Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On the Female of the Species

This morning the warbler studies continued. I was out again at my favourite spot in the far field and I heard a new song, sounded to me like "who, who, who, Julio." It was coming from a particularly dense and brushy area, from about halfway up, so the bird was completely invisible. I watched for movement for a while but no luck, so I tried "pishing" to see if I could flush someone out. After a few pishes a bird emerged, a grey bird with gold markings high on the edges of a clear breast, small and warbler-like. Not a bird I knew. I pulled off my sunglasses, pulled on my reading glasses and got the field guide out--the bird was not there! I listened as the song resumed, watched hoping for another sighting....then a chestnut-sided warbler came into view and started to sing. Comparing the songs I was convinced the bird in question was indeed a warbler (not that there'd been much doubt, given its size, shape, behavious, etc.), the tone and range of its song was very similar to the chestnut-sided (as many are, according to my sources). So I pished again, and got another look at the grey bird with the gold markings.

The guide I had with me in the field was Sibley's which I really like because its new, it has maps on the same pages as the pictures and descriptions, etc. But it is always good to have more than one source to consult. So when I got back to the house I took a look at our old copy of Peterson's guide. Once again, the bird wasn't there, but I paused at a couple of possibilities--put off in each case by the descriptions of the songs. Luckily I also have a computer program from the Breeding Atlas Project with information about, pictures of and songs of all the birds I'm likely to see. I scrolled through the warblers.

One of the birds in Peterson's that had given me pause was the American redstart--not the male, and not the description of the song, but something about the picture of the female. Not that my bird looked like his exactly. But when I got to the redstart on the computer, because it is a common bird, there were a number of pictures of the female, including one that looked quite a bit like mine! And quite a few exemplars of the song, some of which sounded something like what I heard--so mystery solved.

There was a male American redstart singing in the brush accompanied by a female (perhaps on a nest, or preparing to nest). When I "pished" it was she who came out to see what was going on while he stayed on his hidden perch. So, a pair of redstarts and a redstart singing! And a reminder that I must learn what all those female warblers look like.....

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