Posted on July 7th, 2010 Add a comment >>
The alarm clock struck 6am and it was still 69 degrees out. The 3 “H’s” were going to make a third appearance this week.
Pouring myself into my kayak I took great joy in knowing that I would be birding atop a glistening river where tall trees along the shoreline, create a temperature-dropping shade to hide myself and rejuvenate.
With beaver dam obstacles, low-growing alder shrubs, and the occasional deer fly all behind me I can now focus on my task of surveying another boreal forest habitat for resident birds. I’m on “part two” of my Chubb River survey. Part one was from the DEC Canoe Access Site (along Averyville Rd in Lake Placid) to the 1/4 mile “carry” skirting some rapids and waterfalls. Part two is from the end of the carry to about a mile further up stream.
As I plop back into my kayak at the end of the carry, I hear the sounds of warblers and flycatchers nearby. I conduct this survey by listening to all bird vocalizations and recording them during a 10-minute point count. I have 5 points on this section of the River.
Suddenly I find myself writing down bird names furiously as they blend their songs and call notes into a chaotic melody. After 3 minutes I tick off Northern Parula Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, Purple Finch, Magnolia Warbler, and Swainson’s Thrush.
Well, I have to say, I’m surprised at the liveliness of the birds this hot, early morning. I was expecting a quiter survey. But once again the birds prove me wrong and belt out song after song in the steamy, jungle-like humidity of an Adirondack(?) summer.
My next three point counts continued along with the same unexpected results. Birdsong seems to filter down from the tall conifers and out onto the flat layer of sedges that line the river’s edge. Singing White-throated Sparrows sit among the conifer branches, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and Nashville Warblers top-off this Adirondack symphony from their hidden perches in the alder shrubs.
I finally make my way to the 5th and final point count of the morning. I’m still in a marshy habitat along the river with sedges, alders, and grasses towering over me and my kayak. Then, just beyond my line of sight, falling somewhere outside of my imaginary 50 meter circle that I sit in, I hear the emphatic request…”Quick-Three-Beers” of the Olive-sided Flycatcher
To me, no other bird carries the boreal region in it’s song more so than this bird. I long to hear those notes off in the distance on some far-off peatland or conifer swamp, telling me that it has safely arrived on the breeding grounds.
To our dismay the Olive-sided population, across the country, has dropped precipitously and ornithologist are scrambling to figure out the cause. Loss of habitat on breeding grounds? Loss of habitat on wintering grounds? Answers elude us.
All the other birds I hear on this steamy morning share their notes with the landscape, and to one another. And they all go on with their lives having dodged disaster after disaster on yearly flights North and South. As they sing along this river they speak volumes to those who will listen.
Photo Credit: Royal Fern along River-Brian McAllister
Posted on June 13th, 2010 9 comments Add a comment >>
I set out this morning to get in another boreal bird survey that I conduct for the Wildlife Conservation Society. My destination was Madawaska Pond, about 10 miles northwest of Paul Smiths, NY. As I got out the car I new it would be a fine morning, because instantly I heard a Boreal Chickadee calling 20 feet from my car. I was right, things got better.
As I wandered down the densely forested logging road with several pockets of boreal wetlands along the way, I encountered wonderful views of a Gray Jay family w/two very darkly colored young.
The Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were also very vocal.
However, the highlight of the day turned out to be a poor viewing of a singing Tennessee Warbler in an area where the dense conifer forest merges into the boreal wetlands of Madawaska Pond. I was so excited that I pumped my fists into the air in final victory of this great encounter. Well that victorious bubble soon burst after I returned home.
Turns out three birder friends were at this very same spot and heard the very same bird I heard only several days earlier. They, unlike my poor viewing of the bird, were able to see the bird singing, and one of them officially recorded the song with his recording equipment. But much to his amazement and bewilderment, he was witnessing a Nashville Warbler singing the song of a Tennessee Warbler. He would not have believed it if he had not observed it.
Alas, my victorious pumping of fists was all for not. However, this brings to mind what a very interesting bit of bird vocalization “anomalie” we just witnessed.
So what was going on there? Did this Nashville Warbler just randomly pick up the song of a Tennessee Warbler. Was this Nashville, as a chick, raised in an area where Tennessee’s were also breeding and singing and simply learned a Tennessee song?
Or was this bird just not satisfied singing a “city” song and felt compelled to sing a “state” song!!…sorry.
Whatever the answer, it is still a mystery that birders, across the globe, face as we learn more about bird song. It is not all that uncommon for birds to learn whatever song they hear growing up as a chick in the nest(other than parents). This has been replicated in laboratories.
Yes there is also that instinctive process of learning the song that your parents sing for you. But to add another twist is the fact that some birds (of a different species) can take over care and feeding of a unrelated nest.
Well, we like to think we know a lot about nature but then there’s always that curve ball that humbly sets us back a step or two.
Photo Credit: Boreal wetland -Brian McAllister