Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bobolinks at Voice of America (VOA) Park

Sunday evening as I stepped out of my car, I heard a bubbly, melodic, and slightly techno-sounding twittering coming from the tall grasses all around me. Strangely enough, the sound was reminiscent of R2D2 from Star Wars, and although not particularly loud, it was commanding (almost magical) and made me stop and strain to hear every note rising through the meadow. Slowly memories of the call from my bird song CDs started surfacing in my mind and “Bobolink song!” burst forth in that flurry of recognition we all know and love.




I had seen Bobolinks at VOA before, even earlier this spring, but never within earshot…and never in the High Meadow. Tonight was my first trip to this area. I didn’t even know this part of the park existed until a Cincinnati birder (thanks, Mike!) filled me in on its location. After taking in all the green of the large meadow, I started scanning the horizon looking for the familiar profile of the bird, but I couldn’t find one. I would hear the call bubble up in front of me, then to the left…then to the right, and with each new repetition I would freeze and just listen, slowing down my mind…sinking into each note. Slowly I realized they were hidden in the deep green, watching me through the endless thin blades.


Finally, one flew out of the thick grasses and onto a small snag. This meadow truly was a sea of grass with only saplings sticking up here and there. Repeatedly, I would see a Meadowlark grab one…then a Bobolink…and every now and then a Red-winged Blackbird would sneak in too, but when it came to song the Bobolink had no competition.


After doing a bit of research at home, I found many others had been captivated by his song over the years too. Mary Deinlein, from “The Prairie Home Companion,” writes
Their song has been vividly described as "a bubbling delirium of ecstatic music that flows from the gifted throat of the bird like sparkling champagne," "a mad, reckless song-fantasia, and outbreak of pent-up, irrepressible glee," and as "a tinkle of fairy music, like the strains of an old Greek harp."
Click here for a link to this article on the Smithsonian National Zoological Park website. It is  packed with lots of Bobolink facts and tidbits.

Beak Bit
The Bobolink’s beautiful, delicate song masks his incredible strength and endurance. Of all the neotropical migrants, the Bobolink has one of the longest migration routes, requiring almost 6,000 miles of hazardous flight time to reach their summer breeding grounds! This fellow flies all the way from Argentina to the northern United States and Canada (in Cincinnati, we must be at the very bottom of their breeding grounds…lucky us!). Like many birds, Bobolinks use the stars, sun, and earth-bound landmarks to help guide them north, but Bobolinks also have a little extra help. They have small quantities of the magnetic mineral magnetite in the tissues of their nasal cavity. This mineral helps the birds feel the earth’s magnetic field, working like a compass pointed north! Experience also helps the bird wing its way north. Miyoko Chu (from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology) writes in a podcast on Birdnotes,  
“a nine-year-old Bobolink will have flown a distance equivalent to four and half times around the earth.”

Note: If you want to find Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, and even Henslow’s Sparrows in Cincinnati, head over to the High Meadow at VOA. The High Meadow is just past “Wiggly Field” (the special dog area) and marked with an Audubon’s “Important Bird Area” sign. Follow the one-lane gravel road that picks up after the dog park to find this amazing stretch of grassland—and be inspired by the songs of the prairie birds.

26 comments:

dAwN said...

Very nice post about the Bobolink..

I saw this bird for the first time in Ma. You have some nice photos of it!
I knew they traveled long distances but had no idea about that magnetic mineral in their nostril..very cool
thanks for the information1

Rajesh said...

Beautiful snaps and excellent narration.

Ken Browne. said...

Hi Kelly. You are very lucky to be just within their breeding area. It is a very attractive bird and it does have a nice song. I do have a CD Rom of birds of America, and I listened to it.Nice blog sweetheart.Always interesting.

ShySongbird said...

Oh Kelly what a wonderful experience, judging by the lovely description of its song that must have been quite magical and your own writing is so beautifully creative, It is a pleasure to read your words and see your lovely photos.

Jayne said...

What fascinating facts regarding how they migrate! Beautiful captures Kelly!

Matt Latham said...

Sounds a great place with some mouthwatering species....Bobolink is a most wanted bird for me in the UK.

Ginnymo said...

Loved your post!! I learn something new every day! I've never seen a Bobolink but would love to.

Shellmo said...

Interesting info on the Bobolinks and they are pretty birds. They look bigger than I thought in your photos.

NCmountainwoman said...

I've never seen or heard a bobolink in the wild. Thanks for the great photographs and information.

Roy said...

I know they live around here, but I have yet to see or hear a Bobolink. Of course, I tend to hang out in forests and salt marshes, neither of which are Bobolink habitats. Oddly enough, in the woods the ever-present Gray Catbird can sound very much like a Bobolink.

Moria said...

What a super post! Very informative. I've never seen a Bobolink but I definitely want to someday.

Laure Ferlita said...

"a tinkle of fairy music, like the strains of an old Greek harp" . . . what a picture that brings to mind. To hear it would be oh, so, sweet.

Montanagirl said...

Such a great post about the Bobolink. I discovered just recently that there are some of these just north of our little town. I got a few photos of one the other day. I heard their beautiful song before I saw them.

holdingmoments said...

Great post Kelly, with fascinating facts about a bird I'll probably never see, but felt I was there with your description.
6,000 miles is a heck of a trek for anyone, let alone a small bird. Amazing!

Warren Baker said...

Sounds like a special bird kelly. What forward thinking you lot are ''overthere'' special fields for dog walkers, and signs for bird area's!! Overhere you would have to fight tooth and nail for that!!

Jenny said...

Great post Kelly, very evocative writing. I could have been there with you! (-:

Chris said...

Hi Kelly,
This bird seems to be very special... I love the shots and the nice colors of this bird! It is also nice to read your text there! Wonderful!

Stacey Huston said...

Pretty amazing birds ..wow.. thanks for sharing

Dave Lewis said...

Great shots Kelly. One of these days I hope to get close enough to photograph one.

Kallen305 said...

Awesome shots Kelly! I love how it is perched on the branch like that.

Tina said...

Gosh this was a wonderful post about Bobolinks. Your pictures are wonderful and thanks for sharing all that info-loved the part about the magnetic material in their nostrils pretty neat info and ..9 years?? they live to be 9..isn't that extremely old for a song bird?
Oh so much to learn and so little time to learn it! ;-)

Steve B said...

Yeah! Bobolinks! Nice shots.

Kelly said...

Hello everyone! Well this guys was definitely amazing. There were at least 12 in the field, and I hope everyone gets to hear a meadow of their magical song some day. We are lucky the parks have maintained this grassland. We can only hope funding continues to allow them to protect it and the species living there. Thank you for your many kind comments. It's always fun to check at night to see what everyone has said!

Steve B said...

I LOVE you Bobolinks. (I know I've already commented, but sometimes I cannot contain my excitement.)

Kelly said...

...Steve...I'm the same way!

Heather said...

How fantastic Kelly. I have never witnessed one of these birds in real life, but I remember the first time I heard their song in a recording, I was blown away. I love my Wood Thrushes, but I would have to say the Bobo's song tops the Thrushes by a mile. How lucky for you. Some time I will have to go over to this VOA park you write about - it sounds like primo bird habitat!