On the Wing: A Celebration of Birds in Music and Spoken Word

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On the Wing: A Celebration of Birds in Music and Spoken Word

So yeah, my connection to this wonderful program “On the Wing” has to do with my radio program on Sunday mornings about birds Tomorrow morning, among other things, we’ll explode a couple of myths about hummingbird migration And one of the famous ones is that hummingbirds cross the Gulf of Mexico by riding on the backs of geese Not true Wayne’ll back me up on that, I’m pretty sure No, that’s– It is true? Oh, my gosh We have to rewrite the whole program for tomorrow I thought it was the back of whales I might be whales It might be whales Well, tune in tomorrow when we’ll find out If you’d like to check out our show, it’s talkinbirds.com That’s the website There’s no G in “talkin.” If you put the G in, you get a pet store in Albuquerque So let me get right to introducing our wonderful performers of “On the Wing.” And we’ll start with our composer and creator of “On the Wing,” Andrew List [APPLAUSE] Our bird expert, Wayne Petersen [APPLAUSE] Our fabulous vocalist, mezzo-soprano Krista River [APPLAUSE] Our pianist, who is from a wonderful birdy country, and I only found out this a few minutes ago From Belize, George Lopez [APPLAUSE] And our poet, Mary Pinard [APPLAUSE] “On the Wing,” ladies and gentlemen And here’s Mary “Cardinal”– On a sizzling summer afternoon, everything’s still as stone Even the chirring cicadas were mute I was sitting in the shade, taking sanctuary from the heat, when I saw him land at the bird bath In the lazy haze, a shock of red, and that square, black mask– I’d seen it many times before, beating in the grass or singing medleys on a wire, thought I knew what to expect– beauty in bold contrasts But this was something else altogether his quick step through the watery mirror, then flap, plash, a fabulous effervescence, wings like jeweled fans opening a spectrum of hues, from crimson and wine to violet and pink, then magenta, auburn, and carnelian too This rainbow of reds, oasis in June “Crow”– Expert town crier, I am guard extraordinaire Nothing, no thing, gets by me without note Sure raconteur, I am wise to all, ever certain, ever free Glossy, bossy braggadocio, is there anything, anything at all, I do not know? “Goldfinch”– Oh goldfinch, some call you wild canary, triller, free spirit, acrobat How you dangle upside down, yellower than the sunflower you mirror Some wish to cage you, but clever nomad, you carry black bars on your back, an ever-fleeing tease, (SINGING) dear me, see me? “Pileated Woodpecker”– Throwback, wild laugher, I tear the veil of morning mist with a raucous repertoire, and shake down the silence with my skull-cracking carpentry You can trace my famous appetite in the oblong holes I dig in trees Even my tongue has old tricks in store It’s sticky and extensible to find ants, and ants,

and ants galore My high hat red crest looks arch and royal from afar And if late last week you hadn’t spotted me with my toes zygodactyl, you’d have thought I were alone pterodactyl “Duck Family”– Given their beauty and various traits– geese and swans are members too– the guest list for an affair ducks would reach as far as Timbuktu There’d be wood ducks and whistlers, shovelers and teal, the hooded mergansers, pintails and scaups Add long-tailed buffleheads, harlequins, blacks, plus goldeneyes, scoters, mallards, and maskeds There’d have to be room for the elegant swans– tundra, trumpeter, whooper, and mute– and oodles of land for the subfamily goose– blue, barnacle, and snow, Ross’s, Egyptian, and emperor Phew! So fill up the rivers, call in the seas, then stock up on tadpoles and mollusks and weeds “Arctic Tern”– Despite the winter in my name, I am of all birds most touched by the sun Flying as far again as I do– from the North Pole to the south, over the great patchwork of earth’s meridians– every year, the warmth of two summers is mine Daylight is my second set of wings How else could I span time zones and oceans, all those weathered worlds? I am steadfast in my will to fly– wheeling and soaring, and holding too in wind, with time, endless vapor trail, passing me quietly by [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “THRESHOLDS”] (SINGING) Eye to the sky, this bird bath in spring [PIANO PLAYING] (SINGING) Open welcome to aeralists– land here, step through the thresholds, across worlds Linger Each your own wing vanes to soar, hover, hover, or fall into a plunge-dive Each your own trace, written by an orphan feather [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “OF SPARROWS”] (SINGING) In Just in Now out Off, up, up, up But back in, in, in, in Fuss, flip, in Flibbertigibbet, bet, et, et Up, touch, uch, uch Flibbertigibbet Rill A flit-jittery jib of sparrows– song, chipping, tree, house, vesper, field, lark– how to tell you all apart? [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “LOON”] (SINGING) Across the dark mirror of this lonely lake,

your searching wail unfurls a mournful map– compass points echoing a lovelorn terrain I am here Where are you? The echo of desire slips so easily away Oh, where, is your beloved? I am here Where are you? Silence, at first the only sign, till a quivering opens in the dusk, ripples into contour lines– her tremolo finding its way to you I am here Where are You? [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “SEAGULL, YOU LULL ME”] (SINGING) Seagull, you lull me Your wide wheeling heals me My heart flies the updrafts with you You carry me over the waves, far out to sea, to see, then back and inland, inside, inside too You refuse no one, no one Urban muse, you haunt the lonely places of our cities Show us how to live with what we’ve broken, left behind [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “PARROT”] (SINGING) Though your elegant lines are carved on hieroglyphs, and the Greek

