Chris Coleborn

It is a very stimulating thing for most of us to visit a new culture and country. I certainly found it so on the several trips to the USA that I had the opportunity to make in connection with my work as a Pastor. In meeting other Christians there was the stimulus of the communion of the saints - a sense of wonder at how people that have never met before can meet and enjoy a real bond, like old trusted friends, in a like precious faith. There was also the pleasure for me to see and enjoy the wonders of God’s creation in a land other than Australia.

Apart from time on the west coast of the United States of America, in God’s providence I had time to get out into the "woods" and "fields" of the central region and the east of this vast country. There were visits to Michigan, Indiana, Illinois & Wisconsin, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington DC, South Carolina and east Texas. I found the fauna and flora fascinating.

In places such as Michigan and Wisconsin there were lush fields and thick green deciduous woods. On the Atlantic seaboard in Pennsylvania, where the Pilgrim Fathers once walked, and in the Old Southern States of Virginia and South Carolina, there was opportunity to walk among the rolling hills and woods where once Indians stalked. In all these places it was wonderful to enjoy the wildlife, especially the birds, so different to Australia.

To me, one of the most intriguing birds to be seen in the USA were Hummingbirds. Many people put out feeders for the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in the eastern states. It is the only hummingbird east of the Great Plains except for the rare Rufous Hummingbird, which I was not privileged to see. Most feeders are placed outside a kitchen window or dining room where they can be regularly observed, and sure enough in the spring and summer months, on nearly any day one can see this fascinating, hyperactive little bundle of colourful energy.

There are a range of Finches that look a lot like Sparrows (especially the female) and Sparrows that look a lot like Finches in the States as well as some birds that look like Sparrows but are Longspurs. It can be quite confusing. Around farms, city streets, meadows and woods, the following were seen. Lapland Longspur, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Black-Throated Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow to name just a few of the many and varied Sparrows to be found throughout the States. The Eurasian House Sparrow and Tree Sparrow have also been introduced to the States.

Some Finches have also been introduced, such as the European Goldfinch, but there are many varieties of these little birds native to North America. Among them are the brilliant yellow male American Goldfinch, the bright reddish male House Finch and Purple Finch. There are other species of birds that look on first sight similar to the Sparrows and Finches, such as the Crossbills and Redpolls, but again, these were missed sightings on my visits.

Among the most colourful of birds in the woods of the south, north-east and east of the States are the Buntings. I shall never forget taking a walk in a heavy deciduous wood surrounding some corn fields and marshy ponds area near Grand Rapids Michigan, (where I was visiting a Christian family), seeing some flashes of the most brilliant, unbelievable blue. Painstakingly tracking down the source of this colour, I found to my amazement very shy Indigo Buntings. What a privilege to see them. The male of this species is a brilliant, almost iridescent blue, and darker blue, if possible on the crown. It was a satisfying pleasure to see such a bird. At the same place there was a flash of incredible red, and when I managed to steady my excited hands and focus the binoculars, I was enthralled to observe a wonder of shimmering red and black against the backdrop of the bright green foliage of the deciduous woods - a Scarlet Tanager. Another bright blue bird seen in Texas was the Blue Grosbeak. Most Americans to whom I spoke were not aware of these colourful birds, because they have to generally be sought out in the woods, but like in Australia, not many walk often and quietly through the woods, or in Australia, "the bush". The bird I was regularly told was the most blue in colour was the common, but delightful Eastern Bluebird. It is seen in backyards and public places, but to me it could not compare with the above birds in brilliance of colour.

Another Bunting that was seen was the Painted Bunting. Early one morning I was going for a walk along a wooded lane in eastern Texas. Thickets of various shrubs and trees were on the verge of the land, and tall grass where the woods had been cleared. There was the occasional field, surrounded by woods. As I enjoyed the freshness of the morning and the birdsong, particularly the Mockingbird, a small colourful bird landed on the road in front of me. As I focused my binoculars on it they seemed to simply fill up with colour - a Painted Bunting! It was feeding on the road for a time, enabling me to get a good view, before flying to a branch over the road, and affording me further views in perfect light. It is aptly named with a deep purple-blue head and neck, with a bright yellow cape on its back and with a brilliant red rump, dark reddish-brown tail and wings with a very deep red throat and underside, blue shoulders and bright green upper wings.

There are quite a few very bright coloured birds in the States, one of the best known of course is the strikingly red male of the Northern Cardinal, flashing around gardens and woods, its black face and chin making it look quite fierce and its crest raised at times.

There are many songbirds in the States, and particularly in the eastern states with its extensive woods. These birds migrate to the tropical jungles of Central and South America during the northern winter, but come to the cooler northern forests and breed during the northern summer. One of the songbirds that I often enjoyed was the Northern Oriole. Several times I saw this Oriole in the Grand Rapids area of Michigan. I was also pleased to see the Orchard Oriole. Other songbirds seen, to name just a few, were Wilson’s Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler and the dainty little black masked Common Yellowthroat with its bright yellow underside and olive back.

There are quite a few Starling and Blackbird type birds in the United States too. There are for example five types of Blackbirds, only two of which are actually fully black. I managed to see three of the five species, the Red-winged Blackbird, the Rusty Blackbird and Brewer’s Blackbird. I searched for, but never managed to see the brightly coloured Yellow-headed Blackbird. Grackles and Cowbirds also reminded me of Blackbirds.

