By MARGAUX HENQUINET
Spring is beginning to show in the Old Southwest. Squirrels are chattering in the trees, shoots are coming up along the road and, in some places, purple and yellow flowers are beginning to grow through the covering of acorns left over from the fall.
Last week, I was walking through the neighborhood down Stewart Road toward Providence Road, enjoying the sunshine and taking in the sights and sounds that meant warmer days were ahead.
All of a sudden, I noticed a sound that did not fit with the rest of what I was hearing. Startled, I stopped to listen.
“BEEP-BEEP-BEEP,” it rang out shrilly. Three short sounds, repeated over and over. Occasionally, only two “BEEPS” before it went on. As I listened, it cycled to a different pattern: “DEE-doo, DEE-doo, DEE-doo.” The same thing — one sequence of sounds, repeated over and over with an occasional short pause. Then, after a while, back to the first sequence.
I had no idea what it was, but in my mind it was not a natural springtime noise. I started listing the possibilities before I settled on what seemed most accurate to me — an alarm. A fire alarm? A burglar alarm?
I wasn’t sure, but the idea set my mind into panic mode. Should I try to find the source of the alarm? Look for a house on fire? I spotted one house with a door slightly ajar; was there a robbery happening? Should I go investigate? Call the police? I didn’t want to call anyone based on a noise I couldn’t identify, but I didn’t want to risk letting a robbery or fire go unreported, either.
I stood there for several minutes, trying to decide what to do, before I was saved by a man walking toward me.
“Do you hear that?” I asked, hoping that he did, and that he would made a decision on what to do so I didn’t have to. I hoped that he would be concerned, too, to validate my fears.
But instead, he simply responded, birds. It was nothing more than birds calling to one another, he said. He said knew the general area of one, he said, gesturing in the direction I’d been looking, but said he wasn’t sure where the other was.
Birds. Of course. I nodded in agreement to whatever he was saying to me before walking on, embarrassed. Sure enough, from a different block, I could clearly tell that I was hearing two birdcalls. Having had enough of spring sounds for the day, I went to class and put the incident out of my mind.
Yesterday, I found myself in the Old Southwest again, hearing the call of the “alarm bird.” This time, it was obvious from the start what they were, because one was close to me while the other was several blocks away. I listened for a while, taking in the consistent, repeated call-and-response, and grudgingly admitted that there was something beautiful in it. I wished I knew what the bird was so I could find out more about it later.
So, bird enthusiasts of Columbia, can you help me out? What do you call a bird that sounds like a fire alarm and is small and fairly smooth-feathered, with a gray back and a pale chest?
What signs of spring have you been seeing or hearing around your neighborhood? What’s out there that’s giving you hope that the snow has ended and the good weather is coming for good?