consider you sacred, though you lived like royalty in Henry’s Hampton Court, and were Audubon’s beloved first pet, your species have been vanishing at our own hands– parakeets, amazons, macaws, and more Though you inspired Chaucer and Flaubert, and beguiled in The Arabian Nights, though your feathers adorn the regalia of chiefs, and map tribal history and lore– Your species are threatened due to our neglect– lovebirds and lorikeets, greys, and more Why do we damage what we most adore, as if there were no limits and no loss in store? [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “COWBIRD”] (SINGING) I sit quietly near a nest with eggs, observe the parents’ comings and goings, wait, land nearby, all flap and wing beats, scaring them off, before I move in, tip an egg out to make a place for my own, leaving it to be raised by another Some call me lazybird, even cuckold But who can judge me? Forever nestless, born as I am– instinct to build my own home unknown [APPLAUSE] Well, I’ve been very fortunate to be included

on this program with such talented artists as you’ve already heard from My shtick, as it were, is a little different I’m going to talk a little bit about bird migration, which is sort of an umbrella activity for a great many bird species And accordingly, at this time of the year, it’s very timely, I think, because as you can gather from the subtitle here, every spring, literally millions of feathered travelers are making their way northward If we look at this map of the western hemisphere and the arrows and the many figures and so forth and so on, one gets the sense, the western hemisphere– and we could just as easily spin the world around and look at the other half– is a very busy place on a seasonal basis, as birds come and go to and from, in most cases, breeding or wintering quarters And the variety is significant If we look at this image, with lots of sub-images within, we’re looking at snow geese, which is a fairly conspicuous and highly migratory species here in North America In the foreground, there are blackbirds and there are sandhill cranes And each of these three species are basically operating on their own sort of schedule and timetable, and traveling great distances on a seasonal basis If we think about birds of prey– raptors– some of these are really significant travelers These are broad-winged hawks And while their spring migration, in some respects, is not as dramatic as their autumn migration, nonetheless, they’re coming from a long way away And when they head south in the fall, they’re going a long way Most of these birds winter in northern South America A lot of them winter in Peru and the northern Andes The interesting thing about some species, like broad-winged hawks, is, particularly in the autumn, they have a very telescoped migration, so that on the right day in the middle part of September, sometimes it’s possible to see literally thousands of broad-winged hawks kettling, as it’s termed, as you see in is picture, taking advantage of rising warm air thermals before they begin to glide south at great speed, until they pick up another thermal Shorebirds, sand pipers, plovers, of which there is a plethora– these are some of our champion migrants Most of them breed in arctic and subarctic latitudes And a great many of them winter as far south as Tierra del Fuego, in the cone of southern South America So they’re literally crossing the equator and going two continents’ worth of travel But they’re not soaring around, the way broad-winged hawks do They’re trucking all the way And then, ultimately, the most colorful of all– these are the ones that, for the birders in the room, or even for those of you who may just know a little bit about birds, this is what everybody’s waiting for This is where the curtain call is about to come, because in the first several weeks of May, we get this great volume of some of North America’s most spectacular species, the warblers And there’s lots of different kinds There’s about 30 some odd that we can regularly expect to see here in New England during the course of the season Black-throated green warbler, black-throated blue, the two in the top, chestnut-sided warbler, Nashville warbler, on the bottom– and this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the great variety of colorful migrant birds that we’re going to soon see as the month of May approaches So why do they do this? Why do these birds, in some cases, literally travel from one end of the world to the other? This is a great question And there’s a lot of different ways to think about it We can think about it from an ancestral, long perspective Many glacial epics ago– everybody’s all excited about climate change right now Well, remember, we’ve gone through a series of climate changes over time And bird and animal species, as well as plant species, have had to adapt to dramatic changes in circumstance Remember, at one time, 10,000, 12,000 years ago, we were under about a mile of ice right here That’s fairly substantial climate change We may have thought we were going to have to do that this winter But mercifully, there is some bare ground now But the bottom line is in response to this climate change, birds gradually, over time, began to evolve behaviors that ultimately were inculcated into their genetic genome that basically tells them that they have to make provision on a seasonal basis now So what we find in winter and summer is a recapitulation of huge spans of time, between glacial periods and interglacial periods, when populations, in some cases, went extinct,

