Feb 27, 2013

OHC: Birding by Ear: a Whole New World

We took a much-needed break today after the dreariest, grayest, rainiest day I can remember in a long while. I knew the window of opportunity was short--cold returning this weekend--so I suggested that after the quick tune-up at the orthodontist (braces went on two days ago), we could grab the dog and the GPS and head for the little park near the doctor's office for some fresh air, exercise, and geo-caching.
Font Hill Park, a wetland conservation area

    No decent homeschooling parent misses a chance to turn any event into a teachable moment, even a walk. A Charlotte Mason-style educator would be kicked out of the club if she didn't! So knowing that one of our Outdoor Hour Challenges for February was birding by ear, I realized that I had a perfect God-given opportunity to attempt the challenge and gain some nature study points.

 (NOTE: I credit an old friend and birding expert in Pennsylvania, Skip Conant, for teaching the importance of birding by ear. He said it was more important than identifying by sight because so often you CAN'T see them. And I can recommend the Android app, iBird, for the added dimension of audio clips of every bird, something no book can give you. )

  The park is one we have visited before, but not for a while. It is a wetland park with a boardwalk and asphalt path meandering around the perimeter of a pond and along the stream that it feeds through the woods. It is blessed with several types of environments perfect for attracting a variety of birds in a relatively small area.
   Besides looking for the geocache, I further sweetened the deal by offering a reward--"Will work for Chocolate"-- for identifying at least six species of birds by ear.

     It didn't take long.
Canada Geese annoyed by our intrusion
   A pair of Canada Geese voiced their annoyance at our arrival immediately. Then a Song Sparrow welcomed spring. A love-sick Northern Cardinal wooed its mate in the trees to the left. A bereaved Mourning Dove sighed.

   Four down and our walk had only begun.
   Into the wooded stream area, and new species who prefer a secluded habitat welcomed us. A Blue Jay screeched, Chickadees dee-deed, and Tufted Titmice called for Peter-Peter-Peter! A Carolina Wren wanted his Tea-Kettle, Tea-Kettle, Tea! A Red-winged Blackbird preferred jer-KEEEY!
  A Flicker teased us with a few Keew's, but never showed. And a White-breasted Nuthatch 'nyacked' about us to his neighbors.
The stick horse gets a needed drink.
   Then, without a sound, a huge flap of wings grabbed our attention as a disturbed Red-shouldered Hawk rose up out of the swamp where it was planning its next meal not thirty feet from us and soared up to a gigantic tulip poplar to await our departure.
   We didn't find the cache, but I was personally rewarded by the twelve species that Mei had identified by ear alone!
   Here is her notebook page in which she listed her birds and then made notes of their songs to refer back to. We had fun interpreting the musical sounds phonetically and that will help them stick in her head in the future.

 Gotten an earful from the birds? How would YOU interpret a Red-winged Blackbird?  Tell Mother All About It!

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  1. Great post!
    Thanks for stopping by our blog. We do love living on Anne's island ;)

  2. Wow! What a bird-profitable hike! You know, I think we experienced that same dreary gray day here in Daleville Virginia...on Tuesday right? Yep, that was a rough one! Thank you for sharing!

    1. You got it. But these pics were actually the next day. You just can't avoid middling weather in the Mid-Atlantic, can you?

  3. Oh! I so wish I could identify birds from their sounds!

    1. Bethany, just start slowly. A few well-known birds at a time. Roger Tory Peterson would often make word associations with the songs for remembering. You can see them in his guides. That's why I had my DD do the same for her notes. Just keep your ears as well as your eyes open!

  4. I had some difficulty with one of the Font Hill Park geos, too, around the oxbow.

    Our kids have enjoyed caching, as well. Maybe Cindy and you can go together on a hike sometime, with the kids in tow. (If I'm off work, I'd gladly do so as well.)

    David P.

    1. David, I'm tickled that you found my blog. Easier to find than that cache? I'd love it if our kids cached together. There are several at the David Force Park nearby.

    2. Yep, I've found all those :). One of the "neat" ones there is called "Tiger Tail." I haven't looked to see if it's still there, but it's safe from the creeks and water.

  5. We've been bird watching for a few years now, though nothing too structured. But recently we realized how much we'd been learning just based on bird songs & calls. When we hear an unfamiliar bird song in our backyard, we know we have a new visitor.

    1. Good for you, Debi. Slow and steady wins the race. If you have a smartphone I really recommend the iBird app I mentioned.


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