Two weeks ago, waking up to a mid-April snow masquerading as Callery Pear petals clustered around the frost-bitten daffodils, I once again, donnedsweater, coat, and flapped-hat to take my corgi Millie out for her walk. My memorable sightings were a wintering Red-throated Loonfishing just out from the end of Pier 45 in Hudson River Park and a Broad-winged Hawk momentarily caught soaring north over West 11th Street; two birds still tipping precariously between the seasons.
Whichity whichity whichity or (fast forward) tea-kettle tea-kettle-tea-kettle? Tonight an aspiring-to-be-warmbreeze jostles the curtains by theopen window and I curl and uncurl my toes under the comforter. My hand dawdles over the side of the couch scratching Millie’s ears as much as she’ll let me, while my other hand jabs at the CD remote. Will I ever confidently be able to discern the difference between the song of a Common Yellowthroat (the former) and a Carolina Wren (the latter)? Both chanta three-note phrase with elusive (to me) pitch variations.One is, perhaps, sweeter and the other more insistent. Which is which again? When I’m at home listening to recordings, I think I have their similaritiesteased out, but frustratingly, when I’m hearing them “in the wild” they still trick me nearly every time.
Luckily, in the next several weeks, I’ll have the chance to mistake this duo over and over again. Spring always goads me into studying up on the songs of the migrating warblers. Just as I’m getting cocky,thinking that I recognize most of their chips and tweets, the season passes, and I forget themall over again until the next spring.
Mayislate to catch a Golden-crowned Kinglet’s tsetsetse but a Blackpole Warbler tsetsetsetsetsetse–ing at ever-diminishing volume like an ambulance rushing uptown is to be expected. The laid-back zee zeezeezozeet of a Black-throated Green Warbler is really quite distinct from the throaty zozozozozeeee buzz of a Black-throated Blue Warbler – hearing either of thesejewel-boxes is an entrée to spring. There’s the inquisitive zeeeeeeeeeeee-TSUP of a Northern Parula, and the sneaky tree-hugging weesaweesaweesaweesa of a Black-and-white Warbler. I’m ready for the wake-me-up tseetseetseetseeTZIRR of a fan-dancing American Redstart, or the three-alarm fire call of a skulking Ovenbird’s amplifiedcherteecherteecherTEEcherTEE CHERTEE CHERTEECHERTEE. My personal onomotopoetica: the whip whip whippersnapper whip of the hyperactively yellow Yellow Warbler.(Proofreading this paragraph is like receiving Morse Code.)
I wonder: Don’t warblers get tired of singing the same phrase hour after hour, day after day, generation after generation, for millennia?Of course, one assumes that they pick up more nuancesthan we do, and as their tried-and-true pick-up lines, how can one argue whether they’re boring or not? Their one little song is the match-dot-comthat helps a girl warbler find a suitable guy warbler (who’s not a jerk) on a mountaintop in the Adirondacks after flying thousands of miles from their winter vacations in South America! Whereas, we can’t find our way around the block anymore without our hand-held GPS prompting us when to turn and where to stop to eat.
RraffRraffRraffRraffRraff! Millie stampedes toward the door, defending her foyer against another dog simply ambling by in the hall for his evening constitutional. Once we hear the street door close, Millie circles up her wagons again under my dangling hand, and now, her belly is uncharacteristically available for stroking.
On a clear May night like this, if I had ventured from my couch to the top of the Empire State Building, hundreds of birds might be seen, and heard,winging northward by the light of the silvery moon.
I think of that solo Red-throated Loon diving in the frigid Hudson River two weeks ago. The Sibley Guide to Birds says that its call is “quacking or gull-like wailing” (not the legendary mournful north woods yodeling of the Common Loon). I haven’t heard either of them. But, I bet, if he’s flying north tonight, or is already there, that there’s a lady loon waiting for him, and that his quack will be the sweetest sound she’s ever heard.
For a schedule of monthly NYC Wild! nature walks visit http:// www.keithmichaelnyc.com. .