Benton birder tracks down identity of mysterious avian singer
On the last Monday in May, I decided to take a walk at Kitchen Creek in Ricketts Glen State Park. Since it was Memorial Day, I decided to get an early start to avoid the number of people who undoubtedly would show up later.
Since I went to hike and since it’s unusual to see much wildlife on the trail, I didn’t take my binoculars or camera. (You can already see where this is going!)
Along the first half mile, I heard several familiar birdsongs – veery, wood thrush, acadian flycatcher, oven bird – but only saw the robin that danced around me, teasing me.
Then I listened carefully, and, yes, it was a song I had never heard before! I started looking for the source and there, on a 30-foot dead stick above, was a little, dark bird.
I almost didn’t see it since it looked just like part of the pointed tip. OK, now what do I do? No camera. No binoculars. He’s too high up to see details with the naked eye, sitting in the shadows, the bright sky behind him.
I was frozen. Dare I move closer? Will it fly? I just stood there, mentally kicking myself while I thoroughly enjoyed its song.
At some point, I remembered my cellphone that was almost out of power. It has a recording feature.
Moving slowly, I recorded his song. It was really faint but at least I had that much.
He didn’t move. Then I walked closer and took zoomed pictures with my phone, but he was too far away for them to do any good.
He didn’t move. I made some more recordings, holding my phone out and up to get as close as a 5-foot, 2-inch person could.
He didn’t move. I decided to continue my walk. As I left, he still was singing from his same perch.
About an hour later, I was on my way back. I had passed several people, at least one or two hiking with their dogs, so I had no expectation of hearing the bird again, but there he was – on the same 30-foot high dead stick, singing away.
I stopped. I made another recording.
He didn’t move.
Two different couples walked by. I asked each if they were birders, hoping I would get some help with my dilemma. No. While all this was going on, he didn’t move.
At this point, I was wondering if there was a ranger at this park who has a fantastic sense of humor. Did he plant some mechanical bird and a camera to see how people would react?
I came home.
On Wednesday, I couldn’t take it anymore. This time my husband, Bill, went along.
We went prepared with binoculars and camera. I hoped I would remember the exact place where I had found him.
I had Bill listen to my recording a few times so we would recognize the song again.
I found the spot, alright, but there was no bird, no song.
Well, at least the park ranger was off the hook!
Bird or no bird, it’s still a great place, so we walked on. On the way back, as we went by the “spot,” I stopped. Could it be?
Yes, way back there in the mid-story, I could just make out the song. Of course, the camera and binoculars were no help, but at least I knew he was real!
I still had to figure out how to identify the bird since he doesn’t exist on any birding record or CD that I have.
With no expectations whatsoever, I started playing with the Audubon bird app on my cellphone. I chose the best options available for shape, habitat, color, size, region, song type and pattern and hit search.
Only four choices came up. I was able to rule out two of them because I already knew them.
I had never heard of the third, but thought it was worth a listen. Nope not it.
I had one chance left. And … Eureka! A match!
My mystery bird is the winter wren!
Thursby lives in Benton and loves birding, hiking and kayaking.