A Song for June 10

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Click the sonogram to hear and see the sound.

I have had Western Warbling Vireo penciled in for this date ever since presenting the Eastern Warbling Vireo on May 17, but this recording of a Veery jumped out at me, and so the vireo comparison will have to wait for another day. You can see the vireo song I intended for today with the link at the bottom of this page.

The Veery, and other thrushes of the genus Catharus, are renowned in the U.S. and Canada for their singing. I heard of their reputation from my father long before I ever heard one. He had heard them as a boy on cousin-rich hikes with his uncle into the Craggy Mountains of western North Carolina, and spoke of them often. I understand, it is an enchanting sound.

Thrushes usually sing from inside a leafy shrub, but this bird was especially fired up and perched on the tip of a low spruce to belt out a series of calls followed by a series of songs. Because he was in the clear, the details of his songs are unusually clear in the sonogram. Abrupt changes of pitch, a Catharus specialty, are on display. They give his song its unique rolling quality. At the beginning of the cut he says his name, veer, alternating that call with churr calls. The Veery is one of only a few species named for their vocalizations, and the only thrush. David Nichols, a linguist and an astute naturalist, hypothesized that a language can only accommodate one species per genus with a special name, such as Veery, relegating the others to a descriptor + generic name, e.g., Swainson's Thrush. He found the pattern in Russian. Does it hold for English and Spanish?

Catharus is interesting in many ways. The species that breed in Canada and the U.S. are not each other's closest relatives. Their closest relatives are not migratory and may be found living in the temperate highlands of Middle America. This means that migration evolved several times in the genus, or as some would have it, migratory species spawned resident species in several cases. Further perplexing the situation are the voices of the Middle American species. Their songs are acoustically similar to those of the northern species, but just not as melodious. That doesn't keep me from wanting to hear and record all of them. I have three more to go. And finally, the Hermit Thrush and Swainson's Thrush have "migratory divides" in western North America. Just like the waters that flow to the Atlantic or Pacific, the birds west of the divide have one migration route and the birds to the east have another, and their winter ranges are entirely different.

Other Goodies from June 10

Warbling Vireo (Western) (2006)

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