Full Moon Serenades

Swainson's Thrush & Western Meadowlark Courtesy US NPS Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush) Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark) Combined by Patrick Kelly
Swainson’s Thrush & Western Meadowlark
Courtesy US NPS
Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush)
Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark)
Combined by Patrick Kelly
The serenades around where I live begin early. Today it was during the full moon at 3am, in a break from the blessed rain. The chorus is mostly of robins, but one voice sticks out as new; a call I do not know; a love letter to curiosity of who could make such a call. I have hope that I’ll be able to find who sings like a Geddy Lee who has found Xanadu. It isn’t the first mystery bird I’ve encountered though.

I do remember my first, how can one not, that first call which bamboozled and hypnotized me years ago, both awakening and soothing that inside of me which makes me human. I used to live in a small cabin in the middle of Alaska, and during the eternal summers I’d hear this bird’s haunting call lull me to sleep. It was a Weddell seal of the woods. A UAP that sang.

At first, I didn’t want to know who it was filling the woods with quicksilver honeydew, drop by drop. I somehow felt that the magic would be lost, that by knowing the source I would ruin the spring. But then one day, the music maker appeareth. He was brown, squat, with a small thin beak, just sitting on a spruce branch at my eye level. When he sang, I found I was not disappointed. The Eden of unknowing bliss was not left behind. Instead, where once I saw an it, now I saw a thou. He was singing. The noble, sylvan Swainson’s Thrush.

This trend continued on for me, and once I moved to Utah, I found even more new strange songs. I learned to let the choir sing from their perches, and wait for them to show themselves. The newest singer I discovered was last summer, out in the last intact meadows which border the Bonneville Shoreline trail in Cache Valley, fast disappearing to the grind of half-acre plots and four-car garages which confuse godliness with gaudiness. In their loss, also deplete becomes their song.

Once I heard this new serenader, an avian Van Halen, I began repeating the trail just to hear his song. Like the thrush, which at this point was many years prior, his song seemed to have no source, it simply emanated from the golden grasses and muted sage which, pressed by wind, created a woven mat of gestalt terroir and echoed off the small crevices which led to the mountainsides.

So days and weeks went by as I hiked with my dogs. I’d keep an ear to the pastures and when I heard him, or his premonition upon the wind, I’d freeze and bend in. And sure enough, a certain day came where on this hike I listened, heard, and then saw him. Speckled brown back, golden chest with a black chevron, perched atop a scrubby little juniper calling into the wind. A Western Meadowlark at work.

So if this summer you hear a new sound in the full moon morning and don’t know who makes it, don’t shy, ignore, nor give up. The best thing you can do is to keep listening and keep waiting, be it your first or just most recent. Eventually the caller will pull the curtain back of their own accord and be revealed. So here’s my wish of good luck to you, that you will find what you’re listening for out in the world.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy US National Park Service(NPS) Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush) & Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark)
Audio: Courtesy US NPS Media / David Betchkal (thrush) & US NPS & MSU Acoustic Atlas/Jennifer Jerrett (meadowlark)
Additional Audio Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin.
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Logan Canyon Hiking, Bridgerland Audubon & Cache Hikers, site per Sarah Ohms, https://logancanyonhiking.com/bonneville.htm

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Cache Hikers, http://www.cachehikers.org/Descriptions/BonnevilleShorelineTrail.html

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Official Site(2016), http://www.bonnevilleshorelinetrail.org/

Swainson’s Thrush, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Swainsons_Thrush/overview

Swainson’s Thrush, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/bird/swainsons-thrush/

Swainson’s Thrush, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/SwainsonsThrush.htm

Western Meadowlark, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Meadowlark

See Western Meadowlark in Sagebrush Communities in the Intermountain West, Bird Habitat Guide, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/SagebrushGuide.pdf

Western Meadowlark, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternMeadowlark.htm

Songs of the Western Meadowlark, Poorwill and Canyon Wren

Songs of the Western Meadowlark, Poorwill and Canyon Wren

Everyone recognizes bird-watchers by their binoculars. Bird-listening, on the other hand, takes nothing more than your ears, and attention to Nature’s sounds. Listening for bird songs may require your concentration at first, but soon it becomes second nature. Some common birds of Utah are more easily found and known by their song than their appearance.

The Canyon Wren is one of my favorites. This tiny cinnamon-brown bird weighs little more than a marshmallow, but it belts out a cascading song big enough to reverberate off the rocky cliffs and slopes that are its home.

[Kevin Colver recording: Birds of the South West Canyon Country, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections]

You may not see the canyon wren, but try conversing with it by whistling its song in reply. Listen year-round for its song throughout Utah and our neighboring states, particularly in canyons with rocky walls.

Nocturnal birds are seldom seen but commonly heard. Owls are an obvious example, but so is the

Common Poorwill, a migrant whose call is diagnostic throughout Utah.

[Kevin Colver recording: Birds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections]

Poorwills are camouflaged ground-nesters. On summer evenings, though, you may occasionally see them settled on pavement, their eyes reflecting headlight beams, looking like glowing coals.

Bird song can help distinguish between related bird species too. On the eastern Great Plains, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks co-occur. The plumage of these two starling-sized species is nearly identical, but their songs differ dramatically. The eastern species sings but a few clear notes, but our western meadowlark sings a beautiful musical warble.

[Kevin Colver recording: Birds of the South West Canyon Country, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections]

Meadowlarks reside here year-round, typically in grassy areas, pastures and foothills. Their backs are brown, but the male’s chest is a brilliant lemon yellow. Males are frequently seen singing their cheerful song atop a fence post. And that is another reason for listening to birds, for the sheer pleasure of their song.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Graphics: Courtesy US FWS images.fws.gov
Recordings: Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Songs of the Western Meadowlark and Canyon Wren

Western Meadowlark
Sturnella neglecta
Courtesy US FWS,
John & Karen Hollingsworth,
Photographers, images.fws.gov

Everyone recognizes bird-watchers by their binoculars. Bird-listening, on the other hand, takes nothing more than your ears, and attention to Nature’s sounds. Listening for bird songs, then, may require your concentration at first, but soon it will become second nature. Some common birds of Utah are more easily found and known by their song than their appearance.
The Canyon Wren is one of my favorites. Its song is unique in North America. This tiny cinnamon-brown bird weighs little more than a marshmallow, but it belts out a cascading song big enough to reverberate off the rocky cliffs and slopes that are its home. You may not see the canyon wren, but try conversing with it by whistling its song in reply. I listen year-round for its song throughout Utah and our neighboring states, particularly in mid-elevation canyons.

Bird song can help you distinguish related bird species too. On the Great Plains, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks co-occur. The plumage of these two starling-sized species is nearly identical, but their songs differ dramatically. The eastern species sings but a few clear notes, but our western meadowlark sings a beautiful musical warble.

Canyon Wren
Catherpes mexicanus
Courtesy & Copyright © 2007,
Lou Giddings, Photographer
utahbirds.org

Meadowlarks reside here year-round, typically in grassy areas, pastures and foothills. Their backs are brown, but the male’s chest is a brilliant yellow the color of fall aspen leaves. Males are frequently seen singing atop a fence post. Hearing a meadowlark always makes me smile, they seem so cheery. And that is another reason for listening to birds, for the sheer enjoyment of their song.

In the months to come, we will bring you more of Kevin Colver’s fine bird recordings to enjoy, interpret and learn. These are music lessons that everyone can enjoy!

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photos: Western meadowlark, Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)

Canyon Wren, Copyright © 2007 Lou Giddings, Utahbirds.org

Recordings: Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon

Additional Reading: