Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hodgepodge 294/365 - Black-headed Grosbeak

We're visiting a friend, Spencer, who is an amateur bird expert. We met him when he lived in Monterey for four years, and in those days he spent a bunch of time banding birds at the Big Sur Ornithology Lab (no longer operational). He has since moved to Corvallis—which happens to be in the band of totality for Monday's eclipse, hence our visit. We're sitting around talking about, among other things, birds! Spencer participates in the Christmas bird count and the 24-hour spring bird-a-thon, and he helps out censusing "hot spots" all over Oregon for a professor at Oregon State University in the Fisheries and Wildlife department.

I asked if he knows the bird calls, and he said that that's mostly what he uses to count birds; he rarely actually sees them.

Me, I'm really bad at recognizing bird calls: chickadees, sure; acorn woodpeckers, yeah; red-shouldered hawks; Anna's hummingbirds. (Okay, hummingbirds just do a raspy little trills, not songs per se, but still: I always know when there's a hummingbird around. It counts!) Also black oystercatchers, belted kingfishers, crows, mourning doves, willets.

I mentioned that earlier this spring I heard a really enchanting back-and-forth in our riparian greenbelt, and I wished I knew who it was. I wished, too, that I had a memory for sounds, so I might be able to call up the Sibley or Cornell Lab of Ornithology sound recordings and ID the bird. But no.

I asked what Spencer's favorite bird call is, and he immediately said, "The springtime song of the black-headed grosbeak." He summoned it up on his app. It sounds like this:

Wait—is that what I heard?????

Well, might be. In the meantime, Spencer has played the calls of the American robin, western tanager, and American goldfinch, and they all sound . . . chirpy! Happy! Cheery! Kinda like what I remember that original birdy conversation sounding like. (Meanwhile, Spencer parsed the "reedy" sound of the robin, the trilling intro of the tanager, and other specifics of each of those birds' songs. Where I just hear chirpy and happy, he hears individual species. It's impressive.)

We do get black-headed grosbeaks, and we're always delighted to see them. As for hearing them, I guess I'll keep my ears open.

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