A Song for July 10

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What bird is this? Although I've already divulged my opinion, let's go through the process of identifying the maker of these songs. Each song is a few countable phrases in the 2-4 kHz frequency range. The phrases may be different or the same. The space between songs is as long as a song or longer. These characteristics define a "robin sound-alike." Grosbeaks usually have more phrases than this, and they are delivered more rapidly. They are just barely countable. So, it's a tanager or a robin. Robin songs often end with a faint, high, hisselly phrase, and they repeat a lot of phrases. This does neither. So, tanager. Now, which one?

The likely ones in western North Carolina are Summer and Scarlet. Scarlet is a northern bird down here because the mountains replicate its favored climate. Summer is here because 2500 feet is not above its comfort zone. The languid phrases are more like Scarlet, but there is a problem. Where are the burry notes that typify Scarlet? Not to be heard here. But Summer is more herk-jerky than this. Which one is it? Luckily the bird gives us a big tip-off, as sound-alike birds sometimes do. It included a few call notes. Between 3:33 and 3:34 is a chip note. Another comes five seconds later, and another 15 seconds further on. These are appended to songs, but they aren't typical song elements. According to Pieplow's eastern guide, Scarlets have such calls, but Summers do not. And by the way, neither do robins, if you had lingering doubts, as I did. Case closed. I hope.

I didn't see the singer, but I did glimpse a yellowish tanager while this bird was singing. It could have been a female, it could have been a first-year male, of either species. The singer may have been a first-year bird, too, maybe practicing for next year. It's a pretty late date for attracting a mate for this year, and the lack of burry notes could be considered amateurish. I don't know if tanagers have to learn to "roll their r's," but I do know the burry effect can be turned on and off at will. Quite possibly his singing is a work in progress.

I've been visiting this area on the slopes of Lookout for more than sixty years. The sounds of my youth -- Ovenbirds, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers -- are still there. The broad-leafed forest is as luminous and green as ever. The leaf litter under the rhododendrons is still redolent of decomposition. As they say down in the valley, "Hallelujah!"

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Nathan D. Pieplow. 2017. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Nathan D. Pieplow. 2019. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Donald Kroodsma. 2005. The Singing Life of Birds Houghton Mifflin.