or they responded by moving north or south And they still do that summer and winter Obviously, food is a driver in much of what animal activity does and how things respond So obviously, in terms of migratory birds, they’re having to manage food resources, which, in many cases, are seasonally available So if you’re something that feeds on arthropods and insects and spiders and things in the summertime, wintertime, those things become very hard to get So you have some options open to you, one of which is to leave the country It’s like a lot of snow birds that go to Florida and Arizona and Texas in the winter They don’t want to spend the winter New England But birds do it largely because of a need for food So these are some of the bigger picture things that affect these comings and goings, and have forged it over time Something that’s always surprising to a lot of people is the fact that many bird species, especially song birds, travel at night You don’t look up and see swarms of birds going over all the time in the daytime That’s because, in many cases, they’re not going over in the daytime They’re traveling at night And there are a lot of reasons why it is safer for them to travel at night But one of the obvious pieces to the whole mystery is how do they find their way? So some of it is genetic This is information that has been incorporated, as I suggested, into their genome over millennia But as part of that inherited piece, they’re basically given two pieces of information They’re given a heading, a compass direction, and they’re given equipment– I’m being a little anthropomorphic here– that allows them to follow a compass heading In some cases, like geese, family groups travel together The young travel with the adults, so they sort of figure out how to do it by sticking with the parents But again, because a lot of migration takes place at night, it’s fairly apparent that the stars are very critical to their navigation systems In the same way in the daytime, the sun and the changing position of the sun in the sky with the rotation of the Earth is critical Leading lines– coastlines, mountain ranges Magnetic fields– some of the early work with pigeons has determined that, in fact, a great many organisms, including things as basic and simple as plankton have magnetite in their cells And if you are aware of the Earth’s magnetic fields, birds are able to pick up on these magnetic fields and use them as an orientation and sort of a GPS scheme– and for certain sea birds and things, even odors Some of the most interesting work, early work, on migration was done in planetariums And this is where we were able to demonstrate that you can really mess migratory birds up in a planetarium by seasonally altering the configuration of the sky so that through registering their activity periods, you can determine that they may be wanting to go in a different direction than we all know– in the spring, most birds want to go north, and in the fall, they want to go south You can get them wanting to go the other way by altering their perception of what the night sky is like In the same way, if you can picture sort of that aircraft U. After you leave Logan and do your several maneuvers and then had wherever you’re going, you can look down and you can see the coastline in the same way that broad-winged hawks can follow the Appalachian Mountains, because they’re using thermals that are coming off the ridge tops And they’re literally following airways that, in fact, conform to geographical features on the ground And when you think about seabirds that, in many cases, may spend years of their lives away from land before they return to land to nest, how are they finding their way? They don’t have the benefit of leading lines and mountain ranges and so forth and so on What we know now– that they, in many cases, are using odors, odors which travel far better over or through the water than they do in air, and things that we’re not even aware of So these are some of the things that basically determine how they find their way So the question of how do they know when to go– well, obviously, there are various levels of things that are happening Some of them are internal and physiological or endochronological Others are external things, like the fact that the days are getting longer, mercifully It’s getting warmer We’re beginning to see signs of the first few insects and so forth and so on These are all things that variously affect some of these internal changes that are telling birds, we gotta get ready to go So do we go tomorrow? Should we have gone yesterday? Or shall we go tonight? So these are factors that, in many cases, are influenced by changes in barometric pressure,

shifts in wind direction, fundamental changes in temperature, increased temperature at this time of year, switching the winds to the southwest These are the features that are going to escort birds sort of in that fundamental Northeasterly direction here along the Atlantic coast that many birds want to go How high do they fly? Well, we can use technology One of the neat things about radar is that it can pick up birds and bats and even insects as easily as it can aircraft and so forth, so that we know from radar studies that a lot of birds are traveling at a relatively low elevation– under 3,000 feet, maybe 500 feet, 2,500 feet, 2,000 feet, depending a lot on the species, the conditions, the upper level winds, and so forth and so on But we also know from some of these same radar studies that things like shore birds, in many cases, are traveling at 15,000 to 20,000 feet Huge numbers of Hudsonian godwits, red knots, white-rumped sandpipers, some of these species that nest in the Arctic and then make their way to the southeast coast– and then they go right off the edge And they’re headed out at these tremendous elevations, eventually picking up the trade winds in the Sargasso Sea and beyond that are going to eventually deflect them back toward South America But they’re doing this way, way high up They’re not flying just over the wave tops We know that some species, like bar-headed geese, regularly migrate over the Himalayas They fly over Mount Everest And the speed at which they travel– again, little birds don’t fly very fast, but some other birds are able to really truck along Some of these shore birds and things– peregrine falcons that leave from Nova Scotia They don’t have to go to Cape Cod if they don’t want They can go to Cape May They can bounce off the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and eventually make their way down to the Caribbean before they reach South America for the winner They’re strong flyers, and they’re capable of traveling at speeds far in excess of the 15, 20, 30 miles an hour that little birds go So if you think of this finch here, and think that this is a species that would travel at a fairly low elevation– but these bar-headed geese, these guys are really up there And you think about physiology involved– the oxygen depth, the temperature change– the physiological changes that have to occur inside their bodies, it’s like thinking about whales and some of the Antarctic seals that dive so deep How do they do that without getting the bends, without getting crushed? How do they manage oxygen and CO2 and nitrogen and so forth? It’s extraordinary And I’m not an avian physiologist So I’m not going to give you the answer You’ll have to come back for chapter two another time So there’s different types of migration And this is just sort of a smorgasbord But there are some examples of each one of these things that I’ll just briefly describe– complete, partial, irruptive, differential In the case of things like blue jays and Herring gulls, two birds and many of you say, oh, they’re here all year round– well, there are Herring gulls and blue jays all year round, but they’re not the same individuals, necessarily What we find is that for species that have a broad north to south latitudinal distribution, the northern-more members typically migrate, because conditions are more extreme as you get farther north And they will leapfrog over populations further south that are essentially resident So the point being, in the wintertime, a lot of times, we have a lot more blue jays or a lot more chickadees, for example, things that we think of as permanent residents here in the state than we do in the summertime And in many cases, they’re not even the same individuals So for blue jays and gulls– Herring gulls, for example, in the winter time, most of the gulls that one sees around here in the winter are adults And you say, well, where are all the brown young ones? They’re further south You go down to Florida, mid-Atlantic states, you see lots of young gulls, because they go farther south in their first year It’s taken them four years to mature They can do the same thing a lot of human kids do– hang out, find themselves, wander around, not do anything particularly useful for the first several years And then these irruptive migrants– last winter, some of you, unless you were a biospherian and were unaware that we had a massive snowy owl eruption, was a spectacular year, when we had more snowy owls coming south from the Arctic than we’ve had since the 1920s These are birds that are driven by fluctuating food supplies In the case of snowy owls and a lot of the other northern birds of prey, it’s often rodent populations of one sort or another In the case of things like red polls and pine siskins and cross bills, these are finches that, again, depend on cyclically produced seed crops They could be catkins They could be cones They could be buds, so that in years when there’s bumper crops, they stay home And when these trees fail to produce large numbers of the right kind of food,

