Saturday, October 09, 2010
Blue Jays on the Move
A single Blue Jay braked his wings and landed atop the pine tree. “Jay ... jay,” it said. A second stopped among the bare branches of the neighboring birch tree. “Jay ... jay,” it replied. More Blue Jays added to the conversation, and a third found a branch as it joined the first on the pine tree. The fourth jay chose another birch and a fifth took the maple with a few clinging red leaves.
Number one and two scanned the skies and trees, as though on a reconnaissance for their colleagues. “Jay, jay ... jay, jay” in a variety of tones and pitches, gurgles and glumps, a complex communication language which conveyed information and offered opinions just as clearly as any of the thousands of languages spoken by our species. Their Blue Jay conversation became intense, even raucous, but only the ignorant or arrogant among those humans who listen would call it mere noise or meaningless babble.
“Seven,” said a watcher seated on the ridge below, and then continued to count: “8, 9, 10, 11, 12 ....” as Blue Jays continued to appeared just above the tree tops and then follow the leaders’ low flight across the ridge and down over the tree tops into the valley. “... 21, 22, 23 ...” For a few moments no birds appeared in front of the watcher. Then there were more flashes above the tree tops as four more came to a brief pause around the pine before continuing the flight path established by the reconnaissance party. “34, 35, 36, 37.” This time there were longer moments with no new birds. Finally, a straggler made the flight. “38.” The watcher waited a little longer, just to be sure, and then the number was recorded in the notebook.
Blue Jays are on the move.
Or the unfamiliar chip note coming from the shrubs which sent someone in quest of the bird and a new addition to the repertoire of recognized bird calls. Or the morning fall-out of migrating warblers gleaning insects and scarfing berries, refueling before restorative rest.
And then there are the Blue Jays, conspicuous and numerous. Curious about how numerous the jays are, some years ago the numbers started to be written down. Hundreds passing over the ridge in a single day are not unusual. This has been a good year. About 2500 Blue Jays have been counted.
As with any inquiry, gathering one piece of information or answering one question leads exponentially to new questions. Where did they come from? Where are they going? Do they leap frog over the Blue Jays who fed their young in my back yard this summer? Are my Blue Jays year-round residents, or do they move south to be replaced by birds from the north who perhaps pass over the Putney ridge?
I don’t know. One piece of wisdom which birdwatching constantly reinforces is the vast expanse of my ignorance. The corollary piece of wisdom is to distrust anybody who has all of the answers. Hang out with people who know how much they don’t know, and you are probably hanging out with wise people from whom you can learn much.
“Jay, jay.” “Jay, jay.” “Jay, jay.” It looks safe. Let’s go.