photographs and text by Brian Willson

“Whispering while you cuddle near me, whispering so no one can hear me…”

On this calm, still, partly cloudy day, my dog and I stopped at a turn on the Beech Hill trail to listen to something. We both heard it—a soft scraping sound in the depths of a clump of brush. And above the scraping, I could hear the very faint song of a song sparrow. The song was so faint, in fact, that I moved a few paces back to see if I could triangulate its source. What I discovered is that its source was the same source as the soft scraping sound in the brush. The song sparrow, not eight or ten feet from us, might as well have been whispering.

I’d heard birds sing very quietly before, but typically they whisper only a few notes—a partial song, not a full score. This bird was murmuring a full-fledged song sparrow melody. Chimes, trills, the whole deal. So faintly, it was nearly inaudible.

As we continued along the trail, it occurred to me that I do the same thing as I hike, whisper out a few bars of whatever song I might’ve heard last, breathing the notes in time with my footsteps. The other day (inexplicably) it was “Funeral March of a Marionette.” Yesterday it was Johnny Horton’s “Honkey Tonk Man.” Today I’m not sure what it was—some crazy combination of “Yankee Doodle” and “Camptown Races,” I think.

Then again, it’s a good time of year for it. Stuff is happening, magic is going on, new birds will be arriving, change is afoot. Love is in the air.

I guess that’s plenty to whisper about.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. House finch (voice)
2. American crow (voice)
3. American robin
4. Song sparrow (voice)
5. Herring gull (voice)
6. Black-capped chickadee (voice)
7. Hairy woodpecker (voice)
8. Pileated woodpecker (voice)


9. House sparrow
10. Tufted titmouse
11. Northern cardinal
12. Mallard
13. Mourning dove