I am an owl, not a lark, so it takes a huge temptation to get up before the crack of dawn. A few weeks ago that temptation came along during the Olympic Peninsula BirdFest — birdsong savvy Bob Boekelheide’s Dawn Chorus outing at Railroad Bridge Park in Sequim.
We met before (shudder) dawn but the sleepy one became more alert when the birds started to break out in their avian chorus.
“The pre-dawn period, the half-hour or so before sunrise, is where the robins dominate the songs. Some ornithologists call them one of the big-eyes birds because of their sensing ability for low-light levels,” Boekelheide said.
Diversity of environments is connected to the diversity of species. On this walk, the surroundings morphed from the Dungeness River to riparian forest, brushy edge habitat along the asphalt path, and agricultural fields. Each habitat has species associated with it.
On the one-mile walk, we were entertained by an incredible amount of sound from 39 species.
“The tropical migrants don’t participate so much at that hour. They wait until the robins are done and then they start to add their songs,” he said.
For many on the walk, many of the songs were either new, or it was the first time they knew who was singing them, such as the sound of the orange-crowned warbler.
“They are a common spring bird around here, particularly the second half of April and the first half of May. People are surprised how common they are when they hear several singing. (If you see them) they’re the same color as brand new cottonwood leaves or new maple leaves.
“We’re on the cusp of the late spring migrants. Wilson’s warbler is very vocal right now.”
One birdwatcher asked Boekelheide about the difference between a song and a call.
“A song is typically sung by male songbirds during nesting season. … Melodic songs announce their presence on territory (to) exclude other male birds in the area. Males will respond to neighbors, to new birds traveling through,” he said.
“Calls are all those other sounds — communication between two breeding birds, alarm notes because of predators, a chick begging for food, all the other sounds. Typically they’re not as melodic or repetitious,” Boekelheide said.
Boekelheide suggested a few sites for hearing birdsong in May and June in the Sequim-Port Townsend area:
Fort Worden. Offers a good variety of birds along the beach, campground, forest and in the trees when you walk around the upper section (with the homes and barracks).
Dungeness River. There is access off Old Towne Road for the public to get up on the levee on the east side of the river, near the Old Dungeness Schoolhouse.
Anderson Lake State Park. Cedar, fir and alder is mixed with freshwater marshes.
Olympic Discovery Trail. The section at the south end of Sequim Bay and at many other locations at dawn.
Columnist Sharon Wootton: 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.