Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bobolink Concert Postlude and Program Notes

I have two final two locations to present in my ever-growing Bobolink song collection.  The first is Carlisle Reservation’s Equestrian Center in the Lorain County Metro Parks near LaGrange, which is west/southwest of Cleveland.  The second is Byers Woods in the Ashland Park District just outside of Ashland, which is far to the southwest of the Cleveland area and close to Mansfield.  As I’ve done with the other Bobolinks, I’ve separated out what I found to be short, recognizable song components followed by longer, more complex songs that include those components.  I know this has been quite a few songs to try to remember.  There’s no quiz on the material.  I’m sure I’ll have to review them all myself next year.

I visited the Carlisle Equestrian Center after reading on the OhioBirds list serve that Bobolinks had returned there.  I’d been to Carlisle Reservation, but wasn’t familiar with the Equestrian Center area or aware that Bobolinks nest there.   The day I went to investigate, a draft horse plow-pulling competition was in progress.  Pick-ups and horse trailers were numerous, but they were across the driveway from where the Bobolinks and Meadowlarks appeared to be in residence. 

Here are the song components that seemed to be consistent with the exception of a single Bobolink singing from a tree next to the parking lot.


Byers Woods is a beautiful Ashland County park that includes a closed landfill.  The landfill is now a very large grassland with many Bobolinks and Meadowlarks present, and the park itself enables people to walk along paths in the area.  Mowing is delayed until after the Bobolinks have fledged, and the Greater Mohican Audubon Society holds a Bobolink and Butterfly Festival there on a Saturday in June each year.  It’s a wonderful place for grassland birds!

The songs were a little harder for me to recognize, but here are the patterns I was able to determine. The short patterns are followed by some of the songs.


Just last week, I saw male Bobolinks that were beginning to molt out of their festive black, white and yellow and into their brown and gold non-breeding plumage.  Their season of song has ended, and soon they will look similar to the females.   It’s an appropriate time for my Bobolink song summary.

Here’s a photo of a map of all the sites where I made Bobolink recordings.  I’ll include a link to the Google Map below the picture, and you can use this link to see the names and counties of each of the points on the map.   I think you’ll find this helpful as I describe the song relationships I found (or did not find).

You can access this map and look up the name for each location here.

One of the puzzling, yet interesting things I’ve been trying to learn from these songs is which pitches are actually a part of the songs.  These birds are not soloists on a quiet stage.  There are other birds singing and almost constant human noises of various kinds.  I had to edit out as much human noise as possible to get to what the birds were singing, and then attempt to separate out the pitches in individual birds’ songs. 

It was tricky at times simply because the pitches that I as a human musician could identify most readily were those that often fit astonishingly well into the tonal organization typical of western music.  When I heard (and saw on the sonograms) pitches that seemed out of place or dissonant, I would have to try to determine if they were part of the song, pitches from other nearby birds, or random pitches left behind after editing.  I looked at/listened to how consistently these pitches seemed to occur in relation to other pitches within the song.  If there appeared to be some consistency, I left those pitches alone even if they seemed somewhat dissonant to my ears.  I’m not a Bobolink, and I don’t know their scores.  I’m doing my best to report what I hear.

Now that I’ve edited and reported what I heard at the twelve Bobolink locations I've visited, here’s what seems the same, somewhat related, or unrelated.

The Bobolinks at South Russell Village Park and at Frohring Meadows sing the same songs, but these parks are adjoining properties.   The two male Bobolinks at Swine Creek and South Russell/Frohring in Geauga County and those at Metzger Park in Stark County sing songs that share one of the basic song pattern but not the unusual triplet pattern. 

The Bobolinks at CWRU’s Squire Valleevue Farm have a melodic pattern with similar pitches in a different order.   Interestingly, last year I heard one Bobolink sing the Squire Valleevue song at Frohring Meadows.  This year, I heard one Bobolink consistently singing the Frohring Meadows/South Russell song at Squire Valleevue Farm.  I have never heard any Bobolink sing any other song than the expected Squire Valleevue pattern at the Farm, and I’ve been listening to those Bobolinks longer than any others.  These properties aren’t all that far apart, however –just under six miles.  To me, it’s more surprising that the songs at Squire Valleevue Farm are recognizably different!

The Bobolink songs from the Bath Nature Preserve in western Summit County were the same as those I was able to record at the former Richfield Coliseum site in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  I won’t know if all the Richfield Bobolinks sing the same song until I have a chance to explore the entire area, but those  I did hear seemed consistent.  The Bobolinks at Wolf Creek had a song that was somewhat different, but still related to those at Bath and Richfield.  Allardale Park, however, surprised me because the songs there seemed considerably different in spite of its proximity to the other three sites.

This next paragraph is primarily for the musicians reading this post.  Although some Bobolink songs did not seem to share a significant pitch pattern similarity to any of the others I heard, a number of them had an opeining figure that was approximately a perfect 4th or a perfect octave leap.  Here’s a collection in the following order: Holden, South Russell/Frohring meadows (octave), Carlisle, Bath, Richfield CVNP, Wolf Creek (P4th) and Byers Woods (more or less a P4th).   These intro patterns contribute to the tonal quality of the songs.

The Holden Arboretum Bobolinks remain quite unique in their melodic song pattern, sharing only the pattern I described above.  Even then, theirs is a perfect octave, not the more common perfect 4th.  All of the Holden Bobolinks I’ve heard there in the past 4 years sing the same song, and it really is noticeably different from any other songs I’ve recorded in the region to date. 

I had hoped to find something similar to Holden at a closed landfill that has been restored as a large grassland area in Lake County.  It’s only about 5 miles southwest of Holden.  The public does not have access to this landfill as would be possible at Byers Woods, but I was hopeful that I’d hear the Bobolinks on a special field trip through the Geauga Park District.  Alas, the afternoon was chilly and rain set in almost as soon as the field trip began.  I saw that Bobolinks were present, but they were not singing in the rain and I would not have been able to record them even if they had done so.  Maybe next year…

I'll miss hearing the Bobolinks, but they have a round trip to make to Argentina and back before I hear them sing again.  I’ll leave you with a track that includes the characteristic pitch patterns of each location’s Bobolink songs.  (The songs are in alphabetic order by location, and the entire track is about a minute and 45 seconds.  The arrow is right above the photo below.)

Crickets and katydids are beginning to sing now, so it’s just about time for me to turn my attention to the insect percussion ensemble and the magical concerts of the night.

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