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“Nature Talks” author Cheryl Kimball was sad to see the top of this oak tree on the hill in her horse pasture broken off after the December 2008 ice storm. A variety of birds, however, have come to love it as a vantage point to survey the landscape. This red-bellied woodpecker recently spent most of an evening there, occasionally flying away for a few minutes before returning. (Cheryl Kimball)

Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Mid-summer brings bird population explosion


I SAT ON the screened porch a couple of early Sunday mornings ago enjoying the coolness before sunrise, pretending to be the writer I imagine myself to be, working on one of my three unfinished Great American Novels. A large mug of steaming hot coffee that proves you are a writer sat next to the keyboard. I was deep into it when I suddenly realized there was an amazing amount of bird noise outside. I grabbed my binoculars and stood in the driveway. The noise was so loud and bird calls of such a variety that it was like being in an enclosed aviary. Bits of bird movement could be observed everywhere.

I first trained my binoculars on the catalpa tree beside the barn. In the thickness of the folds of the catalpa’s large leaves were birds flitting about. I followed one of them to the roof of the barn where I saw a large family of tufted titmice chasing each other around the peak. The youngsters were already almost full grown in size but otherwise very immature in appearance. This was delightful to watch as I have never seen young tufted titmice before.

After they flew away, I turned 180 degrees and directed my binoculars to the top of an oak tree along the road that provides welcome summer shade to the west side of the house. A chubby female downy woodpecker was grabbing insects left and right. And scrambling around a large tree branch were a couple young downies. Birds were everywhere, but those were the two species I managed to capture before things quieted down. And I have tried to recapture this event subsequent mornings but it has not happened again, either because of my own schedule or the weather, or maybe it just doesn’t happen more than one few-hour period each midsummer.

It occurred to me that this is perhaps the peak moment in the natural bird cycle where the population of birds — just in the half-acre front yard surrounded by oaks and beeches and quaking aspens and shrubs and, yes, invasives like bittersweet and Japanese knotweed — had absolutely exploded to three, four, five times the size it was just six or eight weeks ago and will be six weeks from now. There were so many birds moving around and so much bird noise — cardinals whooping, pileated woodpeckers kuk kuk kukkuking, blue jays yelling, and tweets, chips and chirps of unknown origin — that I could not possibly keep track of it all.

And I was absolutely amazed — not only by the activity and sound but that this phenomenon had never occurred to me before. It happens in such a small window — when young birds are old enough to move around and make noise but before they all have had their fill of the abundance of insects a New England summer offers and head to places south where insects are abundant in winter, or the young move to their own territory to become parents themselves next year. There is probably a name for this annual peak bird population and studies have probably narrowed it to an average date each year for this or that latitude, but an online search of various strings didn’t produce anything: “peak bird activity of young and adults” called up sites for parents doing bird activities with kids; “peak bird activity of fledglings and adults” gave me a quizzical response from Google with a plea to search another topic. I tried coming up with my own names—“Fledg-o-rama” or “Ornicacaphonia” but nothing really seems right. Perhaps a reader knows this phenomenon and a name for it?

Thanks for the email

Speaking of astute readers, a few weeks back one such reader emailed me about a column I wrote on birds’ nests that included a photo of a small collection of nests I have in a cabinet. These are nests found in the field knocked down by the wind and chimney swift nests collected in the fall when I take the damper out and clean the debris — which over the years has included at least two swift nests. But apparently you may have to write to me in my prison cell for a while — the reader wrote that she thought that collecting birds’ nests was illegal in New Hampshire.

And she would be right, according to a resulting conversation I had with Heidi Murphy of the N.H. Fish and Game’s law division. Of course they are keenly concerned about active nests. Even nests located where birds are fouling something important need permission to be moved — Fish and Game will help you figure out the best time to do that to cause as little disturbance as possible to the birds.

I got the impression if I never invite Ms. Murphy or other Fish and Game folks to my home, or if I do I at least need to lock up the room with the bird’s nests in it — I may remain free from prison for the time being. But rest assured, I will not be collecting any more nests — except maybe fallen chimney swift nests, which are just works of art.

A life list checkmark!

Lastly in this collection of bird tidbits, I am excited to report that I finally, at long last, saw an indigo bunting! I was standing outside my car at the New Hampshire Farm Museum in Milton talking with someone when she pointed to the fence rail and said, “Oh, look at that blue bird!” And of course my first assumption when I followed where she was pointing was that it was a bluebird. But the size, shape and, of course, the brilliant blue and lack of red chest made me immediately change my mind and exclaim, “That’s an indigo bunting!” It flew across the road and we watched it flit around a bush for a while and then it was gone. Now I will have to see what is next on my list — there is always the ivory-billed woodpecker ...



Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at naturetalksck@gmail.com.

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