Bobolinks don’t wait to land on a fence post to sing; they sing as they fly, pouring music over the green fields. There is a road near Peterborough with grassy fields on both sides where bobolinks nest. It’s a quiet road where I can sit and watch them fluttering over the grass and listen to their splendid songs.
The soft whistle of an eastern meadowlark plays a musical descant. From across the field, the sound of a killdeer is carried on the wind. Tree swallows swoop silently past my car and a warbling savannah sparrow perches on a fence post.
My goal is always to photograph the birds. When they don’t oblige by sitting nearby, I try to catch their flutter-flights. Or I abandon my photographer instinct and listen entranced to the harmony of songs. These grassland birds are in decline. I consider this field to be a rare treasure, and will come back often to visit its avian inhabitants.
At the end of May, bobolinks are newly arrived, survivors of a long flight from Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay or Argentina. In these countries they are sometimes considered pests, blamed for the destruction of grain, and poisoned with pesticides. During their summer in Canada, they eat mostly insects.
A female bobolink sits on a fence wire and two competitive males appear excited and loud, singing in the air and flitting from post to post. Some listeners compare their voices to a banjo. To me it sounds like a bubbling brook.
Bobolinks nest on the ground in tall grass, grain, clover or alfalfa. Their four to seven eggs will hatch in 10 to 13 days. Successful chicks will fledge before the farmer cuts the field.
Meadowlarks also live on the ground in nests made of grass, usually with dome-shaped roofs. They arrive earlier than the bobolink and need a longer time (13 to15 days) to incubate their eggs.
Savannah sparrows decorate posts along the road, singing a soft song before dropping down into the grass where they nest as well. Their diet of weed seeds and insects make them welcome visitors on a farm.
Only bird song disturbs the quiet in this special place. I follow the flight of killdeer, swallows, meadowlarks, sparrows and bobolinks, sort out their melodies and watch their courtship antics. When I am here, I am part of their world.
Text and photos by Enid Mallory, a long-standing Ontario Nature member. Enid and her husband Gord wrote Travels with birds in eastern North America, which is available from Amazon.