Time to dust off those birding audio tapes/discs
By Noreen O’Brien, Purchasing, Marine Parts Express
It’s that time of year: Time to dig out the birding audio tapes and discs, dust ’em off and pop them into the player—assuming you haven’t been listening to them all winter long.
Hearing the birds sing and knowing which species is vocalizing adds a whole new dimension to the birding experience. It was bird song that first attracted me to bird watching. A city (Boston) born and raised girl, I moved to the suburbs the year after I graduated from high school. I was constantly drawn to the outdoors by odd, yet beautiful sounds. Upon investigation—lots of traipsing through the brush and squinty-eyed looks in hot pursuit of the source of these musical notes of a sort—I discovered that every songster was a bird. I was hooked.
Just today, I heard, but did not see, in the early morning darkness, American Woodock (at least three), peenting/twittering; Great-horned Owl (one), “whoooo’s awake? meeee toooo”; American Robin (two), “cheerily, cheer up”; Wild Turkey (perhaps half a dozen), gobbling; Canada geese (countless—they seemed to be in flight), honking; and lots of little tseep notes—most likely sparrows.
I am able to identify these birds in the dark by these announcements they offer up to the world, because I traipse over hill and dale following bird vocalizations whenever I can, but I also listen to bird song/call tapes throughout the year.
Although nothing offers as deep a lesson to emblazon birds’ songs onto our thick skulls as birding in the field, audio recordings are of tremendous value. It’s difficult to remember all those songs with months of living between hearing them all in the field last spring. And don’t be too hard on yourself for not remembering them all: not only is the bulk of bird vocalizations given for a short time (the breeding season), they sing and perform for only a small portion of those few weeks.
Singing requires a lot of energy and, once a territory is mapped out and the mate is tucked away on a nest, quiet is what the birds are—and you will simply have to wait until next spring to gain practice time. Very few species raise more than one brood this far north. Only trouble is, come spring, you’ve forgotten much of what you learned last year. Hooboy.
There is a multitude of CDs to choose from these days, most of which give the species name, followed by its song and perhaps its call. I recommend owning one of each set that’s available, adding to your collection over time. One set, however, is different and should be at the top of your list, particularly if you’re a beginner when it comes to identifying birds’ songs and calls.
Birding by Ear: A Guide to Bird-song Identification by Dick Walton and Bob Lawson is a great teaching tool using mnemonics. The listener is given suggestions on how to distinguish between the wide variety of vocalizations and suggestions on how to create a “handle” that will link the notes to the species. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Play the tapes while you’re driving, while you’re working, while you’re cooking—just play them. In my experience, to have them playing in the background is a subliminal way to introduce our brains to the songs and calls of the most common species. One day, and it may take a few years, you’ll wake up and simply “know” the songs and the birds that sing them. Of course, this is based on the assumption that between listening to the tapes, you’re out there in the field tracking down birds and matching the vocalizations to the species.
Which reminds me, one thing I learned that may save you some frustration: The songs and calls on the audios offer essentially one version of each species’ most common or typical vocalization. Many birds have at least several sounds used under a variety of circumstances, and even time of day. Also, many individuals have their own little quirks and, it’s been shown, geographical accents. The audios are far from the total answer, but they are a great tool to get you started. Again, nothing beats getting out into the field and building your own cache of vocalizations tucked away in the audio file of your brain.
Birding by Ear comes in three choices: Eastern and Central North America; Western; and More Birding by Ear for Eastern and Central North America. Buy one, buy all, but use them and learn. And ignore the odd looks from family members and co-workers while you listen. I’ve survived many years of such looks. Every year at about this time especially, I yank out all the audios and by the time the bulk of the birds arrive, I’m feeling somewhat refreshed and ready for the field. You will, too.
PS: I have absolutely no stake in any audio tape/CD, including the Birding by Ear series.
Just like so many of us who listen closely to the sounds of nature around them, Marine Parts Express’ technicians really listen to our customer’s needs. Call us toll-free at 877.621.6165.
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March 25, 2011 / Noreen O'Brien / 0
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