A Song for June 09

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Click the sonogram to hear and see the sound.

We lived for a while (11+ years) in Eugene, Oregon, and while there I did my best to get acquainted with the birds of the Pacific Northwest. And so, one year I took a trip up east, through the catbirds, and Eastern Kingbirds, and Bobolinks of eastern Washington to the Selkirk Mountains, which straddle the conjunction of Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. An island of inland rainforest with boreal spruce-fir on top, the Selkirks are wild enough to harbor grizzlies. Luckily the biggest thing I saw was a moose, trotting down a forest service road on long, spindly legs. I was there for birds, though, boreal birds, such as Spruce Grouse, White-winged Crossbill, Boreal Owl and Pine Grosbeak. I went 1 for 4, and was pleased with that. Here is my Pine Grosbeak, the only one I have ever heard sing.

The Pine Grosbeak's song is the lowest of several on the sonogram, occupying the bandwidth between 2 and 4 kHz. (The highest is the Golden-crowned Kinglet, with Hermit Thrush and Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler in between.) I was on alert for a Pine Grosbeak at first light, and when a likely sounding warble began 42 minutes before sunrise I thought I had it. I spotted him near the top of a tall spruce, and eventually there was enough light for me to see some red plumage. That, along with size and shape, was enough to confirm the identification. It's a pleasant song, similar to those of the closely- related Purple Finch and Cassin's Finch, but longer. I hope to hear it again, as I've been searching for the species in its southernmost population, in Arizona.

The species ranges across the entire boreal zone of the Northern Hemisphere. That seems like a vast range, but look down on it from the top and it's less imposing. The Pine Grosbeaks of America and Eurasia have diverged a bit genetically, and in time they may become separate species, as has happened with the three-toed woodpeckers. For now, though, they are all one. In honor of that unity, I decided to include a video of a Pine Grosbeak from Lapland.

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