The rich carol attracts my attention, cheerup, cheerio, cheerup. An American Robin, the harbinger of spring, is serenading me. During the winter, I rarely see a Robin in my yard, although occasionally one will fly in to have a drink at my pond. During the cold winter months one or two might sit silently in a neighbor’s deciduous tree. Unless I deliberately scan the bare branches, I might miss them.
By the end of February I heard them calling to each other up and down the street. For the past two weeks, they began announcing their presence in my yard. After hearing the carol, I will see one land nearby, and then another. The male looks so nonchalant as he struts by my garden path, like a nervous teenaged boy hoping he will be asked to dance. The female peruses him as she peeks through the branches of the Arizona Cypress to see if he will be a good mate, .
Prompted by the photoreceptors that trigger the hormonal changes that stimulate singing, the Robins ardently pursue the tasks in their spring job description of nest-building and choosing a mate. As the days lengthen and the temperature warms, I also long to be outside tending to the jobs of early spring. And I chafe at the pain and physical limitations that keep me inside right now.
And then I hear the sweet, sweet, sweet song of the Yellow Warbler – my Audubon Clock announces that it is 10:00. It is a reminder that in my stillness I have the opportunity to learn to differentiate the songs that will assist me in bird identification when neotropical birds begin to migrate through and nest in New Mexico in the next few weeks.
I dig out the cassette set of Peterson’s Western Birding by Ear that I picked up at a garage sale last fall. Peterson groups the bird songs by their similar characteristics. The Robin, along with the Western Tanager, Plumbeous Vireo and Black-headed Grosbeak all have a sing-song type of song, with rising and falling inflections and a rhythmic pattern. I note that the Black-headed Grosbeak’s song has a more mellow quality to it. The song of the Western Tanager, while following the same up and down pattern, is shriller; and the Plumbeous Vireo has a whiny twang to its song. Maybe I really can learn to hear the difference.
I am energized by the possibility of increasing my ‘birding by ear’ repertoire over the next few weeks. While I am anxiously waiting to be ‘back in the birding saddle,’ I can use my down time productively to increase my birding pleasure. I also remember that it was the physical limitations of healing from double knee replacements six years ago that slowed me down enough to begin to notice birds, and it helps me be patient.