This is what evening in the field sounds like

One of the biggest changes for me in being in the field, aside from the living-in-a-tent-and-smacking-mosquitos aspects, is becoming intensely aware, all the time, of sound. I’m listening for singing juncos, to know where the territories are; for quietly cheeping juncos, who are usually foraging, to read their band combinations; for angry chipping juncos, whose nests are nearby; for juncos giving what I think of as the ba-boo boo boo call, affectionately greeting their mates. We live in the midst of the juncos, so I’m always listening. And so I hear all the other birds too.

In early evening, with the sun bright but the air beginning to chill, we hear the daytime birds still: the juncos’ songs, loud and strong but, dare I say, less than nuanced (click on the linked text, then click the forward-arrow play button, to hear the sound).

The strange, carrying complaints of the Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Red-breasted Nuthatch: such a small bird for that big noise.

Red-breasted Nuthatch: such a small bird for that big noise.

The Mountain Chickadees promising, you can’t find me. (This is not a perfect verbalization of their song, but it has stuck with me ever since a woman told me that the chickadees reminded her of her son, who had disappeared. She thought they were saying you can’t find me.)

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

The Western Tanagers with their calls like falling drops of water.

Male Western Tanager

Male Western Tanager

As it gets darker these birds begin to fall silent, and the Black-headed Grosbeak, the real artist of the bunch, starts up with his wonderfully varied song, like a jazz player improvising with different melodies. Some of my favorite bits are the whee-oooh, the whew-wah, and the tawee tawee tawee.

(This track is my own, recorded one evening from our campsite, so the quality isn’t quite as good as the others – but I can’t find any other recordings that quite match this guy for his lovely languid pace and variety.)

Male Black-headed Grosbeak. Photo by Jamie Chavez*

Male Black-headed Grosbeak.
Photo by Jamie Chavez*

Finally, when it’s really dark and we’re navigating by headlamp light and pouring water over the hissing remnants of our campfire, the Northern Saw-whet Owl begins singing, his distant song haunting in the most literal way: once you start hearing it, you can never quite convince yourself that you aren’t still hearing it; it seems to linger on the edge of hearing in the dark.

Northern Saw-whet Owl. Photo by Ken Janes*

Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Photo by Ken Janes*

(All the linked tracks in this post [i.e. all of the tracks except the grosbeak] are from the Macaulay Library. This is a wonderful source of wildlife sounds of all kinds, and I encourage you to explore it. They have everything.)

*Photos obtained from Flickr and used via Creative Commons. Many thanks to these photographers for using Creative Commons!

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