Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer 4: Co-Incidents

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
10:50am-11:40am, Aullwood Garden MetroPark
breezy, sunny, a few clouds

Today I came to Aullwood with my friend Chris Shea, who, in addition to being the director of Free Shakespeare, plays some amazing singing bowls. (That's a little internet-bonus secret of our upcoming performance Translations).

We were excited to find the perfect spot in the woods for him and his otherworldly bowls, and we began to hike up the long loop trail to find it.

I was concerned that the trail was simply too narrow, but as we neared the area I imagined for him, a little side loop appeared, magically. A perfect co-inciding of our needs with this space.

We placed his table on the main trail, by a fallen tree that crosses it, and it's as if the side loop was made to divert walkers around Chris and his bowls, instead of the tree.

Second coincidence: two of the three bowls that we randomly grabbed for the soundcheck correspond perfectly to the pitches of one of the birds in the woods. Nice.

Here's the bird, and my version of it:

I like the idea of co - incidents. Two (or more) things happening at the same time, and there being some significance to their contemporaneity. That's kind of the underlying principle of the sound for Translations - how the happening of this bird here, plus the statements of that bird there, each basically doing his own thing, creates its own kind of meaningful music. I am seeking to emulate this principle in human forms. Co - incidents.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer 3: Sparrow-Chickadee Sandwich

June 24-26, 2011

All weekend the birds outside the music studio were distracting me from my work at hand .. especially that house finch which I have yet to transcribe! I was trying to focus on the recordings and birds from Aullwood, but it was maddening to hear so many birds outside at the same time.

At one point on Friday I ran out of the studio because I thought I heard a cool new bird outside. However, by the time I got out there, all that was left were the usual sparrows:

Saturday morning I made an excursion to Woodland Cemetery, where I heard the four-note call of the Carolina Chickadee that Tom Hissong had told me about. Here are two different birds going at it!

Chickadee #2 on his own:

The rest of the day was focused on getting sounds, ideas, and transcriptions together for the dancers for Translations, who would meet Sunday for the first time. I pulled a late nighter for the first time in a long while, and felt like an earnest college student when I left the music studio at 1am. I guess I don't usually have access to spaces where I can play and make music that late into the night!

I was pretty happy with my sound samples (mimics of birdsong evolving into musical phrases), especially the Carolina Wren and the Wood Thrush. These are two birds  I've recorded in the entrance area of Aullwood Garden, and they have great songs.

The Carolina Wren I tried to slow down by the "heart rate" principle, bringing the tempo (and thus pitch) more in relation with human heart rate:

The Wood Thrush is an amazing songster, I get to play double-stops (two pitches at the same time) to try to match the original bird:

The two birds fit nicely together, which is good since these two will eventually come together in one "super-pod" during the performance:

Today, Sunday, I did some final transcriptions and recordings for the rehearsal with dancers. It's a sparrow-chickadee-sparrow sandwich this weekend, as I ended up grabbing this recording of house sparrows during my lunch break. Am I crazy because I've been in intense birdsong mode, or are these birds jamming in a delightfully incidental way?

Summer 2: Experiential Learning

June 23, 2011
8:10am-9:45am, Aullwood Audubon Center, Englewood, OH
overcast, cool

I've come to the weekly "Adult Nature Walk" at the Audubon Center in hopes of recruiting some birders for Translations: an exploration of birdsong, sound, and movement (official name of my upcoming dance and music collaboration with Rodney).

Tom Hissong, the naturalist who I met last week, is leading the walk, and he is kind enough to introduce me to the group of walkers and let me give a quick spiel about the project.

I don't get any instant volunteers, but I figure, I can come back next week to get folks on board.

The walk itself is fantastic - I get to ask Tom about a whole bunch of songs whose birds I've been trying to figure out. I learn to name the Carolina Wren (teakettle teakettle teakettle) and the Acadia Flycatcher (peet-sah!). Here's the Acadian Flycatcher in both original and my mimicked versions:

I realize that the mystery prairie bird of last week, with an undulating pitch that reminds me of a car alarm, may well have been a House Wren.

I hear and see for the very first time an Indigo Bunting (beautiful blue bird!) and a Summer Tanager. The tanager impresses me with his volume and projection - he must be at least 150 yards away and I can hear him loud and clear. Compare that to my little violin trying to rise over the volume of a small creek the other day!

