A Song for APRIL 27

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Click the sonogram to hear and see the sound.

Sam Cathey and I were driving back to Charlotte from the 2008 swamp trip, which, in addition to two beautiful days on the Lumber River, had provided the two songs by nonsongbirds for April 25 and 26. I suggested we swing by Contrary Swamp, which was not far off our path. Although it was midday, we found a warbler singing vigorously in the undergrowth. The default for the habitat and the sound of the song was Hooded, but after a while I began to suspect it was Swainson's. Songs of the two species can be similar, depending on the Hooded Warbler in question. I grew restless. My "pish" did not induce the bird to show himself. (Wariness itself is an attribute of Swainson's.) Finally, because this might be a significant record, I broke my usual (but not universal) prohibition of playbacks and played his own song back to him. Immediately he flew over our heads and across the road. We saw brown. One more glimpse satisfied us that it was a Swainson's Warbler. And the sonogram confirms that it is a completely typical Swainson's song.

It was a significant record. This was the first known occurrence of this species in Contrary Swamp, a place I visited often in my youth, when my family owned this land. But neither I, my father, nor my uncle ever saw or heard Swainson's Warbler on the farm. It is in fact a spottily distributed species. Just about every stand of wet woods in South Carolina will have a Hooded Warbler. Swainsons are few and far between. Like this one, every one of them is a thrill to encounter.

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