Sunday, April 19, 2009

Birdsong



One of my favorite spring in DC phenomena is the birdsong. In addition to all the birds who come back to the District to hang out for the summer, we are visited, from March through May, by a whole bunch of migrating birds on their way from somewhere south of here to somewhere north of here.

I read that one hundred years ago there was almost twice as much birdsong in the midatlantic during spring as there is now. The idea boggles the mind because really there are so many birds doing so much singing at this time of year, it's hard to imagine twice as much sound. It's really loud - a bird chorus, a bird opera, a bird rock concert ongoing every day from before dawn until about 10 in the morning. The only human equivalent that comes to mind is Nielsen's Symphony No. 4 ("the Inextinguishable"). There are so many instruments playing, and yet it's incredibly beautiful.



There's one migrating bird in particular whose song is simple and - to me at least - heart opening in the most elegant way imaginable. When I hear that song each spring, it makes me want to cry (in a good way) or transcend my body and float up to the clouds, or write a poem (something I am genetically incapable of). One time on a piano I figured out that this bird's song is one extended E followed by a pause and then three F sharps. Sometimes there are four or five F sharps. Then a pause, back to E. It sounds more like a bell than the whistle sound some birds make. It isn't a chirp, it's a tone. It is so beautiful.

No one I know can name this bird, including a client who is a bird specialist for the Smithsonian. The bird is in town now, accompanying, as it always does, the blooming dogwoods, tulips, and "chubby" clump cherries, singing its heart wrenching song in the midst of a hundred other songs. That bird's song is good for my soul, it is.

Sing on, modern day dinosaurs! Wake me up before it gets light, it's OK by me. Sing on, I am listening! And thank you so much!!

21 comments:

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

good morning girl,
There is one crazy bird who makes his way to our house every summer. I'd swear it targets OUR house. He sings the same 6 notes over and over again. BF and I have to laugh because it will otherwise drive us nuts. I wish I knew what kind of bird it is...
say "hey" to jake for me.

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

Oh! looks like I the EARLY BIRD!
Lemme go catch a worm...

Poetikat said...

I awaken each morning in the spring to the sound of the chickadee, the robin, the cardinal, the goldfinches, the housefinches, the bluejays, the chipping sparrow, the white-crowned sparrow, the starlings, the crows and the mourning doves. It IS a symphony of sound and I thrill to it!
It's so much easier to get out of bed in the morning when there is birdsong to accompany your withdrawal from the delicious warmth of the covers.

Kat

mary said...

Such a glorious piece of music for my morning read - thank you. Now I want to know what bird that could be.....

Angela said...

The most beautiful singers we have in our area are (to me) the skylark and the nightingale (she sings only at night, but sings like she were five different birds in one). But I love our cranes and swans and sea eagles and the falcon couple above our heads, too, and the storks in the meadows. And our loud duck couple, too. And the red tails and... I love them all.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

Oh yes the sound of birds chirping & twittering in the morning... I so look forward to hearing that. Luckily in this part of Texas (central) we hear birds year around. Cardinals are especially fond of our backyard & we hear them early in the morning.
But... the thing I listen most for in the spring & summer comes at night-time. It's the sound of the Chuck-Will's-Widow. It sounds very much like the lonesome whippoorwill, but with the very soft "chuck" before the "Will's-widow". One has to listen very carefully for that first sound. It's a quite beautiful & lonely sound. Two have arrived in our neighborhood for the spring & summer.

Lynne said...

I love lying in bed in the morning, newly awakened, and listening to the birds. I try to identify each bird, but some birds here in the east I still haven't identified.

This morning two woodpeckers were giving a very loud percussive concert. Amazing!

ellen abbott said...

Oh, me too. My favorite songster is the mockingbird. They find a high perch and sing their little hearts out every morning and evening.

Here at the country house I am learning new bird songs...the chickadee, the titmouse, the cardinal's mating song. I'm still waiting for the carolina wrens to show up. Haven't seen them yet this year.

Anthony and Emily said...

Just this past year I really took time out of the normal hustle and bustle of life to notice "spring".

I've taken time out of each morning to sit on the steps in the back porch and listen to my feathered singing gypsy friends with hot cup of coffee in hand.

Wow, what I've been missing all of the years. Spring time won't go unnoticed again!

R.L. Bourges said...

and aren't they the cutest little dinosaurs imaginable, though?

Thanks for the Nielsen Symphony. A discovery over here.

Tom said...

I like your song choice; if you hadn't said otherwise i'd've thought it was Copeland...We had a strange bird singing this morning i'd never heard before... possibly it was a migrator that just happened to stop by our house...it was just nice enough to have the window open all night so we could listen to him crooning away.

Lynne said...

P.S. Forgot to say that I find the wood thrush's song one that transports me the same way your mystery bird does. Ethereal!

Siobhán said...

Just been reading an article in yesterday's London Times about people around England culling magpies in an effort to protect the singing birds the magpies torment and prey on.

We have lots of magpies where I live in Dublin, but never heard of anyone culling them - even if they are a nuisance sometimes.

Do you have magpies in DC?

Lori ann said...

That's a disturbing thought, half as many? I'm with you though, I hear so many. Now with several under protection, maybe they'll multiply again.I love the meadowlark's song.
♥ lori

Washington Cube said...

I love the little brown wren. So tiny, yet full of song.

Sandra Leigh said...

When we are in Mexico, we listen for the Inca doves calling "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?" My husband has been known to go outside and join in the conversation, thus entertaining me and any other RVers in range of his voice. I love birdsong -and even bird chatter.

Ronda Laveen said...

The birdsong so points out the activity of life going on around us. I love being outside and having them for my morning music as I garden.

It was nice listening to the musical piece as I read post and comments!

Reya Mellicker said...

I love Carl Nielsen. One of the most memorable concerts was the Symphony #5 performed by the San Francisco Symphony. There were three orchestras - one on stage, one under the stage, and four violinists up in a balcony, all playing at the same time. The balcony musicians were supposed to be playing the music of a star shining down. Fabulousness.

I heard a wood thrush when I was visiting my friends in W. Virginia last year. Wow!

We, too have cardinals year round and they have so many songs. Lately they are singing "video video video" and "GurdJIEF GurdJIEF GurdJIEF." Later in the seaon they will sing "cheeseburgercheeseburgercheeseburger."

We also have mockingbirds who can sing anything, though after they hatch, in a few weeks, they will only be able to manage the sound of a cheap plastic whistle.

I love birds. And these comments. Oh yeah.

TC said...

It is noisy with frogs and bird too here in the midwest, just noticed it a day ago.
Also I feel for you and Jake, you obviously love him as much as I love Dispatch. I had a bad dream last night about Dispatch (my dog) and stayed awake afterward for like 2 hours.

Coccinella said...

Can you get a photo of it?

Siobhan, our Magpies here in Australia are very different to the English ones. We awake to beautiful Magpie songs every morning.

A Cuban In London said...

I can identify myself with your post about birdsong so much becuase right now I am working (yes, I do work, you know ;-D!) and the birds are singing outside my window in my office. Beautiful. Lovely image, too.

Greetings from London.