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The Bird Meme: Day 25

Day 25: A bird you can relate to the most

American Crow

I find it hard not to feel one with the crow. David Quammen's single best sentence (and there are a lot of great ones to choose from) remains this gem: "Crows are bored." He's right, because this is a bird that is extremely intelligent, but doesn't necessarily have a lot of good ways to use its brainpower; you can find videos online of crows figuring out how to solve puzzles, or discovering the cheap amusement inherent in sliding down the steep slope of a snowy roof. It's a playful and sociable bird, but it's also fairly taciturn at times, and its attachment to its mate is lifelong.

Crows are versatile, capable of eating nearly anything and living in a wide variety of habitats. They're willing to gang up on a hawk to keep the neighborhood safe, but they're also mischievous enough to make trouble for other birds. Less colorful than jays, less imposing than ravens, they're the most common and least appreciated of the corvids, thanks to their monochromatic plumage and non-melodious voices. They're birds you can imagine having a family connection to dinosaurs, but at the same time they're a bit disreputable, a bit shabby--a bird that doesn't make much of an effort to be presentable.

Needless to say, the crow is pretty much the perfect bird, and indeed the perfect spirit animal, for a guy who likes to think of himself as both intelligent and irreverent, who talks and writes waaay more than necessary, who is devoted to his partner, who considers himself a generalist, who can feel underappreciated by the world at large, and whose general devotion to his appearance can be summed up by an affirmative answer to the question "Did I put on pants?"

Also, there's this guy:


9:18 PM

The Bird Meme: Day 24

Day 24: A bird you wish more people had seen

Painted Bunting

I suppose I could be selfish here and choose a bird I haven't seen so that I could include myself in the "more people," but I'm prepared to be generous. I'm certainly very happy to have seen some birds that a lot of my friends and acquaintances have not, but I also recognize that in many cases these are sightings that stem from one thing: location. Because I've visited California and the Carolina pinewoods, I've had the chance to log both the Pygmy and Brown-headed Nuthatch, which people confined to one coast or the other can't easily do. Similarly, I've gone out to the Florida Keys to get a Common Myna and into the Rockies to get a Mountain Bluebird, which are relatively common birds--if you happen to be in those places. Is it fair, then, to waste my wish on a bird that a lot of people actually have seen?

Tough question, but either way, I have chosen a bird. It's not exactly common, no, but its range is large enough that many people have seen it, and it's memorable enough that those who have will not soon forget it. The male Painted Bunting is arguably the most beautiful bird in North America, and it's unquestionably among the most colorful, vying for the latter title with only a handful of other multifaceted jewels like the Western Tanager, the Green Jay, the Red-headed Woodpecker and various hummingbirds. The improbable combination of red underside, blue head, and green back makes the bird utterly unique among American avifauna, but its limited range--the southeastern lowlands and the south central plains--leaves a great many birders without a tick on their life lists.

The good news, of course, is that if you do manage to get to Texas or Florida or the Carolina coast at the right time of year, you stand a decent chance of seeing one, and if you do see one, you're all but guaranteed to identify it with ease. Worst-case scenario: you get a look not at the male, but at the considerably less colorful female. But hey, there's nothing wrong with being a pale green finch, and if you're lucky enough to spot one, you can take comfort in knowing that it's equally easy to identify: the female Painted is in fact the ONLY pale green finch in these parts.

So get out there and keep looking. I've got your back.

6:58 PM

The Bird Meme: Day 23

Day 23: A bird you've wanted to see for a long time but still haven't

This could be a really, really long list, as there are plenty of foreign birds I could include on a bucket list (Galapagos Penguin, Steller's Sea Eagle, Resplendent Quetzal) and dozens of North American species (Gyrfalcon, Great Grey Owl, Red-naped Sapsucker) I haven't yet had a chance to go after. There is also a depressingly long list of birds I've actively pursued without success (Plain Chacalaca, Varied Thrush, Tufted Puffin) and plenty that just haven't turned up where I've been (Cerulean Warbler, Red Crossbill, Northern Goshawk). In short, the wealth of my choices here is not unlike that of the Sultan of Brunei.

Still, there's one bird that I've pursued on several occasions for a number of reasons. One, it's just a cool freakin' bird, and I want to see it at that pure id-based level. Second, it's the only North American member of its family that I've never seen, and it would boost my ego to check off another such taxon. (Right now, the only such family that I've polished off is the Sittidae--the nuthatches, which took a bit of travel, but which comprises only four actual species: White-breasted, Red-breasted, Brown-headed, and Pygmy--though I do have the Eurasian as well.) And finally, yes, it's a bird that would help me knock off one of my other obsessions, namely getting a life bird in each of the 50 states--a complex and arbitrary task that almost assuredly has its origins in my superego somewhere.

