field notes (4/16/16)

6:52am. a few sounds and sights this morning. up around 5:45 or 6:00 to the sound of a single corvid up the street- calling in repetitions of 5. poured some seed out onto the roof from the attic. realized it was easter today & poured out some extra. muttered “happy easter, bird brains!”

grabbed coffee & went down to porch. perhaps my greatest insight in my 25.2 years is that when possible or available, Comfort is Key. this has culminated in my ultimate achievement which is to keep a small pillow on the porch (tucked away out of view from the street) upon which to sit. what a concept. sometimes one just wants to sit on the porch, but the porch is all splintery. or sometimes wet. usually it’s too cold (at least in the early morning), and my lumbar spine gets messed up without proper downward tilt. i wear a lot of black and dont enjoy having funky-porch-dust visible on my buttcheeks. thus, porch pillow.

sat on pillow, folded it double under my rear end, & heard the corvid again. 5 calls.


there was sort of a staccato in cadence between each grouping. sometimes their raspy calls roll together a bit, as if squawed in the same respiration, but these were rather distinct. it was so rhythmic. one of the things that came to mind in articulating (re-articulating) these noises to myself in my head was the voice of my old orchestra teacher. She’d subdivide rhythms for us out loud & this 5-point call was more than rhythmic enough to fit a 4/4 type of tempo. Ok let’s be real I don’t remember how time signatures work, but my orchestra teacher’s voice came to mind anyway. Such a rhythmic and regular little bird!

It struck me yet again this morning that the patterns and syllables in “crow-talk” are complex enough to lose track of but simple enough to annotate (somewhat). That is to say I don’t understand their songs but can certainly (try to) write down the notes. Yesterday I at Macalester’s Springfest celebration (loud, people-packed, and unremarkable) and decided it was time for some bird watching. As I walked home along Summit, Pierce, and various alleys I was unable to see many birds but I heard a few. During that walk I was also wondering about how to transcribe/inscribe/note crow talk to myself on paper. Morse code? Some type of pseudo-musical strategy? Whether or not their vocalizations are ever consciously meaningful to a human I am unsure but it would be cool to at least recognize a few of them. Perhaps some type of animal annotation in this way exists- should touch base w Temple Grandin and her work. If I were literate in waveforms I could perhaps etch or sketch a mockery of the sound but I also am unaware if humans can be entirely literate in waveforms. Certainly waveforms are at least slightly readable, as in when observing a sound signal in a music software program. I know this because as the number of hours I’ve spent DJing and staring at those waveforms go up they’ve gotten groovier and groovier in my brain’s grooves/gyri. But are they writeable? Maybe, but probably not the best way to encode information. A waveform must likely be one of the more complete & complicated ways of representing a sound and perhaps rather than set my brain to a “deep learning” task it could be a little simpler. 

As I jot down these thoughts from my walk home from Springfest yesterday I can’t help  but notice how rewarding these questions of animal behavior are, even if totally unanswered or unapproachable. There were lots of cool people at Springfest but to be honest I enjoy toying around in my head with these brainquiries.

Anyway- I try to holler at the birds in a pseudospeak but as hard as it is to resist do that it’s really time to start resisting. It’s just not a helpful urge to act on and to be mimicking crows could draw attention to myself in a negative way. Most importantly though- odds are 99.9999% that whatever I’m screeching in my “crow-voice” is utterly horrifying or aggressive to them, and so it’s probably best to listen for now.
anyway. so this morning i was on porch and orchestra teacher is in my head subdividing the morning song from this black feathered dinosaur up in a tree. adding to the morning splendor was Gilda, who you likely know is my housemate’s cat. Gilda is a teensy tiny golden short-hair with green eyes and a whiny baby voice. She’s essentially an adorable needy whiny baby. So as the crow was yelling about something up the street Gilda came into the window on the porch and began yelling too. She was eager for some attention and to get her head/ears rubbed, and quite forcefully (with as much force as a 5lb cat can exert against a screen) mashed her head against the threaded metal. it was undeniably adorable and I told her so. such a baby. such a big baby! tried to give her a few scratches but likely just left her even more needy. sorry Gilda.

walked up the street to find the corvid w no luck. walked back to the house. kept hearing the 5-point call. i went back into my house and walked to the kitchen. on the way back I look out the bay window of Selby and freeze- 2 big fellas on the roof. Big meaning not finches. Corvids- crows, based on their size, or perhaps younger ravens. They were eating the seed that until that moment I had assumed was going entirely to the finches. One was pecking its head quite firmly into the shingles, making me wonder if Analuna hears all this downstairs.
I was frozen. They tend to fly away the minute they see me- i was within plain view of them but hadnt been spotted. I felt that prickly rush panic flush of the skin and a huge adrenaline surge- do I grab my phone and try to photograph them? no. rude. do i move? no, thatd scare them. rude. do i watch them? no, thatd scare them too. rude. so i just remained frozen.

A few moments went by and I decided to tiptoe towards the window. Mind you, this was before I decided to cease my vocalization project. In a very gentle voice I sang softly: “hello babies!” out the open screen. They looked at me.

“hello babies!” they both kept looking. i was gentle and averted my gaze, as not to freak them out. “hello babies!” a third time- and off they went. I immediately threw a piece of chicken out, which drew a large raven to the tree across the street. it cawed out in that 5-6 point rhythm and passed in front of the house a few times.

last encounter of the early AM- big fat raven aforementioned flew right up to porch and hovered over chicken. we locked eyes thru the bay window and it took off. havent heard or seen a single thing since (45 mins).

Ha! As I typed that, the raven returned. These birds are too powerful for me to be messing around with, I tell ya.

(to be continued)


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