Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Birding by ear, alone

The "alone" part in my entry title is for two reasons: First, Kat left yesterday and is now in Europe at a conference, and Em left last week to visit Kat's parents, so I'm all alone in the old Marsh House. *sniffle!* Second is the meat of this blog entry. Please read on, and forgive the lack of photos; Kat took it to take pics in Europe.

I've talked a few times about going birding with Roana and Nan from the State College birding club, and how phenomenal they are at birding by ear -- listening, hearing, and identifying all sorts of birds just by their songs and/or calls. Tonight, on my way home, I decided to take the scenic route home and go through some of the routes in one of Roana's atlas blocks. As it was about 8pm and getting dark fast, I had to use my ears instead of my eyes most of the time. Here's what I was able to hear; I couldn't always ID it, but these are my best-effort transcriptions of what I heard:

1. preet preet peer peer reet-reet-reet-reet-reet-reet That last "reet-reet" part is a long, slow trilling, almost like a swamp sparrow does. The call was always the same, always these three distinct sounds, in this complete pattern, uttered fairly quickly but certainly slowly enough for me to hear note. At the time, I was next to a grassy area but could see no birds. I was in open and fairly flat valley grasslands and farmland.

2. dut-tweedully-tweedully-tzee-tzay That first part isn't shown very well, but it was a fast twittering with a sequence of a hard first note, then two quick triplets, then the see-say of the Savannah sparrow. Here again, I was still in the open grassland/farmland area. The only reason I even recognized this one is that Hillel at work called me the other day and asked me to come outside to the parking lot to hear one of these, but when I got out there, the bird had gone already. But that's how I recognized the call: his rendering of the twittering and then the see-say. A lot of the texts say that first part is more like zut-zut-zut, but my guy sounded like what I have written here. Who knows why.

3. witchety-witchety-witchety-witch This one, I know well: common yellowthroat. By now, I'd started going into the woodsier areas, where there were some fields and some large woodlots dividing them. I've yet to actually see a yellowthroat, but I think there's one nesting either in the yew tree outside my bedroom window or in Neighbor Ed's huge maple tree. He sounds like he's in the yew, though; he's LOUD. I want to see him, though; I think these birds are beautiful.

3. teakettle-teakettle-teakettle Now I was next to a densely wooded area, and for once I heard this song and the witchety song, one near the other. There was a distinct difference in the two songs, and I'm pretty sure this one was the Carolina wren's teakettle song. Either that or this yellowthroat was British and uppity.

4. pee-oh-wee An easy one: Eastern wood pewee. I like this song; it echoed out of the dense woods.

5. the crazy twittering and tweaking and mewing of a catbird; I had help on this one: he landed in the tree right next to the road at eye level, just next to a wheat field. Love that dashing little black cap! Of course, let's not forget I once had a close encounter with one of these guys, so I'm still a little shy around them.

I did actually see (but didn't hear) two birds I couldn't ID. The first was sparrow-like, flying away from me into a cornfield, and his tail was medium-length, broadly spread, and was brown with black edges. Anyone care to venture a guess on this one? It's a pretty meager clue to work with, but it's all I got. The second one looked like the ugliest robin I'd ever seen; no red on the chest, just splotchy brown and gray, two wing bars on dusky gray wings, gray back; otherwise, his body and shape seemed like those of a robin. Perhaps it was a slow-developing immature of some sort? I don't know, but I felt bad for this bird; if it's a male, he'd better forget about getting any action this year!

The rest of the birds I saw were pretty easy to ID: a lot of tree and barn swallows, some red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, robins, grackles, etc. I was hoping to see an Eastern meadowlark but had no luck with that.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable 45 minutes spent birding by ear, alone.

OH--P.S. While googling things like "see-say" to make sure I remembered "Savannah sparrow" correctly, or "teakettle teakettle" is a Carolina sparrow, I found two great things:
1. A hilarious google response to witchety-witchety:
I'm throwing out all your shit, and changing the locks! Scrubbly grubbly scribbly wiggly witchety man! Witchety witchety man! ... www.outpostnine.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-5723.html - 6k - Supplemental Result -
I still haven't followed that link yet. I think it's perfect exactly the way it is, without finding out the rest of whatever this person said to this "scrubbly grubbly wiggly witchety man!"
and
2. a fantastic list of common mnemonics for bird songs! http://www.stanford.edu/~kendric/birds/birdsong.html Check it out!

27 comments:

Mary said...

Wow, you are really good! I recognize many songs but I don't think I'd remember them well enough to record them on a blog post.

Hey, I read about your catbird incident last year. I photographed a catbird once. That bird perched motionless and stared at me for the entire time. I must have been only 7 feet away. I wonder if he was on the verge of an attack?

dguzman said...

Oh, are you kidding, Mary? I wrote them down on the back of a magazine insert with a stub of pencil I found in the glove-box! Otherwise, I'd forget one call when I heard the next one!

He might have been ready to attack you! But perhaps the camera made him nervous....

KGMom said...

Thanks for the mnemonics site. There are many times when I hear the birds, but don't see them, & try to figure out what I am hearing.

nina said...

I KNOW how frustrating hearing, but not seeing can be. I have a bird singing almost incessantly, for 2 weeks now, every evening, but never seen. I've listened to all the Cornell clips, skimmed bird books and can't figure this out. Of course I will NEVER see this bird--he will be gone by the time the leaves fall and I have any hope of getting a glimpse.
I'm sure it's not hard--I'm just not good at this.
I admire your persistence at learning this--I sit, eyes closed, just focusing my attention on sound. I think it helps. But this bird.....

dguzman said...

Nina--what does it sound like? Can you kind-of transcribe it into words or whatever? Now I too am obsessed with your bird! I must know what it is!

nina said...

It's (closest to, I think) either an oriole or a wood thrush--but neither of their songs is exactly what I'm hearing.
I hear 3 notes (in the pitch like you'd say, "I don't know"), sometimes followed by a gurgly sound. I don't hear any introductory notes. I'd describe it as clear and chime-like. The thrush recordings seem to have more added notes that I'm not hearing. And the orioles calls are all longer and more connected. And I've had an oriole here that did not sound at all like this.
But he (?) also does another call that reminds me a lot of the red-wing bb, so I wonder oriole?
Our woods are so dense now that I can't even be sure how high up this bird is.
He sings late in the day, though, which I find interesting. All the other birds are quiet--and he sings on and on until almost dark.
If you have ANY idea--I'd love to hear!

nina said...

Found it! A Wood Thrush--that's a treat, but a real bugger to decipher, considering one bird can have 55 songs!!!

Susan Gets Native said...

Birding by ear is my Achilles' Heel. I have to SEE the bird and HEAR the bird at the same time for it to stick in my head.

dguzman said...

Way to go, Nina! There may be 55 different songs, but once you hear a wood thrush (or a hermit thrush) sing for a while, you realize those thrush songs are unlike any other bird's. I love hermit thrush songs--very haunting.

Susan, I know what you mean. I really have to see the bird making the sound too -- otherwise, I just forget, and I don't really feel like I've ID'd the bird.

nina said...

I've tagged you for the Eight Random Facts meme (unless you'd rather not, that's ok, too) http://natureremains.blogspot.com/2007/07/eight-random-things.html

dguzman said...

I'll do my best!

Mary C said...

Birding by ear - I'm still having a lot of trouble with that. But practice is the only way I'll improve.
BTW, I tagged you for the Eight Random Facts Meme - but just realized that Nina just tagged you. Sorry for the double tag.

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