The Reddish Egret itself is appealing for several basic reasons. First, its appearance is both striking and also variable; the dark morph is grey, with a shaggy red neck and head, while the white is pure white. Both morphs have blue-grey legs and a pink bill with a dark tip, which is the bird's single most distinctive field mark. Second, its lifestyle is decidedly atypical for a heron. It feeds not by ambush, imitating a snag or a stand of reeds until prey comes close enough to spear, but by other methods that no other heron will so much as attempt. In some cases it will spread its wings to create a shady spot, where glare will not interfere with its attempt to spot prey, and where fish may mistakenly associate the shade with safety. But in all cases, the Reddish Egret is an active hunter, racing through the shallows, doubling back, stirring up prey wherever possible. This video gives you an idea of both how the typical heron feeds and how drastically different the Reddish really is.

Even if it wasn't such a cool bird, though, there's the fact that the Reddish Egret has defeated me on several occasions, and I'm eager to emerge victorious. I've traveled to its Gulf Coast on several occasions, but not in a way that would help me log the bird easily. My trip through the Everglades and Florida Keys kept me largely in either the grasslands, the mangrove swamps of the Ten Thousand Islands, or the docksides and open water of Key West, not the shallow saltwater flats where the ReEg feeds. My visit to New Orleans took me to Mobile Bay and Lake Pontchartrain, but I never got down to the real Delta where the bird was most likely to be. And my visit to the barrier islands on the coast of Mississippi and Alabama would might well have worked--if I hadn't taken the trip the year after Katrina knocked the area's habitat into a cocked hat, reducing the bird life to a minimal level.

But I'm still, as the saying goes, dipped. And the Reddish is the only member of the family Ardeidae for which that's true. Worse, it has been so for nearly two decades now; I officially checked off the twelfth member of the baker's dozen of North American herons back in 2001: the American Bittern. (Okay, I didn't check off the "Great White" morph of the Great Blue Heron until 2004, and I still haven't seen a "Wurdemann's" Heron, but these are subspecific variations of a bird I know well.) It's frustrating to be hovering on the edge for so long, particularly when you've done so much birding in areas where herons and egrets are common. I do sometimes feel as though I'm being taunted by the birding gods.

And the really annoying thing is that this is a bird that could really help me out. I've tried on multiple occasions to get a lifer in Mississippi, and I've been thwarted on each attempt. I've visited the Mississipi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge--twice--and haven't logged so much as a FOY bird there; hell, I haven't even seen a crane! I've tried other parts of the state, including St. Catherine's Creek NWR and John Kyle State Park, but though they were far kinder to me than MSC NWR, they did not yield a life bird.

So there it is: I want to see this bird for itself. I want to end the frustrations it has caused me. I want to see it in order to finish off a taxonomic task. And I want to see it to advance my own selfish ends.

it will be mine.png
Party on, Red.

4:55 PM

The Bird Meme: Day 22

Day 22: Favorite bird you've photographed

Peregrine Falcon

We're going to very clear about terminology here: this is not "favorite photograph you've taken of a bird," but rather "favorite bird you've photographed," which is somewhat more difficult for me. As a photographer of avifauna, I am both notoriously bad and notoriously persistent. I take photos of birds regularly, and they almost inevitably turn out poorly. Part of this is, I'm sure, my technical limitations--I don't own a zoom lens, so any bird I want to capture had better be very large or very close or both. A bigger part of it, however, is simply my own lack of an eye for things like composition, lack of awareness regarding lighting and focus issues, and lack of ability to do things like hold the camera still when closing the shutter. That's how you get pics like these:

Kirtland's Warbler:
American Oystercatcher:

And Vermilion Flycatcher:

So yes, technically, those crappy pictures might actually qualify for today's prompt, if I loved any of the above birds enough. And two of the three (KiWa and VeFl) were life birds, so it's not a ridiculous possibility.

