They know the chirp
I started birding four years ago. In the beginning, it was an achievement just to capture a great photo with a precise focus on these gorgeous creatures, but then it became a desire for adventure.
Birds are the most competent globetrotters. Arctic terns make the longest migration journey, adding up to over 2.4 million kilometers in their lives. The whooper swan can ascend higher than the peak of Mount Everest. They would be listed as "20 celebs you should follow on Instagram" if they know how to use a hashtag.
I have learned different bird species from every encounter on my birding adventure. Moreover, contact with birds results in different inspirations for human beings. Su Liang Yu enlightens me about birding. We have been in a relationship for over four years. He has been an excellent designer ever since I met him. He has a talent for art. However, what impresses me is his knowledge of birds. He is entirely a bird enthusiast who collects birding guides from Taiwan to Iceland, spending most of his time checking off what he has encountered. In the beginning, I thought he recognized birds while spotting them. Then, I found that sometimes he can distinguish bird species by hearing birds songs.
Both of us enjoy the pleasure of the woods. We walk into woods, strolling in farmland, soaking ourselves with the gentle breeze in the evening. Sometimes, we walk along the estuary to spot the osprey hovering in the sky. Sometimes, we nap in the car with wild birds songs. We even take a flight to Kinmen (a small island nearby Taiwan), stay in an old car, and wait for a precious encounter with wild peacocks.
The peacock is the beginning of my birding. I never thought I could have a chance to see "wild peacock" in my real life before. Sorghum turns yellow, and breeze rhymes the golden field with waves of the poem. We stopped our car in front of a farmhouse. Su Liang Yu had done long-term research with his father, and they believed this was the best location to spot the wild peacock family. Those fascinating and gorgeous creatures are timid and untamed. They would not show up if they heard any sound from the vehicle or humans. The peacock family paced gingerly in woods. We kept patient until they walked out to the path of farmland.
That was a breathtaking moment. Sunlight cascaded on the earth and smocked their feathers with glitter and dazzle. I couldn't stop snapping my camera, although the shutter sound somehow corrupted this moment.
Wild peacocks forage with elegance and alertness most of the time. It's usually not an easy task to trace them, except during summertime. Summer is a must-go season for visiting Kinmen if you are a birding enthusiast.
We were on the way to the same farmhouse, wondering if we might have a beautiful encounter with wild peacocks again. Then, a crow broke the peace of this summer evening. Su recognized it. That is how peacocks behave during courtship. People know they display their impressive tail fans—they see those pictures in books or on the Internet—but they would not have a chance to understand how peacocks crow so loudly during their mating season. However, they were unwilling to show up this time. The sound and crowing they made in the woods let us imagine how busy they are for territory and mating.
Although recognizing bird songs is an incredible skill for me, Su said it's not a hard goal to achieve. He said that it is just a piece of cake for most professional birders. It is. After we met with Erik, I was sure about that.
Erik Kleyheeg is a professional researcher in wetlands and birds. I had a chance to interview him for a News project in the Netherlands. We were supposed to meet last year. That was my first time visiting the Netherlands with Su, and we prefer a birding and nature itinerary, so we contacted Erik through a birding pal website. Erik was unable to be our birding pal because of his own business outside the country, but he still recommended some locations for birding in the Netherlands.
For the second visit to the Netherlands, Erik accepted the interview request. He wore a t-shirt with the slogan "trust the duck," and that matched his research. Wetland ecology, ornithology—Erick is not just a professional of ecology. He even ran a citizen science project to assemble a mass to trace mallards, and all of the results would feed back into long-term research to record the decline of mallards in the Netherlands.
We took a walk in Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen (AWD), which was supposed to be the first place I would come across the red fox. AWD sets a great example as a nature reserve for Taiwan. We saw numerous deer families on the paths and robins flitting in the woods, with European goldfinches singing with pleasure. Erik showed his talent for recognizing European bird songs we had never heard before. He said he could not help but identifying those bird songs even while riding his bike.
He reminded me of a particular event in which I had participated in Taiwan. A great field recorder created an album named "Soundscape." She led the audience in a different way of perceiving nature in the city. In part of that series of events, she taught people how to listen to bird songs. "Close your eyes, eliminating 90% of those messages you receive. You can create more than before," she said.
Light-vented bulbuls and Japanese white-eye composed an antiphony, bouncing in the woods with whispering leaves. Turning in another direction, I heard the black bulbul calling somewhere from a distance. The world you hear is different from the world you see. Some participants were thrilled about not having to distinguish bird species by memorizing their illustrations in a guidebook. For me, it's not a question of being a professional birding guide with a vast database of bird calls in mind; it is a question of resonating with bird chirps by listening to their cheer, tension, or any sign of their emotion.
I visited Kokyo Gaien National Garden last year (2017). Japan is a country with more than 500 bird species. Kokyo Gaien is famous for tourism. I roamed around this area in the evening, immersing myself in the historical vibe. Although Kokyo Gaien is not a birding hotspot, I could still catch some common birds' traces here.
There were seagulls, kingfishers, and brown-eared bulbul, and not to mention those chattery and squabbling sparrows. There were a host of sparrows chirping like they were having a fierce debate in their conference in the grove. I was about to pass by as if it was a familiar scene in life. However, this familiar scene in my daily life became a unique chapter for a lady. The loud chirp lured the lady to stop in front of the grove with a warm and surprised smile on her face. She stood there with a consonant peace as if she were one of them, as a note taker to memorize those chirps for a long time.
At that moment, I realized recognizing various birds' songs might be a feat but knowing the chirp had already become a reason for mirth.