The summer tanager wins Bird of the Day! The disadvantage to group walks is that it's hard to get clean audio:

The experiential teaching prize today goes to Tom, who teaches me to forever remember the stinging nettle by rubbing a bit on the back of my hand. Before the rash has even welted, he puts an antidote plant's juices on the spot.

It's the first time I've voluntarily subjected myself to a rash, and I have to say, it makes me feel hard-core! I am bemused and entertained every time I look at it (the rash dissipates in a few hours).

Summer 1: Solstice

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
9:00am-11:20am, Aullwood Garden MetroPark, Englewood, OH
very warm, humid, scattered clouds

I fantasized about catching the sunrise and the sunset on our longest day of the year, but failed on both counts.

It was a cloudy dawn, so my lazy rising at 6:30am was purely in search of a photo of the early morning, cloud-streaked sky:

Later Rodney Veal, choreographer (and creative partner-in-crime!), and I went to Aullwood Garden to meet Glen Pottenger, park manager, and to go over logistics and use of the space.

We got to Aullwood an hour before the meeting to investigate and plan our performance. It was our first time exploring the park together, and I showed Rodney some of my favorite places.

Together, we narrowed down the specific spots where we would put musicians and/or dancers, and where the culminating final piece would take place. Rodney was concerned about the length of the wooded trail (1 mile), so we decided to put up signs at both ends indicating the distance, so that less-mobile patrons would be informed.

We also ran sound checks and discovered that a violin has to play pretty darn loud to be heard over a babbling brook! A friendly park visitor helped out with sound-checks for a little while.

My bird of the day was actually on the bridge on the way from the parking lot to the park entrance. (I learned later that it is a Carolina Wren!)

Here is my version:

I can't remember now if it rained through the sunset, or if I just got too busy with work, but suffice it to say, I missed both the exact beginning and the exact end of the solstice this year...!

Spring 86: Birds on High

Monday, June 20, 2011
5:20pm - 6:30pm, Aullwood Garden MetroPark, Englewood, OH
warm, humid, rainy

I've come to investigate the park and confirm the time of day our July 9th performance. I've been thinking 6pm, since the woods seem to get dark early, and today's visit confirms this as a good hour.

As soon as I enter, I hear my first wood thrush of Aullwood! It's beautiful, and I'm excited to add him to the list of birds that can be included in the show.

I walk through the wooded path two times, trying to get a feel for the space. It's longer than I remembered. I hear robins, a cardinal, a crow, and maybe a goldfinch.. or wood peewee?

Lots of these really high birds, who are my Birds of the Day:

By the creek, I discover a tree with incredibly gnarled, exposed roots, and instantly imagine a dancer with limbs twisted in imitation.

Lots of new birds in the meadows who I still need to learn ...!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spring 85: Sweet Carolina

9:00am-9:20am, ArtStreet and environs, University of Dayton, OH
overcast and humid

It's one of those days that is hard to wake up. The light is dim from an almost-stormy sky, and my eyes just don't see the point of opening.

I take the lazy Sunday morning option and sit out by the sweet little hollow of rushes and foliage right behind my apartment. It's a tiny little green wilderness in the middle of a concrete and lawn-ed landscape.

One of my fellow artists, Marin, has seen lots of goldfinches out here, so I decide to look for them.

Not much movement this morning, but eventually I see about five or six goldfinches, none of whom care to sing. All that I hear are a few raucously loud house sparrows amplified by the smooth cement.

I go for a stroll and discover a couple Carolina chickadees on a neighboring lawn. Admittedly, I am only aware that they are Carolina (and not Black-Capped as the ones in Boston are) because Tom Hissong at Aullwood Audubon pointed this out to me last week. Still, it is fun to listen closely and try to suss out the nuance - the Carolina's "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" is faster than the Black-Capped, and (though I didn't hear it yet) they sing with four or more call notes instead of two.

Spring 84: Scenes from Aullwood

Friday, June 17
8:20am - 9:20am, Aullwood Garden MetroPark, Englewood, OH

Back to Aullwood for further investigation. I'm trying to get a feel for the different settings within this park, the potential "scenes" that the upcoming performance can contain.

Scene 1: The Woods
It's buggy and cool this morning, and I regret leaving my jacket in the van. My stay in the woods is not as leisurely as I would have liked, as I battle the little mosquitoes.

