I have begun the process of habitualizing (don’t know if that’s a word) a few different birds around the property to my presence. It’s fairly easy as I’m sitting in the golf cart, since moving farm machinery is not uncommon in a rural area. I had positioned myself near the Eastern Bluebird couple that has built a nest in one of the boxes we recently put up. Every time I go there, I see them. However, they tend to be hunting from the fence to the culvert along the road, which doesn’t make for good photo opportunities. While I am waiting for a good shot, I am always listening and looking around.
Back in 1978 I spent the year as a foreign exchange student in South Africa. Fortunately, my host family planned a trip to Kruger National Park and I was exposed to that incredible adventure. I remember sitting in the vehicle, peering intensely out the left side of the car at an elephant. There were a couple other cars parked on the side of the dirt road, all focused on that same, massive animal. Then, my younger host brother turned and looked over his right shoulder and saw a lion. “A lion, a lion, a big fat lion,” I exclaimed and that phrase was recorded in history and repeated many times by my host family over the years. The take home message that I gleaned from the experience is that, whether you are in a natural environment or a large city, it’s important to know what’s going on around you – in every direction – and that focusing on one, singular objective (no matter how magnificent it may seem at the time), can cause you to miss out on something perhaps even more special.
So, back to the Bluebird house upon which I had my camera focused in hopes that the bird would land on the top. That not only tells me that they consider the box their own, but it usually provides a good backdrop for a nice photo. Still, I was keeping my ears open, and periodically looked across the general area for anything interesting. Nothing. But,t hen I heard the distant call of a crow. I know they are around, but except for in the autumn when they seem to gather in groups, I rarely see them. They always seem to be quite a distance away. And this time was no different. It’s a crow, but it’s really far away, I thought. Suddenly, from that same direction I heard teakettle-teakettle! from a Carolina Wren, the rasp of a Dickcissel and the pee-a-wee! of an Eastern Wood-pewee. One immediately after the other, bird calls seemed to be coming from a singular source. That meant just one thing.
A Northern Mockingbird was perched atop a wooden fence post, singing his vast songbook of melodies. What struck me most was the sound of the crow. While the other vocalizations seemed to be blasted at top volume, the Crow cawing was subdued. I suspect that the Mockingbird was mimicking what he most often heard. If he experienced the same rendition of a crow’s call that I typically did, it would be best parroted as if it were coming from a mile away. And, that is exactly how it sounded.
While he only offered me a sampling of his vast vocalizations, he also presented an array of body posters, which I can share with you.