Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The mystery chirper

I've never advanced much beyond the commoner birds in terms of identifying them by sound, and today the garden gave me a real workout.

I was heading out to the N end of the pond to check out some potted bulbs there. As I approached the area, I heard a sprightly chirping. I stopped to listen. I could not make out where it was coming from: was it from the boxwood bush about six feet in front of me? Was it coming from the tangle of roses on the pergola? Was it a bird? And if so, what kind of bird was it? Whatever it was, it kept it up as I got closer. And the sound varied - no two calls were alike exactly. The more I listened, the more confused I got. The sound had the timbre of a grackle or red-winged blackbird sometimes. But the song was so varied that I was convinced that it had to be a mockingbird.

I carefully approached the boxwood: the sound continued, but intermittently. I started to pish to get it to come out - to no avail. The sound died down awhile, and then it started up again. It was surprisingly loud and clear, like a wren's call but without the suave sound quality. Was it a distress chirp? Was it an injured bird which had survived a hawk attack and was now hiding in the boxwood? I moved around to the other side of the boxwood to be near the N end of the pergola, to be able to triangulate in on the sound. From there I realized that the sound was not coming from the boxwood bush. It seemed to be coming from the roses on the pergola. The chirping continued: again, whatever it was it was not at all bothered by my presence. The sound would go on for a while, then stop. Sometimes it was loud and continuous; sometimes it was softer and less frequent.

I carefully scrutinized the roses on the pergola, expecting to see a fat mockingbird gorging on rose hips. But no mockingbird was to be seen.

As I stood there just under the N end of the pergola looking for the mystery chirper, it started up again. This time it was only a foot or two from my right ear. The sound was surprisingly vibrant, an almost melodious assortment of chirps, trills and crude scales.

And then I saw it. At the end of the pergola, where the long beams had come down with their burden of rose canes, one of the long beams had fallen into the grasp of a vine otherwise tightly coiled around one of the pergola piers. And right there was where the sound was coming from. Right from that little tangle of vine, long beam and pergola pier the mystery piper continued to produce sound. Then the wind stopped and the sound stopped. I waited a bit, and then the wind started up again. And a new burst of chirping sound gushed out. I stood there quietly for a few moments, watching it carefully. It was hard to believe that this little nothing could be making so much birdlike sound. There it was, at most two or three inches long: a spot where the long beam cradled in the vine rubbed against the pergola pier and produced this sound every time the wind blew.

Even Biscuit seemed puzzled by it.

1 comment:

Claude Seymour said...

Long ago, I was in California sleeping on my sister in law's floor, with the door cracked open, slightly. Every morning, I would hear this awful, squeaking noise, which prompted me out onto the balcony, to investigate. I saw nothing, but could occasionally still hear the noise. This went on for several days. Finally, I saw the source of the noise. In a tree nearby, was a tiny hummingbird singing away his squeaky, scratchy, God awful, song. Research showed it to be the Anna's Hummingbird, a common species, in the Bay Area. I heard them singing, in such diverse places, as the parking lot at Jack London Square, the top of Mount Tamalpais, and the fog shrouded end of Point Reyes. They are a favorite of mine, now.