Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hear, Hear

Glenn and I have now survived Week 2 of Sylvia Gallagher's Birding by Ear class. We're definitely getting our tuition's worth; the field trips, homework, in-class exercises, and a long-term project requiring class participants to log in every new bird sound heard between now and August, will ensure that nobody will be able to complain about not learning anything new.

In terms of content, the class reminds me of a weird mashup between my undergraduate courses in acoustic phonetics and music theory and composition. (Not that this helps me, as I had little talent for either acoustic phonetics nor classical composition.) But it's changing the way I bird, and in a good way—now I can't leave the house without automatically trying to tease apart the random overlapping twitters and chirps from unseen sources off in the distance.

Today, we got a nice little reward for our efforts: a wintering Brown Creeper at TeWinkle Park—whom we managed to locate by sound.

We went to the park specifically to look for the Creeper, since Glenn wanted to get some better photos of it. We had no idea if the bird would still be there or not; the park was crowded with picnickers and dog-walkers, and didn't look too promising for birds. We walked up to the stand of pines on the central hill in the park and started looking. Since we'd just gotten back from a field trip for Sylvia's class, we were still in our intensive listening mode, and among the familiar calls of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black Phoebes, and Anna's Hummingbirds was another, unfamiliar sound, a high-pitched, clear tsee, tsee, tsee. The Creeper!

From then on, he was pretty easy to find, as he moved through the area, working his way upwards on each tree before darting down to land on another. As Glenn shot away, I watched the Creeper pick out and swallow surprisingly large termites and bees.

And it seemed like only moments later when I looked at my watch and realized that we had spent nearly two hours staring at a single bird. Creepy.

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