Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Birdland Hall of Fame

One of the many nice things about our peripatetic life has been the discovery of new birds, not exotic to the locals, but hitherto (thitherto?) unknown to us. If I had to pick the top three such birds of the last decade, I think they would be the Bufflehead (Olympia), the Hoopoe (Cairo) and the Carolina Wren (Triangle).

We used to see these distinctive sea ducks all over the Puget Sound, but particularly on Cooper Point, near the OG’s pre-school. It was fun to watch their frenetic diving, and they hold a special place in the family lore, as Worldwide helped the OG’s class make paper maché buffleheads for the only-in-Olympia Procession of the Species Parade. In fact, as part of the never-ending clean-up, G-Lo returned a somewhat worse-for-wear head to us when she was here for Alice last month. It has, ahem, gone on to “nourish the life of significant soil,” but the memory lives on.

These dramatically colored, crowned and billed birds were everywhere in Egypt, picking over the grass in search of insects. In four years, I never got tired of watching them.

These little guys are extremely common around our house. They don’t visit the feeder that much, as they prefer insects in leaf litter or tree trunks, all of which we have in abundance. They also have the charming habit of wandering on to our screened porch every so often, and taking a couple of hours to find the hole by the screen door that they came in through.

What sealed their place in the ornithological pantheon was a discovery that I made this morning. There is a fair amount of noisemaking in the early daylight hours, including a loud repetitive call so distinctive that I’ve often scanned the area trying to determine its source. Well today, I was out on the porch waiting for a phone call when I heard the familiar sound. I spotted the singer on a fencepost near the compost bin and grabbed the binoculars for a closer look. It was the selfsame bird.

Not trusting my eyes, and unable to believe that such a small fry (sparrow size) could be so loud, I rummaged around to find our Petersen’s guide. One of my favourite things about  the invaluable reference is its onamonapoetic rendering of bird calls, which I’ve often thought of as one of the best writer jobs ever. Turning to the Carolina Wren entry, I found the following: “Voice: A clear 3-syllabled chant. Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea. “  Yep. That’s it. Remarkable bird; not as dramatic as the others, but nonetheless worthy of an encomium. Sort of like Chapel Hill.

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