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It’s in Your Nature: The birds are returning

Spring weather arrives one day, and seems to leave the next.

But eventually as April arrives, the “days get longer” and the flowers, birds, and even the insects are everywhere.

About the time coltsfoot flowers bloom on the roadside shoulders, I can expect to see the first tree swallows.

Males arrive first.

On those frosty April days, with insects scarce, the cold sends the swallows coursing over Beltzville Lake’s surface where you might see hundreds feeding there on those 35-40-degree mornings.

Days later, as the warmth returns, they scatter throughout the Times News region seeking my or your nest boxes.

The next spring notables are the flocks of white-throated sparrows congregating and feasting before moving back north to nest.

They actually were here all winter but they begin forming loose flocks as they feed heavily before waiting for that warm front that seems to signal all of them to “move out.”

Around May 1 the last ones will have departed and I’ll have to wait for their late September return.

The first arriving vireo species is the blue-headed vireo. They eat the tiny caterpillars on the newly forming leaves, but these hardier vireos are often here even before many leaves have emerged.

The male’s song carries quite a distance and I am surprised how far I need to walk to get close enough for a good view.

When these vireos arrive, I always think we’re over the hump and spring temps are here to stay. Look for them and their spectacled eyes in some of our local forests. They are one of the four vireos that remain here to breed.

About May 1, I usually hear the first ovenbirds and wood thrushes. They both sing heartily in the morning piping out their best songs to stake claim to their forest territories while hoping to entice a female to join them.

About this same time the hay scented ferns are beginning to cover the forest floor and at least “my favored birding locales of “Penn’s Woods” are getting that summer look.

The ovenbirds will nest on the ground nestled among those ferns soon.

Soon to follow these two singers, are the waves and waves of warblers, flycatchers, and the other vireo species making their way back here and most, all the way to Canada. I may be a bit optimistic by stating “waves” because, if you remember 2023 was one of the worst wildfire years ever in Canada.

Over 11.5 million acres of crucial spruce forests, so vital to most of the breeding birds, were destroyed by these infernos. You may remember the smoky haze that covered our skies for a week or two.

I’m hoping that it won’t take too many years for the populations to rebound. I’m sure in those burned areas no new young survived to rebuild the population last year.

I think fellow birders Dave, Rich, and I may be a little disappointed in the numbers we will see the next few weeks.

Usually among the later bird arrivals are the cuckoos. Their numbers seem to vary in our region and my theory is the availability of tent caterpillars seems to determine if they pick a certain woodland to nest.

This year’s bumper crop of caterpillars may bode well for your sightings of the two cuckoo species. I suggest you use the Sibley AP or go online to listen to the atypical songs that each has.

Whether it’s a tree swallow, vireo, black and white warbler or a yellow-billed cuckoo, I’m sure May will offer you some neat finds but you need to get out there ….

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: How many swallow species nest in our region? A. 3 B. 4 C. 5 D. 8

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Serviceberry trees are also called June Berry and Shad Bush. They are the earliest fruit producer in the forests (important) and shad fishermen would see their blooms on the hillsides during the shad runs.

Almost the same time the dandelion heads ripen, about May 2 - 5, I can find the white-crowned sparrows. They don't nest here but stop and rest for a few days to feed on those weed seeds we find unsightly. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The blue-headed vireo is the first of the vireo species to arrive here. They are already singing and establishing territories by late April.
Ovenbirds, according to my bird record books, arrive in this region about May 2 - 5 also. I found my first one “singing his head off” on April 30.
Mostly nesting to our north, the black-throated green warbler may see greatly reduced numbers the next few years after the horrific wildfires in Canada last year.
More often heard than seen, the black-billed cuckoo is usually one of my last spring birds to arrive. We may see more this year with the increased Eastern tent caterpillar numbers.