NEW CANAAN, Conn. -- While most birders eagerly anticipate the days of late April and May, when seemingly every blossoming tree harbors some type of warbler, grosbeak, or oriole, the earlier part of the spring season can be equally as exciting.
After the long, dreary Northeast winter, the first warm spring rain immediately prompts all of nature into a period of activity and growth. A walk around the New Canaan Nature Center on a nice spring day can be a perfect reminder of how much can change in just a few weeks of warmth.
The bare trees of the forest provides the perfect setting for a music lesson, as birds are visible and their sound unobstructed by leaves. Common Northeastern yard birds singing in full force, helping to accentuate the individual song variations that exist even within the same species
Amphibians scramble across the warm earth towards shallow puddles and ponds, while skunk cabbage and Jack-in-the-Pulpit poke just above ground. Common bird species such as chickadees and titmice whistle their song through the still-bare branches of the forest, while robins begin to become noticeably more aggressive as they vie for earthworms on the lawn. For many birders, it's been many long months since they've heard this familiar chatter.
In addition to the resident species, early migrants begin to appear around the middle of March, an appetizer of the avian smorgasbord to come. These early migrants include Yellow-rumped Warblers and Eastern Phoebes which amazingly winter just south of our region despite their South American origins.
While many of these species spend the summer in this woodlands of the Northeast, others such as the Ruby-crowned Kinglet are just passing through, and will travel much further north to breed. Other migrants such as kinglets and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers only add to the early spring chorus.
As birders continue the process of learning new bird songs and re-learning old ones, many acknowledge the benefit of watching a bird as it sings. It's possible to commit many a song to memory simply by mentally associating a singing individual with its song.
While it may take some extra work locating a singing individual, being able to put a name to an unseen songster will invariably enhance one’s enjoyment of a nature walk and the success of future birding endeavors.
William Haffey is a seminarian for the Diocese of Bridgeport and has a background in avian ecology. He has birded extensively in the United States and Latin America.