Friday, February 24, 2006

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Celebration 7

Pete Dunne was pished on Friday afternoon. He was so pished that he was vehement and stuttering at times.

During his "Pishing to Attract Birds" workshop, Dunne said Floyd P. Wolfarth introduced him to the technique. "So there I was, standing on Raccoon Ridge with God, when a flock of chickadees flew by. Floyd made this sound, and the chickadees put on the brakes to see who made it."

Pishing typically involves mimicking the scolding or alarm calls made by birds, and it apparently works better in the East, Dunne said. The basic pish sounds like a scolding Tufted Titmouse.

The point is to "get one bird to get excited and to bring its voice to the fracas," he said. The other birds are thought to react because they want to see what's going on, to see what's causing the disruption of their sleep/eat/preen schedule and to show off how close they can get (to a snake, for instance).

Dunne's pishing sequence starts with a basic pish, followed by a vehement pish, a pish with a rising inflection, a break in the pattern like a stutter, an Eastern Screech-Owl call, a squeal and a chip. He recommends practicing in the car -- as long as the windows are up.

The screech-owl call requires "a gob of spit" in the center of the back of the tongue, Dunne said. While whistling, he also recommended tilting your chin to find a good angle.

The squeal call sounds like mating wood frogs, he said. "It's all in the lips," he advised, before explaining that your index and middle fingers act as a resonator and a compressor.

Dunne developed it after watching a European Starling dying in the talons of a Cooper's Hawk. He said to use the squeal for only two or three seconds, then follow it with a pish "to let 'em know there's one survivor."

Certain situations require refraining from pishing, Dunne said:
* heavily birded areas
* while hawks are hunting
* when the temperature is below 10 degrees
* while birds are nesting and incubating.


Anonymous Jody Hildreth said...

I had no idea that Pete Dunn could levitate so well. It looks like his feet aren't even touching the ground!

I am always interested in new techniques for attracting birds while in the field. Lately, I have been using my Palm Pilot with different bird calls. In San Diego I was hoping to photograph some Phainopeplas. I found them easy enough, but could not get that close to them. The kicker was I forgot to record their call. What to do? Well, in the east I know that birds respond well to the Eastern Screech-Owl - so why not try a Western Screech-Owl? It worked wonderfully and I managed a few
good shots of them

On another note - why do we call it "pishing"? I have had limited success with it - but I know another great way to find birds and you only have to change one letter in the word 'pishing'. Can you guess which one? Yes - it's the letter 'h'. After all, birds are attracted to falling water, right? Once while birding in Michigan I needed to answer the call of nature. So I excused myself from my birding partner and went to find an isolated area. Just when I reached my targeted area I was severely startled by a flushing Sharp-tailed Grouse (no, he wasn't using the restroom).

So who knows - maybe if birders drink more Dr. Pepper they will have to answer nature's call more while in the field and they may just wind up with a life bird. Hey, it worked for me!

February 27, 2006 7:51 PM  

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