Acadian Twilight Song

photo of forest in twilight © Lang ElliottSometimes when I browse my collection in search of a particular recording, I stumble upon another that I’d forgotten about, a jewel that I had somehow overlooked. And this is what happened today, while I was searching for a recording of a Northern Bobwhite for a project I’m working on. The “jewel” turned out not to be the bobwhite, but rather a recording of the twilight song of the Acadian Flycatcher that I had captured during one of my many visits to Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky.

The date was May 7, 2005. At dusk, I hiked down an old road into a remote hollow. I could hear the calls of Fowler’s Toads and Gray Treefrogs in the distance. I left the trail and walked into a cathedral forest of tall bottomland hardwoods. I sat down on a fallen log and listened. Crickets were trilling softly and I could hear the subtle, high-pitched shuffling of spring-singing katydids. I shut my eyes, feeling no urge to record. Darkness descended. Then, just I as was falling into deep relaxation, I was suddenly startled into action by the calls of an Acadian Flycatcher, no more than thirty feet away. He gave several loud peet notes and then transitioned into his special twilight song, a regular series of peet calls interspersed with more complex phrases. I was ecstatic! Over the years, I had recorded many examples of the Acadian’s twilight song, but none as sweet and beautiful as this one:

Twilight song of the Acadian Flycatcher. 8:15 pm, 7 May 2005, Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky. Recording © Lang Elliott.

NOTE: About a third of the way through the recording, listen for a twittering outburst of musical notes—these are given as the flycatcher takes flight and moves to a different perch (or else returns to the same perch, which is what I think happened in this case).

What makes this recording so special? I think it is the mesmerizing background ambience, the reverberant calls of the two species of frogs set against the trilling of the crickets. The listener know by these sounds that it is dark, or at least nearly so. And most likely dusk, because the frogs often quit calling well before dawn. Thus, the background brings life to what otherwise would be a rather sterile portrait of the bird’s twilight song pattern. I was also delighted that the flycatcher wasn’t too close. All these elements combined to create an intimate and exquisite species-portrait, full of life and sense of place. Would that I could gather portraits this powerful for all our native birds. Of course, it certainly helps that the Acadian Fycatcher’s endearing twilight song is a true gem unto itself!

Comments

  1. I hear faint, hollow, low-pitched calls at 1:05 and I’m not sure what animal is making them.

  2. Zack Frieben says:

    I hear other Acadian Flycatchers in the background. The insects the toads and the treefrogs sure add uniqueness to the recording. What a wonderful recording. What’s that drawn out sound at 1:05?

  3. I have some recording that are species portraits of this vocalization from Frederick County Maryland and the pattern is very similar. The twilight song is my favorite and not at all easy to catch. I spent weeks, every evening and every morning, at a good location to get the recordings that I have. All were with a monaural parabola though.
    Wonderful blend of sounds here Lang. I really like to put the headphones on and close my eyes while listening to this. I can just feel the dim light and the transition from day to night. Wonderful.

  4. I think I have examples of this same pattern from Florida; I’ll have to check.

    Sure wish I had an equally powerful recording of the Eastern Wood-Pewee’s twilight song. I have a number of examples, but I have yet to snag a truly magical rendition.

  5. Re: “The featured song…three distinctly different phrases: a simple peet, a pee-churr, and a peet-seeoot: peet … peet … pee-churr … peet … peet … peet-seeoot (very approximately-speaking)” … could this just be his Kentuck dialect?

  6. Breathcatching and mesmerizing, leaves me with goosebumps but not the scary sort, just the oooh, wow, sort. Lang with all of these *jewels* you keep unearthing your archive must outshine Harry Potter’s stash in Gringott’s (think: Fort Knox).

  7. Nicholas Hlifka says:

    I love this one. When I close my eyes and listen, I can feel like I am there now, in the darkening, magical forest. (I agree that the ambience is what really makes this recording stand out.)

  8. Ryan: Yes, I have plenty recordings of the twilight song pattern you describe, which isn’t quite as interesting. They commonly do that around here (Ithaca, NY): peet … peet … peet … peet-sweet!

    I’m not sure what accounts for this variability. The featured song is more complex, involving three distinctly different phrases: a simple peet, a pee-churr, and a peet-seeoot: peet … peet … pee-churr … peet … peet … peet-seeoot (very approximately-speaking)

  9. Ryan Tomazin says:

    This is a bit different from the twilight Acadian songs that I am used to. The ones in northern West Virginia that I have heard tend to do more of a “pip pip pip pip pitteer” is more of a quick, lispy cadence. Yes, the ambience really sets up the depth for the listener, of a darkening forest with twilight beyond.

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