Reflections on listening to the dawn chorus, International Dawn Chorus Day, May 1, 2016
Voice #1: Grandma JS, farm near Elora, 5:00am, May 2, 2016
It seemed ridiculous to wake up before 5 on a morning free of commitments but it didn't take long before I clued into why I awoke so early - International Dawn Chorus Day, only one day late!
I got my winter coat and a blanket and went out to the quasi-deck out back and I sat.
At first nothing, save the spring peepers in the swamp and the distant drone of traffic on Wellington 18 and Arthur St north.
And then the first peep - a tentative peep, and then perhaps it rolls over for a few more winks of sleep.
A raccoon/groundhog/rabbitty thing slinks from the field to the red currant bush - or maybe it is just the floater in my right eye. It's hard to tell in dawn's early morning.
A call from the spruce tree on my peripheral left.
A call growing more certain with time - perhaps the robin-imam with the first call to prayer.
An answer comes back from the driving shed roof.
He flies to the washline post and now he calls more loudly, fluffing his wings and stretching his neck high.
I can see his shadow in the growing light.
A rustling in the mac tree and tentative chirps there - "is-it-morn?, is-it-morn?"
Out on the pond the geese are tuning their bagpipes.
"Killdeer, Killdeer", a type A killdeer wakes up, already in protective mode.
I hear the sound of the chickadee and I imagine her cute little compact body bustling about, doing her Monday chores.
The copse of black elder trees awake with a chorus
- some reaching tiptoe high notes,
some trilling the medium runs,
and below it all a percussive beat - is it the bull frogs, or a birdsong I don't know?
But my regal cardinal - where is his voice in the chorus?
Not to worry, he will be by later.
He'll fly in about the same time as Norbert and Nora, the Downys, coming to begin the day of head-banging foraging.
Monday morning, surrounded by nature's sounds.
Voice #2: Daughter ES, 9 years old, Huron Natural Area, 4:30am
This morning I woke up at 4:00 am to the sound of, “It’s time to go!”, ringing through my ears. This was the sound of my mother. Once we stepped into the crisp morning breeze I heard something different. The wind. I heard this wind the whole time we were driving to Huron Natural Area. After we were finally about to start our Dawn Chorus time we heard the magnificent sound of the Spring Peeper frogs. Soon after, we finally settled down right near the pond and leaning against a tree. The perfect spot to hear and see anything that may come our way. First, everything was silent. Then after what felt like the longest time the chickadees started to sing. The sounds started close to us and then moved across the pond. It sounded a lot like an antiphonal choir of chickadees. After them, the ducks and geese moved to the pond, displaying their noises. The crows thought they might join the early morning chorus as well as the red-winged blackbirds. So they did. Then came my favourite sound of all time. “Truffles! Truffles!”, the sounds of the wild turkeys came loud and clear.
It was very interesting watching the ducks float on the water so calmly and peacefully. All of a sudden, when we were watching the geese as well as the ducks in the pond, we saw some white objects disappearing and then reappearing again. We thought for a moment, and then realized that the white objects were actually the tail feathers of the geese! They were searching for food underwater! After a while of the bird chorus, we left in the drizzling rain; heading for home. Getting ready to start this new day.
Voice #3: Mother RS, Huron Natural Area, 4:30am
Early morning. A steady drizzle as we make our way quietly to the forest. Down a muddy path, through the trees to the side of the pond. I choose a tall and sturdy tree - is it hemlock? - to support me if I doze off. I lay down our mat, sit against the tree. My daughter rests her head on my lap. It's not long before she's sleeping. It's too dark to see, but I know that the other women sit near me in the forest. We're holding vigil together, waiting for the chorus. We are quiet, but we are not alone. There is a deep power in silent togetherness.
At first, we hear the sound of the spring peepers, a sweet and steady backdrop of song. The rain falls softly; we can hear drops on the water and on the leaves nearby. There are city sounds in the background too. Something in me reacts - I'm annoyed, and I want those noises to leave. But they are part of this place too. A plane flies overhead. A goose honks, en route.
What if the chorus doesn't come? I wonder. What if the rain strains their little vocal chords? Will this be all that I'm expecting? Gradually, I loosen my grip, allowing nature to just be. To not conform to my wishes, to not be controlled.
In this pre-dawn light, I see ghostly white shapes out on the water - moving together, then apart, moving up a bit, then down. What is it?? I study this for a while, blinking to make sure I'm not asleep. Then it hits me: geese! Bobbing their heads down for an early morning breakfast.
In the dark, my ears are so strong. They are tuned to the slightest peep. I wait, and I listen. And I wonder what will come. My daughter rolls over, wakes up, and listens.
At 5:45am, we are rewarded: the clear call of a chickadee from the right side of the pond. And another calls back. And another. Those sweet little bundles, their song so pure and true. The sound moves around the pond, little by little, as they all wake up.
The crows start their cawing, building in intensity. Ducks and geese, with timing all of their own, add their quacks and honks intermittently.
The funniest one is like a small chuckle, coming from the other side of the pond. A wild turkey! He too marches to the beat of his own drum, making us strain and anticipate his call, smiling and quietly chuckling when we hear him.
Eventually, the chorus surrounds the pond, and we are part of it - not as singers, but as appreciative audience - led by these birds to greet the day.
Human words sound foreign as I break our silence to read Salutation to the Dawn by Kalidasa. Then we gather up our blankets and walk back through the forest. We have witnessed together an ordinary, daily miracle: the dawn chorus of song.
Hammers, Huge Swings, and the Freedom to Play