Saturday, December 17, 2011

Birding Square Pegs Into Round Holes

It's a strange feeling not knowing the bird voices around you when your usual mental map uses sounds to figure out where you fit in this world.

My instinct appears to be to sift through all the chaos to find the familiar. Since nothing is familiar, here on the lodge grounds outside of Nairobi in south-central Kenya, I'm force-hearing House Wren, Warbling Vireo, and Pinyon Jay. And I'm certain I heard the distant "pi-peer!" of a Red-billed Pied-Tanager, as well as the distinctive rollicking duet of Plain Softtail and the sad whistle of a Cinereous Mourner. All first records for the entire continent of Africa. These birds weren't really here of course, but even today I almost managed to convince Mich, Clayton, Taylor, and Jason that we were hearing a White-eyed Vireo in Nairobi National Park while sitting in our Landcruiser watching Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Kittlitz's Plover and a muster of Marabou Storks.
Marabou Storks – standing around and mustering nothing

But then some bird song that is completely, utterly unlike anything I've ever heard before knocks me over the head and reminds me I'm on the other side of the planet, and almost EVERYTHING is different here. 

For starters, there's the incessant, knocking "giddyup giddyup giddyup giddyup giddyup giddyup" from a little bird in the trees (Yellow-breasted Apalis); a deep, pure, marimba-like "doo doo doo" coming from the dense growth on the other side of the rocky gorge below my room (Slate-colored Boubou); and the bubbly, happy "lit..lit..lit..LITERATURE!" from almost everywhere (Common Bulbul). Then somewhat recognizable is the cheerful, yodeled phrases of what surely must be a thrush that sings, typically, well before it's light – but it's not any thrush I've heard before (Abyssinian Thrush).

Still a complete mystery is the pure whistle, pitched right on G5 (thanks, Virtuoso iPhone app), and repeated about 15 times, exactly once per second. (This might be a Tropical Boubou.)

Yellow-breasted Apalis

Slate-colored Boubou

Common Bulbul

Abyssinian Thrush

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