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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring and Bird Songs

Spring officially arrives in New York today at 12:57. If you listen really closely at around 1pm that noise you'll hear is the collective sigh of relief from the millions of people who have experienced "polar vortex" fatigue from this past winter's seemingly ceaseless blasts of arctic air. If you go out into the city's parks (or even your backyard) this weekend you will notice that our overwintering songbirds have suddenly been motivated to sing. If you are a longtime follower of this blog, you'll know that it's also time for me to remind you to start listening to your songbird recordings to prepare for the coming waves of migrating birds. If identifying birds by their calls and songs frustrates you, then now is the best time to start studying. It's much easier than you might think.

There are several sources available to help you learn how to identify birds by ear, but the best I've found is the Peterson Field Guides series of CDs. These discs are not just reference recordings, but well organized lessons that use groups of similar sounding species, repetition and mnemonics to help you quickly learn sounds. Here on the east coast of North America you should purchase "Birding by Ear: Eastern/Central" and "More Birding by Ear Eastern and Central North America". There are discs available for the west coast, as well.

Below is a list of the tracks from the disc that I recommend you concentrate on, although there are other, more common species, you could add to the playlists.

The colorful wood-warblers are the most important songbirds to learn. Once you've purchased the discs, use iTunes (or similar software) to import the following tracks:

Name Album Disc # Track #
Sing-songers Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 4
Warbling Songsters Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 6
Wood Warblers & a Warbling Wren Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 1
Warblers: Buzzy More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 1
Warblers: Simple More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 2
Warblers: Two-Parted More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 3
Warblers: Complex More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 4
Empidonax Flycatchers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 4

Note that I included the empidonax flycatchers on the list as they are notoriously difficult to separate visually, but have very distinctive vocalizations.

The woodland thrushes are also incredible songsters, so I recommend the following tracks:

Name Album Disc # Track #
Thrushes Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 2
Thrushes More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 7

Don't be that perpetually late arriver to the "Procrastinators Anonymous" meetings! Buy the discs today and start listening this weekend. Mark my word, even if you just spend your subway commute time listening to these lessons, by the time all the warblers begin streaming through NYC you'll surprise yourself by how many birds you'll be able to find using just your ears.

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