Songs of the Prairie

Springbrook Prairie landscape

I went to Springbrook Prairie this morning to join a birdwalk but I must have pulled into the wrong parking lot. Having come a long way I was not discouraged; rather, I assembled all my gear and started my own hunt for fall migrants. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear fall day early, turning warmer later.

There were lots of White-Crowned Sparrows, and I heard several singing.

White-Crowned Sparrows

I heard another bird song I am not familiar with – five even-pitch, even-beat notes and one more note a fourth above the others. It reminded me of the Mozart sonata I am relearning. I don’t think I want to go through all the sonatas again but after hearing myself playing Mozart on old tapes I decided letting a little Mozart back into my life wouldn’t hurt, break up the Bach a little. Anyway, whatever this bird was singing matches the second half of the third movement of Mozart’s first C major sonata. There has been some speculation that Mozart got the idea for his “Musical Joke” from his pet starling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a few more ideas from wild birds.

Eastern Meadowlark

And then a little later I heard Eastern Meadowlarks singing. There were perhaps a dozen, but they kept flying by so quickly I could not catch a picture until one landed in a bush. I started singing back to one of them and he sang back to me – I wasn’t trying to imitate his sound, just the notes. So even though he was “countersinging” with me I don’t think it was out of competition, but sheer fun trading licks with an inexperienced human like me.

Just when I thought I’d heard all the Meadowlark songs I was going to, one bird turned the song upside down and the four notes matched exactly the first four notes ot Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” which is a piece I played when I was a child. Don’t you know I was stuck with that in my head for the next couple hours.

A few birds who weren’t singing posed for me.

Juvenile Goldfinch

Purple Finch

Ironically, the only Song Sparrow I heard singing was a juvenile who really messed up his song. But he’ll get it right by spring, I’m sure.

Song Sparrow

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