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The arrival of summer in Maryland

You ought to see some of the characters I work around.

The other day, I’m doing my work, and one says: “Drink your tea, drink your tea.” I see him up in the tree, black with ruddy orange under his wings — the eastern towhee.

It took me two seasons to see a towhee, though my bird book helped identify him based on his distinctive call to tea.

Wine-growers the world over talk about how much time they spend around birds, especially in spring, when the vineyard is pruned and readied. I occasionally compare notes with a grower-friend in France. “Sometimes I spend more time around birds than my wife,” he notes.

Farmers use such alone-time for useful ponderings, but song and dartings do help pass the time… too quickly.

I saw robins and even red-winged blackbirds in February — the earliest ever. The bluebird comes for the boxes I installed throughout the vineyard, though the metallic-tourquoise tree swallows have commandeered the boxes of late, forcing the bluebirds to alternatives — holes in my vineyard posts. That I don’t mind: I look in on their young frequently.

Other early arrivers are chipping sparrows, various wrens and warblers, flying bananas (gold-finches) and the magenta-headed house finch. Their chorus occasionally halts by a primordial shriek. At first, last week, I couldn’t find the source; then, way up, hundreds of feet into the thermals, I barely saw not one, not two, but three eagles soaring in circles. Their wingspan gives them away.

Summer doesn’t unofficially arrive until Maryland’s state bird, the Baltimore Oriole, returns to mate and nest. May 4 was a hushed, sun-splashed evening. I was heading in to make dinner and just happened to catch what had to be his showy orange arrival from the tropics. As quick as he landed, hoots, whistles and melodies pent up from the long flight boomed across the valley.

This impromptu concert pushed back dinner a good 20 minutes.

BizBuzz Best Buy Red: Mas de Guiot Grenache-Syrah Vin de Pays du Gard 2009 (France). This is one of those luscious southwest France reds that seems wrung straight from the vine, with a purity to take your breath away. It tastes like blackberry/black currant juice with lavender/thyme. Lip-smacking good for around $9. White: Terre de Neptune Picpoul de Pinet 2010 (France). Summer is always a goblet away with good Picpoul in the fridge. (The ’10 is still around, though look for the new vintage soon.) A mouth-watering, acidic white known for simple pleasure, this one has atypically concentrated key lime and grapefruit flavors. There may be no better raw oyster wine, but also: sautée chicken breast in olive oil; deglaze with lemon juice, garlic, green onions. Serve with steamed potatoes, salad. Recipe free, wine about $10.