Monday, June 18, 2012

Birds on Tour - Tennessee and environs!

APRIL 2012

So many new birds glimpsed in my two weeks on tour with The Knights (a NYC-based chamber orchestra), traveling through the Midwest and the South.

It was an intensive pace - we played a concert each night for 9 out of 10 days, plus 2-5 hours of bus travel each morning to get to the next location. The most exciting birding was in Tennessee, where we had 24-hours free and I managed to squeeze in three hikes! (Sunset, Sunrise, and normal morning hike)

Once again I'm grateful for my audio diary as I reconstruct the details 2 months later. I wish I'd taken notes, but it's also great to be able to reconstruct a memory and itinerary based on field recordings and time stamps!

Things didn't start out super-exciting, birdwise. In our first stop, Detroit, I didn't manage to record any birds - our hotel was a Casino-Hotel, super-urban.

Next stop, Ohio, was not much better. But I include the recordings to build up some suspense...

April 11
Akron, OH, 10am
We stayed in a hotel made from converted Quaker oat silos! Amazing.
Fortified by hotel oatmeal, I made my way to the Post Office, hearing this bird (and the passing cars) on University of Akron campus:

April 12
Columbus, OH, 9am
Went for a run along the Scioto River, and heard this cardinal. Not as exotic as one might hope, but the sound of the wind and the passing cars inspired a compositional query - how to compose a piece in which a sound travels down a line of musicians, such that it sounds like a wind (or a vehicle) moving around the audience? I love the feeling of space and motion that a travelling sound creates...

April 13
Lexington, KY, 9:20am
Bear with me - it's about to get good.
This morning I went out in search of the delightfully-named Woodland Park, and found myself on a long desolate stretch of auto-row instead. Sad.
I asked a kindly bakery worker and later, a couple friendly school marms for directions, but I was out of time to make the necessary rerouting. Meandering through some lush neighborhoods on my way back to the hotel, I got a bit of this bird, along with local dog:

Lookout Mountain, Chatanooga, TN, 7-8:30pm 
Inspired by (pure jealousy of) a couple musicians who separated from our tour-bus, rented a car, and made their way to Tennessee via the Daniel Boone National Forest, I took advantage of a 5-hour wi-fi bus ride to research hikes and rent my own car in our destination, Chatanooga.

It was well worth the toil and run-around at the rental car locale.

I'm a sucker for sunsets and sunrises. When I learned there was a "Sunset Rock" in the area, there was no other option - it had to be seen/conquered! My friend Emily and I took a gamble on a rather late hike to the rock, keeping fingers crossed that we'd make it back in time to retrieve the rental car from the lot which closed at "dusk".

So worth it! After a week of intensive concerts, traveling, and disappointing bird-expeditions, I was thrilled by the green therapy of these lush Southern woods, and new sounds on our (sunset) hike to Sunset Rock. 

My first thrill - hearing these two birds in incidental duet. Such a great composite sound! I think the continuous one might be a red-eyed vireo.

 And then, this fun bird:

I was so hungry for new birds, this outing was deeply satisfying.

The experience in this town was magical. Later that evening, yummy Cajun catfish stew and a smokin' live bluegrass performance stumbled upon in local cafe.

Then, a short sleep in preparation for:

April 14
Sunrise hike! 6am-7:30am, Point Park, Lookout Mountain, Chatanooga TN 

It may not be prudent to admit it, but I am not above breaking a few rules in pursuit of a good view.

A quick web search suggested Point Park's eastern trails were "exceptionally beautiful" for sunrise viewing. I am only in town for one day, this will be my sunrise! I go for it alone, as no one else in the group is up for such an early outing.

Imagine my surprise to find, as I approach around 6am, that the gates are locked and not to open until 8am. What?? Why did the Internet send me here for the sunrise?

Luckily the adjacent walls are very low (less than 5 feet) and wide, with convenient indentations - practically built to be climbed. I'm not going to miss my sunrise - I scale the wall and land easily on the other side.

Did I mention it's still dark out? I use my low-tech flip cell-phone as a light so I can read the map near the entrance, and figure out which way to go to the trail. There's a warm, blustery wind that is both comforting and scary somehow.

Yes, I'm a little scared. As usual, my fears are not animal-centered, they are people-centered. I remember some bearded climbers we saw on the trail yesterday, and start to wonder if there are scary mountain men camped out in the park.

The two flights of metal stairs in dim light gives me another adrenaline boost. I'm very awake, but appear to be the only one. No pre-dawn birds to be heard, just wind and rustling leaves and the mental chatter of my own fear, which is mounting. Scary mountain man. Surely lying in wait to attack early morning hiker.

I inch cautiously down the dirt trail, which is very dark and at times rocky and narrow. What if I slip and die, I wonder. Nobody would even know where to find me. And where are the damn birds I came to record? It is eerily quiet save for the wind.

I text my sister in California, a text to her email account (so as not to wake her up), casually saying hello and mentioning what mountain I'm on and what I'm doing.

Feel a tiny bit better.

But actually, I've actually never been this scared in my life. I'm in the grip of a great, heart-pounding fear. I'm petrified - if a humanoid rock could cautiously walk down a mountain trail. I'm convinced that at any moment, someone may step out of the shadows or emerge from behind that rock, and attack me. I SO WANT TO TURN AROUND AND RUN BACK TO THE CAR!!

But my rational mind knows this is ridiculous paranoia. I tell myself to breathe. I tell myself this is good practice - to be able to breathe and stay at least physically calm in the face of terrifying fears.

A lifetime passes as I move very slowly down the dim eastern trail.

When the sky at last begins to lighten, and a few birds sing, it feels like salvation.
Objects gain shape and definition. The murk is clarified.
Nobody is there to attack me.
I will live.

I'm embarrassed at my cowardice, but my relief at feeling safe is much greater than that shame.
I rejoice that it's behind me, and that in fact I'm the bad-ass who got up at 5:30 and vaulted a national military park wall to see the sunrise.

Here are my sunrise comforters:
First bird: Carolina Wren:

First bird joined by second bird, Cardinal:

Wren and Cardinal, variation:

Bird of the Day (New Bird #1):

My on-site whistled version, followed by another clip of today's bird (in cohorts with a partner bird?):

A Tennessee take on the classic White-crowned sparrow and Chickadee combo:

And for anyone who's curious, many different songs of Carolina Wren:

Later this morning, I pick up some friends from the hotel for a trek in the Tennessee River Valley Gorge. Really beautiful views of the river gorge, glimpsed from our trail. No new birds to report, though red-eyed vireo seem to be omnipresent.

Hurray for the three hikes in 18 hours! 

April 16
Along the Chattahoochee River, Columbus, Georgia.

Lots of cities built along rivers.. I have frequented numerous riverside running paths on this tour, which is awesome. I also love that details on these audio recordings help me distinguish one memory from another.

A new bird!

A bridge crosses the river, and on the opposite bank, a train passes as I stop to marvel at the virtuosity of this mockingbird:

After birding, I jog over to the local diner to join a group in a proper Southern breakfast.. grits, biscuit eggs. Yum!


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