A Song for July 13

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On July 13, daughter Sophie and I drove as far as the road would take us, parked at the last parking lot, and embarked on a hike to Graybeard, a mile-high peak on the boundary between Montreat's 2500 acress of wilderness and the vastness of the Asheville watershed. The trail takes you through rhododendron "hells" to Graybeard Falls, and thence up a ridge past Walker's Knob to Graybeard, then down that boundary ridge over the other six of the seven sisters (of which Graybeard is the greatest), then back down another ridge to the car. Along the way we saw a Black Bear heading our way, hurried into the underbrush to avoid a face-to-face, and watched happily as it shuffled on. Above Graybeard Falls we began to run into birds not ordinarily seen in Montreat, but expected above 3500 feet. We were well above that level for several hours. Among the species we found singing were the Veery, the Black-throated Blue Warbler, and the Canada Warbler.

The Canada Warbler was giving loud chips followed by an occasional song. I recorded a bit of this and played it back to him He switched styles to closely-spaced songs, each one different from the one before. This response is above. The unprovoked singing before it is below. You can decide what categories of singing these samples were, but they are clearly different, and that difference is probably indicative of different goals on the part of the singer. These songs, by the way, are rather short and sputtery for a warbler. But the bird it self is a handsome thing, with a necklace of black streaks on a field of intense yellow. It was one of my father's favorites.

A funny thing happened when I went to upload these sounds to eBird. The Canada Warbler was not on the list. Neither was the Black-throated Blue, nor the Veery. They are all on the list of the nearest hotspot, which is on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but I had to invoke the "rarities" option to see them, and then I had to provide details to get eBird to accept them, tentatively. They are still "unconfirmed." Eventually someone will review them, see the recordings, and the observations will make it onto the maps for the species. They aren't yet. My purpose in raising this is not to complain, but to comment on the algorithms that are used to generate the lists of possible species that eBird will accept without question. The ridgeline on which we encountered those three species is a knife edge. It's heavily wooded; otherwise it would be breath-taking. So, not far below the trail is the lower elevational limit of those three species. The algorithm presumably just doesn't have the granularity to predict that a Veery could be on that ridgeline That, and the fact that very few lists have been submitted for the vicinity, which would also influence the checklist provided for our location. Overall, though, those lists are impressively appropriate. Imagine having enough data to predict the species one would find any place on earth, and the programming prowess to present the prediction in a second or two. We take this for granted, but it is spectacular.

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Email: web at archmcallum.com

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 Western North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Donald Kroodsma. 2005. The Singing Life of Birds. Houghton Mifflin.