Spring is here! Okay, okay, I know it’s not official until the sun passes directly over the equator sometime on March 20. But it is here. I heard it arrive.
Three weeks ago as I was preparing to leave for work, in the pre dawn hour, I heard the opening notes. Even with snow on the ground and cold, cold temperatures it was an unmistakable sound, a quiet, low pitched note. “Peent” I stopped and listened closely. Did I really hear that? “Peent” Yes! There it was again!
Later that evening, as sunset approached, my wife and I were standing in the back yard patiently waiting. About thirty minutes before sundown it started again. “Peent, peent, peent”. This time, however, we were treated to a series of chirps and whistles that followed from high above us. These are the sounds of the American Woodcock. Interestingly, to me anyway, is that although the ‘peent’ is a vocalization, the high pitched chirps and whistles are created by feathers! One of the earliest birds to return to our area every year, their ‘sky dance’ provides the opening strains as our spring orchestra warms up.
Now that I’ve heard the opening act it is time to watch and listen for part two. It generally follows in very short order.
Yep. There they are, right on schedule. Our next harbingers of spring are the Red-Winged Blackbirds. They are in our area year round, but we don’t normally see them in the winter unless we deliberately seek them out. This elusiveness disappears in the spring. It is time to make some music! Through some hidden signal, as if by magic, they suddenly appear all along my drive to work. From treetops and fence posts they add their voices to the growing concert. The males are staking out territories and showing off their iridescent red epaulettes for the ladies. Their distinctive “o-ka-leeeee” song was one of the first I learned to recognize by ear, and tells me the main event is about to begin.
After the warm-up by the American Woodcock, and the introduction provided by the Red-Winged Blackbird, it is time for the orchestra to join the show.
Beginning at sunrise, and performed by a growing ensemble of our native birds, is the popular “Dawn Chorus”. At first, to the uninitiated, it may sound like a jumble of voices, with everyone talking over each other, but, listen carefully and you can start to distinguish each of the individual players.
Is someone playing laser tag in your backyard? It’s a Northern Cardinal. Another voice saying “Drink your Tea?” You have an Eastern Towhee. Do you hear a high pitched “Tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle?” That’s the sound of a Carolina Wren. Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Song Sparrows, Blue Jays, Nuthatches, and many others all add their voices. Woodpeckers contribute elements of percussion as well as vocals. Purple Martins then begin to arrive from their winter vacations in Brazil. The chirps and chatter of an entire colony add the finishing movement to our spring concert.
All of these unique sounds combine to create, daily, a piece of music unmatched by any symphony, anywhere, bar none!
Spring is here! Okay, okay, I know it’s not official until the sun passes directly over the equator sometime on March 20. But it is here. I heard it arrive. You can too!
–Jim Scout, Volunteer Naturalist