Dear Jane and Other Nature Lovers,
That old enchantress, the River, always has a new trick up her sleeve! This week I went to the exact spot where I found the wonderful little Wood Duck family two weeks ago, hoping to see them again. But the sloe-eyed mama and her babes were nowhere to be seen, maybe off shopping for all the vegan delights that the River offers a duck and her ducklings.
This time the flowing spinner of dreams had something else in store for me – an avian concert the likes of which I haven’t heard for quite a while. The woods along the river behind the Tannery was alive with the sound of music! First I would hear a modest solo, then a different lilting voice would form a duet, then many players would join in, sometimes building to a gloriously intricate and intriguing tangle of sounds.
I remember years ago taking a bird trip with David Suddjian, the famous local birder and then president of the Bird club. The walk was titled ‘Birding by Ear’. I remember being absolutely astounded by what he could identify without seeing a single bird. I had no idea this was possible. Now I have taken a few steps into that world, thanks to all the birders like David and Steve Gerow, who have patiently helped many of us along on this long path into a language that they didn’t teach at my high school.
Anyway, sitting by the river this week, I ultimately identified the songs of six star performers – which, thanks to YouTube, I am now able to share with all of you (see below). I haven’t tried playing these all at the same time. That might give you a better sense of my experience!
I was especially excited to identify my first SWAINSON’S THRUSH by sound. The song starts out as a high, somewhat reedy warble, spirals upwards a couple of times, then finishes with only the spectral hint of a thin, fluty sound – seeming to disappear into the clouds. Maybe the oboe/flute in the orchestra.. Click here.
The solid violin section of the avian symphony is provided by the male HOUSE FINCH, a slightly raspy warble that flits up and down the scale in seemingly random musical acrobatics –before finishing on a high note. Click here.
The migrant BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS held center stage for this morning’s performance, Although the Grosbeak’s song is often shorter and a little more jerky than that of the House Finch, his warble is deliciously rich and liquid. One or two of them sang constantly for the entire half hour I sat by the river, appearing in full view only once when three of them appeared to have a little dust-up in what I imagined to be the cello section of that morning’s orchestra. Click here.
I wonder if it is the same modest little SONG SPARROW who appears in almost the same spot on the same tree – every time I sit in my chosen spot. He is a most dependable singer and I was glad to hear his cheery and familiar voice. This video clip captures the most basic song – two initial cheeps, then a trill, then a final signature flourish. Individual Song Sparrows dream up many variations on this basic structure, some quite a bit more complex, but this is the bare bones. Click here.
The PACIFIC SLOPE FLYCATCHER, also a migratory bird, plays a simple rustic flute – the same note over and over again . The note is a thin, ascendant whistle, that is quite easy to identify when the woods are quiet. This shy, elusive bird whistles once, then pauses, then whistles again – easy to hear and identify but hard to find. Click here
And, finally, in the percussion section, was the loud, resounding and repeated yelp of the PIED-BILLED GREBE, a sound that would seem to come from some mythical creature – certainly not from the little brown waterfowl whose modest appearance seems at odds with its deep feelings. Click here.
For so many years, I missed all this music. And what I know now only makes me more aware of the vast world of animal feelings and language about which I know nothing at all. May we all slowly develop the capacity to hear and sense and understand the mysterious voices of the natural world – which is so close to us and so far away.
On a more political note – I called Beth Tobey of the Economic Development Department of the City regarding your concerns, Jane, about the art installation over the Cliff Swallows nest. I asked her if you and I could meet with her to talk about the Ebb and Flow Event next year. She indicated that she was interested in such a meeting but she hasn’t yet answered my e-mail about when this might happen.
There are only 11 more days to write the City’s Parks and Recreation Department about their planned recruitment of a new director. I hope everyone who reads this blog will send an e-mail to Carol Scurich, acting director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please emphasize the importance of choosing someone who has experience and training in environmental protection; who will work to achieve a balance between recreational event planning and environmental protection work; and who will work collaboratively with environmental organizations in the community, i.e. the Sierra Club, the Bird Club, Friends of the Pogonip, Friends of the San Lorenzo River, Friends of Arana Gulch, Friends of Jessie St. Marsh, etc. All our Open Spaces are under the jurisdiction of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. The Department has a solemn responsibility to be good stewards of our natural treasures.
May we all learn to listen to the birds and to each other!
Happy birding to all.
Pied-billed grebes https://youtu.be/IIdb1vY-Q44
Swainson’s Thrush https://youtu.be/eEVeGx7Gzuo
black headed grosbeak https://youtu.be/h-6mBM4lw38
Song sparrow. https://youtu.be/gnWG3Xv7hag
pacific slope flycatcher https://youtu.be/sqi0xyzFSxI
House finch https://youtu.be/hisjOh6_-cs
Sent from my iPad