Still, I'd prefer to write about a bird where I am both deeply fond of the bird itself and reasonably content at the photographs I took. There is such a thing as luck where PC and bird photography are concerned, and on occasion I have managed to stumble across a good picture. In the late spring of 2011, I was walking the grounds of the CLO when a Blue-winged Warbler came down to the creek where I was standing, and I took a string of pictures of it bathing and drying itself, pics which are still probably the best bird photos I've ever taken. Here's one:

On our trip to Seattle I had relatively good luck with the camera most of the time, such as when I documented the Bald Eagle attack I mentioned a few days back, but most of my opportunities were defeated by distance; I just didn't get very close to the waterfowl--Harlequin Duck, Common Loon, Surf Scoter, Western Grebe, etc.--or to the Anna's Hummingbirds flying around, or the one Lewis's Woodpecker we logged. I did get some excellent looks at a Marsh Wren, however, and I was pleased to get a photo of the Canada Goose we found nesting in a hollow tree:

DSC03218.JPGBut all in all, I have to put one bird, and one opportunity to photograph it, at the top of my list: the bird Mary Stevens and I observed and photographed at great length when we hiked to the top of Hogsback Mountain in July 2013. There we found the hacking box where several young Peregrine Falcons were being raised, and we got to observe them as they whirled around the box (where a volunteer had left them some bits of quail). Having seen only a handful of Peregrines at that point in my life, I considered this an all but magical morning, and I gleefully wasted shot after shot on attempts to keep the birds in my lens while they flew. My favorite pic, however, came when two of the young birds perched near one another and promptly began an attempt at a dominance display, showing off their beautiful speckled plumage:

DSC01248 Zoom 2.jpg
So that's my bird--one of my very favorite birds, period, but also a bird I am very, very happy to have captured with my camera. 

I do wish I could share one favorite bird photo that, alas, I haven't digitized; taken with my old reliable Canon AE-1, it currently rests in a photo album of pictures from our honeymoon. As Kelly and I were making our way along the west coast of Scotland, we came around a bend to a small, shallow bay, and in it were a pair of Mute Swans and their cygnets. They were simply sitting on the water, close to shore, with no sign of concern about our car whatsoever, so i was able to pull over, climb out, and snap a photo of them with the green hills of the Highlands looming beyond them. In the US, Mute Swans can be rather hostile, as they're an introduced species and seem to know it, but in their natural habitat they were simply a portrait of pure serenity, and (we hoped) an omen of good fortune for our marriage. On that last, at least, the swans seem to have delivered.

10:59 AM

The Bird Meme: Day 21

Day 21: Favorite bird from your childhood

Evening Grosbeak

Ah, here's an unusual case: a bird I saw long, long ago and have never quite gotten over.

The Evening Grosbeak is, as you might guess, an extremely memorable bird. Blessed with one of the best common names in North America, it's also striking in appearance. The male's yellow eyebrow is distinctive, but the huge dark head and pale beak are also obvious field marks. In some ways, though, my favorite feature is the way its plumage shades from the dark head to the yellowy back and shoulders and finally to the pure white secondary wing feathers. It really does resemble an evening sky, from dark zenith down to bright horizon.

It's also a bird of mystery. Though its typical habitat is far north and/or west of my home, it will on occasion make a winter migration southward, sometimes as far as southern California or the Gulf of Mexico. On these unpredictable occasions, flocks of a dozen or more grosbeaks may turn up on the roadside, or under a feeder, surprising and delighting those who are not used to seeing them.

My family was once among this group. We were living in the first house I remember, a green three-bedroom place atop a low hill on Tinkerbell Road in east Chapel Hill, almost at the Durham County line. Though neither I nor my parents had become serious about birding at the time, my folks were nonetheless aware of my youthful fascination with animals. In that house, where we lived from 1964 until the summer of 1970, I began to develop interests in subjects that would shape my future: in books, in nature, in geography, in music, and in breakfast cereals. In birds, my interest may well have been intensified during the winter of 1968, when I was not quite five, and our yard filled up with gold-and-white songbirds. It was an irruption year for Evening Grosbeaks.

I can barely remember that time, but I remember seeing the birds clustering under the feeder, setting their massive shoulders against one another to clear space. Mom took pictures of them as well, and somewhere in my parents' house are the photos of those winter days, when I began to understand the myriad forms into which nature has been shaped, and to understand that not all of them are there every day. Sometimes, I realized, something special would come to you. Or perhaps you would have to go out and find it.

That was nearly half a century ago, and I have not set eyes on an Evening Grosbeak since. But even though I don't have its sighting carefully filed in my forebrain, where I keep data on first looks at everything from the Canvasback to the Painted Bunting, I feel rather possessive about the bird. It's primal, pre-rational, and precious to me. When I see one again, I will feel as though I have in some ways circled back to my childhood, and I will taste once again that sweetest of flavors: the milk at the bottom of the bowl.

