Monday, February 13, 2012

Red-winged Blackbird (down my road)

If this were mid-April in Saskatchewan I might be able to hear one of these fellows singing at Cherry Lake, the first males perched high and singing hard to the ice-bound lake. Two months ahead of that, here on the West Coast Canada's earliest Red-wings are already back and staking their claims for the spring.

On a sunny afternoon, Karen, Maia and I walked the Pub to Pub trail from Oyster Point to the Oyster River. Plus fifteen degrees, a clear view all the way to the coastal range across the strait; Surf Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, and Red-Breasted Mergansers in the rising tide.

Heading back to the trail head with the light failing I started to hear a Red-winged Blackbird in full song up the trail. I found him on the very top of a big alder next to one of the ponds. He was facing the sun to catch the last of its rays, but he was also facing the direction of another redwing who was singing a half a mile away. I stopped to watch: face the sun, listen for the neighbour to sing, then gather up your strength, turn in his direction and give it your best.

Redwings know how to get the body involved in a song. They don't hold back. The feathers on his back and crown rose first, then the wings and tail began to spread, the bill opened and the song burst forth with enough energy to make him quiver from head to foot. Looking something like this one (image courtesy of Wikipedia):

I think these Redwings sound a little different from ours. I may be imagining it but their trill seems to be faster, as though the little stridations in it are sharper and closer together, giving it a faster, higher pitch. Perhaps there is a different sub-species here.

The first Red-winged Blackbird song of the year always reminds me of a James Keelaghan song named for the bird. Keelaghan has long been one of my favourite Canadian folk song writers and the opening lines to Red-Wing Blackbird will pick up the spirits of anyone waiting for spring to come: "Thought I heard a Red-winged Blackbird,/Red-winged Blackbird down my road. . . ."

Here is a link to a site where you can get a preview of the song.

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