It's also not resounding with birds this morning, though I decide to annoint this Red-Eyed Vireo as the Bird of the Day:

I realize that the woods are not large, and it would be easy to overwhelm them with birdcalls. Just one or two additional "birds" (human-mimics) in the performance will be plenty.

Scene 2: The Beech Lawn
Upon my exit from the woods path, I am alarmed to discover that the path up to the Beech Lawn is marked Private. When I double back a few yards, I am relieved to see the second pathway is open to the public.

It's a nice view and different feel up here, with the adjacent running creek. However, I forgot to record the soundscape here!

Scene 3: The Flowerbeds
The grass is really wet here, but a sign clearly indicates that I am to walk across it to reach the flowerbeds and apple trees.

I do so, and am glad for this birdscape that I hear, between the various trees:

Scene 4: The Prairie
This is one of my favorite parts of the Garden - it's so distinctly different, and the crickets? cicadas? create a wonderful drone that I want to replicate and play with.

Scene 4: The River
It's lovely path between the Garden and the parking lot, and I take a long sit by the slow-moving river. A heron is poised in the middle of the river, still and quiet, and I listen for a long time to the birds who sing around him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spring 83: MetroParks Marathon

9:00am - 11:30am, 5:00pm - 6:30pm
overcast, cool, windy

It was a tour of the Five Rivers MetroParks System today as I tried to hone in on a performance site for July.

I started the morning at Hills and Dales, where I heard my first wood thrush of Ohio (competing with lawn mower on adjacent golf course):

Hills and Dales is a lovely, long and narrow winding park that is at times sandwiched between two golf courses. I liked being able to disappear into the ultra-green woods on the Adirondack Trail off of Hirton Road (in between peeks of golf course!)

However, the long layout, and the sound of passing traffic on adjacent roads, is not a good fit for the performance I had in mind.

Next I checked out Wesleyan MetroPark, which is located in West Dayton along Wolf Creek. It is categorized as an "urban park" and I was curious to see it.

The park is small, and has a paved trail that winds by the Creek, including an awesome view of an old railroad bridge. I could imagine dancers on that bridge. However, it doesn't have the variety of terrains I'm looking for.

Later this evening, I made my way to Cox Arboretum.

Cox is a well-known destination for Daytonians, and for good reason. The gardens and ponds are gorgeous, and there are miles of trails to explore.

My main concern is acoustic - the traffic from nearby freeways is quite audible in the entrance area of the park. It dissipates considerably as you venture further in, but I don't think I can plan a performance that necessitates a half-mile hike to get to. Or can I?

Alternately, it's been pointed out to me that the ambient traffic noise is a part of our everyday reality, so perhaps I should embrace it. That's hard for me, though. I don't hear beauty in the sound of traffic.

It's been an intense couple of days of venue-searching, and I don't like the harried way that I've been running from park to park. That's not the point of this project! Nor is it the point to burn tons of fossil fuels as I have been, driving from park to park (my ideal site would be bike-able!).

At Cox, I took a welcome sit below an arbor to reflect. The point of this project is to take time to tune into the natural world, and to carve out space for meditative listening and observation. Can I really rush my way into creating meditative work?

I resolved to figure out a way to stay true to the unhurried, patient pace that is the impetus for this project, even if it means letting go of some of my exciting ideas.

Perhaps I need to do smaller performances at a variety of sites, not just one.

I could have daily mini-performances where my violin and I interact with my environment in a deeply observational way, kind of a "chamber music" or free improvisation with the world (see June 3).

Or perhaps I could organize weekly performances, at a different park each week, with different collaborating artist/performers each time?

Good thoughts to mull over.

Spring 82: Aullwood!

8:20pm-10:00pm, Aullwood Audubon Center and Aullwood Garden MetroPark, Dayton, OH
breezy, cool, full-ish moon

After a day at Springfield Art Museum with Rodney, checking out the space for our July 23 performance, I made my way up north to the famed Aullwood Audubon Center and the Aullwood Garden as possible performance sites.

I was surprised to see a number of cars in the lot at the Audubon Center, and learned that there was a "Moon Walk" happening shortly. Sounded fun, but I was on an investigative mission to check out the Garden before dark.

