Spring Tunes

Black-capped Chickadee_PH1.jpg
Varied Thrush_PH2.jpg

Birders, or twitchers (long distance birding travelers) are usually pictured with binoculars to eyes, heads cranked back at uncomfortable incline, in the never ending quest to see the elusive little feathered creature flitting invisibly in and out of the branches high over head. How many times have I muttered “ come on, just hold still for one second, that’s all I need, what can it cost you?” and less polite expletives, when the sought after view remains unattainable.

Instead try this. Close your eyes and listen…. a whole separate world of bird “watching” is yours.

My birding season kicks off with the annual owl survey. On a rare windless night in March, I stand on a deserted country road in the dark, listening. Luck was with me for 2012 and at my fifth stop, as soon as I was out of the car, I heard the familiar but distant, “who cooks for you”, repeated in the short high almost dog like barks of the Barred owl, perhaps our most common owl. A few more stops, and there’s the beep, beep, beep, like a tiny machine backing up, of the songbird-sized Northern saw -whet owl.

As March becomes April, one morning from the deep forest comes a sound long awaited and welcome, a sound that for me is spring, or a telephone ringing in the bush, the Varied Thrush. The chortling of Robins, a song everyone knows even if they don’t quite realize it, comes next with the mating call of the Blacked capped Chickadee, three clear notes, fee-bee-bee ringing across the yard. The Red breasted nuthatch, like a tiny toy trumpet and the junco, with musical trill on a single pitch, all these sounds blend into that which lifts the spirit on a spring morning. We are reminded that the Kootenays are coming back to life, even if the days are still cold and grey.

We hear this first dawn chorus of Spring without really hearing it. On some level even non birders react, with renewed energy for the days to follow, even if it marks the last ones on the slope. And as the Spring progresses, so many new notes join these familiar songs, forming a backdrop to our busy lives and, even without our knowing, enriching our days.

Since I was small, I needed to know the names for things, plants, animals, tracks, scat and then birds and finally their songs. Now I can lie newly awake next to the open window and sift through the cacophony, knowing that the Cassin’s Vireo is back, and that’s the yellow rumped warbler, and that, well who could not recognize and be comforted by the haunting ascending spiral of the Swainson Thrush, marking Spring turning into summer.

Treat yourself to a simple CD of local bird song or download an app for your iphone that you can consult on the spot. If you can play a musical instrument or carry a tune, your one step ahead. I promise you, learning to recognize even a few neighborhood bird songs will enhance your life. Avoid the eye strain and stiff neck of too much binocular use. Just close your eyes…..and really listen.