Monday, May 04, 2009

Sleepless Birding

Thanks to a touch of insomnia, I happened to be awake for the start of the dawn chorus on Sunday morning. So, of course, I listened and kept notes until I finally fell asleep. It is not something I would recommend, but it was an interesting exercise while it lasted. It was pretty clear that the local birds wake up and start singing in waves.

Robins started singing around 4 am: first a few, and then a chorus swelling to what sounded like dozens. For a long time, robins were the only birds that appeared to be singing. About an hour later, the first cardinals and grackles joined them. Again, there was a period in which I could only hear these three species.

The next wave of sound came from some blue jays, a couple mourning doves, and a single fish crow. Shortly after I heard a white-throated sparrow and also noticed house sparrows for the first time. Now it may well be that these had been vocalizing all along; house sparrow "songs" are pretty nondescript and blend into the background easily. In due time I heard chimney swifts and tufted titmice add their voices to the chorus.

The last birds to vocalize before I finally got back to sleep were a few black-capped chickadees, a yellow-rumped warbler, a few red-winged blackbirds, and a gray catbird.

A few absent voices surprised me. First, while siskins appear to have departed, we still have plenty of house finches and goldfinches visiting our feeders. Yet I heard none of either local finch species. Second, two species with territories on the adjacent street – mockingbird and song sparrow – were curiously missing from the chorus. With all of these absent species I have to think that either the species is not awake and singing that early (rather odd) or that their songs simply does not carry far enough for me to hear them (still odd, but perhaps more plausible).

I was also a bit disappointed not to hear any other migrant warblers or thrushes, especially given the veery in the yard the previous night, but their absence was not surprising.