This is the time to bird

2007 July 17
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — It’s July. Young Scissor-tailed Flycatchers haven’t got any tails, and fledgling White-eyed Vireos are, well, dark-eyed. Adolescent crows give strange cries. Weary adult songbirds sing weak fragments of their songs. Already, shorebirds have begun trickling back across the continent, clad in a who-knows-what assortment of unfamiliar feathers.

This is the time — when everything is at its slowest, its drabbest, and its most confusing — to bird! This is the time to cultivate a deep intimacy with the birds, to push your knowledge to its limits, and then just a bit beyond.

Your senses are more powerful than you know. Learn to use them! Don’t treat birding like a flashcard exercise in school. “What does a Carolina Wren say? Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle.”

No, no, no!

Learn to bird in ways that transcend your ability to reason and verbalize. Begin responding to clues that enter your brain at nearly a subconscious level. You must learn to hear the wren — to really hear it. Not to try matching the rhythm of its notes to some nearly useless mnemonic from your field guide. Not to concentrate on the rise and fall of the pitch, struggling to remember whether the phrase should ascend or descend. Hear the wren sing! Let the sounds sink so deeply into your brain that you no longer simply recognize the song but that you know it — anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances.

Watch a thousand Cattle Egrets flying in the distance. Watch another thousand, and maybe even another. And then, something deep and inexplicable will happen when you see the next white dot in the sky. You will know that it is not a Cattle Egret. Just know, that’s all. And you will raise your binoculars, and you will see the lone White Ibis flying over the dam.

This is July, and you have two choices. You can stay at home, wishing for the gaudy days of spring or the halcyon fall. Or, you can go outside and face the heat, the chiggers, and the poison ivy, and you can learn to know birds.

Let me know what you choose. Let me know what you learn.

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One Response
  1. July 17, 2007

    I’ve always loved birds but just recently started to get to know them. I took a video of a wren singing her heart out but also letting me know she wasn’t so sure of me getting to close to her nest and babes, a much different sound then the melody she had been singing. Loved sharing it on my blog for those who have never heard the sound of a wren.

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