Monday, June 24, 2013

The Chatterbox

After moving last winter, I was excited to identify the wild birds at our new house. We had the regulars that are easily spotted: robins, chickadees, juncos, and spotted towhee (a favorite.) We had a raucous hawk perching at the edge of our wetlands that I finally identified as a red-shouldered hawk. But as the songbirds returned for their spring courtship routine and I turned my ear to identify them, suddenly I was awakened every night by the ridiculously constant chattering song of something from the creek and marshes below us. What &*^$% bird sings all damn night?? I crammed the pillow over my head, forced myself to sleep, determined to find the source of all that racket.

Mind you, it wasn't a horrible song. Just a mixed-up mess of singing, whistling, and some other weird noises. After spending several days trying to spot the culprit out in the thicket of willows and brush down by the canal, I thumbed through every bird book I had. Was it a cat bird? ( I mean, some of the noises sounded like "mews.") A mockingbird? Finally, I turned to my trusted resource: the Internet! I googled "birds that sing at night," copied all the likely suspects, and then tried to find sound clips of each. Yes, this was an exhaustive process, but I was already exhausted from the dang bird singing all night. And now my curiosity had the better of me. I had to know what it was!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology operates a fantastic site with clips of the songs of every bird, as well as pictures and life histories, and maps of where they live. So I studied each bird, trying to determine which one I had. Whatever it was, it was nesting, and the way it carried on, it was obviously quite proud of itself.

Finally, I clicked on Yellow-breasted Chat. I had never heard of this bird. The Cornell site describes their song as "a collection of whistles, cackles, mews, catcalls, caw notes, chuckles, rattles, squawks, gurgles, and pops." Bingo! And after listening to the sound bite, I had my bird!

The Yellow-breasted Chat is a seasonal visitor, here for the spring and summer, and I suppose it will fly south to the tropics eventually. Maybe then I can get some sleep. Actually, I've grown kind of used to the racket now. Good night, little chatterbox.

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