Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Enemy

I know. It looks so innocent. (file photo from the old Ann Arbor Bot Gardens days).
What possible offense, I can hear you asking, could lead to chipping sparrows becoming The Enemy? They're peaceful enough birds. They don't take over other songbirds' nests. They don't overgraze habitat. They don't allow their pet carnivore to roam freely. They just fly about, nest in our junipers, and sing cheerfully. Oh wait. That's right. They sing. Or to be more exact, they trill away on one pitch from the yard, from the bushes, from the river bottom, from the forest, from the cemetary where pine warblers can some years be found, from the parking lot where maybe a worm-eating warbler lurks. And that's where the problem arises. I awakened at 5am excited to work on scouting for Birdathon this weekend. I started at a cemetary which we usually don't reach until the afternoon where we've had about a 50% success rate with pine warbler. I was hoping to be able to hear it in the dawn chorus and turn it into a night bird. I heard chipping sparrows galore. Chipping sparrows singing fast trills, chipping sparrows singing slightly slower trills, but chipping sparrows one and all.

I tried a few other places, but found little of consequence, and even less that wanted to perch up. This barn swallow at Chikaming Park was the only exception...

I ended the day at Grand Mere SP where I walked about in the pseudo-Oak Openings area hoping for some sweet overshoot (i.e. blue grosbeak, lark sparrow, Bell's vireo, maybe even a pipedream burrowing owl) but found only a crisply marked female blackpoll warbler. On the way out I started hearing a buzzy trill which immediately struck me as not the above mentioned chipping sparrow. It really sounded like a worm-eating warbler, which is to say it basically sounded like a chipping sparrow only a little different. Different enough? Who knows. I watched the trees for movement, I followed the bird somewhat, I scanned blindly with the bins ... and never got a sniff of the bird. Silent Canada, chestnut-sided, magnolia, parula, and Nashville warblers? Sure, lots of them. Not one view of the bird singing at least a couple times a minute for a few minutes, then 15 minutes, then half an hour, and then finally for almost an hour and a half before it finally either flew off or fell silent. So that's what, about 2 1/2 hours of my life spent looking for birds that either were, or could plausibly have been chipping sparrows. Shoot, if every cigarette a person smokes shortens life by 7 minutes then I'm basically a 2 pack a day smoker. All thanks to one little bird. And it's such a nice little bird.
This tree was in flower and caught my eye as I was staring upward trying to spot Dean Wormer. I don't know what it is, have never seen it before, though I'm going to guess it's some kind of wild plum. If there's any tree people out there I'd be curious to know what it is (I'm somewhat surprised there isn't a common ornamental version of it since just the wild version is pretty striking).

1 comment:

Brad said...

your tree is a paw paw.