or when these rodent populations, like lemmings, collapse periodically, then you’ve got an overage of predators They need to go somewhere They come south And we see them as irruptive migrants here in the Eastern United States, and really, all the way across the country Now, since we have the marathon coming up this weekend, obviously it’s time to think champions, true Olympians The bobolink would be, certainly, one of the leading candidates for winning the marathon if birds were participating This is a songbird that migrates farther south than any other species in the Western hemisphere It winters, as you can see, in Argentina and Bolivia, in the pampas The orange in the map is their breeding range The yellow is the area where they could be found during migration They go a long way The bobolink is about the size of a banana You want to talk real champions, go back to Mary’s poem about the Arctic tern It’s thought that the Arctic tern may see more hours of daylight than any other living organism Approximately estimated 20,000 air miles a year– that’s good frequent flyer, ring it Some of these things may live as much as 15 to 20 years And they’re flying from breeding areas that may lie within the Arctic Circle in the summer And they’re wintering in Antarctica They’re going huge distances Similarly, one of the most abundant birds in the world, the little black and white Wilson’s storm petrel is a sea bird This is a thing that breeds in Antarctica, And then goes the other way It comes north during the astral winter and spends the summer on our fishing banks offshore It’s about the size of a purple martin, dances around over the waves and follows fishing boats, and does plankton– amazing traveler So some of these things are just almost beyond belief Obviously, as you remember, that first map– clearly, not all of these birds are taking the same routes If we look at this map of North America, you can see that there’s a series of bands here that indicate the directions that some go The little ruby-throated hummingbird is one that’s very aggressive, takes that trans-Gulf of Mexico route in purple The Hudsonian godwit is the shorebird I mentioned, the blue band A little warbler, the blackpoll warbler, some of you may have read a few weeks ago– there was an article in The Globe about a study that was done where they were marking blackpoll warblers, and determined that, in fact, these guys fly nonstop from New England to Venezuela for the winter Some of them go down through peninsular Florida Others take the conservative route around the Gulf of Mexico And then there are some that aren’t even shown on this map that fly from western Alaska nonstop– read my lips– to New Zealand And we know this, because we put transmitters on bar-tailed godwits and have been able to show that they’re capable and routinely do this So how do we know all this? Well, bird watchers, through the years, have been very valuable, in terms of the contributions they make systematically, recording information about migrants– when the first ones arrive, when the last ones were seen, when the most were seen during the course of a migration It’s kind of a bell-shaped curve type of thing But through the years, they’ve contributed huge amounts of information Others, a somewhat earlier technique was something explored by an ornithologist at Louisiana State University, George Lowry, who investigated the concept of moon watching, whereby putting binoculars or a telescope on the moon when you have full moon, you can see migrants passing in front of it at night It’s a fun thing to do if you’re patient It can get a little tedious But if you’re in places where the migrations are often concentrated, it’s a little bit more stimulating in that you get to see more birds And while it can’t tell you what kind of birds necessarily, it can give you a sense of the direction they’re moving Bird banding, on the other hand, has been a much more lucrative way of trying to get a handle on where birds go– where you individually mark birds with bands, individually numbered, and in some cases, colored so that they can be recovered if the bird is caught or if it’s found dead Or, in some cases, it’s possible even using numbered flags and alphanumeric bands that are large enough You can see them through binoculars So we’ve gotten a huge amount of information on the comings and goings And it’s one of the ways that we found out that, in fact, the hummingbirds don’t fly to South America on the backs of geese Radar, I mentioned, is something that’s been very useful This is just a single radar shot of a Doppler radar showing a huge cloud of migrants coming up from Cuba, headed for the Florida Keys in the spring This kind of thing, for migration watchers, is people are looking at the radar every night You can go online, and you yourself can predict when there’s going to be big migrations and get a sense of when there’s heavy movements, because these echoes do show up And once you know how to get a reading, you can see when there’s going to be a big fallout of birds or when there’s been a heavy movement of birds going over

