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Late-spring arrivals making appearances

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By Sylvia Brockner

Just as in days past, the summer folk have arrived in Evergreen. It used to be families that arrived as soon as school was out, and there were cabins to be opened, bed linens to be aired out and meals to be prepared during the last of May or early June. Now it is summer birds that still arrive during the last of May or early June.

The summer birds have territories to locate, songs to sing to warn others to stay out of those territories, mates to court and nests to build. Soon they will have young to feed.

One of the interesting summer residents that has arrived at Evergreen Lake is the common yellowthroat. This little brownish, olive bird nests almost every year in the marsh area just below the service driveway to the back door of the Lake House. The yellowthroat is considered to be one of the wood warblers, but it is not a tree dweller. Its habitat is low, grassy, wet areas where there are a few low-growing shrubs — just what the Evergreen Lake wetlands provide at this particular spot. Their nest is built on the ground or just above it on a clump of grass or reeds or in a low shrub.

The yellowthroat is named for its golden yellow throat. When looking down on the bird, you may barely see it moving through the grass, for its back and head are a dull grayish olive drab. It is only when it turns toward you that you see its brilliant yellow throat and its black bandit’s mask over its eyes. At this time of year, the male is usually singing quite frequently. It is a three-part song that has been described as “witchity, witchity, witchity.” It may vary a bit in the number of syllables in “witchity,” but the rhythm and pitch of the three “witchities” are distinctive.

The first yellowthroat I saw was in Pymatuning Swamp on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Over the years, I have seen them in many other places. They are found in suitable habitat from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada south into Mexico. There are, therefore, many known subspecies, but all but one of them have the black mask. The females are impossible to tell apart in the field. Our local birds have the yellow breast; males have a black mask with a white border between the mask and the head. Once learned, the “witchity” call is unmistakable.

Another little bird, which is a favorite of mine, will also be building its nest somewhere nearby. The chipping sparrow, with its deep, red cap and clear unstreaked breast, is easily told from the other sparrows. They return around April 15; we often have a small flock of chippies for a week or two, but eventually the migrants move on farther north, and only a single pair remains in the yard to nest. They like yards, and there is usually a nest somewhere in the yard shrubbery around the Lake House.

The nest is usually well hidden, beneath an overhanging clump of grass or the skirt of a young blue spruce tree. It is a well-made small cup of woven grasses and other plant material that is lined with horsehair. The eggs are white or bluish white and are blotched with dark, reddish brown often clustered more thickly together at the larger end.

When looking for bird nests, there are a few basic rules. Sit at some distance away and watch birds to see where they are taking their nesting material. They will disappear into the cover at about the same place each trip they make. The nest will be somewhere quite near this spot, but do not thrash about there looking for it, or the birds will more than likely desert that location and seek another. Never make a trail directly to a nest, for predators may follow your trail.

Continue your observations from a distance and, in between 8 and 14 days for most small birds, the parents will begin to feed the young somewhere near the nest. As the young become more able to fly, the adults will lead them away from the nest area. At this time you may be able to locate the actual nest but still do not touch it or disturb it in any way. They may return to it and have a second brood. Only after a second brood, if any, has left the nest may it be disturbed in any way. While this kind of nest watching takes patience and perseverance, it is a good way to learn more about common birds, especially their juvenile and immature plumage.