For the Birds Radio Program: My Ithaca Balcony

Original Air Date: July 11, 2008

Living in the woods has enormous pleasures.

Duration: 3′33″


One of the greatest pleasures of my new life in Ithaca, New York, is sitting out on the balcony of my apartment. It looks out onto a wetland, where since March the word silence has had no meaning. From well before sunrise until sunset, there have always been at least a few birds singing and calling, and every night frogs sing nonstop. On the Fourth of July, the only fireworks display I needed was produced by the thousands of fireflies lighting up the air, accompanied by frog music. From my balcony I’ve also heard coyotes and raccoons, and several times have heard deer snorting.

I’m not up to speed with non-bird vocalizations, so I don’t recognize the salamanders around here by call, but they’re abundant in my neck of the woods. One Ithaca College professor is even trying to close off traffic on my street during the critical time every spring when salamanders are crossing the road to breed. That could obviously be a bit inconvenient for those of us who live here, but inconvenience doesn’t begin to sum up what the poor squashed salamanders and frogs feel. There just aren’t that many places left for them, and when people develop one of the best remaining spots, well, it’s up to us to figure out ways of sharing such quality habitat, not destroying it.

It’s ironic and upsetting how many people chose to live on this road, in this wetland and forest, specifically for the natural beauty, yet drive at top speed and end up little by little killing the very elements they came to enjoy. The list of birds I’ve found hit by cars on just a quarter-mile stretch of road continues to grow, and every day I also find dead squirrels, chipmunks, butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies. Ithaca is way too hilly for me to ride my bike the 6 ½ miles to work each day, but I feel too guilty driving my car in the face of this carnage so I went out and bought an electric-assist bike that helps me get up the hills. Riding a bike is a great way to enjoy birds on my commute, but it also makes me even more acutely aware of just how many birds are killed by cars.

But I don’t need to think about roadkill when I’m on my balcony. Listening to my very own Veeries, Scarlet Tanagers, kingbirds, Baltimore Orioles, and other treasured avian neighbors on my own personal refuge banishes every sad thought. It’s a place for listening to the dawn chorus as I drink my morning coffee and a place for listening to Veeries bid the sun goodnight as I drink my bedtime tea. And as I sleep, the nighttime sounds drift through the balcony screen, filling my room with happy sounds to dream about. Nothing could be finer.