Satellite telemetry has been one of the things that’s been especially valuable to telling us a lot about what birds are able to do And as the size of the satellites come down and other devices, called geolocators, are small enough and light enough that they can be put on even small birds, we’re finding out all manner of interesting stuff This guy, Rob [INAUDIBLE] from North Carolina State University, he’s been marking ospreys for a lot of years with transmitters And in this graphic on the right, you can see several different birds that he has tracked using the satellite transmitters These are in real time So he knows exactly where his birds are He knows where they’re going to spend the winter He knows when they start heading north again And he knows when they arrive back on their nests here in New England It’s just an amazing way to gather information Well, needless to say, and sort of in closing here, trips of this magnitude are not without peril There are all manner of things that are affecting adversely migratory birds, and, in fact, in some cases, are causing some species to diminish significantly Obviously, there are habitat-related issues There’s pesticides and all sorts of things of that sort But there are also things that are somewhat more non-intuitive, almost– tall lighted structures, cell towers, wind turbines Glass can be hugely detrimental at this time of the year Obviously, if there is a food failure or if there’s an excess of predators, storms, hurricanes– and then this genetic hard wiring that we talk about It’s like anything else that’s hard wired It can go funky And birds get into trouble if they don’t inherit the right heading or if they don’t have the ability to hold a course Historically, there were some epic bird kills as a result of birds getting into trouble with lighthouses and low overcast and fog The Lights Out in Boston Campaign is one of a series of big cities, where people are increasingly aware that this– FLAP was a group in Toronto that started this, Fatal Light Awareness Program, where they convinced city officials and a lot of these tall building managers, let’s turn out the upper tiers of lights We don’t need to have the whole city illuminated, particularly during the seasons of peak migration, because birds were getting whacked in huge numbers The Credential Tower for years was a major cause of loss Anyway, now, increasingly, we are increasingly sensitive not only to the energy-related advantage of not keeping the lights on all night long throughout the season, but at least during the height of migration Let’s cut back on things so that situations like this, which on a clear night may not be a problem– heavy overcast, sudden fog, light rain, thousands of migrants in the air at night Suddenly, it’s like, whoa, what’s going on here? And they can get into trouble and there could be huge mortality I’m not going to beat the drum too hard Don’t laugh It’s not funny There’s a lot of people in this room that I’m sure have cats and love them I love cats Cats kill birds Probably, they are one of the single most important causes of avian mortality in the United States And trying to get the two different types of people in the world– the people that love cats and think they should just go out and do whatever they want to do and the ones that understand that their cats are happier and that they’re not killing as much stuff by keeping them indoors– that’s basically where the line is drawn All I can say is I would encourage you, if you have a cat, keep it indoors The cat’ll be better off, and certainly, the things that they’re likely to go after will be So we’re only a couple of weeks away from when it’s going to happen I would encourage all of you who have an interest in birds, get out there, do it Thank you [APPLAUSE] “Meadowlark”– Out of the prairie grass endlessly wavering, out of the asters and gentians and flax, over the hillocks and over the lowlands, up through the blossoming clouds in the sky, down past the floodplain, ever-expanding, down through the soil, laced with deep roots, high like the wires braided with frequencies, deep as the wind at the edge of the dawn, comes the gift of your eloquent aria– flutelike with longing, plaintive and sheer, changing forever the way that I hear “Ruby-Throated Hummingbird”– In spring you sculpt your thimble nest, threading your bill with spider silk,

