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Veeries sing and nest in Northland forests

Adult veery in a woods. Note the red-brown feathers with few spots underneath. (Photo by Mark Sparky Stensaas)1 / 2
Veery nest on the ground. Note the blue eggs. (Photo by Larry Weber)2 / 2

During my daily walks now in the time of summer solstice, I regularly hear 20-30 species of birds singing. Most are regulars at particular places, telling me that they are not only singing here, but they are also nesting at these sites.

With the plethora of avian songs happening throughout this month, June is when we do the breeding bird survey. I have been participating in this population sampling for many years. Each year in June I drive a 25-mile route with stops at every half-mile. During these pauses lasting three minutes each, we note every kind of bird heard singing or seen and how many. If these birds are in territory and singing, they are most likely nesting here, too.

The survey needs to be done over the same route every year, and I find it to be a good way to see who my neighbors are and how they are doing. Since most birds sing in the calm of early morning, I need to begin the route near 5 a.m. and finish about three hours later, before breezes of the day pick up.

Relying greatly on bird song, the survey mostly emphasizes songbirds. Not all birds sing and though I record many kinds of songbirds, others — water birds, raptors and gallinaceous birds — are less likely. Usually I note the sounds of ruffed grouse, snipe and maybe an owl. I've also regularly seen ducks, geese, loons and a few hawks, eagles and osprey, but it is the songbirds that provide the longest list.

The early morning open woods is alive with songs from robins, bluebirds and other thrushes. Sparrows, wrens and kingfishers sing with the red-winged blackbirds at the swamps. Out in the fields I hear and see bobolinks, meadowlarks and swallows. In the deeper woods, songs of vireos, grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and orioles prevail. At the woods' edge cuckoos, towhees, brown thrashers, indigo buntings and catbirds proclaim their sites. All of these get blended with calls of waxwings, kingbirds, wood peewees and other flycatchers.

In the more peopled part of the route, I'll record chimney swifts, hummingbirds, doves, crows, ravens, grackles and goldfinches.

It seems like every stop has its species of warblers to add to the list. I expect and usually record about a dozen kinds of warblers each year. For the entire route I'll note about 70-80 species of birds consistently each year. This survey does a good job of recording what birds nest in the region, but I rarely see the nests. That takes more walking and searching, or luck.

Each June I like to also observe the nests that I know are nearby. I do not find many. Sometimes I watch the bird until its nest is discovered. At other times, I just get lucky.

Such was the situation with a woods walk recently. While in a thick woods in search of some late spring wildflowers, I scared up a bird from the ground. Stopping in mid-stride, I looked over the whole area in front of me and yes, I found the nest. The small bird that leapt up from this site flew only a short ways and proceeded to scold me. I examined the nest, noted the three blue eggs and took a picture. I had inadvertently found the nest of a veery.

Though common and regular residents of the Northland woods, these 7-inch brown birds are not too well known. They live deep in the forests where they nest either on or near the ground. Veeries are a kind of thrush and like others members of this group, they are brown on the back. While some thrushes are more olive-brown on the back, tail and wings, veeries tend more toward reddish-brown.

While many of its relative thrushes are spotted on the chest and belly, the veery is only lightly spotted. We may see them when they come out in open yards and parks, hopping over the grasses in a robin-like style, but usually we know of veeries because of their songs.

The song of the veery has been described as a rolling series of descending "veer" notes, hence the name. Walking by or in a woods each day now, I'll hear this sound regularly. As the day calms during these long evenings of June, the song of the veery, joined by the wood thrush and wood peewee, form a trio that peacefully brings closure to the summer day.

Ground nesters can have a problem escaping predators. Those choosing such sites to raise families find a well-hidden place. Such was the nest that I fortunately located in the June woods. I wanted this delightful bird to succeed in raising its young. After my brief visit I left, content with listening to its churning song emanating from its woods home on summer evenings.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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