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--Mon & Tues, Sept 4/5 2023--
Labor Day is a balcony day. 5:52 AM. A popular candidate for the first day of autumn, at 71 degrees it happens to be the warmest dawn of 2023. Lingering katydids, crickets, and background hum are soon drowned by the rising and falling cacophony of cicadas.
The birds don’t stir until 6:20, when a Black-capped Chickadee begins to call off in the confluence somewhere. Another fifteen minutes pass until anything is airborne. Today, it’s a swirl of American Crows and Chimney Swifts over Sapsucker point. The crows are buoyant and raucous in the stiffening breeze. An Osprey appears, heading upriver, then turning around and flying out through the Gap.
Rock Pigeons start with a flock of 35, and as they fan out in front of the towers, four Turkey Vultures are already up and about along Bald Eagle Mountain. Must be quite a nice wind up there; they are soon joined by half a dozen Common Ravens. The ravens spend the next hour playing about along the treetops and around the towers, as the vulture numbers swell gradually into the forties.
It turns out the vultures are getting their spots on the towers, and they’re all perched by 7:30. I wonder if they have some sort of hierarchy in terms of who gets to perch where. They’ll end up hanging out there most of the day, as they tend to do this time of year, with small groups taking off now and then to circle and search for sustenance. At one point, an adult Bald Eagle shows up and circles together with the vultures.
Just as predictably as the pigeon exodus is the European Starling arrival. The local group, over by the interstate, provides the only semblance of birdsong this time of day. Indeed, in the starling noise, Merlin hears an Eastern Meadowlark as well as a Veery.
Not until five minutes to seven do the first House Finch commuters scatter. This year, we are bereft of last year’s flocks of 30 and 40 that would leave town in the seven o’clock hour, all heading south toward Brush Mountain or some other location. In September 2022, finch numbers swelled into the hundreds, but this year, they are either flying from town to some other destination that doesn’t take them directly overhead, or some other factor is at play. Last year, their night roost was not far from the balcony, along Bald Eagle Creek, and it could be that those numbers represented an abnormal high, some sort of post-breeding juvenile flock that had moved into the area.
Just after seven, I hear the always unpredictable rattle of a Belted Kingfisher, by this time a migrant, I suppose. At 7:17, all at the same time, the resident Eastern Phoebe, a nearby Tufted Titmouse, and another bird, temporarily a mystery, vocalize. It takes me a moment to realize that the third species is a Warbling Vireo, which I haven’t detected from the balcony since July. The song is weak and a little off, but still recognizable.
By now, the sky is filling with mackerel clouds, and the cicadas have died down. It’s back to crickets. The task of pigeon counting continues; a passel, as it were, or a plague, depending on your point of view.
At 7:45 AM, full sun finally hits the balcony, and 349 individuals after it started, the Rock Pigeon commute is complete. This record has the dubious distinction of the all-time eBird high count for the hotspot and for Blair County.
The Movie That Never Starts
On Tuesday, Venus is even brighter than yesterday, the sky is clearer, and it’s 10 degrees cooler. Like yesterday, the weather bot is calling for a scorcher. Unlike yesterday, however, there is no breeze. Nevertheless, for comparison’s sake, I pull out the chair, grab the coffee, and face the sky. At 6:06 AM, two Cape May Warblers, invisible to me, fly overhead, emitting their distinctive nocturnal flight calls. Then, nothing.
The rising and falling bugs, an occasional bat returning to roost, the coming and going of motorcycles, car, trucks—all these are like the seemingly endless ads and previews when I go to the movie theater. Without any early dawn chorus now, without any singing robins, the real show is set to begin with commuters bursting into the sky. But today, the equipment isn’t working well. Something’s off.
At 6:30 AM, a stealth American Robin dives into some trees along Bald Eagle Creek in front of me, not making a sound. A ravenous Ruby-throated Hummingbird zigzags drunkenly to the feeder. Eight robins leave the north side of town, heading east. Wisps of cloud up that way become a fog bank, rolling toward Bald Eagle Mountain, then over it, while around me, it’s still clear.
After ten more minutes, a single Chimney Swift heard there, a Cedar Waxwing over there, a faint Common Raven croak. As the fog recedes, closer to seven, I note the first Rock Pigeons, and some snatches of European Starling song. The towers are appear, revealing a pair of Common Ravens frolicking around them in the dead calm sky. A Turkey Vulture pair shows up.
By seven, the fog has returned, this time from the south, and within minutes, Brush Mountain is gone and even the interstate is a faint outline. It’s turned clammy, and I grab another layer. At 7:05, a Northern Cardinal sings , and then a Carolina Wren, both from the confluence. But it’s no use; the show is pretty much over. Today I’m impatient, and distant Blue Jay calls only remind me that I’m missing out on the real action, up on the ridges. Tomorrow morning, it’s back to the trenches.
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