Summertime means different things to different people. For some it is the long, languid days relaxing in lawn chairs, family vacations, summer camp, picnics at the park, and all the other outdoor activities that were dreamt about during winter.
For me, it has always been the time to be outside for as long as I possibly can and observe the wildlife and birds around me. But, birding during the summer months can be very challenging. The trees and bushes are in full leaf and with the nesting season in full swing, adult birds become more secretive. The flash of orange and black through the arborvitae lets me know the orioles are nesting along the field margins.
Each time I walk past the garden shed, a mourning dove flies out from under the eaves, no doubt her nest. What there is of it is tucked among the terra cotta pots. The continuous call of a robin sends me investigating the flowers in the front yard. There, among the sweet woodruff and drain pipe, is a fledgling scrambling to catch up with its parent. I watch as the youngster seeks cover in the plants, yet remains within sight of the adult bird calling to it from the deck rail.
From around the corner of the house, I catch a brief motion in the burning bush. Muted red feathers send the bush shaking as a female cardinal chases off other birds from the area. She continues to call and I sit silently and wait. In a few minutes her youngster appears between the tarragon and chive plants. This one is so young it still has pin feathers showing. Once she sees the youngster, she settles down, but still chases away any goldfinches, juncos, or others trying to get to the feeders along the edge of the herb garden. She flies down next to the young bird and they both find refuge in the tangle of lupines and catmint.
As the young birds grow and improve their flying skills, they are seen joining their parents at the feeders throughout the yard. The young house finches remain on the ground, fluttering their wings with their beaks open to the sky waiting for their parents to give them food. I have seen parent birds of one species feeding the young of another – the instinct to provide for the incessant begging youngster being so strong.
A loud buzzing sound alerts me that there is a hummingbird nearby – only this time there happens to be three of them. Not yet in adult plumage, the three rufous hummers move in unison from flower to flower and bush to bush, sampling all the blooming offerings in the garden. The hanging fuchsia and petunia baskets become alive with the whirling of wings and the probing beaks, then in an instant the three move on.
This is truly the height of the summer season, a flurry of feathered activity. As I watch the young birds and their parents, I can’t help but wonder how many will be visiting the feeders come winter. Some migrate, but others will remain here, in the yard they hatched in, and the gardens they fledged in, at the feeders their parents showed them, and I will be there watching them.