From the moment I opened the car door, I heard many more birds than usual. A quick glance confirmed that the Audubon's facilities - feeders and birdhouses - were likely factors in encouraging birds to hang out here.

I wandered via a wooded path towards the Garden. I came upon today's new bird just as I approached a prairie:

Very cool, and I loved all the birds in the background as well, a couple of whom are new to me.

Shortly after, as I walked through the prairie, I was attacked.

No kidding, there were these small swallows darting through the air, and one that kept dive-bombing at my head (with a menacing little shriek). I had to duck to avoid being gored.

Totally terrifying, as evidenced in this clip:

Definitely my first time being attacked by a bird, and I couldn't stop alternately laughing and freaking out about how Hitchcock-ian it was. I figured I was too close to a nest, and ran my way through the prairie to get away from these scary birds.

(INTERLUDE: I discovered the perfect site for the environmental-music-dance installation I've been plotting: Aullwood Garden. It's an ideal scale - not too big, but plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and to set different sonic "scenes" in, from wooded trail to creek to planned gardens to beech lawn.)

On my way back, I heard the Moon Walk folks - ON THE DANGEROUS PRAIRIE PATH - and decide to find out what on earth those attacking birds were.

Chris Rowlands, Audubon naturalist, generously allowed me to join the party. He explained that the birds were tree swallows, and as insect-eaters were probably diving for mosquitoes around my body.

I wasn't not 100% convinced - I mean, that one bird was out to GET me!! - but decided it's a much more likely explanation. I joined the party in hopes of talking to Chris more about Aullwood, the Audubon Center, and potential collaborations.

It's a good thing, as I got to experience some pretty amazing things on this walk. First of all, it's really fun to walk in the dark, with no flashlight, with a group of strangers.

Next, Chris does an amazing impersonation of a woodcock. I'm not sure the real bird could be more entertaining!

Then, I got to hear the Rubber Band Orchestra - a pond full of Green Frogs:

Several stunning glimpses of a very bright, full moon.

Final magical moment was was seeing the prairie grasses lit up by dozens of flashing fireflies. One of my fellow walkers had red light-up sneakers, a funny parallel aesthetic that made me smile.

Spring 81: Parking Lot Robin

2:45pm, Parking Lot A, University of Dayton, OH

I've noticed this robin a few times now, and decided to record him when I had a spare moment. He perches on a tree at the corner of the lot and bounces his song all over the asphalt.

A nice one!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spring 80: Wegerzyn

10:00am-11:00am, Wegerzyn Gardens, Dayton, OH
cool, breezy, sunny

I am on a exploratory mission this morning: I need to finalize a venue for a collaborative dance and music project with choreographer Rodney Veal in July, and Wegerzyn is a top finalist.

The Gardens here are almost too beautiful: from the delicately-laid out stone paths and cultivated flowerbeds to the meandering wooden walkway thru a marshy woods. I'm suddenly stumped by the thought that to add anything to this environment might actually take away from it... it is already so full of wonders to observe.

Plenty of birds to hang out with here. A phoebe, a song sparrow, several robins and cardinals. I love how the robin song in the marsh echoes across the still water.

A cardinal stops me at close-range:

Bird of the Day is this unknown bird who I hear while walking along a backwoods trail:

Does anyone know what it is?

Spring 79: Spawning Ground

Saturday, June 11, 2011
7:40am-8:10am, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, OH

Woodland Cemetery is where I made my first field-recordings of birds one year ago. In fact, I initially started the A Bird a Day project then, but was a bit overwhelmed by other projects, and tabled it until October.

It's nice to come back and check out the old spawning grounds.

I'm perturbed to see my former entrance (hole in the fence) has been fixed, and that the official opening time is 8am. How will I get in for the sunrise?

Otherwise, it is a lovely reunion. The cemetery is hilly, full of trees and shrubs - a soothing place to wander and explore. I hear robins, mourning doves, a persistent wood-peewee.

I hear, then spot a whole crew of birds that are new to me ( Brown-Headed Cowbirds), though I've seen them in books. His call reminds me of the red-winged blackbird.

Their distinctive coloring - brown heads on sleek black bodies, makes their identity unquestionable. Who said you can't wear black with brown?

Spring 78: Summer Storms

Friday, June 10, 2011
around 7pm, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH

Having grown up in California, I get a kick out of real thunder-and-lightning storms, as these were a terribly rare occurrence.

