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Monday, April 26, 2010

April 21, 2010 10:15am-11:30am Sunny 60` Swan Point Cemetery, Providence RI

Swan Point Cemetery is not as fabulous as Higbee Beach or Plum Island, but for local Rhode Islanders it is an oasis for migrating songsters. And in late April when the first wave of warblers hits Rhode Island the birders start arriving hoping for an early migrant. But when the migration really gets going birders and birds will be swarming over the grounds, in fact so many birders came knocking on the gates that the cemetery now opens the gate early especially for birders but that system doesn't start until May.

We got out of the car at around ten fifteen am and headed for the woods where most of the action takes place. The first find for the day was a Downy Woodpecker flitting from trunk to trunk, every once in a while sneaking a backwards look at us while trying not to look suspicious of our presence. Blue Jay's shrieks echoed through the woods. A Turkey Vulture soared directly overhead trying in vane to impress the smaller birds with his glorious wings, at least he impressed me! Hundreds of birds trilled from all sides mostly Chipping Sparrows (I think) with probably a few wood warblers mixed in. But by far the most amazing birds we got were three Brown-Headed Cowbirds, two males, one female. Our first view of them were three dark silhouettes flying into a tall pine chattering like mad. There seemed to be a dispute going on over the female or nesting territory. Half a minute later we re-found them in a bush still fighting. We slowly walked up to them until we were standing three or four feet from them. What beautiful birds they were! The males with chestnut heads and a glossy black bodies, the female a light brown. They were the size and shape of a Towhee with beady black eyes and their sparrow like bills made them look like they had something wicked in mind which they often do. The Brown-Headed Cowbird, like the Common Cuckoo, is famous for being a nest parasite which means that they go around removing an egg from a nest (mostly Warblers I think) laying their eggs in the other eggs place. But that is not the worst of it. They lay their eggs just at the right time so that their chick will hatch a little while before the nest owner's eggs (at least I think that is the case) so that the mother bird will feed it first making the Cowbird bigger and stronger than his newly hatched nest mates. The mother's instincts tell her to feed the strongest nestling which ends up being the Cowbird. The other birds won't get enough to survive and will slowly starve to death. This is one of the main threats to the Kirtlands Warbler, one of the most endangered warblers in America. Some people kill Cowbirds for this reason. Luckily some birds will remove the strange egg from the nest while others will build a nest on top of the Cowbird's egg. Some birds will even desert the nest. What a harsh world birds live in.

Other than that there was nothing much more to note except for a 22 Mute Swans on the Seekonk river, 3 Yellow- Rumped Warblers, a Hermit Thrush and a hole in a tree which was supposedly once a home to Screech-Owl.

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