Dateline: January 14, 2011*
Did you know that a Belted Kingfisher makes a loud rattling sound just prior to diving into the water for a bite to eat? I hear it all the time as they dive for fish in my pond from their overhead perch in the Pine trees.
Learning to listen in on nature has been rewarding for me. The other afternoon I was outside when I heard a whistling sound coming from the pond area. The pond is extremely low during dry season so I can’t see the water from up at the house. I saw some quick motion and grabbed the binoculars, but wasn’t having much luck identifying what was moving around down there. I reached into the house to grab my camera that I keep nearby for these types of occasions. In my mind I was thinking “something that whistles…a whistling duck?” I got close enough for a photo and realized that the skinny-legged bird was not a duck. Besides, I’m not sure that a whistling duck even whistles! 😉
I’d never seen this species before, so I snapped a few additional shots until the bird wisely flew off as my English setter jumped the temporary fence and headed over to join me. The setter was thrilled and chased the shadow of the bird…his favorite pastime…shadow chasing, and I got a look at the bird in flight.
Off to the computer to find out what I had witness. I plugged in the information into whatbird.com. Body shape, bill type, primary color, secondary color…voila…up pops Killdeer. A click of the sound button brought forth the whistle that initially caught my ear. Another checkmark for my Florida life-birds pamphlet and another smile to my face that I spotted something new just by listening.
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) are usually considered shorebirds and I live about 30 miles from the beach. So why did this fellow come to visit me? Well, my quick research reveals that killdeer often live and nest away from water in open areas like the “meadow” area I adapted to attract bluebirds. Killdeer eat aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates consisting mostly of insects much like what is found in my pond area. They will also eat berries, and I have plenty of those on the wax myrtle, dahoon holly and gallberry shrubs. I have provided the type of habitat they enjoy. They forage and build their nests on the ground so I’m hoping this one was scouting the area as a nest site.
I’ve identified a lot of critters around my yard by sound. The brown-headed nuthatches still greet me each day sounding so similar to my dog’s old squeaky toy that the birds went unnoticed for weeks until I found the toy dismantled but still heard the squeaks in the yard.
I added American Kestrel to my bird list because I heard its sound as it flew by and landed on a utility pole on the next block. My binoculars, always at the ready on the patio, helped me see what type of bird and again, whatbird.com came to the rescue confirming the sound I heard.
I listen to the squawk of the red-shouldered hawks as they fly overhead; the buzzing of the obscure bird grasshoppers as they take flight across the yard, and the loud buzz of a Sculptured Pine Borer (Chalcophora virginiensis) (photo featured in this article’s masthead) that flew into my hair one time, helped me locate this new creature after I shook him out of my head. It was quickly identified by Debbie Hadley aka @aboutinsects on twitter.
I’ve seen snakes in the grass because of a slight rustle of the surrounding brush or leaves. I’ve learned that you can see and learn a lot just by listening.
One of my more exciting sound experience came in August 2009 when I heard what I though was a baby bird in the ligustrum. I knew the mockingbirds had built a decoy nest there, but it was never occupied. I went to check the nest anyway, and as I inched closer I was amazed, yet horrified to see what was producing the sound. There, hanging from a branch…
…a snake with a toad in its mouth.
I ran to get my camera as I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing and got back to catch a quick shot of the very end. The toad was silenced. This encounter was actually the beginning of my venture into photographing critters. It piqued my interest in our biodiverse world but it only happened because I spent some time listening to what was going on around me which raised awareness of what was happening in my surroundings.
This past week I saw a tiny nuthatch bully a red-bellied woodpecker away from a snag because I heard them both on opposite ends of the tree. By watching them, I learned that despite their small size, brown-headed nuthatches are gutsy creatures and will take on birds four times their size to defend a potential nest site.
What sounds attract your attention in your beautiful wildlife garden?
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 14, 2011 at the defunct beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.