Somehow this sheltered upbringing also makes me a little unaware of possible dangers - I hear thunder and get excited. I see lightning and eagerly await the thunder. It's all fun! I seem to lack the reflex to worry about being struck by electricity.

This evening tumultuous rains foiled my plans to record a bird, but I did enjoy catching a clip of the rain for you:

A smidge of thunder:

There were much louder and closer cracks, but I didn't get my recorder in time. Next storm!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spring 77: Finch Flock

6:30am-7:15am, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH
swirling clouds on eastern horizon, comfortable temp

All afternoon yesterday I was distracted by a finch outside the ArtStreet arts complex where we are housed. Today I am determined to record him.

At a bit past dawn he doesn't seem to be singing yet, so I take a meandering walk around campus.

Besides the swallows and the sparrows, it's relatively quiet- perhaps because the sun is obscured by some hazy clouds? I enjoy watching pairs and groups of the swallows soar overhead, in ever-widening circles.

I am so grateful that the sun rises much later here than in Boston. Perhaps I can get back into my dawn routine!

Upon my return to ArtStreet, I find that it's not just one finch at work, but a whole group of them - at least two males and 3-4 females. The males have colorful red heads. The more drab females seem to be busy saying, "Huh?"

I witness some chasing and springtime grappling, and wonder which of these males rules the roost..

Here, the answer:

At home, with the help of Cornell Labs, I conclude that these are house finches, not purple finches as I had thought yesterday.

I also sketch out some recent ideas for simulating movement and flight of birds with sound. Would a stationary "matrix" of musicians work, much as a line of lights timed right can create the illusion of movement? Or should I invest in some jumping stilts, a great invention I saw at FIGMENT?

Spring 76: Back to Dayton

Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Dayton, OH
very, very hot and humid

I arrived Dayton yesterday evening, for another exciting summer with Blue Sky Project. This year I have a new position: Community Artist/Investigator, which gives me freedom to explore a variety of community collaborations.

Though I was here briefly in April, there's something powerfully recapitulating (full-circling?) about being back in Dayton in deep summer heat. It was in Dayton one year ago that I was first inspired by fellow artist John Pena to create A Bird a Day, and here that I made some of my first field-recordings, a prelude to the official project start in October.

I am encouraged to realize that the same birds who were mysterious, exotic, anonymous sounds last year are now distinct, named whose songs I recognize: Song Sparrow. Cardinal. Robin. Purple Finch.

It's nice to have the chance to compare a distinct "before" and "after" with this project!

Despite the old friends, I do hear a new bird for today. Several of these little guys with long angled wings keep wheeling swiftly overhead; I believe they are a kind of swallow, though I await the arrival of my field guide in the mail to verify this:

Spring 75: Basics

Monday, June 6, 2011
7:30am-7:50am, my street, Jamaica Plain, MA

At the FIGMENT festival on Saturday, there was a period of about 10-15 minutes when several singing birds came close to my performance area.

Afterwards, an audience member asked me which birds they were, and I mentioned that I had heard the ubiquitous house sparrow among them. He asked me what the house sparrow sounded like, and I was perturbed to find that I couldn't give him a very precise answer.

House sparrows are the most basic urban birds - they gather in trees and bushes in both commercial and residential areas. You probably hear them on your street daily, rain or shine, four seasons (if your street is anything like mine).

They are so common that I tend to ignore them and listen for more unusual birds. But I see that for urban outdoors performances I need to know this bird call!

Today I decided to get a good recording to work on:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Spring 74: Bad-A** Bird

6:10am – 6:40am,  parking lot of MA State Labs, Jamaica Plain, MA
clear, light breeze
It was one of those mornings – as soon as I stepped out of my front door, I heard a bird who would not be denied.
I followed his persistent song to the parking lot of the state labs,  and the front of the building. This was a smart bird – his song was getting amplified like crazy off the concrete walls of a little cove between two building outcroppings.
When I spotted him on top of the eight-story building, perched imperiously on the top corner of the roof, I was impressed by his machismo.  This guy must get all the ladies – he has the highest perch for miles around, and he sounds incredible. So virile and strong, with that amplified song! I can just see the lady robins swooning.

