Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bobolink Road Trip 2014: Summit and Medina Counties

The Bobolink Road Trip has begun!  The first installment of my Bobolink song comparison will explore the songs at four locations in Summit and Medina Counties.  This is south of Cleveland and closer to Akron, and all four of the places I visited are within 12 miles of each other.  There's a map at the end of this post.

Today’s story begins at the Bath Nature Preserve in Western Summit County not far from the Medina County line.  I’ll then head southwest to Wolf Creek Environmental Learning Center in Medina County, back north to Allardale, and finally to the northernmost point in this collection: the former Richfield Coliseum site that is now a huge grassland in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
One would think that at four locations relatively close to each other, the Bobolinks would sing the same – or at least similar – songs.  Not necessarily!

I’ll start with Bath Nature Preserve, partly because I can’t get their Bobolink song out of my head.  Here’s how I’ll approach each song – and why.

The question I’m exploring is whether I can continue to identify Bobolinks by location based on their songs, and if so, what am I listening to that enables me to do this?  There seem to be little melodic motives that are common among the Bobolinks at each location I visit, and those are clear enough that I can hear and recognize them as I would human music.  Here’s how my process works:

As soon as I walked from the parking lot to the edge of the meadow, this is what I heard:

These are the musical elements that caught my attention and weren’t too fast and complex for my ears to follow.  I’ll break this down into the smallest segments, then add them back together.

Now I’ll take what you just heard and saw, and add a little more…


…and now I’ll go all the way from the most simple to the complex Bobolink song which includes these small musical elements.  I think it will be easier for you to pick them out of the texture now.

Are you starting to get the idea? You can actually sing some of these little melodic motives, and those would be the parts that we could identify by ear as the Bath Nature Preserve Bobolink song.
The three males close to where I was standing were still challenging each other and sometimes flying right over my head.  All three sang the same song, as they did when I visited then subsequently.

The next stop is across the Summit/Medina county line. I’d heard that there are Bobolinks at the Medina County Park District’s Wolf Creek Environmental Learning Center, which is only 6 miles SW of Bath.  This was a new place for me, and one I’ll certainly want to explore in the future.   Interpretive Services manager Shelley Tender gave me great directions for finding the Bobolinks on the property.  There were only a few singing males, but it was enough to get some recordings.  All were singing the same song, and it was not the song I heard at the Bath Nature Preserve.

Could you hear a difference?  There are some similarities, but this particular motive was definitely a new one to me.  Take a look, then listen to the track again:

She also said that Allardale  (also in the Medina County Park District) would be a very good place for Bobolinks.  It’s not far from Wolf Creek and is actually only 2+1/2 miles from Bath Nature Preserve, so that became my next stop.  Surely their songs should be related -  or so I thought.

I found a number of Bobolinks singing along both sides of the bridal trail, and I immediately thought their songs were different from ones I had heard elsewhere.  But what was different about them?

The recording you just heard had two singing Bobolinks – one closer and one a little farther away.  Here are the musical elements that make the Allardale songs unique for me:

Here is one more Allardale recording so you can hear the musical motives in context.

The last site in this collection used to be the Richfield Coliseum.  It was all about basketball and concerts from 1974-1994, but the structure was torn down in 1999. The land subsequently was taken over by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and now there’s a huge Bobolink meadow in its place.  There’s no sign other than the Important Bird Area designation, and there are no trails or anything approaching a welcoming parking area. 

This place is clearly for the birds, not the humans, and I think that’s quite appropriate.  There are no trails, though, and I certainly didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s nesting.  I walked carefully around part of the perimeter and stayed out of the meadow itself.   It’s on a main road (Rte 303) at the I-271 freeway exit, so there was plenty of noise in addition to wind.   I did get some recordings, but as is often the case anywhere that humans are present, considerable editing was necessary for you to be able to hear the avian music above what humans were contributing to the sound texture.

So this is a quiz: listen to this recording from Richfield and consider if anything sounds recognizable to you.

I'd heard this song before, and now, so have you.  Of the three Bobolinks I recorded there, two were singing the song I’d heard at the Bath Nature Preserve!  

A third Bobolink high above the meadow was singing a different – through not entirely unrelated  - song.  It was what I call the "fancy flight" song in which the male does a beautiful, slow, fluttering flight display while singing a song so long and complex that it seems almost impossible that one bird can sing all those notes.  These "fancy flight" songs may contain the characteristic song motives at the beginning, but will quickly depart from anything I can recognize or remember.

Richfield has a lot of Bobolinks, and it would be interested to determine if other songs are being sung in this meadow.   Next year, I’ll want to record there as soon as the males return, and I’ll walk the entire perimeter before any Bobolinks are nesting.

Here's a map showing all four locations.  Richfield is at the top right of the map, Wolf Creek is the farthest southwest, and they're all relatively close to each other.

That was a LOT of information, and I think a rest stop is in order.  The next part of the journey will take us to eastern Geauga County, then all the way south to Stark County.  

1 comment:

  1. This represents a huge amount of dedicated work, Lisa. The bobolinks in my part of Illinois, as you would expect, have distinctly different songs. There is a phrase I hear at a few places in my county that they have in common but I don't hear in your recordings to date.