June 28th 2011. I like hot days. I like them for a thousand reasons. Maybe best of all it’s because they’re a full six months from the depths of winter – which I don’t care for. Or it may be the sudden snap-bzzzz of Carolina Locusts exploding ahead of me as I walk across fields, or it could be dusty fragrance of Spotted Knapweed, I’m not sure. Hot days also bring out snakes, anxious Eastern Garter Snakes or better yet thick, dark Northern Water-snakes basking along the edges of ponds. Water snakes can be hard to see because they quickly slip into the water to avoid discovery. I just like being outside in the country on those days.
On such a hot day I was working on my mental map of a conservation area. I wanted to see what lay this side of a bisecting rail line; just exploring. A pair of Eastern Kingbirds was busy carrying beaks full of leggy insects to their fledglings hidden somewhere close by. The kingbirds’ tinny chatter marked each stage of their progress as they flitted from one high perch to another, watching me carefully they circled towards their youngsters. My sole experience with finding a kingbird’s nest taught me that they build cunningly invisible nests in what seems like the most obvious places.
I crossed a dry field that held Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows; I could hear both. The Savannah Sparrows were conspicuous, usually perched on a low branch or atop a mullein or goldenrod, just high enough to see where everyone one was, and calling ‘Tsit tsit tsit tsit tseeee-zzz’. The Grasshopper Sparrows though stayed low, nervously out of sight, it was only their ‘bb-bzzzz’ that told they were there.
As I walked up a slope, cutting across a narrow neck of grass and knapweed, I must have been too close for a Grasshopper Sparrow’s liking. One fluttered over to a patch of open, rubble-littered ground, then scurried quickly like a mouse trying to hide, until it found somewhere it thought safe enough to watch me from. It remained silent but was anxious for me to leave, so I did. But I was pleased to have had the privilege of seeing one at close quarters, long enough to note the distinguishing field marks and to get some pictures. Here it is.