then lacing it tight with roots and stems, and milkweed floss in white By summer, you’re writing rhymes across the sky– hovering, as if in thought, before you loop with lightning speed, your lines all buzz and hum, a trilling poetry But as the days grow shorter, and autumn opens its crowded box of paints, you take your solitary flight to warmer climes– a tiny brush tip get in ruby light “Northern Mockingbird”– As much as I like to hear your effortless ventriloquy– all manner, matter of virtuosity– one minute you’re a sky lark, or wren, or jay, the next you’re riffing on cell phones in the park– I’m most impressed by your mockingbird diplomacy Master of mimicry, Mimus polyglottos– amorous, yet monogamous You white wing-patch flasher, you’re nature’s most dazzling copyist More than any other bird, you’ve had political opportunity to digress with Presidents White House pet to Jefferson, Hayes, Cleveland, and Coolidge, what all did you overhear back in the days? Louisiana Purchase? Reconstruction? Railroad strikes? Frugality? Oh, master of mimicry, Mimus polyglottos– amorous, yet monogamous Your finely tuned repertoire makes you nature’s most lyrical copyist Did they keep you in a cage, or let you fly free down the carpeted hallways of history? How did you ever make songs from all that you heard there? What is the melody of politics, the ways of a nation, complex and fair? Maybe you were just a pet, songster, beloved for your melodious ways Master of mimicry, Mimus polyglottos– amorous, yet monogamous You are a chorus, and your many melodies abide– oh copyist most glorious “Sandhill Cranes”– Once across a spring prairie, I saw a lilting– great feathered stilts leaping– two Sandhill Cranes in a love dance It made me smile, gave me a memory of a lost love– uplift and kiss, my once easy heart “Barn Owl”– Is it your silent stealth by night? How delicate serrations on your feathers muffle your flight? Is it where you nest– barn, cave, belfry, mine– as long as it’s secluded, far from trespassing guests? Or is it your heart-shaped face– white ruff lined in gold– with eyes, soulful, human-like, in place? What is it that makes you seem so ghostly, wise? [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “BELTED KINGFISHER”] (SINGING) Legend has it that on the day I escaped from Noah’s ark, I earned these bold, bold colors– from the late summer sky, my blue-gray back, and from the heat of the setting sun, this chestnut belted breast And oh, that ragged crest! And oh, that ragged crest! Independent spirit, nothing can keep me from who I want to be– fisher, flyer, as agile in water and air, as on land, where my mate and I tunnel deep in a high riverbank, then carve a soft chamber

to lay our fine eggs [MUSIC PLAYING – ANDREW LIST, “VULTURE”] (SINGING) You can wear a body down to bone Bold beak, featherless head, even your feet are bald– you are made for deep passages, final journeys Cathartidae– purifier No stranger to the lonely roadside, no stranger to the field of battle– all our endless wars– you do extra duty for the dead And yet you make the distant sky alive– your high teetering glides and brush-like wing tips draw our eyes open to new light, to heights far above this earthbound life [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “FLAMINGO”] (SINGING) Hung from light strings, poked into lawns, you’ve adorned corn pics and swizzle sticks Still, dignity remains in your extremities Statuesque, so sinuously pink, you’re a tale of distinctions No one’s bill is down-curved like the one your wear– elegant tool for foraging, and tipped in black, just for something extra And your luminous gold eyes! I admire you most at sunset, when with all of your legions

you rise like one sky-wide burst of flame [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “MOURNING DOVE”] (SINGING) I’ll build a nesting basket for you, lined with crocus roots and fledgling down, and rimmed with jewels of dew I’ll place it in my redbud tree– its orchid blossoms and heart-shaped leaves, the perfect place for you to be Oh mourning dove, I long to hear your mirror song of comfort for me, my grief And even if you cannot stay long, even if you have to flee, I’ll wait to hear the music of your wings as you fly– a lover’s heart to heal me, make me new again, like spring [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “EAGLE”] (SINGING) Fierce hunter, magnificent flier, legend Who hasn’t startled at my prowess, bold thunderbolt of the skies, my head a flash of lightning, my eyes translucent gold suns? My great wings, they say, cause the winds to blow Emblem of hope, I also carry the souls of the just to rest Austere on a solitary tree, I roost like memory And yet, who has imagined my gentleness at the nest? The way I nurture, bring life to my young Bits of fish, fresh caught, flown swiftly back, then held in the killing curve of my beak–

how I offer this, so tenderly [MUSIC – ANDREW LIST, “STILL, OUR SKIES ARE LEFT”] (SINGING) Still, our skies are left, so bereft Oh, where have you gone, great auk, emu, solitary tinamou? Empty limbs across every season Where, where have you gone, dark-throated oriole, long-legged warbler? Such long, deep silences, even in spring Oh lost songbirds– dappled mountain robin, New Zealand thrush? As earth vanishes, so more species of loss– oh albatross, pintail, quail, and rail And grebe, honeyeater, teal Still, still– mysterious starling, reunion petrel, Eskimo curlew, passenger pigeon– all passing, passing, passing, passing, passing, passing, past [APPLAUSE] Some questions– I think we’ve covered

