It’s 64 degrees outside at 10 pm, and no one who is reading these words, except those who live in the immediate area, can appreciate how utterly weird this feels after the long, long winter. A week ago there was still a foot of snow behind our house. The last seven days have been so warm, and the sun so strong, that the outside world has been utterly transformed. Now there is only snow in the shade, and water runs everywhere.
The weirdness is made complete by the surprise appearance of the looney-bird. We met this strange bird last year, in the middle of summer, as I recall. At dusk, across the street from our house in the marshy lowlands that afford us wonderful skiing in the winter and a beautiful open space that we love (and someone else has to pay taxes on) during the rest of the year, we heard a bird that has a warbling, fluty, slightly demented call. We asked all our immediate neighbors what they thought was making the noise. They had a variety of incorrect suggestions. Finally, over dinner, we asked a woman who grew up in this neighborhood, and she immediately knew what we were talking about. “That’s what we used to call the looney-bird. It’s a snipe of some kind,” she said, and she was right.
It’s the Wilson’s Snipe, and its call is very distinctive both in its sound and when it occurs. Last year we remember it being prominent at dusk. In these first few warm days these crazy birds have been singing well after dark. I heard them when I got home at 9:30 this evening. Have any of you heard this sound before? Here’s the recording from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that we used to identify the bird. The sound that we hear is the one that starts about 40% of the way into the recording.
It sounds much more mellifluous in real life. Also spookier. But it speaks of warm weather, and so it sounds wonderful.