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Today is December 18, 2018

Outdoors

Virtuoso at sunset

Virtuoso at sunset

Whether sunrise or sunset, a quiet camp is the perfect place to enjoy both. Photo: Tony Kinton

Twilight had begun its reign, asserting mastery by replacing daylight with dusk. Warmth of an aging day faded, and a fire now pirouetting above edges of a steel ring called. Two empty and strategically placed chairs would be filled directly, the occupants preparing for a congruent relationship with that flickering ballet produced by wood and heat and translucent curtain of smoke. Tranquility prevailed.

And then bird call. There—in a tangle of vines embracing a small oak, just off water’s edge, on the near boundary of campfire illumination, a gilded sky serving as backdrop. It was the voice of a blue jay. But not quite. The sound was lacking slightly in its rasp, its raucous bravado. No, not a blue jay. It was a mockingbird. An imposter of sorts as one might surmise, a mockingbird remains a magnificent beauty in its own right.

This one, demanding judicious scrutiny to locate, was tucked tightly in the vines, its subdued coloration blending quietly with the surroundings. It generally sat motionless, breaking that posture only once to preen. Light was too insignificant for the bird to venture into dark environs, so it just sat. And sang and mocked and celebrated or mourned, the latter pair of possibilities perhaps too complex to discern. Whatever the bird was mourning or celebrating or mocking or singing, it did so with grandeur. This one was a true virtuoso.

And then there was the reasonable impersonation of a crow. Brief and not fully up to speed, this attempt was still admirable. There was not the volume produced by a being four times the size of this one, nor did the reproduction have that same intimidation factor found in the real deal, but any listener must appreciate such a gallant effort.

There were also other calls from the mockingbird on that early evening in a manicured campground. Peeps and chirps that could only be specifically identified by those with thorough knowledge of what variety of bird makes which call. That, however, was of little import to the novice. What was important was that this bird was making the calls of other birds and gave the impression that every effort was a thing of great and entertaining pleasure.

But oh, the cardinal. That mockingbird had each nuance perfected. Every inflection, every wobble, every expanded phrase or chirp or bobble was in its proper place and sequence. The bird must have practiced this one extensively.

Mockingbirds encountered in Mississippi are the Northern. The scientific name is Mimus polyglotts, which means many-tongued mimic. These birds can mimic perhaps 20 other birds, and have also been heard replicating the barking of dogs and quite a long list of other sounds. In their rendition of calls belonging to other birds, mockingbirds generally repeat each phrase a minimum of three times.

They also sing at night, the frequency of which may depend upon the personality of the bird itself. Unmated birds seem to be the most vocal, and weather conditions such a full moon may coax more nocturnal singing from all mockingbirds. This singing may be associated with territorial boundaries and perhaps even an inherent playful nature of an individual bird.

Regardless of the reasons, this intriguing propensity of the mockingbird is quite the milestone. It is an event of nature that should not be missed.

And somewhere in that concert of this particular mockingbird, which had demanded the attention of all who cared to notice and be captivated by the performance, the campground had become virtually silent. No children and bikes on the pathways; no coming and going of trucks towing boat trailers; no late-afternoon cookouts still in progress. Just quiet. Just the crackling of a campfire and the mockingbird.   

But before that mockingbird turned in for the night and as families moved inside RVs and tents and after grills had cooled, the bird proffered a most appropriate call—this one executed as if it were accomplished by the bird to which the call was native. It was that late-day chirp of the wood thrush. A haunting sound, a sound that prompts melancholy as it also prompts contentment. And the mockingbird sequestered as a tiny bundle among the vines and leaves and darkness hit the call dead center. It was spectacular, as had been the day.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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