Friday, September 11, 2009

Jay World's Resounding Echoes

In the Spring I refer to all outdoors as Robin World, but in the Fall it is transformed into Jay World. Though robins are still around, they’re less seen and heard, while the jays are heard continuously—whether you’re in the country or the city--as they are getting wound up for migration. Although jays are with us throughout the year, at this time of Fall, they dominate the sound environment. Even if you are working in an office with closed windows, you may still hear their raucous, cacaphonic calls—a nice reminder that there’s still a living world out there.

I always experience a bit of a thrill when I hear or see the sounds of fall migration, because it alerts me to this massive movement in nature, and I believe that the birds in flocks are very excited, in addition to the sense of urgency that drives them forward. Of course, for jays, it isn’t the perilous long-distance journey that some other birds undertake, though the jays’ excitement is the most audible. Our local blue jays just go down to Dixie, so the ones we see over the winter are actually their Canadian cousins. As we get closer to Equinox, you’ll see little trios, quartets, or quintets of jays criss-crossing the roadways as they move purposefully southward, (though you’ll also see them heading in other directions, on shorter, local errands). Although you may see some larger bands of blue jays flying higher over head, they tend not to mass into large, high-flying flocks like some other birds. Rather, blue jays flow through the landscape as they move more leisurely and noisily from tree to tree and copse to copse.

My most memorable viewing of the jay migration, as well as the hawk migration, took place in front of my Dad’s big picture window in his beach house on the north shore of Lake Michigan, between Manistique and Gulliver. The house is set back in the dunes, with various bushes and trees in front of it. As the hawks and jays follow the shore line, they continuously stream past this window—on sort of a bird highway—as they move from tree to tree and bush to bush. When I was living in California and home schooling my children, we spent a number of months from summer into late autumn up there; however, now that I’ve moved back to Michigan, my ties to my work and my house keep me from going back, (though the house is not abandoned, because my brother’s family goes up there).

By the way, sometimes in addition to their usual semi-obscene shrieks, jays will also make metallic whistling calls. The quality of these calls may vary from a sound not unlike a rusty swing-set, to a more refined flute-like sound. Because these calls are unfamiliar and somewhat un-jay-like, some people don’t recognize them and find it hard to believe that jays are making these calls, even when you point it out to them. I heard some metallic jay whistles just yesterday, as I am fortunate to sit near a window. For over six months, I’ve been working in Berkey Hall, on Grand River Avenue. Though it’s such a busy street, it is a divided road with trees in the median strips, plus there are tall, mature trees lining it on narrow but park-like lawns on the MSU side. So, despite all the congested traffic and everything, this strip is rich in bird life, and from my window I continuously hear robins in spring and jays in fall. I am still also hearing the sound of cicadas.

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