Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Shenandoah Valley: Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia

May 12, 6:00 a.m.

Sunrise at 6:15 a.m.

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Oh, the joy of just sitting and listening to a bird like a song sparrow speak his mind: here's a good half hour in the life of this song sparrow. He sings across a small inlet from a large parking lot and the boat launch, minding his own business and singing nonstop for 33 minutes in this selection. He sings with "eventual variety," repeating one of his songs a number of times before switching to another, switching to a different song type at the following times: 0:07 (A, first song), 3:32 (B), 7:42 (C), 9:30 (D), 14:00 (E), 20:15 (F), 22:25 (G), 25:15 (H), and 32:04 (I). In all, he has nine different songs (F and G begin with the same introductory note, but the endings are consistently different), repeated in the following way: 18 A, 22 B, 8 C, 23 D, 27 E, 12 F, 14 G, 34 H, 4 I.

Listen to all that transpires in the background of this recording. There are all the birds, of course, but from the very first, a truck arrives pulling a motor boat. With the motor idling, the truck remains in the parking lot for some time as two fishermen visit the bait shop, the doors of the truck slammed shut every once in a while. Finally, the boat is launched and the truck parked in the lot, the motor turned off (27:20). All of the milling about is done in relative silence, with low voices, certainly no shouting. By 29:53, the boat motor is started, and by 31:20 and especially by 32:30, to the emphatic calling of an American crow, the boat heads out to sea!

In the meantime, a small boat with a silent, electric motor moves into the inlet where I stand (about 15:00). Two fishermen sit in silence, the only sounds heard being the swish of their casts (e.g., 20:40, 23:46, 24:18, to about 26:00), their lures landing on the water (23:46), and the occasional reeling in of a lure over the surface (no fish).

(No editing has been done on this recording; it is heard here as it was recorded, with no filtering, no editing, no doctoring.)


Beside the boat dock at Claytor Lake, this is a very birdy place! Sounds heard are from common grackle, American Robin, mourning dove, red-bellied woodpecker, northern flicker (wik-wik-wik song), Baltimore oriole, American Crow, eastern kingbird, blue jay, chimney swift, mallard (7:10, landing in water nearby at 7:33), another song sparrow (at 10:42), Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, European starling, northern flicker flicka calls (22:20), brown-headed cowbird. And fishermen (see above).


Photo by John Van de Graaff