Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saw it a little. Heard it, though

I'm in AZ for a few days. Yesterday we drove south to Sierra Vista, AZ to see a rare bird, a Brown-backed Solitaire. The devotion of birders to the pursuit of a bird that is outside of its normal range was fun and a novel experience for me.

I should perhaps back up a bit. Birding appeals to a lot of people, and of course people vary in the degree to which they participate in the activity. There are people like me, who know a few birds, have spent some time looking at field guides, and would be classified as something like an advanced beginner. At the other end are people who keep track of every new species they've seen, and have a "life list" of birds. These are the folks who have been known to drop everything and hop in the car to drive several hours in order to add a bird to their list.

For me, the fun of birding is being outside with friendly people, looking at the habitat, checking out the plants, and looking at the birds. That's about as far as it goes. Keeping a list seems to be a little too much trouble, although I'll keep my options open and say that maybe someday I'll start one. Maybe it's because CB doesn't keep one that I'm not motivated to. But the two people we rode down with had AZ birds lists of several hundred birds. That is impressive.

There can be a huge element of luck involved in spotting a bird that is outside its normal range. On the one hand, a couple of years ago a rare oriole showed up at a feeder not too far from where I live, and spent a couple of weeks there. It was the beneficiary of the homeowner being an avid bird watcher who put out all sorts of tempting goodies (like grape jelly) for the bird to eat.

On the other hand, as was the case yesterday, the bird might move around a lot and sing its little heart out, but not be within view for more than a second or two before it flies off and is heard down the trail aways.

The fun and lucky thing about yesterday, was that we were literally just about to leave when we heard it call. It was hot and we had been looking for it for about three hours. You should have seen peoples' reactions. We were talking about leaving and then it sang and they (I didn't realize it was THE bird) rose as one body and walked/trotted over to the spot where the sound came from. It was a cohesive movement that was fun to watch.

We spent the next hour stopping and listening, up the trail and down the trail, with people pointing. It was truly a group effort, which I liked a lot. It works that way when people go out botanizing as a group, too. The song is really amazing, akin to glass wind chimes. It makes me wonder how their voice boxes are configured to allow such sounds to be made. Apparently they have the ability to make two sounds independently, which you can sort of hear if you click on the link to the song in this link. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to get to the sound files.

Today, we are off to Flagstaff to visit with one of CB's coworkers, and we'll drive further north to the Grand Canyon to try to see condors. Sweet!

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Hi, sorry to make the humans do an extra step.