At this time of year I often hear a single bird asking this question: "Beer Bee?"
It's a call of the American goldfinch.
Click to learn what it means ... "Beer Bee"
(photo by Chuck Tague)
What's that sound? In July the birds stop singing and the bugs begin. Some sing during the day, others at night. We usually don't see what's making the noise but sometimes we can identify the bugs by song. Here's a group of insects that are fairly easy to figure out.
Cicadas sing during the day and they are loud. Some songs are so unique that you can identify the bug if you know what to listen for.
Here are audio descriptions for five common species of annual(*) cicadas in southwestern Pennsylvania in order of "most likely to hear/notice," at least in my experience.
As with birds, pay attention to the habitat where you hear a cicada. Swamp cicadas, for example, are only found in swamps or marshes.
Identifying cicada songs are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the sounds of bugs. There are an amazing number of vocal bugs including crickets, katydids and grasshoppers.
Have you heard a bug you can't identify? Click here for the Songs of Insects guide to common insect species and their sounds. There are 80 species on this page!
(photo by Dana Nesiti)
p.s. Annual(*) cicadas have a life cycle of 2-5 years but they seem "annual" because some individuals in each species reach adulthood every year (i.e. the species appears annually).
p.p.s There aren't many scissor-grinders in my neighborhood this year. I wonder if they had a bad reproductive year the last time this brood was above ground. How long do scissor-grinders take to reach adulthood? If it's 5 years then that'd be 2012, a very hot year. Hmmm.
I used to think that the wood thrush had the best song of all North American birds until I stood on a trail in north central Michigan this week surrounded by singing hermit thrushes. What a privilege to hear them!
If you've never experienced their ethereal song, don't put off the experience for two decades as I did. Hermit thrushes (Catharus guttatus) nest on the ground in coniferous or mixed northern forests. As our climate warms their preferred habitat will be disappear from the eastern U.S. By 2050 their eastern breeding range will move north into Canada at Hudson Bay.
Listen now to the most beautiful song on earth.
(video of a hermit thrush in Maine by Wild Bird Videos by McElroy Productions on YouTube)
What bird is that?
There's a small brown bird at the feeder and there's no one to help you identify it.
Don't you wish you had a personal assistant to help you?
Cornell Lab of Ornithology's free Merlin Bird ID app for Android and iPhone does just that. Introduced in 2014, the app gets smarter every year. It uses the simple information you already know -- your location, the date and the words "small," "brown," and "at the bird feeder" -- to narrow your choices and identify the bird.
You can even take a picture with your cellphone and ask Merlin what it is.
Merlin's answer is a list of the most likely suspects with photos, sounds and descriptions. It even tells you if the bird is uncommon or rare for your date and location. That's one of the best clues you'll find anywhere because an "uncommon" species in March can become "common" in May.
Watch the video below to see how Merlin works, then download the app.
Merlin's a wizard at identifying birds!
p.s. What birds are at Marcy Cunkelman's feeder shown above? She took the photo in Indiana County, PA, in early February 2014.
(bird photo by Marcy Cunkelman, Merlin Bird ID screenshot and video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
It's Vaudeville time with duets of gulls singing and dancing.
Above, two yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis) sing in Europe.
Below, European herring gulls (Larus argentatus) dance in Penzance, UK.
Their acts are serious business. Gulls sing when they're courting and dance for their dinner.
You'll hear lots of gulls singing in the months ahead as they enter the breeding season.
But you'll be lucky if you find a dancing gull. In Europe gulls stamp on the ground to bring worms to the surface. I've never seen them do it in North America. Have you?
p.s. I guessed at the identity of the dancing gulls. If you know they're not herring gulls, please tell me what they are.
(videos from YouTube)
On my trip to Costa Rica I wanted to see a laughing falcon. And then I wanted to hear it.
Laughing falcons (Herpetotheres cachinnans) are very vocal birds that live in Central and South America from Mexico to northern Argentina. They specialize in eating snakes -- even poisonous ones -- which they kill by biting off the heads. Ch'ol Maya legend says the birds can cure themselves of snake bites. And yet, the birds sound spooky.
At dusk laughing falcons raise their voices in advertisement calls or duets. They start with a gwa call, getting louder and louder, that usually morphs into two syllables: gwa co.
One evening before dinner at Las Cruces Biological Station, Bert Dudley filmed this laughing falcon warming up at dusk. Click here to hear.
The two-syllable call gave the bird its common name, halcón guaco, but those calls don't sound like laughing.
Here is his laugh:
"Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans)" from xeno-canto by Mario Trejo. Genre: Falconidae.
The falcon only "laughs" when he's worried or upset.
(photo and video by Bert Dudley)
The birds are singing again and our ears are "rusty" after six months of their silence. How can we identify them?
Here are videos for four species singing in my Pittsburgh neighborhood this morning. Perhaps they're in your neighborhood, too.
(videos from YouTube. Click on the "Watch on YouTube" icon to see each video with explanatory text)
On a birding trip in Costa Rica:
Today we'll be birding at Carara National Park on the Pacific Coast where I expect to see monkeys and the park's most famous bird, the scarlet macaw.
Encountering monkeys in the wild is a new experience for me. Because we humans are the only primates who live outside subtropical zones most of us only see primates in captivity.
At Carara we're likely to see white-headed capuchins (Cebus capucinus), shown above. These diurnal monkeys are highly intelligent and very social, living in troops of about 16 individuals that are mostly female kin because the males move around. White-headed capuchins love to use tools and are so smart that they can be trained in captivity to assist paraplegics.
If we hear an otherworldly roar like a dinosaur, it'll be a mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata). The howlers roar both day and night but can be hard to find.
Today's highlight, though, will be the beautiful wild scarlet macaws (Ara macao).
These huge members of the parrot family have a wide range -- from Central to South America -- but they need a lot of territory that's remote from humans in order to survive. Carara provides that space.
I hope to see scarlet macaws flying, as in the photo below. I've seen green-winged macaws (Ara chloropterus) in free flight at the National Aviary but seeing scarlets -- and in the wild -- will be a real treat.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)
Day 3: Carara National Park
The birds aren't singing and many aren't even making contact calls but you'll still hear something in the forest that sounds like a bird.
Listen to the video above as a chipmunk makes chirpy calls that resemble a northern cardinal -- except that they're too fast and "sweet."
Chipmunks make sounds we don't expect from such a small body. Lang Elliott recorded three of them: "chip", "tock" and squeak. Click here to hear.
Want to know what they mean? Jim McCormac explains them in Deciphering the language of chipmunks.
You'll get a lot of practice with these sounds in the weeks ahead. The chipmunks are in overdrive and very vocal, storing up food for the winter.