A Song for May 09

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Click the sonogram to hear and see the sound.

Today finds us in the mountains of northern Sichuan, China, in 1991. The warblers there are hard to tell apart visually but easy aurally, just the opposite of the North American wood-warblers of a different family. JiuZhaiGou National Park has nine species of parids (chickadees and titmice). Babblers wail and cackle from the brush. Griffons the size of condors soar overhead. Please check the eBird checklists linked below to hear some of the interesting sounds of those and other species. Just above, though, a mysterious cut from one of several redstarts of the genus Phoenicurus that are found in the park.

I was walking down the road from Nuorilang to the Park gate on our first full day in the park when I came upon "a field full of River Redstarts." They were all on the ground, each doing its own thing. I started stalking one and recorded the quiet songs it was uttering. Part of the performance is above. The redstart songs are the short warbles half a second long, between 2 and 6 kHz. The problem is that they do not match the samples, for this species or any other species found in Sichuan, available on the Macaulay Library. These little songs do resemble faint sounds at 3:20 on ML170916771, and at 0:11 on ML170915371, both recorded by Andrew Spencer in India. So, I think I just lucked into a behavior that no one else has recorded. It was a fine day to be out.

"Redstart" means red tail, the "start" part derived from an Old English word for tail. It fits all the members of the Old World genus Phoenicurus, which are in the Old World family Muscicapidae, as well as the American Redstart, which is in the New World family Parulidae, but not Myioborus redstarts, e.g., Painted Redstart, which are more aptly called "whitestarts." All of them, from both hemispheres, are delightful to watch.

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