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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Preparing for spring

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I’m not exactly sure when I began listening closely to bird songs. It was probably after my first exposure to spring's "dawn chorus". After that experience, I wanted to be able to pick out and identify the birds without seeing them. First, I tried using reference CDs to learn the songs, but that was comparable to reading the dictionary to learn spelling and grammar. Some of the more experienced birders told me about the Peterson "Birding by Ear" series of CDs so I purchased the eastern/central series, then the "More Birding by Ear" disks. It’s a great learning tool. Now when I'm in the woods, I can close my eyes and visualize the birds by their songs. Some people think that I have a special talent for recognizing birds by their songs. I really don't and it's no secret to acquiring the skill. In fact, because the songbirds only sing during a short period of time during the year, each spring I need to re-learn them or, at least, refresh my memory. I listen to a select grouping of lessons on the "Birding by Ear" CDs for a couple of weeks before the spring migration gets rolling.

Another really good source of information on bird songs that I just discovered is a recent publication, ”The Singing Life of Birds“, by Donald Kroodsma. He shows us how we can actually read the songs. I’ve only just begun reading it and in time for the spring migration. It's fascinating stuff. He uses sonograms to create visual representations of the bird's vocalizations. Reading it while travelling on the NYC subway system has made the trips a little more enjoyable. My immersion into Kroodsma’s world of bird music drowns out the noise of the trains. It's also made me realize that their songs and calls are a lot more complex than I had imagined.

Birding by Ear

The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong by Donald Kroodsma

FYI - The photo of the Black-and-white Warbler was taken in Prospect Park during last spring's migration. His thin, shrill song sounds like a squeaky wheel.

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