Sunday, August 28, 2005

Errant Singers

This is a great time of year for listers and twitchers--the migration has begun in earnest and the birds you want to see are, briefly, passing through neighbourhoods all over the northern breeding grounds, heading further and futher south.

It's a tough time for neighbourhood birders such as myself--though a good time to see how much I managed to learn this season.

So far I have seen very few mystery birds--birds I'm not familiar with at all, i.e., have no search image for, but there are lots of birds out of place--and place is part of search image for me, so it's tricky enough.

Most interesting are the singers. What are they singing for? Weather stimulus (we're back in the hot humid stuff)? Practice? A week ago Saturday I was out on the walk with my friend Michael, visiting from Toronto. It was late morning, so I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but we did come upon an American redstart, all on his lonesome, singing every phrase this bird is known for, and that's a lot of phrases. He stayed visible and singing as we approached and for as long as we cared to stand there (several minutes). During this past week a Baltimore oriole has been singing from the tree tops across the street from the house on a number of occasions. Then this morning I found a singing red-eyed vireo in the cedar bush. I haven't heard a vireo since very early in the season. I heard the other two a little later, last time sometime in July. But I'm pretty sure these birds are not my birds--mine moved on a little while ago--I'm pretty sure these are travellers. And I should note that while the redstart and oriole were clearly alone, I saw a couple more vireos this morning not far from the singer.

The singers are good for my song identification chops in a number of ways. First because they are singing out of place and time, so I get the chance to see if I can identify them cold, without the other clues available in the breeding season proper. I did pretty well. I was glad I could make a visual confirmation in all three cases above, but in all three I at the very least had made a tentative correct guess before I saw the bird. I was particularly pleased about the red-eyed vireo because I don't have all that much experience with this bird, in spite of it being one of the most common birds of the woods around here (and elsewhere).

Also out and about this morning were a gang of flickers, three rose-breasted grosbeaks, the ubiquitous, raucous blue jay families, a few goldfinches, a couple of scolding wrens, a flock of about 15 cedar waxwings, a small flycatcher (I don't think it was a phoebe, but don't know what it was) and a singing cardinal. The constant singing of the cardinal stopped some days ago. Cardinals are year-round birds, so this may have been one of my resident cardinals just saying hello.

1 comment:

John B. said...

I have been wondering about the purpose of continued singing myself. I am still hearing yellow-billed cuckoos in my area.