Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ten by Ten

Even a bird's song, which we can reduce to no musical rule, seems to have more freedom in it, and thus to be richer for taste, than the human voice singing in accordance with all the rules that the art of music prescribes; for we grow tired much sooner of frequent and lengthy repetitions of the latter. Yet here most likely our sympathy with the mirth of a dear little creature is confused with the beauty of its song, for if exactly imitated by man (as has been sometimes done with the notes of the nightingale) it would strike our ear as wholly destitute of taste.
John at A DC Birding Blog offered a list of his ten favourite bird songs and put out a general call for others to weigh in. Then he tagged me with a meme started by Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest, calling for a list of my ten most wanted birds.

Like my list of the ten most beautiful birds, the actual list will be a pretty ephemeral object, the product of birds that are on my mind for one reason or another. But the process is interesting--it gives me an opportunity, an occasion, to introspect, to figure out why these birds are the ones I'm thinking about. I also wondered if I could come up with a single list of ten birds that come under both the heading of favourite songs and most wanted. I couldn't, but there is considerable overlap (indicated by S for singers, and W for wanted).

The list(s) are of birds that do, or might, occur in my region. The songs are all songs I've heard. The order is random.

(1S) White-throated Sparrow
This is a bird I've seen, whose song has a magical, haunting quality (unusual for a sparrow). I heard this bird one evening a couple of weeks ago while I was spending time with a Blanding's turtle on the road through the Stoco Fen. I don't get to hear it very often, and it was an exquisite pleasure to hear it in that setting.

(2S) Veery
The thrushes are all wonderful singers--occasionally I find a particularly interesting singer of the American Robin persuasion--listen long enough to a robin and you'll hear a multitude of notes and phrases identified with other members of the family. The Veery is a bird I get to hear all the time, but it makes the list because of the one that joined the White-throated Sparrow singing that evening in the Fen.

(3S) Wood Thrush
I first heard this bird a few years ago while bicycling past a wood lot just up the road. I was astonished by the beauty and complexity of the sound. I don't hear it as often as the Veery, it's a great treat when I do.

I've never seen a wood thrush. Could it be a candidate for "most wanted"? Strangely, no. I don't know why--maybe because I'm content with the thrushes I do see: Hermit Thrush, Bluebird, American Robin, Veery? But there is a thrush I'd very much like to see, because I find it difficult to believe in it. It is not a regular in my region, but occasional sightings are reported (admittedly, not usually very nearby): (1W) Varied Thrush

(4S, 2W) Great Horned Owl
Now this is an excellent candidate for both lists. The call of the Great Horned is the quintessential owl call, the sound that punctuates cold, crisp, still February nights. I have heard it often--one night in 2005 I heard three in the yard calling back and forth. But I've never seen a living Great Horned Owl in the wild that I knew. (I've seen things that were probably GHOW, but not well enough to identify.)

(5S, 3W) Cerulean Warbler
Another member of both lists, I've heard Ceruleans now a number of times. On three or four occasions in the summer of 2004 I heard one singing in the woods in Vanderwater Conservation Area. My record of this, as a bird on territory, is still under review by the Ontario Birding Atlas. I identified this singer from recordings of Ceruleans, and in consultation with more experienced birders, without ever laying eyes on it. Having heard the bird again in Prince Edward County this past May, I'm even more confident of the Vanderwater identification. But I'd really like to see this bird one day, especially to see a singing Cerulean, and while I'm dreaming, a Cerulean in Vanderwater, carrying food.

(6S, 4W) Ovenbird
So loud, so insistent, so energetic, the song of this little wood warbler, one I hear often, really livens up the woodland scene. Wakes me up just to remember it. And in the case of this woodland singer, as opposed to the wood thrush, this is a bird I really want to see. It's as cute as all get out, and it's so remarkable that such a small bird can produce that enormous sound. I'd like to see it, and I'd like to see it singing.

(7S, 5W) Sora
Strange, eerie song, I've heard a Sora just once, never seen one. I would very much like to hear it again, and see it. In fact, like John, the rails in general are missing from the set of birds I've seen. Habitat makes these difficult birds to see anyway, and I haven't spent enough time in the right places yet to see them. So, in honour of that, I'll add the (6W) Virginia Rail to the list of wanted birds.

