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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Technology for the Birds or the Whistlin' Gypsy...


Midday and a hot July one here on our slim acre. Between the obnoxious rumblings of the weekend Harleys riders we heard repeated shrill whistles issuing from the trees along the property line. Our first thought was someone at the horse barn next door was whistling dog commands, some sort of canine training in progress.  But the whistles came at regular intervals, were too precise, too perfect for human efforts, tuned only in a way Mother Nature would program a bird call. We had never heard any such sound on the place before.

I went out back to investigate, thought maybe the new neighbors owned some exotic bird and this hot day had set its cage outside to enjoy the shade.   (The other day I had seen them carrying a newly constructed cage to the backyard.) A parrot perhaps, or a cockatoo, myna...some mimicking type of bird? The whistles seemed to issue from that general area. As I prowled around out back, whatever creature produced the shrilling moved down the property line whistling as it went. I followed the sound back to the house where, I-Phone in hand, my wife was waving at me. "Is this what we're hearing?" she asked, holding out her "hand held device" from which issued the selfsame whistle coming from the trees next door. "bob white! bob white! bob white." I could hear it clearly now, as if a stranger were whistling in my face. She had solved the mystery. Ah, technology! The whistlin' mystery bird was a northern Bob White quail.

For years I've kept a backyard bird tally, a checklist of all the avian species we've seen either on or from our property and while I've checked off one quail species, the California quail, a few of which we've seen over the years, I have yet to check off a Bob White. Besides, my Washington State field guide does not even list the bird whose normal range is in the southeastern states. Seeing is believing, the saying goes, and I had yet to see our visiting Bob. How to get the bird out of the bush without frightening it away was the challenge.

The next hour was interesting, a reprieve from what had been an otherwise uneventful day in late July. Our whistlin' visitor was "bob whiting" from a big leaf maple adjacent to our bedroom. I crept carefully to a vantage point hoping to glimpse the bird among the foliage. Meanwhile, my wife quietly slid open a bedroom window and propping her phone on the sill, played the You Tube recording of a Bob White's whistle, hoping to coax the bird into the open. The quail began a dialogue with the phone and its replies came closer. Suddenly it rocketed out of the maple in characteristic quail fashion and flew in the direction of the front lawn. It landed at the end of our landscaped mound and quickly scurried behind it. And that was that, we thought.

It turned out not to be so. We still wanted to see the bird up close and personal if possible, so we cranked up the I-Phone again, looped the You Tube video, moved the phone to the front bedroom window, and waited. A short time later "bob white, bob white" echoed from the rhody bushes under the window. We sneaked a peek through the window screen and there the little fellow was, echoing the electronic bird: the phone would tweet and Bob would retweet . I wanted a photo record of the bird's presence but knew it would jet away at any movement. After all, he was a "quail," wasn't he?

For a quarter of an hour we let the electronic bird and quail whistle at each other. We felt a twinge of guilt at having duped little Bob as he no doubt was lonely and longed for some Bob White companionship. For an hour or so after we shut off the phone, he continued to whistle, which saddened us a bit. The whistles came less often and from farther away until they ceased, leaving us with a hot afternoon and the ever present roar of those Harleys.






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