Thanks, again to Kerry Finley for the following delightful account – including a bird and a tree – a perfect story for a Nature Blog!
Also thanks to Mike Yip for the photos of the male and female Grosbeaks. Mike’s latest book: “a beginner’s guide to the common VANCOUVER ISLAND BIRDS” is one I am often browsing through to learn more. GM
A Drunken Robin in Macoun’s Aspen ?
Early June is a rich time to be born at the height of verdure and bloom. Today on my daily walk to McDonald Park swamp, headwaters of Tsehum Harbour, I was thinking of John Macoun, Dominion Naturalist, who thoroughly explored this small drainage with its giant Black Cottonwoods and its understory of Macoun’s Trembling Aspen, and its distinctive plant community. I forget which native culture called it the Happiness Tree because it was always chattering in the wind. Unfortunately the ferry traffic passes nearby so bird song is diminished so when I heard an unusual alarm call – a high clear beerk, I stopped and waited some time before it began singing from the rustling aspens. It was worth it. I was transported into the aspen canopy with one of the cheeriest singers I have heard. A new bird ! Try as I might I could not spot the singer in the fluttering leaves. This is always exciting, so I hurried back and called Bob Peart, a birder, and he played back several songs from vireos and warblers but none matched. He suggested the Black-headed Grosbeak but then his app broke down, so I checked out the Cornell Labs site, and in a moment I recognized it. Bob said that they occurred on a few wet sites on the peninsula where Black Cottonwoods are found.
Macoun’s Vancouver Island aspen is a glacial relict. It has larger leaves and a different phenology of bloom than the prairie aspen. The aspen’s “trembling” is attributed to its long stem and leaf design which allows it to withstand strong winds by whiffling, but the incessant rustling and dancing of the leaves also create a special acoustic environment where certain species can hide and sing in the canopy. So maybe the rustling Aspens evolved its noisiness to conceal those songbirds that could best protect it against infestations. Just thinkin.
Like Bob, we are more bird listeners than bird watchers. We may not know them by their English names, but certainly by their distinctive songs. Many native names mimic the songs of species.
Gone away is the Blue Bird, here to stay is a New Bird.
Listen here :
In western North America, the sweet song of the Black-headed Grosbeak carolling down from the treetops sounds like a tipsy robin welcoming spring.