Sometimes you don't see many birds in the Princeton Landing trail area, even when you walk quietly by yourself. However, this doesn't mean they aren't there. If you stop to listen you'll hear more than you see. This is also true of the Landing itself, though you can see birds more easily in its open spaces than in the more overgrown trail area. However, even those birds that alight within view often don't stay put long enough to make identification by the uninitiated possible.
Thus much of the art of bird spotting involves recognition of sounds. This in itself is difficult, since many bird sounds are so similar that it takes a considerable degree of expertise to differentiate them. The problem is complicated by birds that mimic others, such as the notorious mockingbird, but also include the catbird and starling, among others.
Listening attentively you can appreciate and enjoy the melodic complexity and tonal clarity, and the agility of the trills and warbles in bird songs, among other characteristics. Then there are the odd and amusing sounds like the whinnying call of the robin, or the distinctive call of the scarlet tanager rendered phonetically by bird watchers as chick-burr. You can appreciate these sounds without studying them beforehand. If you listen carefully, you'll be surprised by the variety and richness of what you hear, and you'll find it very restful, rather like meditation.
If you want to learn to recognize bird sounds, there's an excellent CD set called Birding by Ear: A Guide to Bird Song Identification, by Richard K. Walton and Robert W. Lawson, which you can get at bookstores.
Learning to recognize birds by sight can be equally rewarding. You'll find, if you look closely, that the "they-all-look-alike" anonymity to which many of us consign so many birds is rarely justified. There are subtleties of color and other features that can be pleasing and interesting in the most inconspicuous of birds if you study them carefully. In addition, many birds are recognizable by their flight patterns, which are described in at least one field guide (Smithsonian).
Which brings us to the birds of Princeton Landing. We have here an unusually diverse environment consisting of three broad ecological zones, the Landing itself, the woods and swampy area inside the trail where soil dredged from Lake Carnegie was deposited in the early 1970s and the older woods to the south and west of the trail. As a result of this diversity there is a large variety of birds in the area, hi one two hour excursion from my house to the trail, around the trail and back (accompanied by an expert) I saw or heard the following twenty-one kinds birds.
Black Capped Chickadee
Green Heron (flying over)
White-breasted Nuthatch (heard only)
Great Horned Owl (resident in the woods inside the trail)
House or English Sparrow
Red Eyed Vireo (heard only)
In the less than two months since I began looking for and listening to our birds I've seen or heard the following additional ten kinds of birds in the Landing proper.
Morthern (Baltimore) Oriole
These lists encompass only the end of the spring migratory season and the period when the birds who will stay for the summer take up residence. During the late spring and into the summer you'll hear the same birds day after day at the same locations. They're at home here, just as we are. However, there is a different cast of characters during the early spring migration, when, incidentally, it's easiest to see the birds, as the leaves are not yet on the trees. Then there's the reverse migration during the fall and a somewhat different set of residents during the cold months.
If you're interested in learning to recognize more of our avian neighbors, consult Birding by Ear and/or the pictures in any field guide.
Goose or Crate?
Geese are military
honking in unison,
standing erect as Prussians,
their chests thrust out,
a certain military gait.
Crows, on he other hand,
They may fly together,
but, like bikers in bands,
each to its own beat,
emitting raucous and sardonic cries.
I think I'd rather flock with the crows.- Dick Greene