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The Birds

Early May, 5 in the morning, they're going full blast -- the birds, raucous and full of life, singing their little lungs out. [Um, they have lungs, right?] This would be an excellent morning and an excellent moment -- right now, in this soft dawn -- to be out at Pennyfield Lock, on the C&O, with some binoculars and, most importantly, a couple of serious birders who know what they're seeing and hearing. I am no birder; I can barely tell a duck from a goose. Mostly when I've gone birding I've stared into the treetops, squinting, saying, "Where?" My best birding is on the back porch at dawn, where there are dozens of songs going at once, the birds all doing some version of that great number one bird hit, "Let's Do the Hibbity-Dibbity." Do they recognize the message of other species, or only their own? What do THEY think of the fact that a couple hundred million years ago they were dinosaurs?

There was another bird in the air this morning, circling the neighborhood ominously: A helicopter. A reminder of trouble in the world. You almost don't want to sign on, you know there'll be another bulletin about an explosion in Iraq. How many more dead this morning? It's a war only a vulture could love.

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 4, 2005; 6:08 AM ET
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On the one hand, it's nice to wake up to the sounds of Nature in All Its Glory. On the other hand, it would be nice to sleep in until, I dunno, dawn.

About the helicopter. It's OK Joel. We get the helicopters in McLean too. Also the CAP flights. /That's/ a helluva way to wake up! To the dulcet sounds of F-16's screaming overhead.

Posted by: wiredog | May 4, 2005 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Hibbity-dibbity. Now THAT is a new old one for this bird person.

Try keeping parrots. They too listen to the early morning songs and bring the outdoors in with their imitations.

Posted by: Parrot mom | May 4, 2005 8:05 AM | Report abuse

I live in Southern Maryland. Can see the magnificent Chesapeake Bay from my front porch. Birds and butterflies in abundance during spring, summer and fall. A redheaded woodpecker lives in my yard, and we get an assortment of cardinals, blue jays, robins, purple martins. There is one species whose call sounds like a rusty sqeaking gate. A mockingbird scares the bejeepers out of a neighbor's cat by divebombing her when she invades the bird's space. My butterfly bush outside the kitchen window attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and I've spent many hours leaning on the sink just watching the critters.

As for helicopters -- we get those along the shorelines. I think it's a Coast Guard copter looking for boaters and crabbers in trouble. We are also witness to pilots from Pax River training over the Bay. They train over the water because if they crash they won't hit any houses.

It's our own little piece of heaven. Now don't anybody else move down here. You couldn't afford it anyway -- McMansions going for $750,000+ and no jobs to pay for them. You'll spend your life commuting to DC to pay for them.

Posted by: WASP | May 4, 2005 9:18 AM | Report abuse

I saw this bird with a long thin tail with a "V" shaped in the middle. Does anyone know what kind of bird it is? I thought it looked like something out of a prehistoric movie.

Posted by: Dee | May 4, 2005 9:19 AM | Report abuse

You might want to check out the very recent NPR program on bird song. Also, delve into Candance Pert's work on neuropeptides vis-a-vis music, since Pert in in your Maryland neck of the woods. "Do birds have lungs?" you ask rhetorically. You might want to pick up a book on Bird Physiology 101--or listen to the NPR program. Can song be created by creatures less than homo sapien without the passage of air or the exhalation of CO2? Some women are still waiting to exhale, if you get my drift... ;-)

Oh, where is Tom Shroder when I really need him? ;-)

Posted by: Linda Loomis | May 4, 2005 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Dear WASP, thanks for that nice post. Sounds like a glorious place to live -- but do you work down there? How do you afford it? You retired? Independently wealthy? I need a country place, and lots of land, and a tractor, and I'm going to grow corn and wear overalls and thumb the overalls and tell stories of the Olden Days. No more typing.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 4, 2005 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Dee, it might be a scissor-tail swallow.

Joel, consider moving west. We left Maryland for Iowa to get our slice of land. We couldn't upgrade from .1 acres to .15 acres without chunking down over $400k in Maryland. Far fewer helicopters out here, too. On the other hand, it snowed a little on Sunday and a little on Monday, and we've had hard freezes the last two nights.

