There’s No Birding in Space

Hermit thrush nest

At heart I’m a nature girl, so it was hard to write a novel that takes place mostly on a space ship. In Endurance, Captain Lyn Randall even laments about wanting to hear bird song and feel the wind.

It’s summer now here in New England and the days are long. I’ll wake up at 4:30 to the “dawn chorus,” that wall of bird song that is probably a lot thinner than in the days of Aldo Leopold, in whose A Sand County Almanac I first learned of that phenomenon. When the birds wake up, they seem to want to announce to the world, “Hey, I made it to another day. How glorious!” Or maybe it’s just, “Hey, I’m still here so don’t try to take my territory or my mate!”

Whatever the reason, it’s lovely to hear after a silent winter. I don’t get up at 4:30, but usually by 5:30 and there are still some birds making their morning announcements. This year I discovered Merlin Sound ID. The Merlin Bird ID app is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a terrific tool. But the Sound ID part of it? That’s nothing short of amazing. I’ve always been in awe of those who can bird by ear. I seem to need to relearn the most common birds every year.

This morning, while my coffee perked, I went out side and started recording with Sound ID. Beyond the usual suspects—chickadee, robin—were a scarlet tanager, ovenbird, and a red-eyed vireo. I’ve learned not to assume anything. What I’ve dismissed as a robin singing away has turned out to be the tanager or vireo. The tanager I’ve seen—that brilliant scarlet—but the vireo eludes me.

Earlier this spring I found an ovenbird nest. They nest on the ground, so when you see a bird shoot up from near your feet, tread very carefully. Ovenbirds also disguise their nests incredibly well. Nestled under blueberries and tiny pine seedlings, it has a roof. Hence the name, like a Dutch oven. I’d found a hermit thrush nest the same way. That time while pushing a wheelbarrow of brush to dump. How close I came to crushing it. Inside were four beautiful blue eggs. I checked yesterday, and the nest is empty. I hope that means there are four more hermit thrushes in the world. Or else some fox kits with a little extra protein.

Curious about what birds sounded like in Aldo Leopold’s time, I found that scholars recreated a soundscape based on his notes and recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library. You can listen at the link below, but to get the list of birds, I recorded it with Sound ID. Some of my local birds might have leaked in from my open window, but here’s the list: robin, field sparrow, eastern wood-pewee, northern cardinal, eastern whip-poor-will, chipping sparrow, crow, indigo bunting, song sparrow, gray catbird, black and white warbler, eastern bluebird, northern mockingbird, wood thrush, mourning dove, eastern meadowlark, house wren, blue jay, warbling vireo.

Wow, that’s a lot of birds! I have 13 of them here, though not all at once!

I didn’t expect this post to turn into an ad for Sound ID, but really, it’s very cool. Happy summer, if that’s your hemisphere.


More about Endurance here. If you read Endurance and like it, please tell someone! Preferably where other readers can see it, like an Amazon or Goodreads review.

Listen to the dawn chorus as Aldo Leopold would have heard it (a half hour of his notes compressed into five minutes, but you get the idea).

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID app


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