poetry and prose about place

Archive for the ‘bird song’ Category

morning bird chorus – ephemera

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When I was a child, one of the things I prized was my collection of ‘bird cards’. These were an advertising give-away from ‘Cow Brand Baking Soda’ (Church and Dwight Limited, Montreal, Canada).




I would spend hours looking at these, putting them in order of the ones I liked best, thinking about the birds depicted. The Meadowlark was a local bird I had seen many times and his call was as familiar to me as breathing – he always made it to the top of the pile! Today the winner would be the Cedar Waxwing who sits in the tops of the pines at our cabin, or the Goldfinch who spends all winter at our feeders!




Today I still have two packs of these cards. They are in sets of 16 in a paper envelope. The card sets are called ‘Useful Birds of America’ and the front of each card shows an image of a bird by artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), an American ornithologist and artist. On the back, there is a tip on how to use ‘Cow Brand Baking Soda’, the bird’s common name, its scientific name and a charming paragraph about its appearance and habits. The card concludes with a short message still relevant today:

For the good of all, do not destroy the birds 




Copyright 2016 Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 3, 2016 at 8:22 am

Hermit thrush

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Another surprise in the morning bird chorus — a Hermit thrush. I have been listening for it all spring and at last, this morning, the ethereal notes.


June 24 2016 'thrush ethereal' Jane Tims


How to describe the song of the Hermit thrush? T.S. Eliot described it in The Waste Land, in V: What the Thunder Said :

 … sound of water over a rock

Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees

Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop …


… who is the third who walks always beside you …


… In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing

Over the tumbled graves …


A technical description of the Hermit thrush song is ‘a beginning note, then several descending musical phrases in a minor key, repeated at different pitches.’


The song is clear, flute-like. To me the essential characteristics are the change in pitch at the beginning of the new phrase and the hint of water within. If you watch the Hermit thrush while she is singing, she stands tall, tilts her head back, looks into the distance with her bright black eye, lifts her feathers ever so slightly and opens her beak. Her throat swells a little but otherwise you are left to wonder, where do those notes begin?


If her song was another sound, it would be a flute in the forest.

If it was a smell, it would be the sweet scent of mayflowers, as you part the leaves with the back of your hand.

If it was a touch, it would be lifted hairs at the back of your neck.

If it was a taste, it would be syrup drizzled over iced milk.

If it was an image, it would be guttation drops on strawberries.




What other words describe the song of the Hermit thrush?












froth on a dancing wave

raindrops trembling on the tips of leaves

the step from rung to rung on a ladder


If it was a vowel, it would be every vowel

If it was a consonant, it would be ‘c’, ‘l’, ‘r’, or ‘v’



Hermit thrush


Catharus guttatus


neither visceral nor guttural, ethereal

tip-toe in tree tops

air pulled into taffy thread

a flute in the forest

froth on a wave


rain trembles on leaf tips

guttation drops on strawberry

a lifted curtain of mayflower


I saw you there

hidden in the thicket 

and I followed


climb the ladder and sing

then step to the rung below

heads up, thoughts of the new day

parting of the beak

pulse at the throat

hairs lift

at the nape

of the neck, fingers

warble the keys

between middle and ring




Copyright  2016  Jane Tims




Mourning dove

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I woke this morning to another new bird in the mix of the morning bird chorus — a Mourning dove. In this area, the Mourning dove is a common bird, seen pecking at seeds beneath feeders or hanging out on the telephone lines. But I haven’t heard one in our grey woods for a while.


'two Mourning Doves'


The call of the Mourning dove gives it its name. It begins with a low question and continues in a descending series of coos.

Oh no, no, no, no, no

Dear me, me, me, me, me, me

I decided to try and capture this sound in words.







Hollow, mellow

A reed, the inside walls of a bottle

An emerald bottle, buried to its neck in the sand

Breath across the mouth of a bottle

A child’s feeble attempt at a whistle

Light and shadow inside a vessel of glass


If the call of a mourning dove were a colour it would be amethyst

If the call of a mourning dove were a sound it would be wind blowing down the stairway of a tower

If the call of a mourning dove were a taste it would be chowder, thick and left too long on the fire

If the call of a mourning dove were a touch it would be a wooden shawl, wrapped round and round until it was no longer warm but strangling

If the call of a mourning dove were a song it would be hesitant, riff-driven, repeated over and over

If the call of a mourning dove were a smell it would be the cloying perfume of lilac


If it was a vowel, it would be ‘o’ or ‘u’ and sometimes ‘y’

If it was a consonant, it would be ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘r’, or ‘w’


Heavy or light

Loud or soft

Tall or short

Sad or happy

Bright or dull

Sharp or dull

Nearby or distant

Solemn or joyous

Spacious or confined


So, from all this, a poem. This is the second draft of a poem about the mourning dove which never mentions the bird except in the title.


