Friday, June 02, 2006

Dreams and Reality

Was I dreaming or was it reality? Like Kokopelli the water sprinkler with his flute, the wood thrush came to me before dawn, calling to me with his sweet melody.

I had been thinking about wood thrushes. I had been hearing them calling from deep in the woods as I rode my bike on Moose Hill. I had also been hearing the eager “teacher, Teacher, TEACHER!” of the ovenbird, another species I associate with deep forest. For the past couple of weeks, I had been thinking I should slip into the darkness of the hardwoods to look for these two favorites that I hear quite often but see so rarely.

Then, a few days ago, he came to me. In the twilight just before dawn, I was awakened from a sound sleep by the unmistakable song of the thrush outside my window. In my dreamlike state, I imagined he knew what I was thinking and in the darkness he dared to venture from the protection of the forest to fly through the sleeping town to tell me my visit was overdue.

I was up early this morning and had an hour to spare, so I hopped on my single speed and rode to a spot near the beginning of Moose Hill Parkway where I had been hearing a thrush. I wasn’t off the bike and down the trail more than a minute when I flushed a big great blue heron from the shallows of a marshy pond. Not long after I was beyond the noise of the water cascading over the small dam that forms the pond, I heard the thrush.

As I hunted for the bird along some unfamiliar trails and woods roads, I noticed that birding in June was going to be a bit harder. On this morning, the sky was overcast and the light was not good. The trees are in full leaf, so any bird high in the treetops would be difficult to spot as I discovered with the orioles and vireos I could hear but not see. The warm, humid weather was ideal for the mosquitoes that were benefiting from our wet spring and rising from the ostrich ferns to greet me.

As it turns out, what I had imagined as something of an epic quest was little more than a walk in the park. After following thrush songs for only a half hour or so, I spotted one calmly and cooperatively sitting on a dead branch 20 or so feet above a gravel road, singing away. Even in the low light, I could plainly see his rusty back and spotted breast. I watched him for a few minutes, happy to hear him play his flute for me, and happy to know he was here at all. These birds struggle to survive because they nest in large, unbroken tracts of forest. As the woods are chopped up into smaller parcels by farming or development, their nests are more easily found by parasitic cowbirds that love to lay their eggs in thrush nests.

Many birding trips are planned to visit one or more habitats in the hope of finding as many species as possible. This trip was a little different in that I was looking for a specific species. Luckily for me, I was focused on a fairly common bird. Mission accomplished, I had a little time to wander around to see what else I could find. Since I wasn’t having much luck seeing the tree-top dwellers, I concentrated on the brushy thickets between the road and the pond. I soon heard the “whichety-whichety” of a warbler and saw my first yellowthroat of the year; a bird I prefer to think of as the burglar bird with his black mask.

I stepped off the road to look for the catbird I heard chattering away. I soon spotted not one, but two catbirds. When they saw me approach, they went quiet. To me, catbirds always seem to be making noise, so it gradually dawned on me that the silence of this pair might mean something. As I felt with the tom turkey in my post “Windshielding”, this behavior must have been significant. I realized there must be nest nearby and these parents were trying to keep a very low profile as they watched my every move. It took only a few moments to spot the nest not 15 feet away, right in front of me, about four feet off the ground. It was, appropriately enough, in a tangle of cat briar. I approached just close enough to see that it was neatly woven and inside, so naked and exposed, there were three glossy, greenish-blue eggs.

So, my goal of seeing a wood thrush took me to the woods this morning and serendipity brought me to a catbird nest. It’s remarkable how much there is to see when we take the initiative to get out of the house, and then open ourselves to the possibilities of new discoveries.

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At 4:06 PM, Blogger Patrick Belardo said...

Nicely written! I felt like I was there with you. I have a friend who tells stories of being frustrated by catbirds during his breeding bird surveys. They would just sit there and be quiet and not exhibit any "official" nesting behavior. He said they would just say "whurt" once in a while. It's a much better story if you see my friend demonstrate the "whurt"...

At 5:02 PM, Blogger CabinWriter-- said...

You make me aware of how little I know about bird sounds. I plan to listen more in a few weeks when I hit the Catskills. You seem to have no interference with city life.

At 9:42 PM, Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

Yellowthroats as burglars...that is exactly the first thing I thought when I first saw one.
Great post!

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Wildside Musing said...

"It’s remarkable how much there is to see when we take the initiative to get out of the house, and then open ourselves to the possibilities of new discoveries."

Thanks for the reminder!


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