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Know your early birds as spring approaches

By Robert Tougias

Publication: The Day

Published March 01. 2013 4:00AM

Longer days and warmer temperatures make March a great time to get back out in search of birds. Many fascinating changes are taking place at this very moment.

During these first few days of March, a drive or hike into the woods at night might prove productive for owl enthusiasts. Winter is truly the season of owls; however, March is not too late for birders interested in experiencing the magic of hooting owls. They begin breeding in the dead of winter and their hooting continues into the cool midnight air of spring.

While most of us are in bed, drifting off to sleep, owls are on the hunt. Few of us ever venture into their world, and there is still much we do not know about them. They are the voice of the dark, sometimes eerie, at other times inspiring, but when you hear them they will take your spirit to another level. It is this mystery that makes an evening owl prowl worth the effort.

In the wetlands, red-winged blackbirds have now arrived and their flocks will continue to increase as spring approaches. The once quiet marshlands now resound with the cacophony of the red-wing's familiar "kirk, kirk, kirkacheeeee" call. Red-wings are a sure sign of the coming spring, but they are not the only early indicators.

Out in the fields a plump game bird with a long narrow beak will soon appear. The arrival of the woodcock to the meadow each spring is a moving experience. When the ground thaws and the spring peepers' song rings through the night, listen for the buzzing call of the American woodcock in wet meadows and in open fields. Be sure to stay long enough to witness this bird's inspiring courtship flight or "sky dance."

Closer to home, a few Eastern phoebes may show up perched on clotheslines and cables. You can identify this bird by its dark brown head and dull gray body plumage. Phoebes often bounce their tails while they wait to catch insects. In early spring it might be possible to entice one to a suet feeder, especially on colder days.

You may have noticed the sweet call notes of chickadees and titmice increasing with each sunrise. In just a few days, their "phee bee beeeeee" calls will intensify, and the disbanding of the winter flocks will be complete. When that happens, the structure and dynamics of the birds around the yard and feeder will completely change.

Change will happen all throughout the local landscape this month. Visit these habitats and experience the moment we call March. What began with the restless hooting of owls on cold nights will soon end with the flute-like notes of the robin on some warm spring day.

Robert Tougias is a birding author in Colchester. He is available for presentations and can be reached at rtougias@snet.net.

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