12:03 PM

The Bird Meme: Day 20

Day 20: Favorite bird in a book

Common Raven

Though movies have offered me a limited set of choices for good birds, books are another matter altogether. And no, I won't take the cheap way out by picking a field guide or something similar, nor will I take the cheapest way possible and choose a bird from one of my own books. I'll even go so far as to stipulate that this bird will be from a work of fiction. But which work of fiction? Ah, there's the difficulty.

I've long enjoyed birds in works of fantasy, whether they've been vengeful human-armed ducks (Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger), nihilistic ravens (Hugi in Roger Zelazny's The Courts of Chaos), or helpful talking owls (Glimfeather in C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair). Still, I don't think I'd add Gwaihir the Eagle from The Lord of the Rings or Hedwig from the Harry Potter series simply because neither shows much personality; they're far more important to the plots of their respective books than to the richness of characterization therein.

By contrast, I think Archimedes, Merlyn's owl in T.H. White's The Once and Future King, is a delightful character, and one who strikes a believable balance between reticence and friendliness. I certainly enjoyed Polynesia, Dr. Doolittle's parrot, though I don't remember her well, and I'd have to say the same about Kaisa, the grey goose daemon of Serafina Pekkala in Philip Pullman's wonderful His Dark Materials series. I'm somewhat surprised that I haven't been able to recall a bird character in any of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, though it's certainly possible that I've missed one. But all in all, I don't think any of these candidates measure up to my true favorite.

Perhaps the reason Matthew the Raven is my favorite bird is because he's not purely a bird; he's a former human being, and one from a beloved comics series at that. For reasons that writer Neil Gaiman never gets much into, Matthew was allowed to spend his afterlife as a raven in the service of Dream, a/k/a Morpheus, the protagonist of Gaiman's masterful comics series The Sandman. Before that, Matthew was originally a government agent investigating the "death" of Alec Holland in the original 1972 Swamp Thing series, though also he popped up in Doom Patrol on one occasion. When Alan Moore took over the reins of Swamp Thing in 1983, he put Cable through the wringer, eventually leaving him in a vegetative state, but a few years later Moore's successor, Rich Veitch, finally allowed the hospitalized Cable to die a merciful death.

At that point, in a scene that never actually appeared in Sandman, Dream apparently tapped Matthew to join his service as a raven. Though it was clear Matthew was a former human being, his specific identity was at first only hinted at, with comments such as "I don't like hospitals." He served as a helpful spy for Dream, using his innocuous appearance to gather information, which he reported back to his rather stuffy superior in a manner that usually came off as not-quite-deferential-enough. Matthew fully accepted his new avian lifestyle, including his newfound enjoyment of carrion, and became a friend to both his boss and to the other entitities in Dream's service, such as the librarian Lucien and janitor Merv Pumpkinhead. 

By the end of the series, he was even tasked to assist the Corinthian, one of the nastiest nightmares in Dream's kingdom, in investigating a crime, making for one of the more bizarre buddy-movie-based sequences I can recall in a comic. Though he was sometimes used as comic relief, Matthew was always a character with a bit of an air of tragedy about him, and his long, tortured history became part of the canon, he became increasingly sympathetic. As the series moved toward its grand conclusion, Matthew's honest and straightforward nature helped ground the story's potential excess, and the ending was all the more poignant for having him there. Here he is talking to Dream in a panel from the book's penultimate story arc, "The Kindly Ones," with art by the brilliant Marc Hempel:

matthew sandman.jpg
After Gaiman brought The Sandman to a conclusion, I understand that many of the characters from the book were used in a spin-off series, The Dreaming, but I've never picked up an issue. I can't imagine that it would be satisfying to see Matthew or his fellow dreams in any future incarnation, but I suppose it might happen; I'm sure someone said the same thing when he died in Swamp Thing, and look how well that turned out. It was, in fact, good being Dream's raven.

4:37 PM

The Bird Meme: Day 19

Day 19: Favorite bird in a movie

Well, we know what my favorite movie bird is not: the American Robin that somehow turns up in London to sing for Mary Poppins. Or the Troupial being touted as a Pygmy Nuthatch (!) in Charlie's Angels.

But aside from that, we've got a somewhat limited set of options. Birds are far less common in film than dogs or cats, and when they are used, they're almost always either animated/anthropomorphic characters or heavy-duty Symbols.

