A Wren and a Revelation (and a Threaded Pipe)
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SAY WHAT YOU WILL about the exquisite Winter Wren, our smallest wren, a walnut with legs, the perky one, which delivers for us the longest and most energetic song in the woods. Or marvel at the Cactus Wren, our largest, which nonetheless manages to maneuver and nest among the fierce thorn thickets of cholla. And do enjoy the Carolina Wren, the reliable one, which sings a warm “tea-kettle! tea-kettle! tea-kettle!” even in the depths of the New England winter (whenever that may come).
They got nothing on Canyon Wren.
This is the wren of sweet-caramel plumage, wearing a cape of twinkling stars, the wren of vertical canyon walls, whose song cascades down the sandstone and shales to bathe you in exultation. Canyon Wren issues one of the most spectacular and “place-appropriate” serenades on the continent. More on that soon.
In hiking many hundreds of miles up and down and across the Grand Canyon, I have found no better companion — other than my own two legs and my loving hiking partner Ruth — than Canyon Wren. Spish a few times, or whistle like a Northern Pygmy-Owl, and the Canyon Wren will pop out from some crack in the wall to seek you out — with the same passion you yourself beseech Audubon’s ghost for a closer view of this spark of nature. There the wren perches on some ledge, doing its deep-knee bends, swaying from side to side like a modern dancer.
Canyon Wren was my BOD (Bird of the Day) yesterday during the Gila River Christmas Bird Count here in Gila, New Mexico — not only for all that I’ve described above, but for its posing as an icon of nature’s surprises.
Since December 1, I’ve been encamped in a cabin beside the famed Gila River, birding here nearly every day. Not once did I hear a peep from a Canyon Wen. Nor did I expect to. I’m near no canyon, not even near any rocky ledges. Instead, I keep the company of Bewick’s Wrens, like this one here. It’s a perfectly fine wren; I like the way Bewick’s Wren sways its slender tail and moves swiftly among the thickets.
But, sorry, with apologies to Audubon’s pal Thomas Bewick, Bewick’s Wren is no Canyon Wren. It ain’t got that spark and sparkle.
So here I was, after a morning of counting birds, back at my cabin, whistling Northern Pygmy-Owl in order to get a rise out of yet another swarm of sparrows nearby. (Maybe I’ll blog soon on the Sparrowpalooza [Sparrowpocalypse] here each winter.) Then came the Canyon Wren, not singing to me, but scolding my owl. It hopped on a fence line (supported in part by that elegant metal threaded pipe) not more than 40 feet from my cabin door. A shocker. I grabbed that photo above with my little point-and-shoot camera.
Then I melted.
Yet I’ll leave you now with one more wren from New Mexico — except that I know not what species of wren. Ruth and I found it during a hike high into the Ponderosa Pine forest — we climbed to 9100 feet in the snow — in the Gila Wilderness (Aldo Leopold’s turf). When this bird called a rich “touk-touk,” I said to Ruth, “That sounds like an odd Winter Wren — it’s not quite right for Winter Wren.” Then the bird showed itself.
I suspect that here in New Mexico, we encountered a Pacific Wren. But I can’t be sure. It could be a Winter Wren. My photo (in lousy light) sucks. But, hey, it’s a another wren — a rare one here. And who am I to play favorites anyway?
Now, please go forth from this page and listen to Canyon Wren. Visit that link, scroll down to the little audio arrow, position your cursor, close your eyes, open your mind, and transport yourself to a slot canyon — then click and listen. To you alone, with a rock wall now replacing your glowing screen, the Canyon Wren will sing three times.