The sounds are unmistakeable – a discordant chorus of soft chuckling noises like tongue-clicks as the RWTs flock into a bush, interrupted by harsh, metallic calls like rusty metal gate-hinges being forced open. Or maybe a lone bird mournfully repeating its eerie call from the mangroves far out on the Marls as the bonefishing skiffs slip silently along the shoreline. No other species sound quite like Agelaius phoeniceus.
The handsome males sport flashy epaulets, most clearly visible in flight or in display – for example to impress a prospective mate. Again, they are unlikely to be confused with another species.
The females, as is often the way, are less showy. I have just read that they are ‘nondescript’, which is unnecessarily harsh I reckon. Here are a couple of examples.
And the darker brown ones that are clearly not handsome black males? These are young males in their first season, before they move on to the full adult male plumage. Previously I had designated them females (as I had assumed) until very gently corrected by the legendary Bruce Hallett. Not only was Bruce an essential part in the production of the Birds of Abaco, he also keeps a benign eye on my posts and occasionally steps in to clarify IDs etc. I took the first male juvenile at Casuarina, when I also made the sound recording (below). The second was at Delphi – and with some ‘light’ issues, I notice…
Fledglings are kind of cute…
SO WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?
You may need to turn up the volume a bit. You will also here a lot of dove noise and, in the background, the sound of waves lapping onto the shore.
Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 4, 5, 8); Alex Hughes (3); Keith Salvesen (6, 7, 9 & audio)
The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) has previously hopped around these pages in the context of a (my!) simple way to RECORD BIRDS using a smart-phone, trim the result and convert it into an mp3 (or even a ring-tone – I have a great Abaco parrot one to startle friends, family and indeed complete strangers). Now we move on to a more important topic, namely courtship and so forth. And boy, don’t male RWBs fancy themselves when trying to impress the laydeez…We had taken a truck into backcountry between the pine forest and the Marls, with Tom and his impressive camo-camera with its 10 foot lens.
We found formerly cultivated fields – evidence of the defunct sugar cane industry – and then we came unexpectedly to a large expanse of open scrubland, with the track straggling through the middle.
And there, on carefully chosen vantage points, was an array of RWBs.
This bird was within range of my comparatively puny camera, and I watched as it arranged itself into various elegant poses in the late afternoon sun. All around were their ‘rusty door hinge’ calls, of which this is an example (in fact a female, recorded at Casaurina, hence the background sound of lapping waves).
These acres of open land were not far inland, and there was a slight breeze to ease the heat. This caused the occasional ruffling of feathers, and the need to spruce up…
The purpose of all this was of course to impress the opposite sex (behaviour not confined to bird species). There were plenty of females around, also similarly perching on vantage points for similar display-with-view-to-dating-maybe-more reasons.
I didn’t see the phase in which the males may get quite worked-up, but luckily Y**T*b* has perfect example of a male RWB in full song. Credits as shown on the video.
YOU WILL NEED: an iPh@ne or similar smartphone with a voice memo facility; patience; minimal non-natural background noises (traffic, yelling people, barking dogs, heavy machinery); a steady-ish hand; one or more birds nearby
Use the Voice Memo app on an iPh@ne (I presume most other smart phones have a similar app).
Once you have it onscreen, turn the phone round 180 deg and the image will swivel round too. Now you can point the microphone at the sound and have the controls the right way up facing you.
Turn the volume up to max before you record.
Handle the phone carefully so it doesn’t record you touching it as well. It probably won’t pick up pressing ‘record’, but it may when you press ‘stop’. But you can trim the end of the saved file on the file very simply.
The recording saves in m4p format, and you can email it to your computer direct from the app (or to anywhere or anyone else).
Drag / save the file onto your desktop from the email. When you open it, it will (a) play and (b) appear in your iTunes library (or whatever music storage system you use).
CONVERTING RECORDINGS TO MP3
Having opened the recording, to convert the file to an mp3 (generally the preferred version for uploading elsewhere) in iTunes, go to Songsin your iTunes library and search for Memo. There it is!
You can rename it at this stage if you wish.
Then go toFile on the top bar, and in the drop-down menu, near the bottom, go to Create new version. It will offer you mp3.
Clickmp3 and a second recording file will appear in your library. That’s your mp3.
Drag it onto your desktop and do what you want with it.
Apologies if this is all blindingly obvious and written in the elementary computer language ‘eggy-peggy’. It took me a while to get it sorted out, and I hope the details above will help the lo-tek computer user to record birds and use the results painlessly.
I recommend recording for about 20 – 30 seconds max. The iPh@ne allows easy trimming at the start and end of the saved file, but there’s no easy way to edit the middle to take out the barking dog.
Several short recordings of each bird will give a better choice of results than one or 2 long recordings.
The iPh@ne mic is surprisingly sensitive. It will pick up all nearby sounds – someone whispering at you “is it recording yet?”, for example. So ideally this is best done in the pine forest or coppice, away from the Highway. And maybe the loud whisperer.
Wind can be a problem. Not just for humans. The mic will pick up gusts of wind, or wind blowing across it if you change the direction you are pointing the phone as you record. So this is best done on a calm day.
Here are two practice recordings I made in March. The first is the female red-winged blackbird above (and header) at Casuarina beach. The distinctive call is rather like a rusty hinge on a swinging gate, often heard far out in the mangrove swamps of the Marls. You’ll hear background noises from collared doves and also the sea lapping on the shore.
The second is thick-billed vireo in the coppice at Delphi. You’ll hear an answering vireo – and also some wind noise. I find these little birds frustratingly hard to see – they always seem to be lurking further back in the bushes than I think. I’ve never managed to take a good photo of one, so I’ll upload an illustrative poor one to be going on with. I am back on Abaco in a week, and a better TBV photo is on my avian hit list.
Finally, you’ll find a longer recording I made of Abaco parrots squabbling noisily at Bahama Palm Shores near the end of a recent post HERE. I made an mp3 using the method described above, and uploaded it to the excellent Xeno-Canto bird sounds website, which is well worth exploring. You can find my recordings of the parrots and the birds in this post, plus sonograms, on my XC page, such as it is, HERE
But if you just want to hear the parrots, here they are. Like schoolkids, only louder.
Why do I do that annoying ‘iPh@ne’ thing? It’s a statistical fact that I have just made up that 373,597 people a minute world-wide g@@gle the correct word. Imagine the meta-crawlers and spam-splurgers that lock onto that word. I don’t want to cyber-meet them. I also use the form Am@z@n but for different reasons relating to their ingenious tax arrangements (alleged, obviously). Thus with G@@gle as well (again, merely alleged – as Dusty Springfield memorable sang, “Nothing is proved…)