Summer Symphony

We were sitting on the sauna porch yesterday evening, cooling off between saunas, and the woods were alive with birds: redstarts, chickadees, ruby throated kinglets, black and white warblers, phoebes, golden-winged warblers, yellowthroats. Many were feeding low in the understory and on the ground, well within view even without binoculars. It was a very lively time of day in a quiet and calming sort of way.

Many of these birds were in the egg a month ago and have only been out in the world for a couple of weeks. They are hungry, growing, building muscle and putting on the necessary fat to take them on their first migration in a couple of months. They were extremely active, too, like human toddlers, and chatting constantly.

Now that they are out of the nest and able to manage to catch bugs on their own, it’s difficult to tell if families hang together. Perhaps the chattering is a way to keep in touch with parents and sibs. Or maybe at this stage of their life “family is history” and the chattering serves to keep a larger, mixed flock together – a survival strategy at a community, rather than family, level.

There are many more birds in the woods than just a month ago. I suspect the avian population has more than doubled, perhaps tripled. And though the evening chattering has increased, there has been a significant drop in the morning bird-song. Males no longer feel the impulse to seek mates or defend territory.

Between morning song and youthful evening chattering, there was an intermezzo of a couple of weeks duration in which the young of each species [with their own distinctive call] had fledged and were incessantly and insistently squawking as they followed parents around demanding to be fed. I found myself musing whether adult birds at this point experience stress and feel harried or are simply doing what comes naturally, responding to several aggressively demanding fledglings at once all day long.

Between the “morning song” and “fledgling demanding” periods there was another movement in the seasonal symphony, but you had to listen intently and be close enough to a nest. The nestlings usually sit quietly in their gradually shrinking piece of real estate made of twigs, grasses and potpourri; however, when a parent approaches the nest a chorus of soft squeaking and chittering erupts in anticipation of a bug or worm in their gullet. The parent deposits its harvest and departs within a couple of seconds, after which the chorus would sink into silence again.  During this movement the adults are too busy to contribute their voices to the choir.

Each species lends it’s voice to each movement of the symphony – morning song, nest chitter, fledgling squawk and mixed-flock chip – as the season progresses. Adult and young within each species has a different voice – and each changes as the year progresses.  All eastern phoebe fledglings sing their time-specific part together while adult phoebes sing theirs in corresponding time-specific counterpoint. So it goes with all the other species. It is a symphony that unfolds year after year, as intricate and glorious as those crafted by humans, if only we listen.

And there is a score of sorts.  It’s a score beyond humankind’s capacity to either plan or execute. Nevertheless our species has the capacity to alter and even destroy the symphony. We have already eliminated a couple of voices.  It’s called species extinction. We’ve certainly altered the mix of voices through habitat destruction.

The above puts me in mind of Borland’s cheerier entry for yesterday:

July is April’s hope, May’s promise and June’s growth pushing towards completion. July is mid-Summer, a season in itself. The bee and the ant now put man to shame as a sluggard. The quiet chlorophyll in the leaf makes man’s fissioned atom a puny force. The silent urgency of root and flower and leaf are manifest now, in mid-July, the power and the glory of the green earth itself.

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