Friday, June 10, 2011

A Kingbird and a Storm

I was just sitting down to write a blog post late yesterday afternoon when the sky grew dark and the tops of trees began to sway. A band of severe thunderstorms was approaching, with potentially damaging winds. After a major tornado touched down in New Hampshire two years ago and another recently in Springfield, Massachusetts, we look at storm clouds differently now. We used to wonder why people lived in tornado alley in the Midwest, but now we all seem to be potentially at risk.

I shut down the computer and about 30 minutes later we lost power. A big limb of a red oak fell across the powerlines around the corner from our house, which must have caused the outage. When we woke this morning to the sound of a neighbor's generator, we knew the power was still out. Srini powered up our generator so we could get the fridge running for a while and fill up the water bottles. This has become at least an annual event.

Just before the storm moved through yesterday afternoon the temperature was in the low 90s and the air was still. As the clouds swirled and the wind whipped up the trees and the rain fell, the temperature dropped quickly. By the time the clouds cleared the temperature was in the low 70s. Everyone threw open their windows as indoors was now much warmer than the outside air temperature.

My blog post yesterday was going to be about a panting Eastern kingbird that I saw while walking a property in the 90 degree heat. So, here is the story of the hot kingbird. I was checking out a constructed wildlife pond that I've written about before, where I've seen two Blanding's turtles. On Wednesday the turtles were not basking -- too hot for them. Instead I noticed the kingbird sitting on its nest atop a snag (a dead tree) in the water. She or he -- both parents incubate the eggs and they look alike -- was panting, which is one way that birds cool themselves.

Here are some photos of the kingbird on its nest. The last one is a bit fuzzy but you can see the bird panting.

The nest site

The panting kingbird

The eastern kingbird is a common flycatcher that likes open country with scattered perches, such as orchards, fields, wetlands, and forest edges. They are easily identified by their dark gray, almost black, head, back, and tail that is white tipped. The throat and belly are white. The kingbird aggressively defends its nest from predators and its territory from other kingbirds. They have a fluttering, stiff-winged flight and a rapid, stuttering song.

I admire their ability to sit on their eggs beneath a sweltering sun. I'm glad I can seek shade instead.

Our power is still out but the tree trucks are working on the red oak limb. It's cooler today, beautiful really. The kingbird will do less panting today.


  1. Hey Ellen, This sounds almost like a duplicate of what happened here yesterday except that our storm didn't appear until about 8 p.m. First the windows went down to keep out the rain and hail, then back up again to let in the refreshing cool air once the storm had passed.

    I grew up in tornado alley in the midwest. But until yesterday it never crossed my mind to think about a possible tornado here and what we'd do. I still haven't figured out how to herd our four cats and get them to the basement.

    I'm not surprised that kingbird was panting. It's been horribly unseasonably warm this year. Nice to see her on the nest and read about her. I always find them to be beautiful birds.

    Hope the power's back soon.

  2. Hi Ken,

    The power returned this morning at 8 am, not long after I posted my blog via generator. The clouds looked a little ominous yesterday. Today is cooler and calmer. The weather seems more out of sorts than even for New England. But my tomatoes look great in the garden :)