6:30 am, Little Compton, RI. The birdsong starts before sunrise, but a gentle span before sunrise, as befits August: no spring/early summer mania at 4am. I, concrete-weary and tired of urban cacophonies, use the dawn chorus and the lightening sky as an alarm clock, and am up and abnormally awake.
First birds heard: possible Cuckoo sp (though I might have been dreaming that), Gray Catbird, American Robin, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird.
I am taking photographs on the property of a lovely couple; I am making a drawing for them, of whatever I want, inspired by their incredible environs. I spent the night in their guest loft over the barn. I am not birding, I am WORKING, but as always I am listening, listening, listening…
Birds heard, and added to the previous species, as the sun just begins peeking up: domestic Rooster, Cedar Waxwing, Chipping Sparrow (with begging juvenile Cowbird), House Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Song Sparrow. It is getting distracting.
Focus, I tell myself, you are at work now. Lose yourself on colors and patterns, compositions and ideas. I want to distill the visual and aural cadences around me into something else, and I need to get some interesting reference photos. It would be nice to achieve something beyond the mundane, though now there are 16 different avian species vying for my attention, tugging at me from multiple directions. Bird watching does not really a great drawing make.
Calls are rising with the sun: American Goldfinch, Red-shouldered Hawk (screaming, distantly), Blue Jay (nervously, nearer), Northern Cardinal (off in a more suburban yard), Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove.
The sun warms the fields, dew becomes mist, and a couple of bucks are feeding across the meadow. They have been eyeing me for a while, but we are all nicely together in a peaceable kingdom as I do my early morning reverie thing. Until, that is, I raise my long telephoto lens to take their picture, whereupon the larger of the two actually barks at me, stamps his foot, and off they go. Methinks those deer know a thing or two about rifles.
Insects must be moving more freely, because now I hear Tree Swallows! Eastern Kingbird! Barn Swallows are flying overhead as well, but silently. Chimney Swifts intersperse their chattering when they cross paths with the Tree Swallows. Eastern Phoebe (harsh “Phoe-bree”) and Black-capped Chickadee (softer “phoeebe”) immediately take me back to spring, and more distantly, to Vermont, and graduate school, and a host of other associations I don’t want to go into here. A Great-crested Flycatcher starts doing its harsh “Mreep”, sounding prehistoric. A Tufted Titmouse or three are off in the woods.
The light is rapidly changing. Larger (lazier?) birds are making their way across the sky: American Crows hold complex conversations with their wheezy juveniles (who sound like Fish Crows), a Red-tailed Hawk screams and makes the Red-shouldered shut up, and then, off to the south, I hear the plaintive, wimpy whistle of an Osprey, which makes me think that I should be at the water instead of these fields because shorebird migration is happening RIGHT NOW and there is just so little time and what if I’m missing something really good? Red-winged Blackbirds chuck at me as they fly to the water, a Northern Flicker calls from the eastern edge of the property, and a House Finch begins singing its rambling jumble of notes, near the house. A Great Egret squawks as it lumbers over. PLUS: everything from earlier is still singing, minus the elusive and potentially imagined cuckoo. 33 species, heard-only, in 30 minutes. It is amazing I get anything done at all.