Seeing birds with the ear

Posted May 27, 2011, at 10:21 p.m.

Steve Coleman and Khem Millay are great birders. They both are visually impaired, and they know their bird songs well!

Steve was the leader of a recent bird walk at Fields Pond Audubon Center, and Khem helped. I went with them, along with many other birdwatchers. We had a good morning looking for the birds with our eyes, but Steve and Khem are the ones who found the birds.

Steve would stop, point toward a song and say, “Chestnut-sided warbler.” When we looked where he pointed, there it was! This warbler has a yellow cap on its head and white cheeks, flanks and belly, with red-brown sides. Chestnut-sided warblers usually hold their tails cocked up above their wingtips.

Chestnut-sided warblers are insectivorous in Maine, but in winter they eat berries in Central America and the northern part of Colombia and Venezuela. In Maine, they forage for insects in shrubs and small trees. Often, they attempt to catch flying insects in midair. If successful, they fly back to a perch to eat or fly to their nest. There, they might push the insect into the beak and throat of their young.

Steve and Khem heard a Baltimore oriole on the edge of the forest. They were talking about the “delightful and charming song” while some of us were saying “Beautiful!” and “Gorgeous!” about the brilliant orange and black plumage.

Baltimore orioles live in the eastern United States in spring and summer, but in winter they go to South America. Their nest looks like a hanging gourd. Suspended in a twig fork, it is small (3 inches wide) at the top, wider (4 inches) at the bottom and 6 or 7 inches long. Orioles adapt well to suburbs and parks. They build their nests in deciduous trees along streams and rivers.

Steve also led us to the water’s edge of Fields Pond, hoping to find a loon. No loon. We looked and listened; still silent. Then Steve made a long wail with his hands and mouth — and a loon popped up from underwater!

Thank you, Steve and Khem!

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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