Mourning dove


Zenaida macroura


wind wakens, descends the stair

notices shadow, gaps in cladding

the hollow of the tower, breath

across the mouth of a bottle

amethyst, buried in sand


the reed widened, a solemn song

the riff, the echo, a distant train

expands across the valley

and a child hollows her hand

shapes her lips for a kiss


tries to whistle, her breath

a sigh, a puff to cool

the chowder, still simmers

on the fire, thick

and needing stirring


potatoes, corn and onions

curdled cream, a woollen shawl wrapped

round and round, warmth tightened

to struggle, viscous as lilac

unable to breathe



For other posts and poems about the Mourning dove, see  and



Copyright 2016 Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

June 29, 2016 at 7:01 am

morning chorus

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This morning it began at 5:02. First the relentless delirious Robin.

Cheerio, Cheerie, Cheer-up … Robin

Oh dear Canada, Canada, Canada … White throated sparrow

Whee, whee, whee, wheezie … Black-throated green warbler

Ah-ah-rooo … Local rooster

Teacher, teacher, teacher … Ovenbird

Tweet-terreet-terreet-tereee … Goldfinch

All happy to greet the day.

Now 5:42


November 3, 2015 'morning fire' Jane Tims

November 3, 2015 ‘morning fire’ Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

June 13, 2016 at 5:57 am

songs in the grey woods – ovenbird, over and over

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This week we had a meeting of our writing group Fictional Friends. We are trying something new – dedicating our whole meeting to one person’s writing. The writer ‘in the spotlight’ talks about writing goals and the problems they encounter.  Then they describe their current project, giving a synopsis. They read and the group provides constructive comments. We found this first session helpful for everyone present and we plan another session, with a focus on another writer’s work. I think each member of the group learned something applicable to his or her own writing.


This session was held at my house. I left the back screen open, to let in some air. More than air comes in – at a meeting last month, the sound of our next door neighbour’s rooster crowing provided a backdrop to some reading about rural themes. At this week’s meeting, an Ovenbird decided to start singing in the woods behind our house. ‘Teacher, teacher, teacher’ he said, over and over. Perhaps he was making a commentary on our particular way of learning.


The Ovenbird is a large warbler, olive-brown. He reminds me of a thrust because of his streaked white breast. He has an orange crest, a white ring around each eye, a white throat and a dark line below his cheek. My drawing is from a photo by Ann Gardner, used with permission.




Do you belong to a writing group? What methods does your group use to help one another?


Copyright 2016  Jane Tims 

Written by jane tims

June 10, 2016 at 7:07 am

songs in the grey woods – northern parula

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A friend, a knowledgeable wetland biologist, has been helping me learn some new bird songs. Last week, I identified the song of the Northern Parula. This is a bird I have never seen, though I scan those tree tops with the binoculars until my arms ache. I have heard its song so many times and always wondered what it was. The song is a long whirrrrr, flowed by a short, upward flipWhirrrr -flip. Whirrrr- flip. This morning it was the first song of the morning bird chorus!


May 20, 2016 'Northern Parula' Jane Tims


It drives me crazy to hear him sing, be able to find the tree he is perched in, but not see him. My painting is how I think he must look, based on descriptions on the net.

The Parula is a blue-grey bird with a yellow throat, and a yellow and white breast. He has a white crescent above and below his eye and two white wing bars. A bright and beautiful bird! He has an association with a lichen I love, Usnea subfloridana, Old Man’s Beard. He uses the lichen to build his hanging nest.


Usnea subfloridana on the snow

Usnea subfloridana on the snow – usually found hanging in our maple, spruce and fir trees


Copyright 2016 Jane Tims


Written by jane tims

May 27, 2016 at 7:00 am

songs in the grey woods – ovenbird

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He can be a bit monotonous. A bit of a scold. He reminds me of a rusty hinge. He says teacher-teacher-teacher, repeating his song through the woodland. He is the Ovenbird.


His scientific name is Seiurus aurocapilla. Seiurus (which I remember as ‘serious’) is from the Greek meaning ‘tail shake’, a reference to the characteristic upward flip of his tail. The name aurocapilla means golden-haired referring to his crest of orangy feathers. The Ovenbird is olive-brown, with a streaked white breast. He has a white ring around his eye, a white throat and a dark line below his cheek. He looks a bit like a thrush, but is a large warbler.


His serious nature and his call of ‘teacher, teacher, teacher’ make me think I’ll include a poem about his ways in my project about one room school houses in New Brunswick. This is how my poems usually begin, with a whisper from nature.


May 20, 2016 'Ovenbird sings teacher, teacher, teacher' Jane Tims


Copyright 2016  Jane Tims 

Written by jane tims

May 23, 2016 at 7:00 am

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