Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bird Listening.

While bird watching enjoys widespread popularity, I've long supplemented it with bird listening. For one thing, tracking smaller birds in the Warbler and Finch families is a handful with binoculars. I realized before long that identifying and hearing their various calls and sounds greatly improves my ability to get binoculars focused at the right spot in the usually brief instance alloted to glimpse the thing before it moves.

Over the years, the listening has become its own activity and as my capacity for it hones, I've began to notice some interesting things that wouldn't be readily revealed by observation. 

The basic Robin goes silent exactly at Summer solstice. In fact the entire array of mating choruses winds down then, Mockingbirds, Cardinals, everything stops and there is this odd period of relative bird silence that runs through the first 6 weeks or so of summer, til some time in August where the main sound aspect consists of basic communications chirps, but little singing.

Then as summer winds down the sonic patterns begin to get more elaborate. It isn't like the run up to summer when singing is at its peak and the singers are all polished. It's a new tentative thing as if they are rehearsing.

And then I realized... of course.. it's this years run of fledglings figuring out how to do bird noise. And the silent period is when the stealth of hatching and feeding until the hatch figures out flight.

It's a fascinating mix of the basic song and various communication calls. It's taken me all these years to begin to understand the pattern. Of course, I probably could have looked it up but the discovery is more fun. Now as we hit mid October, I'm noticing the uptick in Woodpecker activity as the Winter cast begins to supplant the Summer crew. 

The latter is getting ready for migration to the tropics. The vivid feathers of the journey up in spring give way to the subdued hues of a stealthy return to complet the molt cycle. Warblers arrive grouped by species and return as a motley of individuals.

The November phase is the heart of sonic minimalism before the winter crew settles in. The 'pik' of the Downy Woodpecker indicates sunrise now.

And as the year increasingly chills toward winter, there are already residents of the Boreal and Arctic regions heading here, their wintering ground, until we may again find Snowy Owls making a tundra version of Logan runways and soaring over cedar swamp expanses of places like the Hockomock in search of scurrying prey. 

The added value of it all is how it sharpens a mainly half neglected and pummeled sense...hearing. We are just not fond of listening. We are a visual culture and seeing is believing, hearing is wondering. Consider the fast and profitable industry devoted to what are sonic firewalls to keep the world's random sounds at bay to intensify the inner and personal.

This listening habit is a useful way to take a break from the barricade.