Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published October 1, 2014 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Old and weather-beaten, this cedar tree is still a haven for small birds.

The Bird Tree

Blue Jay

Gray Catbird

Eastern Bluebird

House Wren

Northern Cardinal

Eastern Pheobe, juv

Eastern Pheobe, adult

Northern Mockingbird

One day this summer Jewel and I watched a small, all white, bird fly into a large cedar tree standing alone in the middle of our field. There had been two trees together, but one died and had been removed, so that the remaining tree was mostly bare on one side but retained all its glory on the other side. There are no small, all white, field birds in North America, so this bird quickly aroused our curiosity. It hopped around and preened among the bare branches on the open side of the tree, and seemed to be inviting me to come take its picture.

It stood out conspicuously against the brown branches and green foliage, but when I quickly returned with my camera it was nowhere to be seen. Early the next morning, I set up my bird blind and camera facing the open side of the cedar tree and settled in to await the white bird’s arrival. It never appeared, but during the next two hours I was constantly busy documenting all of the 12 species featured here.

I barely got my camera set up on the tripod in the blind when the Blue Jay raucously arrived and started screaming his warning about the recent change in the territory. Three minutes later the Gray Catbird flew in to see what all the commotion was about.

Then three Eastern Bluebirds came into the green foliated side of the tree, giving me only glimpses of their presence until one juvenile came around to the bare side of the tree, where I was ready for it, and able to record its portrait. The House Wren, a few minutes later, was the first surprise bird. I knew they nested in bird boxes in another area on our property, but never expected one out in the middle of a field in a cedar tree, with no other trees nearby. Yet, there he was, click.

I have seen Northern Cardinals in this cedar tree frequently, so I was not surprised when this one showed up next, although I might have preferred one that was more photogenic.

Six minutes later the second surprise bird of the morning hopped up on the same perch the Bluebird had been on. I took a number of photos of it because I must confess - I did not know what it was. I knew it was not one of the flycatchers or a pewee, because it did not have any yellow in the bill; but the all brown plumage and the buff wing-bars certainly stumped me. I knew phoebes have an all dark bill and no eye-ring, and while this one had the size and shape of a phoebe, it did not pump its tail, not once, and they certainly aren’t brown.

I began to have thoughts about the discovery on our property of some rare South American vagrant, and was beginning to contemplate how we would handle all the crowds of birders that were sure to come to our property to see it. But, alas, later research and an email query to an expert, confirmed that it was indeed a juvenile Eastern Phoebe, and I now had my lesson for the day: There is always more to learn about birds.

The Northern Mockingbird flew onto its regular perch on top of the tree where it went through its dazzling repertoire and entertained me for several minutes, until an Eastern Kingbird arrived. It was not as accommodating as most of the birds so far had been, but it finally lit on a green branch where I was able to snap a few quick photos before it left.

Then an adult Eastern Phoebe landed on one of the old vine branches running through the tree and confirmed my opinion (incorrectly) that the earlier brown bird with the buff wing-bars was not a phoebe.

Both a male and a female Downy Woodpecker started working on another of the old vine branches hanging in the tree, one on one side and the other on the opposite side but much lower. I hoped that they would work close enough together to enable me to photograph both in one shot, but it didn’t happen.

While I took photos of both, I have only included the male here. A female Red-bellied Woodpecker and a White-breasted Nuthatch added to the excitement, and finally, a House Finch posed for a quick portrait. Twelve species, plus one ‘needs more research bird,’ in less than two hours!

The white bird that set this process in motion never did show up, but in subsequent days its behavior pattern became obvious, and I was able to set up my blind and camera to document what it is. But I’m not going to tell you now. Just like in the old time movie serials, where the heroine was left tied to the tracks with the train bearing down on her, right at the end of that Saturday’s matinee, you will just have to wait for the next article to find out what happens.

And to think, we almost had that cedar tree removed when the dead tree next to it was cut down. Sometimes unplanned circumstances can lead to unexpected and very exciting results. Like going out on a first date? 

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Eastrern Kingbird

Downy Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker, female

White-breasted Nuthatch

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