Plus, he’s a great singer. I liked the little rapidly descending glissando in this call:
Good thing  it’s Sunday. For one, the passing traffic noise is minimal. For another, I was less worried about appearing to be a security threat as I circled the corner of the labs and scrutinized its upper floors with binoculars. It’s a funny thing to do, and I realize (not for the first time) that I’m turning into a weird bird person…

Spring 73: FIGMENT Festival

Saturday, June 4, 2011
10:30am-2:30pm, FIGMENT Festival, Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, downtown Boston, MA
clear, sunny, breezy

After a very late night of last-minute idea-coalescence and sign-making, I arrived at Boston FIGMENT with a good mix of confidence, excitement and gear (sound equipment, extension cords, game signs).

I was scheduled to be at the festival from 11am-2pm, and my original idea was to have ongoing interactive listening games interspersed with short performance sets at 11:30, 12:30, and 1:30pm.

That schedule didn’t work out at all, but what did happen was a really great learning curve for outdoor/street performing:

Lesson #1: Have help.
I was very lucky that my friends Heidi and Carol were able to come out and assist me – another last-minute arrangement. What wonderful friends!! I couldn’t have handled it otherwise – the set up, the gear transport, the logistics of when I needed to leave my equipment area to ask for help or use the restroom.

Lesson #2: The outdoors is windy, unstable, and noisy.
It was a very slow start: we had quite a time setting up my patch of green space, with the delayed arrival of the power generator, and strong winds that kept toppling over my signs and their tripod/music stand mounts. I had to crank up my volume to overcome the very loud traffic noise, and my pick-up/speaker system almost couldn’t handle it.

Lesson #3: Location Location Location
For the first long while, nobody was stopping by the space. It was a two-part problem.
First, my initial setup, under the shade of a low tree, was too low-visibility. Secondly, my designated area was set away from the main drag of the festival, and didn’t get much pedestrian traffic.

I couldn’t do anything about my designated location, but I did move my set-up to the middle of the grassy space to be more visible. In doing so, I broke my strict rule about keeping the violin out of the direct sunlight. (Thank goodness none of my young students saw me!)

Matters improved. More people stopped. Friends came by.

Lesson #3: For enticing an audience, Signs are not effective; CROWDS are effective.
My listening games, clearly described on large signs, were almost entirely ignored until a small crowd gathered.
Suddenly, I had an audience, and the corresponding rights/gumption to use my mic to ask for audience participation, lead some games, and recruit more audience members from passing foot traffic.
It was like a quorum – all of sudden we could get things done where before the situation was ineffectual.

Things heated up for this final set, and really got fun. After performing a few of my Acadia songs, I proposed a round of Bird Charades.

Lesson #4: Signs are good assistants.
With the aid of my Bird Charades Sign, I explained the game:

We had four pairs of Charade-actors, plus an awesome performance by the Untitled Man (a fellow FIGMENT performer). The Charades were hilarious, and part 3 of the game (Follow the Bird), was a blast.

I’ve never run with my violin before (another grateful-my-students-aren’t-seeing-this moment), and feel a bit guilty about being so irresponsible, but it was super-fun to pretend to be a bird and “fly” from bush to bush to tree to tree.

I was sorry to have to leave so early, and hope I can be around for the whole festival next year!


Spring 72: Expedition with Fiddle

Friday, June 3, 2011
5:10am-6:20am, Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, MA
clear and cool

It’s my first sunrise in several days, and also my first expedition with my violin.

Since last week, it's been warm enough to play outside, and today it’s early enough that I feel like I won’t be distracted or self-conscious about other walkers and their dogs.

I’m excited and curious what it will be like to play “with” the birds. Will it scare them away? Will they come closer to defend their turf? My dream, of course, is to become a kind of Bird Whisperer and be able to converse with them, and/or attract multitudes of singers, Pied-Piper-style, by my phenomenal mimics.

I first record today’s bird, whose call reminds me a little of the Yellow-Rumped Warbler from Acadia.

Then I found a nice bench, unpacked my violin, and started to mimic the birds I was hearing. It was challenging, as a lot of birds I heard were not ones who I’ve practiced. Plus, it’s totally different to spontaneously mimic a bird in real-time, as opposed to slow repetitions with the same recording as I had previously done at home.
For your listening pleasure I’ve edited a medley of passable excerpts, including today’s bird, a canine cameo, and a titmouse:

Later, had a nice play with this bird – I feel like I should know his name, but I don’t:

Well, no great fireworks to report. It didn’t much feel like any of the birds (except maybe one which seemed to come a little closer) were responding or reacting to my mimics at all. Still, it was fun to be testing my skills live, and to realize how many more birdsounds I have left to learn!

