red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Here is the instruction: Only connect. Wherever you are, right now, pay attention. Forever. ~ Sylvia Boorstein

In true terrier fashion, Dash is always excited and impatient to begin our walks. Once we set off out the door, I never see any indication that he’s disappointed to be traveling over the same route as last night or this morning.  He’s all in, 100% of his attention on here-and-now.

Which is not to say he holds a single focus through the entire outing… far from it. More than any other canine companion I’ve known, Dash is pulled through the world by his nose. In fact, I have to mindfully keep one eye on him at all times so I don’t trip and injure myself, or him, or both of us should he suddenly cross in front of me pursuing some siren-scent his sailor-self is incapable of resisting.

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who has a keen sense of smell, and perhaps for a human I do. If so, it’s a dubious honor; biologist and author Edward O. Wilson explains in his book, The Meaning of Human Existence, that our physical senses are pretty sad compared to other Earthlings, giving us access to a “microscopic” subset of available stimuli.  Certainly, I’ve observed that aroma beckons to Dash in a way that makes me wonder — if I could experience the olfactory world as he does, for a single minute, would it be a mind-expanding adventure, or would it hit me like a tsunami, flooding my lungs until I could no longer breathe?

I’ll likely never know but it’s an interesting thought experiment.  In the meantime, I can attempt to pay closer attention to the sensory input I do receive, and today I tuned my ears to birdsong.  I decided to take note of each call I heard and identify its source, if I could. The section of trail we traverse is only about a mile long but, to my delight, the number and diversity of birds I heard required counting on all 10 of my fingers and both of my big toes.

I’ve provided a visual list, starting with a red-winged blackbird, shown above, and all the rest, in order of appearance, below.  Two quick caveats:  1) I’m sure I heard a warbler but I can’t guarantee it was a black-and-white; and 2) the downy woodpecker was pecking, not drumming or calling, but it was an audible avian-produced sound so I decided that counts.

p.s.  If you’d like to hear a typical song for each of the species below, and learn other interesting facts as well, I highly recommend The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.  Type the common name into the Search field and you’ll find an audio link beneath the photo of that species.

blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

American robin (Turdus migratorius)

mourning dove (Zenaida macroura)

northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

house wren (Troglodytes aedon)

American goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia)

downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)


[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Jordan Walmsley, Dave Doe, C Watts, Dave Lundy, Patrick AshleyTCDavis, naathas, Rachid H, Ellen & Tony, Henry T. McLin, John Sutton, and John Sutton© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

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