Sunday, May 06, 2012

Birding by Ear

I confess that I started blogging to show off my bird photos when I got some good ones. I am a birder who is binocular challenged. That is, I have trouble actually finding a bird to watch, and have been reluctant to lead bird walks when asked. To compensate, I listen faithfully to the CD's of birdsong, reviewing even familiar songs every spring. If I hear the bird, I want to know what I'm looking for. Frankly, the song may be all I can find most of the time. So when a bird that usually eludes me comes out of the leaves, I get really excited.

The bright orange Baltimore Oriole is one of my favorites, and a challenge for the ear birder. The Peterson Birding by Ear CD's give 4 examples of its song, which sound nothing like one another! The narrator doesn't come out and say so, but I've concluded that each Oriole sings a completely different song than all other Orioles. I've learned not to pay attention to the "tune", but listen to the "tone" - a rich whistle - of this bird. And just when you have followed it, circled around under the right tree, peering up into the leaves, it silently flies to a nearby tree and starts singing there. Sometimes I think they do it on purpose! If you whistle part of the song back, they get curious and sneak a peak. That's the time to have your camera ready!

I watched an Oriole at the Falls of the Ohio jumping around in the leaves, then followed it to the next tree where it climbed into its down hanging nest. It was silent since the females don't sing.

As I checked the nest boxes at Creasey Mahan on Friday, I heard a very unexpected song - that of the Veery. A tawny thrush of damp deciduous forests, the Veery is the least spotted of all the American spotted thrushes and one of the easiest to identify, mostly because of its song. It breeds along the Canadian border, and winters in South America, so you have to catch it in migration around here.

Due to the unique breathing capabilities of birds, the Veery sings a duet with himself! In this video, you won't see the bird (not unusual), and the sound of a squeaky swing is in fact a squeaky swing. But keep listening till the end for the eerie duet of the Veery.

Indigo Buntings were abundant at the Falls of the Ohio yesterday. Two of them defended territories next to the deck, and would gang up to chase a third male who dared come too close!

This guy just sang louder to be heard over the wind and the noise of big waves on the Ohio River below him.

Of course, not all birds have melodic songs. Cedar Waxwings travel in flocks, and love mulberries when they turn ripe. However, they sound more like high pitched buzzing insects than birds, so watch closely for movement in the branches.

Meadowlarks are usually seen before they are heard. Even if you see them, their backs are brown and well camouflaged. Only when it turns around will you see the bright yellow breast with a black ascot.

I monitor the nest boxes at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve twice every week. In other years, the Tree Swallows claimed a box next to the Field House, but this year the House Sparrows got there first. Not to be discouraged, they moved to another box by the maintenance building, but this box was destroyed by predators. House Sparrows again, I suspect. Finally, they chose a box on the driveway. Last week, she refused to leave the nest when I opened the door. This time, she gave me the evil eye, warning me away, before she finally flew off. I counted 5 little white eggs, nestled in the feathers lining the nest. She's a good mom who doesn't give up!

No comments: