WORDS ON BIRDS
Visual Birding Has Its Merits
September 09, 2017
by Steve Grinley
watching birds – no surprise there. But I also enjoy hearing birds.
The fact that I started birding in May, when the birds were in full
song, likely encouraged me to be more aware of song and use it as an
identification tool. Hearing a bird, and then seeing it to match it
to the song, was a big help in learning bird song.
If you do this often enough over many years of birding, you can’t
help but be more proficient in knowing what bird is singing without
seeing it. This is helpful once the foliage takes over later in May
and hides the birds all summer long. It also helps as you are
driving along and hear bird song without the opportunity to stop to
try to identify the bird.
becomes especially useful if you are doing bird surveys, or in real
life, when you are outside with non-birding friends and birds become
part of the background sound track. Without being rude by stopping a
conversation to look at a bird, you can be content to know what bird
is “playing” in the background.
Chickering of Groveland has a different view on the need to visually
see a bird versus the satisfaction of just hearing it:
“One of the birding oddities that I practice is to treat birding
almost exclusively as a visual experience. It’s not that my hearing
is bad, it is probably better than the average gentleman of my
years. Yet I will never be satisfied at just hearing a bird. I want
to see it. Perhaps it’s because I think I have a heightened sense of
color or perhaps the experience seems a little incomplete unless I
see the bird I am hearing.
actually make a list it is only of birds that I see. Of course this
results in a list that is shorter than that of my contemporaries but
I am not out for quantity I am out for quality. It is one of my many
“Lois and I had
slowly driven down the island this morning (August 28) and I found
myself pulling over to the side of the road at a familiar chip in
the heavy brush on the dune side of the road just at the start of
the S curves. A Chickadee. I hopped out of the car and walked across
to where I still heard that little high-pitched call. Chickadees
seemed to enjoy conversing as they forage.
“My experience is that Chickadees often respond well to pishing and
I wanted to see the little rascal so that I could place him on the
day list. I pished and sure enough he came over to see what was
going on. Then I noticed some movement on a branch just above him; a
yellowish bird. I got on it and was delighted to find a Prairie
“I know my desire to see a
bird can often lead to a waste of time and I am sure that it has had
a tendency to retard my knowledge of bird songs. Still after thirty
odd years at this I think my bird song knowledge is quite good. The
Prairie Warbler didn’t make a sound, and if I hadn’t stopped to pish
in the Chickadee I would have driven right past him. That wouldn’t
have been a disaster, of course, but seeing a Prairie Warbler is
always a treat. It also seemed to herald the beginning of the
passerine fall migration.
quite a lively morning on the island. I had a Hummingbird and a
Brown Thrasher at the Wardens, and at Hellcat I got on my first
Long-billed Dowitcher of the year. It was a classic text-book
example, still pretty much in alternate plumage. This bird can be a
devilish hard species to separate from its Short-billed relative. It
was bulky with a humped back and reddish down the breast and
undertail and even the streaking on the neck was discernable. Also
there was a convenient Short-billed Dowitcher right beside him for
“While on the dike
chatting with Dick Mack and Bob Murphy about the Dowitcher, I
scanned the top of the North Pool marshes with my binoculars. The
air above the phrags and cattails was alive with Tree Swallows as
the staging was still underway. Suddenly I noticed a startling
sight. There within the crowd of birds was a single all white Tree
Swallow, swarming with the rest but not really one of the gang. As
they dipped and swerved the albino was constantly attacked by the
Tree Swallows around him. He never tried to escape and they never
stopped tormenting him.
this to my companions attention and the three of us watched this
amazing tragic show. As odd as it was, this was the second time in
my life that I have watched an albino Tree Swallow being harassed
and attacked by fellow Tree Swallows. I even related the incident in
one of the Essays in my book.
immediately made me wonder. Was this the same albino Tree Swallow I
saw five years ago? Was it a different one? What were the chances?
What was more unlikely? Two different pure white Tree Swallows being
attacked in August at Hellcat by fellow Tree swallows five years
apart? Or the same Tree Swallow enduring what seemed to be five
years of constant persecution?
wonders of nature never cease.”
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