Bob and Rigamarole at Texas Canyon Rest Area, Arizona, September 30, 2017

Bob and Rigamarole at Texas Canyon Rest Area, Arizona, September 30, 2017
Bob and Rigamarole at Texas Canyon Rest Area, Arizona, September 30, 2017

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Birding by Ear - Sat., Mar. 15

First, Happy 84th Birthday to my mom! She had a fine lamb shank birthday dinner cooked by my sister, Jan, and attended by my brother, Frank, and sister-in-law, Gina. They had a wonderful meal and played pinochle. Mom loved her gifts. While they were all together they gave us a call and we got to say "Hi" to everyone.

Saturday morning from 8-11 a.m., birds chirped, kweeped, chipped, purrited, kirred, seebrrr'd, chik-a'd, tee too too'd, pudi pudi pudi see'd and tik tik'd while we listened. Some birds are very hard to hear, others are easily identifiable.

After an hour-long intro and an explanation of what our morning would be like, our group headed out on a 1.3 mile walk in the Mitchell Lake Audubon Wetlands.

Half of the "Birding by Ear" class.
Jason "The Bird Nerd" St. Sauver
The path was crushed gravel which, as you can imagine with 30+ people crunching on it, wasn't too conducive to hearing birds. Our leader stopped us frequently so we could listen.

Ooooo, I got distracted by the bluebonnets (lupine)
The class on the trail.

I'm new to birding by ear, but as we learned in "Birding by Ear," sometimes the only way you can identify a bird or know it's in the area is by the sounds it makes. Many of the smaller birds hang out in the dense shrubs, others can't be seen amongst the leaves of the trees. It helps to know what sounds birds make if you want to know what's truly there.

Our teacher was Jason "The Bird Nerd" St. Sauver who gave us a brochure, "Birding by Ear Basics: Ten Tips." This information comes from his brochure.

The main reasons to learn bird sounds are to:
  • Help in identification, as a bird's song is more distinctive than coloration
  • Locate birds more easily
  • Enjoy birding in low light levels or poor visibility
What are the ten tips?
  1. Learn how to listen - Close your eyes and listen for pitch, quality, length, repetition and tempo.
  2. Learn the locals - Learn the common bird songs of your backyard or area first. At least you'll be able to say, "Well, I'm not sure what it was, but it certainly wasn't a robin."
  3. Use YOUR ears - Don't always trust what books, CDs or bird apps tell you as to what a bird sounds like. A bird may sound like "to-WHEE" to one person, but you may think it sounds like "che-WINK." Try writing it down or whistling it to help you remember.
  4. Master ALL the types of tweets - Did you know birds not only sing, they also have alarm calls, distress calls, and contact "chips"? Interesting stuff. Learn which type of sound you are hearing.
  5. Find 'em for yourself - Find and identify the bird yourself and watch it sing. The image and sound will be forever linked in your memory.
  6. Use a BirdNerd Buddy (real or virtual) - As important as number five above, it is also important to learn from experts. Find a buddy or bird guide to learn from or, use a virtual expert from a birding website or app on your phone or tablet.
  7. Use those Eustachian tubes - Rely on your ears more -- you will need your eyes and binoculars less. This is especially helpful with nocturnal species like owls and nightjars.
  8. The early bird...well, you know - Birds are usually early risers, especially in the spring to sing. Get out early to hear the most variety of distinctive calls, chirps and songs.
  9. Sit still - Some birds make more noise as you approach but many will not...so walk quietly or find a bench and have a silent sit. Just listen.
  10. Don't get MOCKED! Northern mockingbirds, European starlings, gray catbirds, and any of the thrashers are mimics and can confuse even avid birders. Mockingbirds and thrashers learn hundreds of other birds' songs. Starlings have been known to learn odd sounds such as fax machines and car alarms. Listen closely. If the song is repeated several times in quick succession, it is probably a mockingbird.
Here are some of the birds we heard...

Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Eastern phoebe
Cedar waxwing
We also heard: black-chinned hummingbirds, cardinals, olive sparrows, white-eyed vireos, verdins, mourning doves, golden-fronted woodpecker, ruby-crowned kinglet, Northern mockingbird, and curve-billed thrashers. It was an ear-opening experience.

At 11:00 a.m., I zipped out to meet Bob on the way to Boerne where we were going to do a Boerne Volksmarch. We stopped for lunch at Taco Cabana andi talked us out of the walk. It was sprinkling where we were, but out toward Boerne the sky was very dark and threatening rain.

Instead of walking we went to see "American Hustle" for the second time. We liked it just as much. Bob said he got a lot more out of it this time.

That's it for Saturday. Stay tuned for Sunday's shenanigans.

2 comments:

  1. I'm sure your bird class was very interesting. My son studied biology in college, and one of his classes was all about birds. He had exams on bird calls, and loaded them into his ipod so he could study.

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  2. Thank you for this informative post Susan. I can only identify a few. But this helps in my birding attempts. Say hi to Bob for us.

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