Dive Bombers and Other Birds

Tudor Richards, USNR

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All the time we alternated between flying and ground school we were second class cadets, second class
an insignia on our shirts indicating as much, but giving us only Wed. night off as an added privilege. As a matter of fact I was restricted so much during April and May, either because of flunking blinker or nav, I seldom got “ashore” even to Jacksonville, while the beaches might just as well have been in Bermuda. Still, life wasn’t too bad much of the time. The only required exercise besides drill was calisthenics before breakfast, so there was plenty of time for walks in the woods. With the Spring migration bird
on, more and more birds began to be seen, and even the local residents with their songs heard more and more often, were becoming more in evidence. I had seen the pretty little yellow-throated warbler, more or less black and white new birds otherwise, shortly after our arrival from Atlanta, but didn’t add any more new birds within the limits of the station until late April* when a chuck-will’s widow was first heard. It sounded much like a whip-poor-will with a new song. Eventually I encountered one in daylight, and, like a small, ghostlike hawk, it glided out of the tree it had been resting in and disappeared. Ground doves “appeared” the next day, though they had probably been in the vicinity right along. Dainty, like most other members of their family, they seemed like miniature and special short-tailed editions of our much more widespread mourning doves. The next arrival, one that really had spent the winter further south, very likely with the big goatsuckers in Cuba, was our most gorgeously, or at any rate most gaudily, decorated small bird, the painted bunting. His (only the male is brightly colored) underparts are all scarlet, but his upperparts are in four different colors, the top and back of his head being violet blue, his upper back and most of his wings light green, his rump blood red and his tail brown. Surprisingly enough the total effect seems pleasingly harmonious. A pleasant little song and graceful habits are added attractions. Another pleasing but very plain little songster is the pine woods sparrow, never positively identified until early May, when his song became one of the characteristic sounds of the woods.

There were, of course, many other birds seen inside the fence that were permanent, winter or summer residents or merely migrants. Florida chickadees*, more birds tufted titmice, gray-headed nuthatches, Florida (Carolina) wrens, quail, mockingbirds, loggerhead shrikes, red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers, black and turkey vultures, and cardinals were the outstanding examples of resident species not represented as far north as Groton and not previously mentioned. The fish crow seemed to be none too easy to distinguish from the ordinary crow, but the white-eyed towhee*, on the other hand, while only a subspecies, could at close range be easily separated from the more familiar red-eyed towhee. Only less than the birds wintering further south did most of these permanent residents, along with some of the winter residents, become more and more conspicuous as Spring advanced. The delightful, noisy but musical mockingbird was outstanding, being, in effect, the southern “robin” and appearing almost everywhere.

* Then apparently still considered to be a subspecies of what is now called the rufous-sided towhee.
* Subspecies of Carolina Chickadee, English name of former no longer recognized.
* Sandhill cranes seen on trip to Okeefenokee Swamp, Ga., 4/19/’42