Sometimes 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!