One can get a stiff neck looking up at the flurry of bird activity in the treetops at this time of year. Many of the Neotropical migrants favor rich forests as daytime resting sites after flying through the night. For others, these forests are a destination where they will nest and raise their young.
The Veery (Catharus fuscescens) is a Neotropical thrush that breeds in extensive mature forest on the dampest slopes of the Diabase ridges in the Gettysburg Basin. Their rolling flute-like songs echo through the understory as newly arrived birds establish nesting territories.
The whistled song of the Baltimore Oriole is often heard long before this colorful Neotropical is seen among the foliage of a treetop. Some dead branches allow us a glimpse of this curious beauty.
The “Pee-a-wee……..Pee-urr” song of the Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens), a small flycatcher, is presently heard in the Riparian Woodlands at Conewago Falls. It breeds in forested tracts throughout the lower Susquehanna valley. The vocalizations often continue through the summer, ending only when the birds depart to return to the tropics for the winter.
While constructing a nest beneath a tree canopy, an Eastern Wood-Pewee form-fits the cup where eggs will soon be laid.
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americana) nests in the treetops of Riparian Woodlands along the Susquehanna and its tributaries. Most arrive during the second half of May for their summer stay. It is a renowned consumer of caterpillars.
The Cedar Waxwing is a notorious wanderer. Though not a Neotropical migrant, it is a very late nester. Flocks may continue moving for another month before pairs settle on a place to raise young.
Of the more than twenty species of warblers which regularly migrate through the lower Susquehanna Valley, the Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) is among those which breeds here. It is particularly fond of streamside thickets.
For the birds that arrive earlier in spring than the Neotropical migrants, the breeding season is well underway. The wet weather may be impacting the success of the early nests.
Northern Rough-winged Swallows arrived back in April. At traditional nest sites, including the York Haven Dam and local creek bridges, small groups of adults were seen actively feeding and at times perching in dead treetops during recent days. There was an absence of visits to the actual nest cavities where they should be feeding and fledging young by now. It’s very possible that these nests failed due to the wet weather and flooding. Another nest attempt may follow if drier conditions allow stream levels to subside and there is an increase in the mass of flying insects available for the adults to feed to their young..
A Carolina Chickadee, a resident species, is seen atop a hollow stump where it and a mate are constructing a new nest for a second brood. Did the first brood fail? Not sure.
Common Mergansers are an uncommon but regular nesting species of waterfowl on the lower Susquehanna River. They nest in cavities, requiring very large trees to accommodate their needs. It was therefore encouraging to see this pair on a forested stream in northern Lancaster County during the weekend. However, a little while after this photograph was taken the pair flew away, indicating that they are not caring for young which by now should be out of the nest and on the move under the watchful care of the female.
So long for now, if you’ll excuse me please, I have a sore neck to tend to.