I’ve made a deal. Not a deal with the Devil; not a Faustian bargain reeking of Sulphur; but a deal with the birds.

The contract we have entered into is this: they may eat the raspberries which have mysteriously appeared in my garden- and have come to take over nearly a third of my garden, and in return, at five thirty each morning, they are to provide me with song.

Not a short ditty mind you, but proper performances: Concertos, Fugues and the occasional full bird Symphony. We signed our pact in early May and they’ve been true to their word, as have I.

The canes in my yard are summer berries and the crop dies out by mid July with only half the branches- or canes producing any fruit in one year. But the fruit while it lasts is delicious. It’s a tremendous culinary treat for the birds.

The birds have continued singing even after the fruit is exhausted. They’re good sports that way, creatures of character.

It’s a good deal for both of us- as the raspberry canes have produced a hardy bountiful crop of sweet berries (I filch a few from time to time while tying up the bushes); and the bird song- starting each morning- is splendid.

The cast of performers are largely the same from day to day. Early in the morning, it’s almost always just the Blue Jays and Cardinals, though mind you, what they lack in numbers, they compensate for in volume.

Later in the morning, say around 8:30, the Nuthatches and Chickadees join in. Invariably Swifts and Robins straggle in as well. Don’t believe all that early bird business, Robins are both fat and lazy.

As the day progresses and the summer creeps on, there are sometimes surprises- a White Breasted Nuthatch, House Finches and Gray Catbirds.

The Gray Catbird is new to me, while almost all the other birds are ubiquitous to me, friends from childhood. Not that I’m an expert birder. In fact I’ve never been a birder at all.

However, on a recent full moon hike at a local nature preserve where I frequently spend time and volunteer, a fellow hiker showed me an app called Merlin.

Merlin is an ingenious piece of software developed by Cornell University.  Download the app and activate it while near any singing birds and the app identifies the bird as well as providing photos and a bio of sorts.

Or as it’s site states: “Sound ID listens to the birds around you and shows real-time suggestions for who’s singing. Compare your recording to the songs and calls in Merlin to confirm what you heard. Sound ID works completely offline, so you can identify birds you hear no matter where you are.”

The Merlin staff is based at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and their team includes 5000+ birders spanning the globe who have contributed photos and audio recordings with eBird, as well as everyone who have submitted their sightings to a companion site- eBird.

And as if that’s not amazing enough- Marlin also allows one to identify birds from photos. “Snap a photo of a bird, or pull one in from your camera roll, and Photo ID will offer a short list of possible matches. Photo ID works completely offline, so you can identify birds in the photos you take no matter where you are.”

Merlin is available for birds in the US, Canada, Europe, with some common birds of Central and South America, and India. Merlin is free so long as you agree to provide them with the information you collect while using the App. This information is used by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology which synthesizes the information with information collected by everyone else through Merlin to create Birds of the World, “a powerful resource that brings deep, scholarly content from four celebrated works of ornithology into a single platform where biologists and birders can find comprehensive life history information on birds.”

Merlin is an amazing app and, at first blush, is akin to witchcraft.

My fellow hiker said that he and others used Merlin at the preserve one evening and identified over 100 types of birds.

It’s certainly taught me to appreciate the sanctuary my garden is becoming.

And in case your wondering, The Gray Catbird, also spelled Grey Catbird, is a medium-sized North American and Central American perching bird of the mimid family. It is the only member of the “catbird” genus Dumetella.

The Gray Catbird- which is a medium size songbird- smaller than a Robin; can be found in thickets and vine tangles. It’s, “a somber gray bird with a black cap and bright rusty feathers under the tail. Gray Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers, and they share that group’s vocal abilities, copying the sounds of other species and stringing them together to make their own song.”

In other words, it is the multi-instrumentalist of the bird species. Their song can last up to ten minutes.

If you’d like a few Gray Catbirds in your own backyard, All About Birds suggests planting shrubs in areas of your yard near young deciduous trees. Grey Catbirds also love fruit, so you can entice them with plantings of native fruit-bearing trees and shrubs such as dogwood, winterberry, and serviceberry (and, obviously, raspberries).

Though at then end of the day, I have to confess that I didn’t make the raspberry bargain with my backyard birds for the birdsong- well at least not for the birdsong alone.

For you see, each note from each bird is a potential memory, a flashback.

For while it’s true that I’ve never been an avid birder, it’s equally true that I’ve been in many wonderful places and run into many wonderful birds under various circumstances and the songs of those birds at home, often take me back to those those times, those meetings.

With almost every photo in this piece I can still recall, three five and even ten years after the fact, the place time and circumstances of where I took each shot.

In a year when travel has become unpleasant at best, and impossible at worst, the birds in my garden are a way to time travel while I wait for the world to be safe again for travel.

Standing in a soft summer rain snacking on fresh fruits and vegetables I’ve grown myself, while surrounded by birdsong is as good a trip as I’ve taken in many years. Their songs remind me of the birds of my past and the adventures which surrounded those meetings.

Like the mornings I  spent at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, “a beautiful and fragile wetland in the New Mexico high desert.” A place where good people work hard to maintain habitats for the wildlife that are permanent residents, as well as those who migrate to the Middle Rio Grande valley in spring, and the tens of thousands of birds who winter here.

I recall standing there shivering in the cold and the dark, waiting for the first light and the arrival of thousands of Snow Geese and Sand Hill Cranes.

The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is the winter home of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, Rosses Geese, ducks, and other waterfowl. The arrival of the Sandhill Cranes each year is celebrated by a 6-day Bosque Del Apache Festival Of The Cranes each November, before Thanksgiving.

I was there at the end of the migrations. There would not be ten thousand clacking geese and cranes- as with the height of migration- there were thousands nonetheless; filling the air with their cries and the raucous sounds of their powerful wings and ragged cries as they came in to feed at the flooded lake.

The cranes and geese and others come each day of the migration season as the sun turns the mountains, flooded river and night skies from black to indigo to a hundred shades of red, yellow and pink. They come all at once, a riot of screeching birds, settling en masse on the river. And they sit on the river, nervously, feeding, until dawn becomes morning and then they are, as suddenly as they came, off into the morning to continue their migration rising into the always peerless New Mexico sky.

It makes for an amazing morning- standing there as the stainglassed lighting rises from behind the mountains, cranes and geese, falling from the sky like hail, to land on the lake where they spend a half hour grocking  and feeding like so many old women at the world’s greatest bingo game.

And, yet, it is but one of many memories which come to me whenever I find myself immersed in a bird concert. I can travel close my eyes and travel thousands of miles without even leaving my backyard.

Crows. My whole life I’ve been enthralled with crows and ravens.

A single raw and ragged cry can take me to countless places and prior encounters with the Corvidae family: The Grand Canyon, Canon Beach in Oregon, the crows circling at Governor’s Point in Yosemite where the air is barely thick enough to breath.

Point Reyes National Seashore-just north of San Francisco- as green as Ireland- where I photographed a Raven that became a tattoo the length of my left forearm so that I would never forget it.

I noticed this morning, as I was feeding the other garden plants in the early morning light, trying to beat the heat and humidity as southwestern Ohio- in mid to late summer- is like living in a sauna; that the raspberries are gone.

I hope that this does not vex the birds too greatly, to see them go would break my heart. I’ve got too many other journeys I wish to revisit this summer.