Today is the first day of summer. I take my clue from the western wood-pewee. When that flycatcher returns and begins to call, it’s summer for me, no matter what the sun or calendar says.

On my stroll this morning, I was in late spring, accompanied by groups of westerns tanagers mourning doves, yellow-headed blackbirds, a pair of redhead ducks and yellow warblers. I’d gone perhaps two thirds of a mile when — from a stand of narrow-leaf cottonwoods — came the unmusical insect like peeurrr note of his note of this, my personal signal bird.

I had walked into summer.

Oh, I know, I know. But summer is an attitude as much as a season. I’ve been in fierce valley snowstorms on July 4, the beginning of two weeks of bitter cold, wet weather that killed nesting birds and young animals.

Summer? Not to me. It wasn’t even spring.

It was late winter. Western wood- peewees seemed to me — I have no field data to substantiate this — to wait deliberately until a good, steady supply of summer insects is assured before returning. When they, ah, sing, I call it summer.

So sue me.

Soon, too soon, that nasal peeurrr will recede into the background noise of summer, barely distinguishable from many’s similar sound. Nature’s Muzak, elevator sounds: It’s there, but not remarkable.

The flip side of this start of summer will be, all too soon, the end. One day, very early in September, I’ll be outdoors in wood-peewee habitat and be vaguely ill-at-ease. It will occur to me that the western wood-peewee no longer calls.

Then my summer will be over.

Oh, there will be hot days yet in the year. The sun still powerful, a few birds still nesting, some even starting families. But summer is over.

Today I simply call my call up into the trees: “Welcome back. Thanks for summer.”

— “Welcome Back, Summer,” an excerpt from “Valley So Sweet”

The western wood-pewee is one in the family of birds called flycatchers or tyrant flycatchers: aggressive, almost exclusively insect-eating, songbirds. It is a large family — 35 species are found in the United States. In the Jackson Hole area, nine or 10 species can be seen or heard. Some small flycatchers are so similar in appearance that unless they do sing, even big-time bird books say they cannot be reliably identified in the field.

The western wood-peewee can be distinguished. It is generally a dark gray-brown little bird, about six inches long, lighter on its belly, and it has no — or at best an indistinct — eye ring. It does have two white wing bars on each wing. It does flycatcher things: catching insects in mid-air, darting out from an exposed perch to which it often returns after securing its prey, with an audible—a kind of satisfied—click of its bill if the insect was small enough. Large insects are carried back to a perch and torn into bite-sized pieces.

The western wood-peewee’s song is rather harsh, a penetrating and carrying nasal pee-er. This penetrating note may be given all day and into dusk, uttered so often it might not be distinguished from insect trills and buzzes unless specifically listened for.

— Most of this excerpt originally appeared in “Birds of Grand Teton National Park and the Surrounding Area”

To many bird watchers the term “fall-out” implies a sudden unexpected appearance of many individual birds of one species. As an example, birds coming north in the spring that fly over the Gulf of Mexico often will land on the shores of North America to rest and recuperate (that’s if they make it). In the past couple of weeks the equivalent of a “fall-out” occurred in Jackson Hole region of western tanagers. While it’s now on the wane, it impressed most.

Field Notes: It was a banner western tanager spring in and around Jackson Hole. For some reason the migration of these birds headed for higher elevations and north brought the birds to Earth and, during a cold and wet spring, they hung around.

Among the many observers who enjoyed the birds was Claudia Gillette, who sighted lots of Western tanagers at her home in Cottonwood Park.

Alice Richter counted 35 Western tanagers — though there were more — eating worms at Skyline Ranch.

Jim Springer reported that he’s had a Western tanager invasion, as well as a house wren on both sides of his house, singing in stereo.

Joe Burke noted that the green drake mayfly hatch is about two weeks early this year. It usually occurs on the 4th of July weekend.

On a Father’s Day hiking expedition in the Hoback, Lynne, Quincy and Art Becker had an extraordinary sighting as a goshawk flew over their heads and proceeded to strafe the hillside, repeatedly, attempting to flush out prey species.

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature. Contact him at

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