Navigating my backyard, in search of a bird …
The summer alarm clock is not so much the rays of the sun but more so the glissando of birdsong before first light. In Sweden, it’s common practice to intentionally be a part of this wonder of nature known as: gökotta: ‘rising at dawn to listen to birdsong’. The bright horizontal rays seem more interrupted of late by a muted haze of smoke and in my neck of the woods, humidity, and a somber hue of bluegray. The noise to arise is now more than ever the chorus of songsters that find the need to belt out their tunes before the sun is even awake. There’s the melodic thrushes that sometimes are the first to sing, or sometimes the diminutive Common Yellowthroat. One of most beautiful singers and a personal favorite, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
On any given morning, the tune changes depending on the day. And sometimes the silence is longer if say, a pre-dawn thunderstorm has sequestered the birds into hiding a bit more. While leaving the windows open in the middle of July is not always feasible, once and a while, the open windows lends itself to a louder, earlier alarm. Once such day recently, I recount below.
I was awoken to a sound closer to my house than ever before. A sound I knew well, considering it is the “I’m gonna defend my territory tune” that goes on all the live long day from late June through the Harvest Moon in my yard. The friendly 1-1-1-1-1-1-2-2! song with whistle that lingers is as unmistakable as the color of this birds’ garb. The Indigo Bunting has been as present in my yard as the humidity of summer. But seeing him? Hah! No luck whatsoever. I saw the female at least.
High in the Sycamore, behind a clever curtain of giant leaves, this bird is as hard to find as a parking spot at the airport on a holiday weekend. Just like taxi on Fifth Ave, in the sleet, the week before Christmas. You know they are out there, you just can’t find one. Laying eyes on the Indigo Bunting is no walk in the park.
But you can hear his sound (and birder’s mnemonic) clear as a bell. “Fire, fire! Where? Where? Here! Here! See it, see it?” He moves around the yard singing this tune over and over again with the occasional shortened or elaborated verse. And that morning, the sound was so close, I thought to myself, “What if he’s right there?” And sure enough, just outside the windows, I looked down from the second story window, still blurry eyed from the early hour of 5:30am to a beacon of blue perched atop our very intentionally placed snag in our back garden. Apparition? No, I was actually seeing the relentless tenor a mere 20 feet from my house! But that was all I was going to get. By the time I tiptoed downstairs to grab my camera, he took off and just like that, he was invisible once more. I did manage a photo, but it was with my phone. Like photographing the moon, it just never turns out at all.
Any creature that can navigate by using the stars is okay in my book. And that I am lucky enough to have one call my home his own is something luckier still. I took note of his arrival around the July 4th holiday. His unmistakable sonata burgeoning through the back meadow, a summer hallmark as much as BBQs and long hours of daylight. As I write this blog, it is almost the end of July, and it has been that long that I have scanned the yard for this elusive bird. As blue as he is, their shy nature is the exact opposite of how loud their colors are. Not a day has passed where I don’t hear him.
One cooler morning I found myself with some much needed time to do some weeding and touching up in the beds while taking advantage of the light breeze. Walking toward the back of the yard, a flare of blue caught my attention, and I was able (miraculously) to actually see the bunting perch. I stood there, still as a pillar, in disbelief that this little songbird was actually in plain sight, on a bare branch of an Oak tree. I did take a video though. I showed the video to my daughter. She was like: “Mom, where is it? I can’t see it!” He was also silent, only making a few small chips and chirps that actually sounded very similar to a Northern Cardinal. Was his mate and their nest nearby? Maybe. What wasn’t nearby? My Canon camera.
That moment of decision which teetered on “if I don’t go for it, I will lose my chance, but if I do go for it, he will probably fly away by the time I get back.” Or worse, only fly about 15 feet to a nearby branch, but I won’t be able to find him again. My moment of hesitancy told me to make a run for it. Within 3 minutes, I was back staring at the Oak scanning for a splash of blue. Hamilton singing in the back of my mind, “I am not throwing away my shot!”
He was silent and so was I. Well, almost, my heart was pounding and my shutter was clicking away, take 30 to 40 shots of a tiny songbird…a moment I was hoping for since 3 weeks prior.
My hope is that his silence among the branches was that the nest was nearby, and soon the tiny chirps of fledglings will be off and on their way, guided by the stars heading down south for the winter.
Happy trails, Hamilton. Even if I don’t see you again this summer, I will be here next 4th of July anxiously awaiting your unmistakable “Fire, fire! Where? Where?”