Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Imposter

Every spring I get "buck fever" for the newly returning migrant birds. I strain my ears to hear the first wheezy notes of the gnatcatcher from the maple tops, the burble of the tree swallows over the meadow, the staccato phrase of the ovenbird from deep in the woods.

Today I had the fever bad. As I was returning from putting the kids on the school bus, my reptilian brain lobe registered a new sound—familiar yet unnamed. The bird making the sound only called once.

An hour later, while watering in the greenhouse, door open, I heard it again. DANG! What IS that? No visual contact. The sound was a trill then a rising buzz. I KNOW that sound.....

Forty-five minutes later I was working at my desk and I heard it again, then again.

"BLUE-WINGED WARBLER!" Right on schedule--well maybe a few days early. But this is not the blue-winged's familiar ZEEE-buzzzzzzz song. It's the late summer alternate song—why would it be singing that?

I raced outside with my binocs, camera, and iPhone (to play the bird's song back to it, if need be). Newly arrived blue-wings every spring sing from the tops of the dead ash trees in the orchard. No bird there. And the singing had stopped.

Then the thrasher started up again and immediately did a PERFECT blue-winged warbler alternate song. DOH!

It makes perfect sense. The thrashers always nest in the same brambly corner of our orchard as the blue-winged warblers. The males of both species sing from the same perches in the same trees. If this thrasher grew up here, he'd certainly have heard the alternate song the male blue-wingeds sing in late summer.

So why does the thrasher sing this song here, now, when he's got so many others from which to choose? Does this place inspire him in that specific way? Does he miss his neighbor? Or is it just the fact that he learned it here and lives here that he sings it here?

No matter his reason, he surely fooled me.

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