There are families of birds in the United States that we do not have in Australia. For example, we have no Woodpeckers or Vireos. These latter birds are generally plain-coloured quiet birds that pick crawling insects off the foliage found in densely wooded areas. Though plain, they are lovely songbirds. Some that I enjoyed seeing were Solitary, White-Eyed and Bell’s Vireo.

One of the most spectacular birds as far as shape and habit was a flashy flycatcher called the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher. The several times I saw it was in Texas in more open country. It has a long streaming forked tail that cross over one another - thus the scissors in their name. It is grey on the back with a rosy flush, black and brown edged tails and wings, white underside with a rose belly and a flash of red on the shoulders. Beautiful to see them hawking insects off overhead telephone wires in the early morning or evening light. But then we have some beautiful Australian Flycatchers don’t we? (Why not look up some of our Flycatchers in a Field Guide if you cannot think of one off hand?)

One bird that I sought unsuccessfully for on the first two of my three trips to the United States was the Wild Turkey. Since a boy I have loved these large showy birds. On my third trip both in Michigan as well as Wisconsin I saw several flocks feeding in fields beside thick woods. They are an amazingly quiet bird in the woods, and can surprisingly, for their size, move very quickly through the undergrowth.

Another large bird that delighted me was a bird that made me think of our Australian Native Companion the Brolga, was the Sandhill Crane. I will not quickly forget walking early one morning in Wisconsin down a quiet country lane, with woods broken up into fields with young corn just shooting, and the lane lined with lovely old evergreens, when I came across two quietly feeding in one of the fields. It was a delight to stop and view them through the binoculars, and delight in the wonders of life all around us.

Apart from birds, I really had a great time looking at other animals in the USA such as Eastern Cottontail, Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Fox Squirrel, Red Squirrel, Grey Squirrel, Eastern Chipmunk, Muskrat, Beaver, Virginia Opossum, Eastern Mole, Red Fox, Coyote, Striped Skunk, Raccoon, White-tailed Deer and the others mentioned in part one of this article.

There were some species of birds of which I did not get to see many, such as the Ducks and Waders, but what I did see was deeply satisfying, and added another dimension to my fellowship with saints in a like precious faith in that land far from our own. The very same words that John Popel quotes in a later article from Psalm 104:24 came to my mind, "O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches."

The full list of birds I saw in the United States of America is as follows:

Western Grebe Horned Grebe Eared Grebe Brown Pelican
American White Pelican Double-Crested CormorantTundra Swan Canada Goose
Mallard American Black Duck Wood Duck Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture California Condor Cooper’s Hawk Sharp-shinned Hawk
Northern Harrier Swainson’s Hawk Broad-Winged Hawk Red-Shouldered Hawk
Golden Eagle Bald Eagle Prairie Falcon American Kestrel
Wild Turkey California Quail Gambel’s Quail Northern Bobwhite
Great Egret Snowy Egret Cattle Egret Great Blue Heron
Green Heron Yellow-Crowned Heron American Bittern Sandhill Crane
Killdeer Greater Yellowlegs Lesser Yellowlegs Herring Gull
California Gull Red-billed Gull Franklin’s Gull Common Tern
Band-Tailed Pigeon Rock Dove Mourning Dove Ringed Turtle-Dove
Inca Dove Yellow-Billed Cuckoo Black-billed Cuckoo Greater Roadrunner
Eastern Screech-Owl Great Horned Owl Burrowing Owl Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift White-Throated Swift Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Broad-Billed Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird Anna’s HummingbirdBlack-Chinned Hummingbird Belted Kingfisher
Common Flicker Red-bellied Woodpecker Ladder-Backed Woodpecker Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker Hairy Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird Western Kingbird Cassin’s Kingbird Great-Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe Black Phoebe Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher Acadian Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher Eastern Wood-Pewee Barn Swallow Cliff Swallow
Violet-Green Swallow Tree Swallow Banks Swallow Purple Martin
Blue Jay Steller’s Jay Scrub Jay Gray Jay
Black-Billed Magpie Clark’s NutcrackerCommon Raven American Crow
Black-Capped Chickadee Mountain Chickadee Tufted Titmouse Verdin
Bushtit American Dipper White-Breasted Nuthatch Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch House Wren Bewick’s Wren Carolina Wren
Canyon Wren Northern Mockingbird Gray Catbird Brown Thrasher
American Robin Townsend’s SolitaireVeery Eastern Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird Glue-Gray Gnatcatcher Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher Water Pipit
Cedar Waxwings Phainopepla Loggerhead Shrike European Starling
Solitary Vireo White-Eyed Vireo Bell’s Vireo Philadelphia Vireo
Black & White WarblerNashville Warbler Virginia’s Warbler Yellow Warbler
Yellow-Rumped Warbler Black-Throated Green WarblerBlack-Throated Blue WarblerYellow-Throated Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler Common Yellowthroat Wilson’s Warbler House Sparrow
Eastern Meadowlark Western Meadowlark Red-Winged Blackbird Rusty Blackbird
Brewer’s BlackbirdGreat-Tailed Grackle Boat-Tailed Grackle Common Grackle
Brown-Headed Cowbird Orchard Oriole Hooded Oriole Northern Oriole
Western Tanager Scarlet Tanager Summer Tanager Northern Cardinal
Black-Headed Grosbeak Blue Grosbeak Indogo Bunting Painted Bunting
Purple Finch Cassin’s Finch House Finch American Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinch Rufous-Sided Towhee Brown Towhee Abert’s Towhee
Savannah Sparrow Vesper Sparrow Black-Throated Sparrow Dark-Eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow Chipping Sparrow Field Sparrow Fox Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow Song Sparrow Lapland Longspur

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, October 2001