Our Environment: “Sharp, Explosive, Chink” by Scott Turner

Sunday, November 11, 2018


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Sunset on the Seekonk River in Providence Credit: Karen Wargo

A White-throated Sparrow was the morning’s first bird. Right at 6:30 a.m., this tiny migrant, which breeds to the north and winters in our region began calling from the shrubs between homes on the East Side of Providence.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the note of a White-throated Sparrow as a “sharp, explosive, chink.” On this morning, it was indeed a wake-up call. For the second bird to begin calling was another White-throated Sparrow, as was the third.

Within a minute some two-dozen of the sparrows were exclaiming from within garden thickets. White-throated Sparrows are known for gathering into flocks to spend the night in dense vegetation.

Given that this was the last full week of October--a few days before we would turn back the clocks--the sky was still nighttime opaque.

In the western sky, a full moon was setting. Ice crystals atop grass blades twinkled back the moonlight. Behind me in the eastern sky a thin horizontal belt of golden orange appeared.

Joining the sparrows in sound were Dark-eyed Juncos, another northern-breeding species that winters around us. Their trill calls also emanated from the city shrubbery. Then an American Robin called “cuck,” “cuck-cuck.” A second robin answered.

The Cornell Lab notes that, “American Robins often make a mumbled cuck or tuk to communicate with each other.” I was on a block that contained several crabapples full of fruit—prime food for robins in autumn.

Later that day, I strolled with Karen, my wife, and our dog, Woody, along the Seekonk River in Blackstone Park, also on the East Side of Providence.

From the riprap, a Yellow-rumped Warbler popped up. Then another and another until some 20 of the little tail-wagging songbirds hopped among the shoreline’s small trees and shrubs, each making an abrupt call that sounded like the word, “check.”

In their muted fall colors, versus the bright breeding plumage of spring, this warbler flock was relatively tame, bouncing between branches quite close to us.

At the benches beside Gulf Avenue, we discovered a Spotted Sandpiper feeding on the lawn. The Spotted Sandpiper is a common shorebird of lakes, rivers and streams, where you find it poking around for insects among rocks, logs and muddy shores. In five decades of watching birds, I could not recall encountering a Spotted Sandpiper on a lawn, and certainly not walking around where people and a dog stood.

But the wildest sighting of the evening occurred when we spotted a coyote curled into a ball on a little beach of mud and dark sand across a cove. This was a grizzled coyote—its snout and face streaked with white and gray hairs.

Every so often the coyote shifted slightly, finally uncurling and stretching. Woody did not see the coyote, and we don’t know how he would have reacted if he had, or even caught wind of the creature.

Darkness had now settled in. The time was 6:30 p.m. Twelve hours in Providence.  Joy at dawn. Delight at dusk.

A neighbor of ours once said that she needed to travel far and wide, noting the Grand Canyon and Alaska, as examples, to experience the majesty of nature. Fair enough, I guess, but there are plenty of daily marvels right here in Providence.

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Scott Turner

Scott Turner is a Providence-based writer and communications professional. For more than a decade he wrote for the Providence Journal and we welcome him to GoLocalProv.com. 


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