the topic of the hummingbirds going across the Gulf of Mexico But if you have any other questions for Wayne, that would be great– or for George or Krista or Mary or Andrew We have one question already Yes? I have a question for Andrew And it’s just what’s the genesis for this piece? I think the love of birds is really the bottom line of this And I had this idea of writing a song cycle, doing something for birds and being connected with nature It’s a major inspiration And these guys have probably– I’ve told this tale a few times But we do have some very interesting relationship Krista is someone that I’ve admired for a very long time, and I really wanted to work with her And I went to one of her concerts And Mary Pinard was reading poetry And I said, oh, Mary, I’d like to talk to her She’s so great And George Lopez and I are long time colleagues, and George has premiered pieces of mine And we’re good friends And Mary and I brainstormed this idea And then we approached Wayne Petersen at Mass Audubon And Wayne said, yes, I’ll do it I’ll try And the next thing we knew– and then we approached Ray Brown, who is a WGBH personality and Talkin’ Birds, and everybody’s been friends And it’s been quite fantastic And it’s for birds, on all levels, and for fun, for seriousness, for raising awareness, stewardship, and celebration, really, is what it’s about I’ll ask a question of you, Andrew, and Mary both Your coordination in the pieces with the music and the text– did the text always come first, or the other way around? Or how did that work? Well, I think what happened is after we had these initial conversations, I started to generate some poems And I would give them to Andrew And sometimes, he would say, whoa, yeah, that, I can do something with that And sometimes, he’d say, there seems to be a lot of words on the page There’s not much room for– did you think– there needs to be a singer and there needs to be music So I learned a lot about how different it is to write poems that are going to be borne into songs later So we had some really wonderful conversations, sometimes about subject matter, which birds that we wanted to focus on, but sometimes more about technique And I learned a lot about pulling back a little bit and creating space for the singer’s voice So it was a wonderful collaboration It continues, actually And I learned a lot too I feel so great to Mary to make these incredible poems that she makes No composer could be happier It’s a challenge to write 12 songs– really, it is– and to have 12 different moods and topics And the way it works with Krista and George, I think, really, as you heard, is pretty special Sir, there Are you influenced by other composers who worked with bird music? Should I be totally honest? Yes No No I like to do my own thing I need it to have my own imagination I think my sound is influenced by certain composers I hear some French impressionism and things like that in this But that’s just a personal preference of something I like But really trying to be as original as one can be in the 21st century– I think I have my own sound I wasn’t listening to Messiaen or any of that I know about that stuff It’s amazing what Messiaen is able to do And he is also his own man And it’s hard to copy Yes, ma’am? Yeah So very obviously in the poem on the goldfinch, you integrated the bird song Yes But in most of the others– this is a question for the composer as well– it wasn’t as obvious if you were integrating bird song Although the behaviors and the flight patterns and all that, that was there So how did you decide whether to integrate actual bird song into the poetry and into the music? Well, I’ll start, and then I’ll turn it over to you Well, there was some more bird song But it got cut So for example, in the seagull poem, I really, really wanted “ha, ha, ha, ha,” because that’s what I hear when I– that’s what I like about seagulls I love seagulls– gulls, excuse me Gulls But I think what I learned again from working with Andrew is that sometimes, you don’t need that in the language, because it’s in the music And sometimes, it depends on the bird And also, I want to be able to sing those sounds And I’m limited So I have to be careful with, if I do sneak in some bird songs or sounds, that I can manage them

So I don’t know if you have other things to say There are some bird calls The loon was written being out on a kayak with my partner at the lake And the loons were around us And as soon as I got home, I wrote that loon poem And I remembered the pitch and I listened to it on tape I tried to emulate the loon call on the piano, which you can’t really do, because they scoop and they slide But is kind of in there And I don’t know I don’t think things have to be so literal I think this is an elusive art we’re working with If you want to hear absolute bird calls, then go to the Stokes or go to bird books or go out in the field, and you will hear them It’s more spiritual than just imitation It’s more connection with the birds themselves And I think Mary also– I like it when she sings her thing, but I have a hard time hearing Krista go, “ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.” How’d you feel? Are you glad you didn’t have to go, “ha, ha?” I don’t know exactly how the “ha, ha” sounds I might– Try it Will you demonstrate, Mary? We should work together Yes You know how gulls go– laughing gulls and stuff like that And they– can you do laughing gull, Wayne? I’m not going there, no How about a few owls? Can you do a few owls? You could have given it to the pianist, the “ha, ha” to the pianist To the pianist, yes So Krista, when you were learning the words to sing, did you consult with Andrew or with Wayne about these birds at all to learn a little bit more about what they sound like? I did I did Yeah George and I rehearse with Andrew and Mary a couple of times before we first performed them And so we had nice conversations about– they’re both pretty avid birders And George and I are not They’re still working on us And so we had a lot questions for them about the birds And there were some that I didn’t even know how to pronounce the names of them, like tinamou Tinamou Yes So I had to– I’m thinking too of the one with the vulture You talk about the bone You sort of captured the flavor of, somehow, that vulture Yeah You know, I used to live in Mexico So I actually had a pretty good image of a vulture in my head Other questions for any of our performers? Yes, sir I just have a comment I think you captured the birds wonderfully in eveyrthing– in the poems and the songs And it just evoked a lot of good memories for me of birding trips and birds we’ve seen So it was great Nice job Thank you You know, I’ll make one comment related to definitely a spiritual connection with the birds is important But I also brought, for myself, for my own approach to the sound of the piano, a sort of direct connection with the size of the bird I thought about the size of the bird and I thought about its movements, the quickness of its movements in terms of how I might attack the keys And we talked about the text is very– there are parts of it that are actually quite onomatopoeic in a way– just little things here and there that I actually approached quite literally in terms of the piano So I brought a little bit of the direct interpretation, in a more simplistic way, more onomatopoeic way But then, of course, the tempo is what determines the sweep and either the grandeur– like in “The Eagle, I was flying with the eagle today I loved the eagle It was great, loved it And you were amazing Yeah, well, she was amazing all the way through But “The Eagle” just stands out so well But “Mourning Dove,” also, I think, I don’t know a musical representation better of the dove than the one we did today It was just spectacular And the mourning dove is as weightless as the eagle is weighty So it’s a perfect conjunction in the song cycle that I really enjoy I have to say, too, that the poems– anybody who’s knows that you typically generate poetry alone, in the garret and everything– the garret, alone in the garret But there’s something so powerfully challenging and inspiring about collaborating And this collaboration writ large It’s musical collaboration It’s rhythmic collaboration It’s ornithological collaboration, so that by the time you finish that, your understanding of the subject matter has exponentially grown And I think people are so articulate about the ways in which that works and how different disciplines bring that to bear

