Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Visit to Camp, Part I

A few years ago, I started to work on learning to identify birds by ear. I'd call myself an advanced beginner, at this point. For example, every spring, I need to relearn the red-eyed vireo, a common self-chatterer in these parts; and once I do that, I name it with confidence (and, I hope, correctly) until it migrates again.

The last time I stayed at Kitty overnight in the summer, I had mastered the difference between a chuck-will's-widow and a whip-poor-will. And also, having had them try to nest in my tent flaps more than once, I knew all about the songs and calls of Carolina wrens. But beyond that, I wasn't too knowledgeable.

This past weekend, I heard so much that was familiar, or nearly so, that I had to remind myself more than once to concentrate on listening to people not the riot of birdsong! It was very distracting - how on earth did I live with all that chatter for so many years?

As I learned at a lecture at Maymont this spring (or was it last?), osprey (and eagles) have made a strong comeback from a 1970s die-off, and this was very evident along the Great Wicomico. An opsrey's was the first call I heard as I clambered out of the car behind the dining hall. It must have been one of the pair with the nest on a platform near the mouth of Blackwell's Creek that I could see from my tent in Pine Ridge. We used to make such a drama, in the 80s, of finding the one nest for miles right there on our own Jetty Point. Now, I imagine, like elsewhere in the Bay region, their nests dot every platform, dock, promising tree and buoy from camp to the Chesapeake.

As well as the osprey, wrens and a wood thrush welcomed me to Pine Ridge. Once settled, I was off for a day with the CITs.

I felt a little overwhelmed, as we talked at the Tree House, by the calling of pewees, and, later, of the chuck-will's-widow. Come on, y'all, I am trying to train, here! Binocular-less for this short trip, I spotted birds most clearly there on the lake, too. A male goldfinch flashed through the reeds in the afternoon sun, bluebirds tended to a nest in the pilings, and phoebes and pewees snatched up bugs and returned to the power lines or the rope along the Tree House bridge.

Sunday morning's cacophonous wake-up call included herons, wrens, chickadees, cardinals, osprey, and a woodpecker's squeaking. When the woodpecker finally moved round the tree so I could see it, I saw that it had to be a hairy woodpecker, since I didn't hear the downward trill of the similar-looking downy woodpecker. Good, that's settled, now I can look at people when they talk to me.

At a Girl Scout's Own, making eye contact with other congregants (as it were) is not required, but listening to the ceremony is. But, really, the pewees were shouting and diving about the walnut trees in the most distracting way! And surely someone else was with them -- several someones? -- none of which I could ID.

When I packed, I decided not to pull out my binoculars, knowing that the goal of my trip lay elsewhere, but, wow, what a list I could have had! As it stands, my unofficial list is made up of birds I identified by ear:

great blue heron
hairy woodpecker
eastern phoebe
eastern wood pewee
carolina chickadee
carolina wren
blue-gray gnatcatcher
eastern bluebird
wood thrush
red-eyed vireo
American crow


vj said...

Wow, wow wow. Huge memories from that photo; catching a fish from the walkway and counselors not knowing how to take it off the hook, and practicing dumping and rerighting canoes in the pond...
We're seeing an increased number of eagles on Jordan Lake this year. It's not quite commonplace, but not so rare anymore. Great Report!

Cass said...

I thought of you as we spent much time on our 4th of July camping trip watching the many birds that visited our campsite. My favorite, we found out after returning to the land of internet, was the Spotted Towhee (what *is* that bird that looks like a fancy robin??). We also saw an amazing eagle who hung out in a tree right above us for about 20 minutes tormenting the crows!