Monday, August 26, 2013

July 2013: Catbird Cool, just ask a Yellowthroat

I’m not the only one listening to the birds. Catbirds listen much more acutely than I, and riff on what they hear. They seem to do this without even trying to see the singing birds. I’m obsessed with seeing them. I don’t feel like I’ve experienced a bird without seeing it.

On the afternoon of July 2 I was sitting next to the Deep Pond and I heard the repeated witch-ed-y witch-ed-y of a common yellowthroat. These are loud birds and I first thought he was in a far tree. Then I saw the red berry-laden branch of a honeysuckle right behind me bob. With my camcorder I probed every angle of the bush and still couldn’t see the bird.

I replayed what I recorded right then and there in case I simply missed the colorful bird in the view finder. I didn’t mute the sound and when the yellowthroat heard himself sing he began flying back and forth over my head. Then he lit on a top twig of the honeysuckle. I finally saw him.

After a quick look around, with a firm grip on the twig, with tail down and head up, he repeated the song over and over again.

Then after another quick look around

He flew higher up, making himself even easier to see, and sang some more.

Of course I played bird psychologist. He heard his song coming from where I was sitting and now he sang toward my left affording me a view of his profile. Was he showing off for me?  But I assume the yellowthroat fledglings were out of the nest. Was he desperate to communicate with them alarmed that something as ungainly looking as me could sound like a common yellowthroat? Anyway, enjoy the video clip.

Meanwhile a catbird was listening. Indeed it was the only bird that might be interpreted as responding to the yellowthroat. (I won’t get into whether the green frogs were calling back to it.) Well, I have no idea if that was true, but as I had every day down by the pond for the previous few weeks, I heard catbird calls and songs from the bushes.

Prior to this year, I took one photo of a catbird, back on August 13, 2009, as I walked around the Deep Pond.

It’s a slate gray bird with a tail that looks a bit short for the bird's size. One doesn’t take photos of a catbird flitting about a bush the way one does when a yellowthroat is splashing through the green.

So brace yourself for a boring video clip which is the point of this brief blog. When I came back to the pond in the evening to hear the birds sing, I still heard a yellowthroat’s witch-ed-y witch-ed-y and then right after that I heard a catbird’s variation on witch-ed-y witch-ed-y worked into its song, giving it a syncopated sassy sly lilt, which makes the final yellowthroat call in the video clip seem a bit square.

On July 10 I was treated to a lively concert of bird songs dominated by the veeries but a song sparrow and yellowthroat also sang. I heard the fledgling calls of thrushes and veeries, I think, perhaps, wood thrushes too. And then one of the catbirds I heard “eeowing” in the bushes began to sing.

I’ve heard better catbird singing but I do believe in this song I heard a brief catbird commentary on the veery’s song as well as brief melodic echos of the fluted calls from up in the trees. The catbird effortlessly switched from one to the other.

Try to dig it, but I admit that it is probably easy not to hear what I think I am hearing, but I think that’s a credit to the catbird. Ravens are dead-on mimics and have fooled me many times. They fooled me into thinking I was hearing my wife calling me, a cuckoo calling, a coyote calling, a beaver humming, I swear a raven once mimicked the confusion in my brain. Did a Raven Read My Mind?

Catbirds aren’t mocking other birds or me. I think they are carving space in the aural reality of summer and doing so not by being loud or insistent like other birds but by tapping the energy of those other birds and, like any good musician, making something new with the clarity and aptness of the sounds they make.

I finally focused on the catbird with my camcorder and got a photo of it from my video clip.

Such a curious and physically unassuming bird and, in this case, obviously on its own wavelength perhaps trying to connect with one of its own by showing up every other bird. A cool cat indeed.

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