Saturday, October 18, 2014

Birdsong at Sunrise in a Garden

Dr Abe V Rotor
  Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

Birds (16" 28") painting in acrylic by the author 2012

They chirp, but you don't see them,     
     only leaves moving, rustling;
their becks red, their eyes sullen,
     and they blend with everything.

When you get near to admire,
     they shun, they stop moving,
silence the rule of their game,
     discreet and subtle warning.

Birds are indeed real strange,    
     they fly fast or sit at ease;
they sing with few notes to trace,
     like passing breeze in the trees. ~ 

When you have a garden around your house you would know if it’s already sunrise when the birds start singing in the trees. Meantime the sun seeps through the foliage and hedges, and sparkles on the dewdrops clinging on them. The lawn comes alive, flooded with sunlight.  Its many tenants – crickets, slugs, earthworm, caterpillars, and even frogs wake up. 

     Soon more birds come around.  Their songs begin to take shape and form:  cadence, pitch, and melody – all these help us in identifying the birds without seeing them. One advantage of being surrounded by a garden is that the resonance of sound heightens every note and even projects it with a ventriloquist effect that makes it difficult to be traced. What a contrast between the sounds we hear at sunrise with that in the darkness of night before! In the latter we are entertained by the unending fiddling of crickets that lulls us to sleep. Now it is a melodious wake up call.

     But one morning as I listened intently to the concert of the warblers, finally pinning down their whereabouts. Soon enough one posed, perched on a terminal branch overlooking the garden and calling for its mate.

     Meticulously I transcribed its song in alphabets and soon realized it was actually communicating. But putting the syllables together did not mean anything to humans. To transcribe them into music would take a composer to do just that. I could only pick up the melody that seems to be the theme of any composition.
Song of the warbler
Common Tailor Bird (Orthotomus atrogularis rabori Parkes)

Tag-wa-tee-e-e-e-et, tag- wa- tee-e-e-e-et, tag-wa- tee-e-e-e-et,
Tag-wa- tee-e-e-e-et, tag-wa- tee- e-e-e-et, tag-wa-tee- e-e-e-et
Tig- wa- too- tee- e- et, tig- wa- too- tee- e- et, tig- wa- too- tee- e- et,
Tig- wa- too- tee- e- et, tig- wa- too- tee- e- et, tig –wa too- tee- e- et-
Ter- r-r-r-r-r-r-, ter-r-r-r-r-r-r, ter-r-r-r-r-r-r, ter-r-r-r-r-r-r,
Ter-r-r-r-r-r-r-, ter-r-r-r-r-r-r, ter-r-r-r-r-r-r, ter-r-r-r-r-r-r

     If one analyzes Beethoven’s Pastoral or Peer Gynt’s Morning he will certainly find close association and similar pattern of their notes with those occurring in nature. Drums and thunder, steam and flute, cows mooing and horn or oboe, raindrops and castanets, cricket fiddling and violin - are easy to recognize and appreciate.

     But there are sounds too faint to recognize as music. Such is the music of the hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird. Take the sound of whales in the deep ocean.

     Once I saw (pipit) in our farm lot. Its deep high pitch call could hardly penetrate the foliage and humid habagat air. Its source seems very far that you would think it is coming from the other side of a solid wall. I saw and heard it as it sipped the nectar of Heliconia flowers.  These banana-like plants are also known as Lobster’s Claws and Birds of Paradise.  It was a rare sight. The bird hovers like a dragonfly, and darts forward and backward, inserting its long beak deep into the newly opened flowers, its feathers matching the color of the flowers around.  As it did this, it continuously uttered a deep but sweet “chee-wee-e-e-et”.

     Perhaps if we plant more Heliconia and trees around that make a four-tier structure of an arboretum - annuals, shrubs, canopy trees and emergents – we may make the garden conducive to more birds. Only by simulating the natural habitats of organisms that we expect them to establish their niches or domains. Here the birds would build their nests, and as they raise their brood, their music becomes a chorus of hungry bridling and parental calls.

      I have had a number of occasions to observe other birds in the garden. The pandangera or fantail (Rhipidura javanica nitgritorquis), as its name implies, is a dancer and singer combined. Its crispy, continuous song and brisk movement of its trail spread like a fan, stops any passerby to full attention.

     Once in our ancestral home in the province, I watched a pandangera dance and sing in front of a dresser’s mirror. The following day it came again and did the same. It was courting its own image on the mirror! This is a sign of intelligence. Zoologists know of very few creatures that are attracted by their own image, treating it like their own kind. Among these is the orangutan.

     Others birds include the swift. The smaller ones are pygmy swiftlets (Collocalia troglodytes), while the glossy and larger species are Collocalia esculenta marginata). When they come, they sit on a Mearalco wire at exactly an arm’s length apart so that they appear in equidistant formation. They are sit silently, eyeing at potential preys below.  And once they start swooping on flies and other insects you could hear them uttering short and distant sounds like birds in captivity. 

     In an aviary during feeding time, one is met by a cacophony of sounds like an orchestra rehearsing without the baton master. Imagine sounds like those of a trotting turkey, Guinea fowl taking off from the brooding basket, doves romantically in pairs, ducks and geese impatient at getting their share, uneasy native chicken (labuyo). Truly it is only in the wild that we hear true birdsongs.

     Outside the aviary a flock of house sparrows came down chirping. Don’t ask them to choose between food and freedom. Domestication has changed many things. Even if they have defied domestication, they have learned to live with him wherever he goes, on the countryside or in the metropolis. While you can hand-feed doves and pigeons, house sparrows will eat only when you have turned you back on them. For birds in general, I suppose that it is freedom that gives true meaning in their songs.

      Peer into a caged wild pigeon, a Philippine turtle dove (Streptopelia bitorquata dusumieri). The bird is silent, its round eyes empty. Wait for its song, then when it is time to leave, it expands its breast and sent deep booming sounds.  This is the other side of a warbler’s song.

     “How exiting it is to be interconnected with nature,” says a young naturalist.  Yes, it is indeed the key to the conservation of our environment. It is the very source of inspiration to express our talents – to paint, write and compose music. It links us to our Creator.

     I invite songwriters and music enthusiasts to explore the music of the birds and nature as a whole as an alternative to pop and rock music. We can explore the many things nature has given us to enjoy life in peace and harmony. While only very few are geniuses in music and in the other arts, all of us can be scholars of nature, learning and enjoying her bounty and ways

 “And to another branch he repeats his song,
Crispy and clear as the light of dawn,
And if trees are not enough and the streets
Are wider than the field, on cable or antenna be perches,
And sings still the song of his ancestors.

Shouldn’t I wake up with a happy heart
And spare a tree and two for his art?”
                                                                  -  AVR

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