Not in the parameters of either meme, this reminds me of another kind of desire. I wish that I could return to a scene I beheld in Saskatchewan in June of 1992, on the mud flats around a mineral lake near Watrous. Shore birds, numerous and various, and probably other birds as well. I see birds so much better now than I did then, I'd love to see that scene again. There has apparently been a huge amount of development of the area as a resort since my visit, so that setting may be gone now. (An aside to this aside, for great photos of Godwits and a report on birding Akimiski in James Bay, click here.)

(8S) Baltimore Oriole
Beautiful, clear-noted song--I hear this bird regularly and there are a number of breeding pairs in the hamlet and the surrounding area. It's background noise a lot of the time, but every now and then, usually on a quiet, still morning, I am struck anew by the beauty of this bird's song.

(9S) Golden-winged/Brewster's Warbler
I like to hear this song because I like to know that this bird is back in the area beyond the edge of the far field. I've heard it again this year, and got to see the singer, once again a Brewster's, descendant I believe of the Golden-winged warbler of a few years ago, that sang for most of the season, and then hooked up with a female blue-winged warbler.

(10S) Fox Sparrow
A song that astonished me this past spring--beatiful clear warbling notes, I couldn't believe that the singer was a sparrow.

So if I've numbered these correctly, that's ten singers. But what about the majestic sounds of the American Bittern, and what, no vireos on the list? Red-breasted Grosbeak? And what about Purple Finch or Northern Cardinal, the first singers of spring, or red-winged blackbird, the first returning singer of spring? The list is too short....but to continue with the list of most wanted....

(7W) Swallow-tailed Kite
Fantastic looking bird, it's reported every now and then in the region. I'd love to see one.

(8W) White-winged Crossbill
I choose the white-winged because it is the crossbill most likely to be seen here: a rare winter visitor. But any crossbill would do, really, because even more than the varied thrush, this is a fantastical bird to me, one I will have to see to believe. A crossed bill??!! How could such a thing exist?

(9W) Tufted Titmouse
Closer every year, surely I'll get to see this one sometime soon.

(10W) Sandhill Crane
I probably saw one this spring in Prince Edward County, I was persuaded I had, but not well enough, not nearly well enough....

So there it is, two lists of ten, in sixteen species. And then there are all the birds in action I'd like to see that I've never seen. I want to see a singing Magnolia Warbler; a Black-billed Cuckoo carrying food; an American Bittern singing; a Common Loon with chicks on its back; an American Woodcock dancing; Great Horned Owl young walking along branches; and so much more.


John B. said...

Ceruleans are tough. I saw mine by luck. One just happened to fly down and land about ten feet off the ground. Ovenbirds forage on the ground, but a singing bird is likely to be somewhat elevated (1-5 feet) off the ground. At least that is my experience.

I have only had one really good look at a great horned owl, and that was thanks to crows who had found it first. It was a pair - they were partially obscured by foliage, but it was possible to see everything below their heads.

Pamela Martin said...

The time I saw what was probably a Great Horned Owl (didn't see it well enough to say), it was courtesy of crows, who flushed it off a perch. To see a perched pair!! That would be something.

Thanks for the ovenbird tips--I didn't know they sang off the ground.

Susannah Anderson said...

I had to follow your example and make my own lists, on my blog here.

I found it hard to limit myself to 10 of each.

I saw my first great horned owl just last week. We had left the trail going through a ravine, to see if we could get down to the creek, and I had to jump down the last bit of embankment. So I burst into the open space by the water all of a sudden, and found myself face to face with a low-perching great horned, less than a half-dozen yards away. He stared at me for a full 30 seconds before he left, probably quite miffed at the rude interruption to his peace and quiet.

Love your site! It's first on my daily rounds.

Patrick B. said...

Well done. You're right about the ST Kite. It is fantastic. I finally got to see one last week and I'm still in my glory!

Ovenbirds are quirky in that you go looking for them and you won't see them and then they surprise you when you least expect it.

Thanks for participating.