Monday, May 26, 2008

Bird Songs of the North American Prairie

Last year about this time John Neville and his wife Heather (Neville Recording) came to Valley County. John was working on a new CD, recording bird songs of the North American Prairie and he and Heather were on their second year of recording throughout the Great Plains. I was able to spend one enjoyable day in the field with them and I was able to point them in the right direction for a number of species they were looking for. Many of those species have made it on to this CD which just became available a few weeks ago.

This CD contains recordings of 174 species. It is organized rather loosely by habitat except for the opening section which has recordings of six species mainly found on the prairies during migration. The habitat types include the all important grasslands as well as riparian wetlands; marshes, potholes, lakes, and rivers; forests; and cliffs.
I particularly enjoyed the grassland section and John has a number of very good recordings of species associated with with this habitat including McCown's Longspur, my favorite prairie songster. Also included are excellent recordings of Sprague's Pipits, Baird's Sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs.
One aspect of the recordings produced by John that I particularly like are the other birds songs in the background of the featured species. I was especially struck by how often Northern Waterthrushes were heard in the background of his Bird Songs of the Western Boreal Forest and on this CD it was, not surprisingly, the Western Meadowlark that tried to steal the show on a number of tracks. Often I find myself listening to the birds in the background on the tracks as a bit of a quiz for the coming field season.
I have to confess that I wouldn't have chosen a few of the species that John did for this CD. The most interesting example is the inclusion of the Prairie Warbler. Although the name of this species suggests it should warrant inclusion into a CD of this name, this species of shrubby habitats was woefully misnamed and is very rarely found further west than Iowa.
Overall this is a great collection of bird songs that finally brings together the majority of the species anyone would expect to find in most of the states and provinces of the Great Plains.
The recording of the Chimney Swift is particularly enjoyable for me to listen too. I watched John and Heather record it across the street from my parents house in Fort Peck as the birds were circling the chimney of my old grade school.

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