Posted by: Eric | May 4, 2005 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Joel: Thanks for responding. I moved down there 11 years ago when housing was still affordable. I bought a fixer-upper and have made major improvements. Couldn't afford to buy my own house now! I work in DC, commute by commuter bus which takes 4 hours A DAY, give or take a few minutes. I don't actually have a life during the week and weekends are spent doing housework, yardwork, errands, volunteer work, occasionally sleeping. Closest stores are four miles away, so a dependable vehicle is a must.

A lot of the older houses were summer or vacation homes for city folks. Still a lot of old timers, born and raised here, live in the family homes. (We call them SMIBs -- Southern Maryland in-breds.) Former tobacco farms are being sold to developers to build McMansions. Then the rocket scientists running the local Governments can't figure out why roads heading North are congested. DUH! No jobs down here except Wal-Mart, K-Mart, minimum wage jobs, gas stations, construction of the overpriced houses. Corn and soybeans are the major cash crops now. Even County jobs are a 50% cut in salary from what I make here. But it's my retirement home and I'm looking forward to working part-time in a fun job in a couple years.

Pick-up truck with NASCAR stickers and baseball cap are required.

Posted by: WASP | May 4, 2005 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of helicopters, the Goodyear blimp was just doing a bombing run on my house and it sounded just like a helicopter. Usually when it's overhead, it makes a soft wankle-wankle sound. My husband says it was so noisy this morning cause it was "on power," but it didn't seem to be moving unusually fast. I know it couldn't be that loud when it's over sporting events or it would drown out everything on the ground. Anyone have any ideas?

Here in NE Ohio, we had wet snow in the air again yesterday, but today dawned bright and sunny, so can spring be far behind?

Posted by: OHIO | May 4, 2005 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Birds do have lungs. Even better, they have TWO sets of vocal cords (to us humans' lowly one). That's how they can make all those wacky, elaborate sounds.

Posted by: Sarah | May 4, 2005 11:25 AM | Report abuse

What a lovely post. It makes me miss Cape Cod, although the helicopters there are usually airlifting the latest rotary accident at the Sagamore bridge.

What am I doing in Virginia again? Time to move back North, I think.

Posted by: Annie | May 4, 2005 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Of course, here in south Florida, we have birds all year round, and flowers too.

Lots of air traffic, as well: I live about a half mile from the Goodyear Blimp barn. The helicopters are usually looking for criminals or traffic jams, and last weekend we had the Air & Sea Show which was like living in Iraq except without the fear of imminent death. (Silly me, I can't fully enjoy the sight/sound of our Military Might on Display without thinking of some poor mother in Iraq whose child has been blown up.)

Posted by: karen b | May 4, 2005 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Oh, you Washingtonites? Washingtonians? Nothing drowns out the sound of bird song more profoundly than the roar of a C-140 transport plane (the biggest of the big birds) coming in for a landing at Lackland (sans tierre) Air Force Base here in San Antonio. The planes' underbellies are so close to the roofline of our house I sometimes think I can reach out and touch them! Or the scrappy little fighter jets.

I often think I can predict how the Iraqi war is going by the flight activity overhead in Alamo City, much as Joel commented about overhead helicopters in D.C.

Posted by: Linda Loomis | May 4, 2005 1:24 PM | Report abuse

well here on Cape Cod we have F-15s on patrol, C-130s in and out, and helicopters galore, actually, the latter largely Coast Guard. There's a base here. But lotsa birds too. Just ask my parrots,

Posted by: parrotmom | May 5, 2005 12:19 PM | Report abuse

i've never seen so many comments on this blog...y'all like birds for REALS

Posted by: nomes | May 9, 2005 7:04 AM | Report abuse

Wahhhoooooo yayyyyyyyy ohhhh yeahhhhhh birrrrddddddzzzz

Posted by: lilian0415 | May 10, 2005 5:54 PM | Report abuse

yall dont like birdz 4 reelz

Posted by: janalia59 | May 10, 2005 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Oh birds have lungs. [Not to say they can talk to us, that's another story...]

Posted by: Soria | May 10, 2005 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Who said that birds came from dinosaur's? If you believe that one then you need to do a little more reading, without the bias.

Posted by: Camille | May 27, 2005 10:30 PM | Report abuse

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