Spring 71: What Happens When You Don't Take Notes

June 1-2, 2011

I can’t remember many details from these two mornings, because in my haste afterwards I didn’t do my usual notes. It’s four days later and I remember precious little – am depending on the recordings (and their time stamps) to reconstruct what happened.

June 1, around 8:30am.

I know this robin and this traffic – must be the robin on South Street across from the Arboretum gate. I hear him all the time and never record him because of all the noisy cars. I think I decided to get him this morning, at long last.

June 2, a little before 8am.

I was making my way through the Arboretum and thought, optimistically, that I heard a new bird. However, this recording does not seem to have captured that faint sound. Instead, we have this general chorus of familiar little bird utterances and sputterings. Let's just say the bird of the day is the one you don't hear...

Spring 70: Worries

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
*out of sequence post!*
8:15am-8:45am, Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, MA
very warm , patches of hazy cloud

Today’s bird is an Eastern Pee Wee – fun, confused-sounding bird. Yet another “huh?” call!

I also heard a sweet duet between a robin and a wood thrush – but my recorder ran out of juice before I could record them. Next time!

I’ve been worrying about Saturday’s FIGMENT festival performance, which is outdoors and interactive. Which of my pieces can I play that will work outdoors, with the competition of so many ambient sounds (Traffic, other festival performers, etc)?

Can I create a piece that riffs off the other sounds at the festival, using my looper?

Can I make people make deer ears, as I was once prompted to on a field trip in in elementary school? (cupping hands behind ears to "enlargen" the ears - it really amplifies hearing – try it!)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Spring 69: Mobbing

May 30 and June 1, 2011
Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, MA

It's been multiple mornings of David-and-Goliath style, little-birds-harassing-bigger-bird sightings!

On Monday, I followed an unfamiliar sound to find this scene:

A red-tailed hawk crouched clumsily on a branch, occasionally clambering a few inches here or there, while indignant jays flew at it, diving low, sometimes even skimming the hawk's head/shoulder feathers.

Later, by the Visitor Center, I saw a crow get chased by several smaller birds, including a bright yellow one.

Wednesday was even more dramatic:
A red-tailed hawk flew low overhead, pursued by smaller birds. His claws gripped something that I couldn't quite see clearly. A baby bird? A rodent?

In his frenzy, he dropped the catch, and I wandered over to see if I could find it.


What's worse than a freshly-killed squirrel?
Half a freshly-killed squirrel!

At least it was the bottom half. Either way, pretty gross.

Spring 68: Reconnaisance

May 28, 2011
5:20am-5:45am, my balcony and Bussey Brook Meadow, Jamaica Plain

The (dis)advantage of sleeping with my balcony door ajar is that I know exactly when the birds start their pre-dawn singing.

I struggled to rouse myself this morning so that I could record the birds who live closest to me, in the tree right outside my room.

However, by the time I got out there, the interesting singers (a catbird and perhaps robin?) that I thought I had heard had departed.

Determined to do some reconnaissance, I made my way out to the Meadow path, which runs about 50 yards beyond my balcony. Still no luck - pretty quiet except for the familiar high cheeps of this sparrow or the annoyed cluck of that robin.

Must plan a better stealth recording tactic for next time!

Spring 67: Brown Thrasher!

Friday, May 27, 2011

6:50am-7:30am, Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, MA
humid, hazy/foggy

It's so exciting to hear a bird live for the first time, especially when you've been studying it in books and recordings for months!

This morning's Brown Thrasher was a total treat, with his amazing voice, varied calls and so-called "preacher" style delivery (everything repeated 2-3 times):

He was also unexpectedly lovely - a beautiful orange-y brown color - and I followed him from tree to tree to tree to tree, including an excursion up the knee-high grass on Bussey Hill.

The hill is full of delicate buttercups, and tiny mosquitoes. How nature balances out everything!

(Today's bird completes the family of mimics that I've been checking out - his relatives include the Norther Mockingbird, and the Catbird.)