Disney has provided plenty of the former: Scuttle, the seagull from The Little Mermaid; Iago, Jafar's parrot sidekick in Aladdin; Flit, the hummingbird from Pocahontas; Zazu, King Mufasa's hornbill majordomo in The Lion King; the quartet of suspiciously Liverpudlian vultures from The Jungle Book; the quintet of disturbingly racist crows fluttering through Dumbo; the corps de ballet of ostriches (all males in drag, judging by their combination of plumage and costuming) in the "Dance of the Hours" segment of Fantasia; various flamingos and dodos from Alice in Wonderland; and of course the dozens of nameless songbirds flitting around assisting various princesses with household chores. A lot of of these birds are played for laughs, as evidenced by the actors voicing them (Buddy Hackett, Gilbert Gottfried, Rowan Atkinson, etc.), and they don't create a particularly positive response in a birder (or at least in this birder). If we include Pixar films, we must also consider Kevin, the flightless "snipe" in Up and the flock of manic seagulls screaming "MINE!" in Finding Nemo, but again, I'm not really grabbed by these characters, which are essentially plot devices with feathers.

And speaking of plot devices with feathers, let's consider the Eagles of Middle-Earth. These gigantic birds in the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies are also animated CGI creations, but I'm putting them in the Heavy-Duty Symbols category thanks to the brightly-glowing sign reading DEUS EX MACHINA that flashes on screen with them whenever they appear. 

Still, they're not as exasperating as the mysterious red bird (a dyed canary?) that turns up in the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter. The bird is the least of the many strikes against this 1995 film, which was saved from multiple Golden Raspberry awards only by the presence of Showgirls on the same ballot. As best I can tell, the red bird is intended to symbolize Hester's temptation, but it may actually serve as a literal physical vessel for the Devil to use while hanging around colonial Massachusetts. It's a further condemnation of the film that I simply can't tell. A Christmas Story features both a turkey and a Peking duck, but they appear not as actual fowl, but as comestibles, the former symbolizing the ordinary traditions of Christmas and the latter representing (in yet another disturbingly racist way) the unusual nature of this particular Christmas season. And there are birds aplenty in Alan Parker's Birdy, though the majority of the attention is given to Nicholas Cage (in an early and highly effective performance) and Matthew Modine; most of the avian actors, however, are there to symbolize the difficulties Modine's character faces in trying to relate to human beings. Again, it's kind of hard to find most of these appealing on an avian level.

Perhaps strangely, I'm not that big a fan of movies that are actually about birds. I still haven't seen The Big Year, though I enjoyed Mark Obmascik's book enormously, and Fly Away Home has also remained unviewed even after the Operation Migration ultralight (and its accompanying squadron of geese) paid an unexpected visit to Woodberry's campus some years back. Heck, I haven't even seen Black Swan, though I'm given to understand that members of genus Cygnus play a fairly minor role. The only avian-based movie I can think of where I really enjoyed the birds was Hitchcock's The Birds, but that's an ensemble performance, so it's hard for me to single out one bird as my favorite.

No, the more I think about it, the more I think my favorite movie birds all appear in one of my favorite movies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

After all, we get a spirited debate about how swallows maintain airspeed velocity, a brief cameo from a pigeon being used by Sir Bedivere to test theories about coconut dispersal, and best of all, a supremely dignified domestic white duck rendering judgment on a thorny legal issue. Isn't that really how birds ought to be used in Hollywood? To advance our understanding of science and law? I certainly believe so.

duck arthur.pngOf course, I haven't seen Birdemic yet. If a viewing of this semi-legendary film should ever change my opinion, you'll be the first to know.

5:27 PM

The Bird Meme: Day 18

Day 18: A bird that disappointed you

House Wren

I've written about my feelings of shame concerning putting the Kirtland's Warbler on my life list--you can find it in the "History's Greatest Monster" chapter of Along Those Lines if you like--but I think we're talking about something a little different here. When I cornered the KiWa in Michigan, I was disappointed in myself, but the bird was completely blameless. This is another matter altogether: a situation in which I was disappointed by a bird.

