Monday, May 1, 2023

Episode 654 (5-1-23): A Springtime, Streamside Bird Adventure, Accompanied by the Birding Tool Merlin

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:03).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments

Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 4-28-23.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the weeks of May 1 and May 8, 2023.

SOUND – ~ 7 sec

That’s the sound of Toms Creek in Heritage Park in Blacksburg, Va., on the morning of April 25, 2023.  Winding through the lowland portion of this 169-acre park, Toms Creek’s floodplain features a number of vernal pools—seasonal bodies of water that typically dry up during the summer and provide spring habitat for amphibians, birds, and other creatures.

Have a listen for about 20 seconds to some mystery bird sounds recorded near the creek and one of those pools on April 25, and see if you know, first, the four bird species you’re hearing, and, second, the mobile device app used to record and identify those species.  And here’s a hint to the app name: a mythical, Medieval character with this name would be impressed with the app’s technological wizardry.

SOUNDS  - ~21 sec – In order heard: Red-winged Blackbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, Cardinal again, Blackbird again.

If you guessed the birds Red-winged Blackbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Cardinal, and Eastern Meadowlark, you’re right!  And if you guessed the app Merlin, you’ve got the right name for a highly useful bird-identification tool from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, located in Ithaca, New York.  Merlin allows users to get help identifying birds by sound, photo, or answering three questions about what one is seeing.  The Sound ID feature monitors birds sounds coming into one’s mobile device and gives suggestions for species being heard; it currently has information on over 1000 species worldwide and over 500 in the United States and Canada.  The Photo ID offers species suggestions based on photos taken by the user.  And the Bird ID Wizard asks users questions about bird size, color, and activity and then gives possible matches.  These features are supported by another Cornell program, eBird, through which thousands of birders around the world contribute bird sightings, photos, and recordings.

More information about Merlin, eBird, and other Cornell Lab of Ornithology programs is available online at  Thanks to Cornell for providing tools to help people learn about the feathered creatures inhabiting our streamsides, forests, city streets, backyards, and other habitats.  And we let one more of those creatures—a Brown Thrasher, also recorded with Merlin on April 25—have the last calls.

SOUNDS  - ~8 sec


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of “Cripple Creek” to open and close this episode.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


(Photographs are by Virginia Water Radio.)

Toms Creek at Heritage Park in Blacksburg, Va., April 25, 2023.

Vernal (seasonal) pool in Toms Creek floodplain in Heritage Park in Blacksburg, Va., April 25, 2023.


Used for Audio

Sneed B. Collard, “The Best Birdsong Apps,” October 30, 2021, online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin®,” online at  This is a mobile app to help users identify birds they see or hear; it includes a global bird guide with photos, sounds, and maps.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “eBird,” online at

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2001.

Town of Blacksburg, Va., “Heritage Community Park and Natural Area,” online at

Vernal Pool Association, “Vernal Pools,” online at

World History Encyclopedia, “Merlin,” online at

For More Information on Vernal Pools

“The Amazing Vernal Pool,” produced by the Fairfax County chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists  is a 10-minute video designed especially for elementary school students; available online at

“Fifteen Minutes in the Forest: Vernal Pools,” is a 19-minute video produced the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program; available online at

For More Information about Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere 

BirdNote®, a daily broadcast/podcast on birds, online at

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Field Guide/Birds,” online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Birds of the World,” online at  (subscription required).

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Virginia Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minn., 2002.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, “Animal Diversity Web,” online at

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries):
“Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at
“List of Native and Naturalized Fauna in Virginia, August 2020,” online (as a PDF) at

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at  The Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation, online at  This site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

A previous episode on eBird is Episode 440, 10-1-18, “eBird Helps Birders Deliver the Data.”

Following are links to previous episodes that include sounds of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Episode 118, 7-9-12 – A Summertime Virginia Sampler of Birds Around Water.
Episode 206, 3-14-14 – A Spring Serenade.
Episode 259, 3-30-15 – Red-winged Blackbird Research Follows Connections among Hormones, Avian Malaria, Aquatic Habitats, and Mercury.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – A Pondside Temperature Tale.
Episode 364, 4-17-16 – Red-winged Blackbirds.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2018 Science SOLs

Grades K-5: Scientific and Engineering Practices
K.1; 1.1; 2.1, 3.1, 4.1, 5.1, 6.1 - Understanding scientific and engineering practices by the following, including by obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

Grades K-4: Living Systems and Processes
1.5 – Animals, including humans, have basic life needs that allow them to survive; including that animals have different physical characteristics that perform specific functions; and animals can be classified based on a variety of characteristics.
4.2 – Plants and animals have structures that distinguish them from one another and play vital roles in their ability to survive.

Grades K-5: Earth Resources
4.8 – Virginia has important natural resources.

Life Science
LS.1 – Understanding of scientific and engineering practices, including by obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

BIO.1 – Understanding of scientific and engineering practices, including by obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.
BIO.6 – Modern classification systems can be used as organizational tools for scientists in the study of organisms.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15
– on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19
– on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school. Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20 – on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.
Episode 606, 12-6-21 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.