Cookie's Bliss

An Elusive Song

This is the story of a mystery solved through team work by a pair of left-brained bird watchers. A tale about a common looking bird with an extraordinary song.  And another example of our incessant search for truth.

Bob and I first heard the haunting duet of Vieillot’s Barbet a.k.a. Lybius vieilloti from our new backyard in Adiebeba in late June or early July, 2012. At the time it was just another new bird call, all mixed up with the chirps and cries of the Woodland kingfisher, Common bulbul, Pied crow, Laughing dove, Northern kingfisher, Grey-headed sparrow and lately, the Western plantain eater.

Every morning we lay in our bed, gazing past the louvered glass at the grey Kumasi sky, listening to the songs of the local birds. Just outside our bedroom are a pair serious bird magnets, two stately trees which grow on the other side of our compound wall. Birds congregate here at dawn and dusk to stake their territorial claims, attract lovers and pay homage to another day. Over time, we’ve identified all but the barbet’s call.

Lybius vieilloti sings a melodious tune which begins with a chirrring sound and quickly develops into a haunting whoo-oop whoo-oop whoo-oop. The song has the quality of a duet. At first we thought it was one bird singing with two voice boxes like the American Wood Thrush but we later came to know that it was two birds singing together.

I discovered this while walking down Robteng towards Atinga Junction on a hot, dry, dusty day. Hearing the initial chirrrr, I stopped to look up into the trees, hand clamped against my forehead for shade from the blazing sun. I moved closer, stepping cautiously across the open ditch. From where I was standing it became obvious that I was listening to two birds. One bird began the song with the chirring sound, much like a conductor tapping a baton and then the second bird chimed in with the harmony.

Day after day, Bob and I listened to the elusive tune, enjoying the beautiful melody and feeling the challenge of identifying the singer. The first note of the call would send us scrambling for Bob’s binoculars. This morning, Bob triumphed! He stepped outside and was able to finally see the scruffy little barbets singing away into a new day.

For whatever reason, I need to attach names to the flavors, smells and sounds I encounter during the day. At times I feel this is silly and try to appreciate the gifts of new sensory input at face value. However, my need to know usually triumphs. Like a pebble in my shoe, the unidentified nags until I’ve given it a name. I’m happy that Bob is wired the same way. From now on, we can look at each other knowingly, the word barbet on the tip of our tongues whenever we hear their song.

Listen here:

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.