i like to see chaos subsumed into order. long grass growing tangled then trimmed. but only in certain places, like next to sidewalks, not in parks where i am walking. no, not there. not when i am sitting facing a field and the man comes on his mower, chasing me away, following me through the park, more and more mower men, an onslaught of men joined in mechanised noise and motion. that is what i don’t like. i like to see spread-out papers form themselves into a neat pile or disappear into the recycle bin. bare surfaces. something emptied and discarded. this is not a manifesto, by the way. this is just a monday morning [note: it’s actually now wednesday—ed.]. a morning i rode in rain. traffic altered my route and i passed the central police station, a thriving death star hive, battered tie fighters buzzing in and out from the flight deck, looking to crush, to destroy, to subjugate the populace, meting out their brutal mutilated form of “justice” with truncheons and guns.

last friday was a special day for i heard my first wood thrush of the year. o, how i love the ethereal songs of the thrushes! there is no sweeter music in the forest for me. i used to wake to their flute music every spring and early summer morning, but no more, no more. now, if lucky, it is the much lesser song of another thrush, the ubiquitous robin. not to disparage the robin, but his song is nowhere near as transcendent as the wood thrush, the hermit thrush, the swainson’s thrush…

yesterday i went to a class that was like jungian personality types but with colors and a few more bells and whistles. i am blue-green and my conflict sequence moves from green to blue to red. there are all these diagrams that look like someone made them with a spirograph. they are quite pretty but i don’t know how i feel about being plotted on a triangular graph. there i am…a black dot straddling the line between two types, far off from my fellows (in the group report, i am a clear outlier, there are no other dots near me). there i am…moving across the color scheme as conflict escalates, crossing axes with impunity. look at me go…

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  1. How would you recommend one go about learning bird songs?

    • I’ve found the best way is to start by trying to locate a bird while it’s singing and then identifying it, either by recognizing it as one you already know or by using a field guide. Unfortunately, getting a glimpse of a singing bird can often be quite difficult, but this way you immediately associate the song with the bird in your mind.

      I think that listening to recorded songs without the bird present singing them can only help so much. I’ve found that if I hear a song and then listen to the song later on the computer, I often don’t remember what I heard well enough or trust myself to make the ID. I will say, however, that I do think it can really help to watch videos of birds singing. There are videos on YouTube by Wild Bird Video Productions that include excellent quality close-ups of singing birds. I totally recommend these as a way to study specific birds whose songs you are trying to learn. While these still are no substitution for coming across a singing bird in the field, they can help familiarize oneself with songs.

      When I first began learning songs, I started with familiar birds around my neighborhood that I would always hear and then moved on to others as I gained a basic understanding of bird song. For example, often there are similarities in songs within a single family of birds, so once you get a feel for these it is much easier to narrow down a particular song to a specific species. Knowing habitat preferences, migration patterns, and regional ranges also all contribute to narrowing down possibilities.

      After I got a little better at it, I got an app for my iPod called iBird. This is basically a field guide that also includes songs and calls. So I would bring it along in the field with me, and I basically used it to either confirm or attempt to narrow down identifications. It’s only really helpful if you have some idea of what the bird might be while it is singing. So, you might think it’s some type of vireo, and if you know what types of vireos would be likely to be in the area at that time, you can listen to each song relatively quickly and narrow it down that way.

      Some people swear by using mnemonic devices to learn and remember songs. This has only helped me in certain cases. It’s possible my mind doesn’t work well in that way. But it’s something else to consider trying to see if it works for you. There are little phrases people associate with each song. I can see how it would be incredibly useful, but unfortunately it hasn’t worked so great for me. There are also descriptions for certain bird songs (similar to using mnemonic devices), some of which build on other more common bird songs. So, for example, people describe the Scarlet Tanager’s song as sounding like a robin with a sore throat because it has a similar rhythm but the voice is scratchier, less clear.

      I think that learning to identify birds by ear is probably the most challenging aspect of birding, and in general just a difficult thing to learn. Some people never manage to do it. I still get discouraged all the time by my progress, which feels incredibly slow. Every year during spring and fall migration there is a period where I am so rusty at identifying songs I’ve learned in the past, after not having heard these particular birds for 6-12 months. But ultimately I think it’s a very rewarding activity, and when I start feeling down about my skills, I try to remind myself of how many songs I do know and that makes me feel a bit better.

      Anyway, I wish you much luck if you decide to take on the challenge, and I hope this was not too much information! I tend to get long-winded when talking about birds…

      • It’s wonderful to see someone ramble on about something they’re passionate for :) Thanks for the YouTube suggestion, that looks like a good starting place.

        • Well, I’m glad you appreciated my indulgence. I had a feeling you wouldn’t mind. I can get lost in those YouTube videos for hours. Those people sure know what they are doing with their recording equipment.

  2. You are funny. Thank you so much for this.

    • And thank you for reading it. If I have made you smile or laugh, then I can call the day a success.

  3. Ah, Insights Discovery profiling, I’d wager? You probably won’t be too surprised to hear I came out blue-green too. But who cares about all that when the birds are fluting merrily. I’ve downloaded the UK version of iBird’s app to help me pick them out better too.

    • It was actually Strength Deployment Inventory, but yes, basically the same concepts (though in looking at Insights online, that one sounds even more horrifying to experience). It’s funny because I was reminded of you and your team-building adventures and thought to myself, “I bet he had to suffer through something like this, too.”

      Glad to hear you are now armed with iBird! I hope you find it as useful as I have.



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