Even then, however, I think we're in a strange place, because on most occasions when I've been disappointed about seeing a bird, I've been disappointed that I didn't get a better look at it. Again, it's hard to blame the bird for the circumstances of my sighting it--crappy light, great distance, thick undergrowth, distracting activity, all of these things can affect the quality of a sighting, but the bird's not the one causing them. And in those cases where I didn't quite know what I was doing in the field yet, I am once again the one responsible; if I didn't get a good look, it was because I didn't know what to look for or how to look for it. When I scoured the countryside near Iowa City back in 1995, I didn't get a good look at my Bell's Vireo or Warbling Vireo because I had no idea how to find a bird in a leafy tree. All I could do was hear the song and catch a brief glimpse of the vireo as it hid in the foliage.

Basically, then, I have to find something really petty to complain about, but luckily, I can usually find something of that sort without expending much effort, and here it is:

How is it that I have logged House Wrens so seldom? This is in no way a rare bird--it can be found in every one of the Lower 48 at some time of year--or a particularly challenging one to identify. It's perfectly willing to live near humans, and its habits aren't terribly secretive, so it ought to be a bird I set eyes on pretty regularly. But I don't.

I didn't see my first House Wren until my 1995 trip to Iowa, and my guide, Jim Fuller, was all but shocked that I didn't already have such a common bird on my life list. 

I saw my next House Wren in 2010.

That sighting was in Georgia, and though it did not make up for the long wrenless years between, it did seem to kick off a bit of a surge in House Wren observations for me. Since then I've spotted them roughly once a year, with one turning up near Cape May in 2011 (followed by a second at the CLO a week or two later--the only one where I got a photo), a western bird appearing at the US 26 Snake River overlook in Idaho back in 2013, a fourth appearing on the Rapidan Fire Road in Shenandoah NP in 2014, a fifth flying out of the birdhouse behind my colleague Jay's house in 2016, and a final pair appearing on the cyclone fence behind a house in our neighborhood this past August.

But that's it. Eight House Wren sightings, all-time. Nine birds. Eight life records. 

I'll grant you that I live in the southeast, where the ubiquitous Carolina Wren certainly hogs an awful lot of the wren-friendly ecological niches, but really, eight?  

By comparison, my year lists show that I've logged records for the Hooded Merganser for 14 years in a row. In that same span, I've got nine Blue Grosbeak sightings, nine for Forster's Tern, nine for PEREGRINE FALCON, for god's sake. And that's not counting any sightings before 2004. But on only eight occasions in my entire life has a House Wren seen fit to come in my sight.

That, my friends, is disappointing.


6:19 PM

The Bird Meme: Day 17

Day 17: Favorite bird song

Wood Thrush

This one will likely depend on how we define "song." If any vocalization from any bird will do, then we'll have to consider a sizable slate of possible favorites: the wavering cry of the Common Loon, or the Woody-like laugh of the Pileated Woodpecker, or the descending scream of the Red-tailed Hawk.

But even if we're going to limit ourselves to the realm of actual songbirds, there are still going to be quite a few candidates. I am certainly fond of many songs, and like human songs, it's ordinarily because of the associations I have with them. For example:

Eastern Meadowlark: the slurred "spring is here" remains a powerful reminder of my days in Ithaca and the Spring Field Ornithology course I took there.

Bobolink: I'll never forget this delightful, improbable song after the SFO outing where I was told that the way to find a Bobolink was to "listen for R2D2."

Northern Cardinal: kind of a cliche, maybe, but I do dearly love the springtime days when you can hear the males singing from the treetops. 

Field Sparrow: the distinctive speeding-up/pitching-down song of the FiSp has been compared with a bouncing ball and a ruler on the edge of a desk, but I kind of hear the opening of Lloyd Cole's "Loveless" in it.

Indigo Bunting: I love the paired phrases of the male's song, which always puts me in mind of A.A. Milne's poem "Disobedience": "James James/ Morrison Morrison/ Weatherby George Dupree/ Took great/ Care of his mother/ Though he was only three"

To the list of passerine songs I love you can add the satisfied "drink your tea" of the Eastern Towhee, the stentorian "teakettle teakettle" of the Carolina Wren, and the lilting "potato chip" call of the American Goldfinch, but the song I think I most love is the one I usually hear from deep in the forest. If I get a glimpse of the singer, it's a bit of a treat, as he tends to be more retiring than his cousin, the Hermit Thrush. But even if I get no glimpse of the reddish head, black breast spots, and bright eye, there's nothing quite so enticing and yet so haunting as the distant fluting of the Wood Thrush. If Luthien Tinuviel had been a New World elf, I strongly suspect this is the bird to which Beren would have compared her, rather than the busy, chattering Nightingale.

4:22 PM


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