2015-07-09 / Nature

Walk on the Quiet Side in the Valley

By Jack Kelly


An eastern kingbird watches for insects from a branch. An eastern kingbird watches for insects from a branch. Middletown’s Kempenaar Valley and the adjacent Bailey Brook buffer zone contain lush and fertile nesting and foraging grounds for a number of avian species, as well as other creatures. A recent evening’s walk through this watershed region led to some interesting discoveries.

The two freshwater ponds at the north end of the valley support an undetermined number of animals, as evidenced by the presence of the tracks and scat of rabbit, skunk, deer, raccoon, and coyote. Frogs and turtles inhabit this area and can be heard splashing into the ponds’ waters at the approach of interlopers. Great and snowy egrets, green herons, glossy ibis, and great blue herons may be observed foraging in the ponds for frogs and small fish such as bluegills.

The area surrounding the two ponds and Bailey Brook is thick with brushy habitat and a tall weeping willow tree, along with smaller willows. This is the perfect environment for insect-eating birds such as barn and tree swallows, willow flycatchers, and eastern kingbirds, which were flying about and catching insects on the wing. Other bug eaters sighted in the area included common yellowthroats, yellow warblers, and a northern waterthrush, all of which are nesting in this diverse habitat. The waterthrush was observed foraging along the water, bobbing the rear portion of its body as it sought insects, worms and snails. A juvenile fledgling yellow warbler was stretching and trying its wings near the brook.


A willow flycatcher enjoys an insect dinner on its perch. A willow flycatcher enjoys an insect dinner on its perch. Populations of migrating flycatchers have declined over the past decade across much of North America. The declines have been linked to habitat changes, including the fragmentation and destruction of forests and the overbrowsing of forest floors by deer. Other threats include pesticides and the proliferation of brownheaded cowbirds, which are brood parasites.


A juvenile yellow warbler enjoys a bug after a flight around its habitat. (Photos by Jack Kelly) A juvenile yellow warbler enjoys a bug after a flight around its habitat. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Eastern kingbirds are long distance migrants traveling on long slender wings from the forests of South America to breeding areas across North America and southern Canada. With a wingspan of 15 inches and a body length of 8.5 inches, this feisty bird migrates by day in loose flocks. It has a black throat that contrasts sharply with its white throat and belly, with a dark back that displays a bluish sheen when exposed to strong sunlight. Its black tail has a white tip, which resembles a painter’s brush. This species often catches insects by “kiting” into the wind and descending quickly on its prey. The bird sometimes makes a quick drop to water top levels where its wings graze the surface and leave ripples as it pursues its target. A few kingbird juveniles could be seen by the brook, testing their wings and being fed by their parents.


The trails at Kempenaar Valley abound with wildlife and birds. The trails at Kempenaar Valley abound with wildlife and birds. The willow flycatcher is a small, quick bug eater that hunts primarily from a favorite perch, while flicking its tail. It nests in brushy areas near water and constructs a cupsized nest deep in the brush. It, too, is a long distance voyager from the forests of South America that travels to breeding regions across the United States and parts of southern Canada. With a body length of 5.75 inches and a wingspan of 8.5 inches, it has a broad-based bill for capturing insects. Plumage colors vary by season, but the willow flycatcher usually has a grayish brown back, a somewhat pale underside, and bright white wingbars. Birders spotted at least five members of this species flitting across the valley. These swift and ruthless hunters were occasionally heard emitting a sneeze like “rritzbew,” which was introduced by a lazy, upward “zzhrrink” or a call of a loud, slow “whit.”


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. This unique and diverse habitat is a great place for a leisurely stroll on a summer's evening or an early morning birding trip. Be warned, though, that the insect population is thick and repellant is required.

Early Migration /Nesting Notes

Both sets of piping plovers nesting on the island have fledged their young and will soon be departing the region. Early shorebird migration has begun for species members who failed to nest or lost their young to predators in the Arctic Circle. Recent sightings of least sandpipers, semipalmated sandpipers, semipalmated plovers, dowitchers, and spotted sandpipers have been reported across the area's wetlands and shorelines.

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