Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Birding by ear

One of my earliest memories as a child is of lying on my stomach on the floor of the living room of our second house, the one I grew up in. It was spring, and my mother had purchased some small albums of bird songs, to learn to identify them. Mom loved that house and yard, it was mostly wooded, and filled with various critters. I think that must have been where she began her love of birding, and it spilled over onto me.

Mourning Dove
In the mornings now, when I let the dogs out after breakfast, I often stand on the back porch and just listen. Look as well, of course, but so much birding can be done by ear, and if you have a good one you can identify many breeds that you would seldom see.

This summer I saved my pennies and finally splurged on a set of birding by ear modules, which I downloaded into my iPod. Being the bird nerd that I am I often listen to them while driving or sometimes while I work (although it is odd when I accidentally hit the Shuffle button and have the Dave Matthews Band followed by bird sounds of the Southern New Jersey Salt Marshes.)

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
This morning I could tell something large was moving through the back woods. Not because I could hear it myself (my ears aren't quite that good), but because I could hear the various watchdog birds letting the forest know that a predator was on the move. It might have been a fox, or perhaps coyote, but whatever it was, it had the Jays and Crows in an uproar, and several Flickers flew north complaining loudly as they left.

The Hummingbirds at the feeders were too busy stocking up for their long flight south to pay much attention, and the House Sparrows and Starlings and Robins just went about their business as usual. An Indigo Bunting sat atop a tree and called "Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit", several Barn Swallows dipped and dove, and most of the morning sounds were normal. But I knew something was back there, just from the sounds.

Earlier in the morning a doe with her triplets came close to the house to browse, and seemed unworried. And although I've heard Black Bears are back in KY now, I've yet to see one. My bet is a fox, although if they're smart they'll stay in the woods, as our Livestock Guardian Dog Toby has no patience with foxes near his goats.

Song Sparrow
Eventually the noise died down, and whatever it was had moved along. I went back into the house and back to work, leaving the Hummers to squabble and cuss the morning away.