. You can almost feel summer’s warmth in its calling coming from blackberry thickets.

Cedar waxwings are one of the birds I expect to see in late summer or early fall. For years, they have harvested the dogwood buttons. Large flocks descend on the trees as multiple families collect together. There are always many young waxwings in one of these groups, and like all young birds, they are very vocal.

Cedar waxwings feeding in the trees is accompanied by a nonstop chorus of “whispers.” Waxwings have soft voices, and while they keep in constant touch with members in the feeding flock, they use a high-pitched whisper.

Fierce competition

They are often competing for the tree’s fruit with other fall birds. Band-tailed pigeons and flickers also teeter and totter through the branches, gorging themselves on the dogwood kernels. The ground below is a mess, as many of these seeds don’t get eaten.

Pileated woodpeckers claim their share of attention at this time of the year. They seem to know when the apples are ready to be harvested.

This abundant food source is a favorite for more than one reason: Not only do the adults eat their share of apples, but they introduce their offspring to this easy crop. You can park a young pileated in the apple tree and take some time off while he feeds himself.

These juvenile woodpeckers are a favorite fall delight. Their red topknots aren’t the deep crimson red the adults wear. They are a lighter, almost pink shade, making these youngsters look very hip.

Not everyone associates flycatchers with late summer. After all, they are more vocal in the spring and early summer. They are a bird I look for at this time of the year, but that association probably came into being after years of birding in the Olympic Peninsula’s Hoh Rain Forest.

The coming weeks that will soon slide into summer are my favorite season on the Hoh. Flycatchers haunt the deciduous woodlands along the large rivers. They are an obliging bird that lets you get repeated looks for identification purposes.

On the fly

A bumper crop of flying insects is the big attraction. They will forage in the air above the stream and sloughs that meander through stands of alder. Most obliging is the way they choose a favorite hunting perch. You get to see them snatch a bug out of the air and return to a tree branch to devour it.

It is amazing to see what large flying creatures they catch and swallow. Sometimes a good whack on the limb is needed before it is eaten.

Moving water is attractive to flycatchers whether they are feeding or bathing. They take very quick dips in the water and act much as they do when hunting insects. The bird will fly from its perch, quickly wet its toes and undersides, and just as quickly return to that perch.

A small stream tumbling over rocks or a manmade stream and waterfall both attract flycatchers.

If you experience a visit from one of these birds the real challenge will be to determine which flycatcher you are watching. And that’s an entire column in itself.

What’s your favorite bird for the season?

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Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

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