I woke on Sunday morning to loud singing. Song resounded above the rush and pour of the Lochsa River, where I was camped.
The first thing I did when I emerged from my sleeping bag and the back of the truck was to look up to the song. In the snag top of a tree next to the truck, I thought. I grabbed my binoculars and looked at the round and fuzzy form at the tree’s top. It was a blur. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and tried again, focusing better now, and I could see the form and fuzz at the treetop were just a knot of wood surrounded by lichen. The song was elsewhere.
I fixed tea and with cup in hand, I tried to place the song but could not see it, could not find its source among the trees and shrubs. It was as if the leaves and branches warbled. Churreee Churreee Churreee . . . Trree Trree. Was it in the shrubs or trees? Slightly to the left or the right. I could not place its distance or branch.
While I tried to ignore the song as I read, I couldn’t. I put down my book, determined to find the bird, and took up my binoculars. I listened intently for its source, then I began to scan the branches and leaves. I saw a flash of yellow and returned to the branch to focus. A yellow belly and the movement of wings. I followed the bird’s flight, a swift shadow from the branch of the Douglas fir to hawthorns. When I focused I could see not just the yellow belly and yellow that extended down the lower side of the tail but also the gray head and chest. Saw the white arcs at its eyes. Saw the black – as if someone had taken a fine paintbrush and made one swift brush of black paint from the beak back across the eye – across the area called the lores. A MacGillivray’s Warbler.
For the next hour, I followed the bird. Hawthorn to Douglas fir to Douglas fir to hawthorn to hawthorn to Douglas fir to hawthorn to hawthorn. After each flight, I searched hard among leaves and branches to find the inconspicuous bird that sang the conspicuous song. Churreee Churreee Churreee . . . Trree Trree. It tilted back its head to sing. After the song, there were three moments of silence as the bird looked out, appeared to peer at me, then looked side to side; then, satisfied, I suppose, it sang again its loud song: Churreee Churreee Churreee . . . Trree Trree.
It flew from hawthorn to snowberry. In the low snowberries, a patch of plants, a thicket of thin branches, dense with oval leaves, I lost the bird. This could be the nest location – a cup of grass blades among the low branches. A yellow belly flash and again I followed the warbler to hawthorn and Douglas fir, going back to spots where I had watched it singing earlier.
As I followed the warbler, I realized it was marking its territory, a place bounded by song, a territory slightly larger than my campsite.