So it’s been a real– and also, a challenge to make things not like, oh, it’s another poem about an eagle, and doing the same old stuff So it was a very powerful challenge And I felt honored to get to work with extraordinary people Amen Wayne, you’re an expert on bird song Did listening to this music and the vocalizing and the piano give you any sort of connection with bird song? Did you hear bird song differently in any way? I think, for me, it was the integration of the various disciplines– the piano, the vocal, the words, and the poems, and so forth and so on, so that yes, there are places I think where I can say, yeah, I can sort of imagine that, even if I don’t hear it, per se I can certainly get the sense of the imagery No, I think for me it was the integration of, as I said, the vocal, the choral, the music, and the poetry together I’ve said this for a long time, but not to this audience, but I’ll say it again I’m the sort of third wheel in terms of how this thing came together In other words, when Andrew first approached me, the concept of joining a poet, a pianist, and a choralist and a musical composer in anything other than let’s go have a beer together– Which we did But we did that first, actually That helped In any case, it just was not anything that I had ever done And honestly, I was skeptical at the beginning in terms of how this could possibly come together And it turned out that our first presentation together was up at Bowdoin, where George teaches And it was a snowy weekend, like all of our initial efforts seemingly were And they have a beautiful auditorium up there and so forth and so on And I said to myself, when I looked at the facility– because we got there early– I said, OK, so there’s going to be three people in the front row here This’ll be fun It’s a nice place I was amazed, A, how many people showed up; B, how enthusiastic they were, how many questions there were and so forth and so on And we did two performances in Maine, in Brunswick And it truly was snowing the next day And there were as many people in this large, beautiful auditorium the second time So immediately, I kind of said, well, this is interesting And since we’ve done this now an increasing number of times and so forth and so on, I’ve been a complete convert in terms of how poetry and piano accompaniment and choral can come together And the fact that it’s possible for somebody like Mary, who wrote the poems, to take the poems, and then have Andrew set music to them and sing them– mind blowing So for me, it’s really been a complete overhaul in terms of my reinvention of my former self Wayne has been invited to join another musical group So you may see him again He’ll be using a different name Don’t worry It’s OK Are you in a mariachi band? Mariachi band Don’t worry I want to say something The nice thing is one thing that we visualize and Wayne has come to see is that to try to have something that’s multi-layered– connection of the arts and science is something that Mary and I really were interested in So it’s not just another concert or not just another poetry reading, but there’s something for everybody You get to see birds at all different perspectives It’s so interesting when Wayne is such a great speaker, and the topic And it all really relates in a kind of interesting way So I like it I think it gives a lot of depth to the presentation And also, we’ve become all such close friends and everything It’s pretty special We have one more I thought the last poem just really, really wrapped it up for me– the reference to some of the birds that are extinct And that just really did it for me Great Thanks This is not relating, really, directly to the program, but I wonder if you’ve heard about these efforts now to bring back some of these birds from inspection Yeah, we have Well, we go birding We go to a lot of bird lectures and bird talks and we read bird books Yes We have It’s very controversial Yes, it is How do you do it? Fascinating

Sorry? How do you do it? I don’t do it myself [LAUGHTER] You want to do it in a test tube or something, right? Yeah Well, for example– DNA Locally, on Martha’s Vineyard, the heath hen went extinct in, what, 1938, I think And there’s a group from California that wants to try to bring some of these birds back– passenger pigeon, heath hen, maybe ivory-billed woodpecker, and so on But they would use– and I don’t now the science in any depth– but they would use birds like, I think, greater prairie chicken for the heath hen to try to extract some DNA from the toes of heath hens, of dead heath hens, and somehow incorporate that into the egg– The toes of greater prairie chickens Some part of the greater prairie chicken– I’m not sure which part to put that into But they would know which part to put that into So that’s my scientific description The next song cycle, perhaps Oh, my Sounds like an aviary Jurassic Park [LAUGHTER] Better be careful Well, there were once how many billions of passenger pigeons flying? So it’s interesting to think about what the implications of that might be Well, your question or your comment, I think, is interesting, because last year, which is when we initiated this whole project was the anniversary of the demise of the passenger pigeon And it was basically registered as the year of the passenger pigeon And there were lots of efforts around the country to sort of elevate the demise that once most abundant bird species ever, based on our best sense So it was timely, in a way, that when we released “On the Wing” and Andrew and Mary put this together and so forth and so on that it was last year, very specifically So I’m glad you picked up on that Yeah I thought the poem was wonderful Oh, thank you very much Any other questions? Thank you, everyone Thank you so much for coming [APPLAUSE]