Monday, April 14, 2008

Blue Highways in New Light

A few weeks ago I wrote about the back roads, or "Blue Highways," I periodically travel to Ithaca. While I did run through what I imagine the next couple of months will bring, I did not specifically mention how it would affect my commute time. I suspect you can figure out what'll happen: more birds, more stops. Longer commute. Longer time spent outside, walking a short stretch of road or merely standing by the car listening for new arrivals.

Not really prophetic, just logical, and now coming to pass. One of the first birds that caught my eye this morning was an Eastern Bluebird posing on a natural perch. I'm habituated to seeing them on fences, power lines, TV antennae, or other human-constructs, so seeing one on an actual tree, though disfigured by humans constructing something, was a nice change. And the morning's light added to the experience: soft, warm, more than just illuminating. This bluebird really was carrying the sky on his back.

A new arrival for the year came next. Driving with the windows down has the disadvantage of messing up your hair and blowing around the accumulated papers and leaves on the car floor. I don't much care about the former, and I just drive slower to compensate for the latter, and in doing so I heard the unmistakable song of a bird I hadn't heard since last year. With his back facing the road he energetically laid claim to a not yet flowering or leafed out row of shrubs as his own. I initially identified it by song, can you identify it by sight?

Facing away from me, surely not his only audience, the light of the
lengthening days highlights the rufous-brown of his back.

He eventually turned to warn away anyone encroaching from the road side, I assume including me. No worries, the "No Trespassing" signs are enough to keep me off.

This bird has one of the largest documented
repertoires of songs in North America.

New bird for the year, along with the first Song Sparrows, cowbirds, phoebes, Turkey Vultures, and harriers I've seen along this route. Plus a Ring-necked Pheasant, a bird I never expect though I stumble across them here-and-there. But perhaps my favorite sight was a Red-winged Blackbird, this time not perched on ice-covered branches like last time.

That's gotta feel better on his feet, though he didn't stick
around any longer than when perched on ice.

What a way to start a work day, and the work week. The increasing "trip list" is proportionally increasing my anticipation about the seasonal changes, the warmer temperatures, the changing light as the sun traces a higher path across the sky, all of which leads to the promise of longer-distance migrants on their way. No green yet, but at least no longer covered in white (though the threat still exists around here through most of May). I can't wait to see what the next trip brings.

Oh, and another hint about the accomplished songster I heard: the the Birds of North America Online account includes this description:

Burleigh quoted E. Murphy’s opinion of [this bird's] song: “Much of the reclame [sic] which has fallen to the Mockingbird is really due to the unperceived efforts of [this bird]. It is the opinion of many ornithologists that the song . . . is richer, fuller, and definitely more melodious than that of polyglottis .”

Something to ponder: based on "E. Murphy," is this bird Garfunkel to the mockingbird's Simon?

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