Melody. In the early hours of a late spring day, park near Crystal Reservoir, the large water feature at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, and walk the entire length of the dam to the southern corner of the pond. There you will stand at the edge of a savanna that opens to reveal a westward panoramic view of the Amargosa Valley backstopped by the barren Funeral Range Mountains of nearby Death Valley National Park. The vantage point is a stark reminder that life is abundant around the waters of Ash Meadows, but death is not too far away. Leatherleaf Ash trees, Screwbean Mesquite trees and a carpet of saltgrass cover the savanna. The wind, the rustling of tree leaves, and the distant calls of the many birds from the nearby pond make up the foundation of the soundscape. For the melody, the northern mockingbird sings the song of the day. Stationed on the highest perch available, he sings for love, and he sings over his domain. He is such a clown; a real fool in love, leaping into the air then fluttering back down to his perch, all the while singing a virtuosic performance worthy of any operatic stage. If he is lucky enough to live a good, long life, he may learn up to 200 songs. As you may know, he mimics the songs of other birds, occasionally singing a short riff of his own. I don’t know why he chooses to sing covers when he’s quite capable of crafting his own tunes. There are a few Western Kingbirds in the immediate area and his mimic is a close copy. Human listeners are often fooled by his facsimiles, but other birds know an impostor when they hear one. Listen to the track and you’ll hear him swoosh in from stage left and deliver a rousing solo downstage, front and center. He is full of vigor, and it’s unclear to me whether he sings for a mate or shouts to give my microphones a good scolding for their egregious trespass into his territory. Regardless of the reason, his efforts are continuous, flying among several perches and never once taking a break for the two hours that I observed. His passions are displayed at considerable risk and expense. To no surprise to me at all, the eligible bachelor is the most boisterous performer. Being a husband and a dad, I completely understand why the avian parents have limited time for such extraneous endeavors.
Click the “Play” button on the SoundCloud player below to hear a brief sample of the 23:00 minute recording.