Sunday, June 21, 2009

Square 26: Solstice bacchanal

Square 026

It is the longest day of the year and even at dawn the air is bursting with music. I have to arrive in Dwight a half hour before sunrise—when the birds are most active—to run my annual route in the Breeding Bird Survey. Near the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 60 I pull off and get out of the car. As the eastern sky is turning silver to apricot, the air rings with trills of pine warblers in the tall white pines around the village. I take the air temperature: 17C, the warmest morning in a decade of surveys. Then I start my stop watch and begin counting birds, as many as I see and hear in three minutes.

In this dense forest it is more hearing than seeing. As I progress through the fifty stops along 40 km of highway, the forest composition matures and changes. From the broken woodlands frequented by chestnut-sided warblers and American robins, I move into nature maple stands where scarlet tanagers sing deep in the green shadows. This year I even hear a boreal chickadee in a conifer stand atop a rock face. I pass wetlands inhabited by swamp sparrows, yellowthroats, alder flycatchers and sometimes American bitterns. Altogether I must be able to recognize the songs of more than a dozen warbler species and scores of other songbirds. This year I count 56 species in less than five hours, my highest tally ever.

There is only a brief window of weeks in which to do the count. Migrants from the tropics arrive on their summer breeding territory by the third week of May. After the first week of July most fall silent as they grow busy and wary feeding their fledglings. I choose to run my route on or about June 21 to celebrate the Solstice, my midsummer bacchanal.

I used two variegated yarns from Malabrigo and Wellington Fibres to evoke sunrise in the forest.

The blue thread represents bird song, particularly the pure, clear song of the white-throated sparrow. For many people the sound is an icon of cottage country. The bird has an unnerving habit of vocalizing suddenly in the middle of the night.

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