Thanks to my sister, it's impossible for me to see a junco like this handsome fellow on the right without saying "There's a rumble in the junco." Aloud. Every. Single. Time.
The show-boating Boat-Tailed Grackle. Quiscalus major ("Biggie Quail", more or less) eats pretty much everything, including snails, fast-food leftovers, frogs, seeds, lizards, fruits. They are noisy and gregarious, and their song sounds like a metallic cross between some determined chirping frogs and a toy buzz-saw.
The iridescent males do a lot of squawking while they try to defend their harems. And according to the Cornell Ornithology Lab, the "harem defense polygyny" is only about 25% effective for the males who think they are ruling the roost. Ironic, but not surprising.
Look, It's Frightful!
Well, okay, it's a Peregrine Falcon, but for those of us who really loved My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, it could be Frightful, the bird trained by the hero of the story (a runaway boy named Sam living in the Catskill Mountains) in the 4000-year-old traditions of falconry.
The fastest of birds (take THAT, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you goopy creature), Peregrines dive at speeds up to 200 miles and catch urban pigeons with a most astonishing puff of feathers.
The Peregrine can snatch a bat in mid-air. They can eat in mid-air. They typically hunt waterbirds, like wild ducks and coots and so on. They've been documented cruising along with airboats in the Everglades, using the boat like a bird-dog to flush prey. Which is kind of ironic, given our 4000 years of taming them.
I could go on. Peregrine as a word implies "wanderer," but the birds mate for life and often return to the same area season after season. Their mating rituals include a courtly bowing dance phase (oh, don't they all) and the female decides where and when to fertilize her eggs.
Like most raptors, the species almost died out in North America the 1970's due to DDT pollution, but have made a wonderful recovery once we stopped poisoning stuff.
They can be found on every continent on the globe except Antartica. Even in suburban coastal Florida on a random January morning.
A few references
Writing teacher Terra Pressler used to assign the task of finding visual miracles. The idea being that stuff is happening all around, if only we'd pay attention.
This one was perched in the tree above the house the other afternoon, hoo-hoo-hooing until the sun set.
Story 1: Low Owl
How? How? How had he managed to be shunned by every member of that most reclusive and singular of all the avian clans who fly by night?
Oh, he'd tried to fit in, he'd tried the best he knew how, but to no avail. He shook his head in dismay and preened his feathers. How hard he had tried.
And in a nutshell, there it was: the heartbreak of dyslexia.
Story 2: Learning to Fly
Kurt Vonnegut: "We have to be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down."
Humans always had to be doing that, she thought. Always laying claim to stuff they weren't able to handle. Witness land ownership. Witness the use of pesticides and artificial sweeteners which seeped into the water and flavored plants and insects. She'd taken a juicy rodent just the other evening and detected the flat metallic ping of fluoxetine even in its innocent duadenum.
It was depressing, frankly.
Sure, they traveled through the air, noisily as only humans could make a process. But growing their own wings? As if.
Like any bird, she'd thought about what it would be to trade alulars and primaries for additional phalanges –– with one in opposition. She'd be able to thread an needle or practice calligraphy, but feathers? Feathers win hands down.
Ask Icarus which he'd choose –– the paternal hands that wrought the wings or the fierce effortful moments near the Aegean sun before the pinions melted and fluttered into the sea.
Story 3: Exodus 33:20
Marquis was more of a doer, really, than a thinker. Even in a family that twitched and hustled from dawn to dusk, he was the kind of youngster who tended to nap through sermons.
He remembered the words from the sermon, however, even at the moment that they proved themselves. He had a moment to reflect, as he was carried unnaturally up and across the evening sky, that indeed –– no one could look upon that face and live.
Okay, belay the antelope. There are no antelope at Paynes Prairie.
But there IS an actual prairie near Gainesville, Florida. Go figure. Where the buffalo roam even.
We made it home for a couple of days before New Year's.
Paynes Prairie was the state's first state park. It's also the subject of one of the great early narratives about nature in the New World.
In 1773, William Bartram traveled south from Philadelphia, sketching and making extensive notes that became Bartram's Travels, first published in 1791 by James and Johnson in Philadelphia.
Exerpt from page 128
THE alligator when full grown is a very large and terrible creature, and of prodigous strength, activity and swiftness in the water.
I have seen them twenty feet in length, and some are supposed to be twenty-two or twenty-three feet; their body is as large as that of a horse; their shape exactly resembles that of a lizard, except their tail, which is flat or cuniform, being compressed on each side, and gradually diminishing from the abdomen to the extremity, which, with the whole body is covered with horny plates or squammae, impenetrable when on the body of the live animal, even to a rifle ball, except about their head and just behind their fore-legs or arms, where it is said they are only vulnerable.
When that smug Roadrunner stuck out his tongue, made his rude noise, and zipped off to the vanishing point on the cartoon desert horizon –– I often wished he'd trip.
Just once giving the Wile E. Coyote the chance to make a meal of the annoying bird. He worked so hard on those roadrunner-catching contraptions.
Not that I knew from coyotes. Oy. They were a creature of the Wild West. But with the passage of time have come the wild canines, at least in the North Country.
I wrote about how they are known locally as "coydogs," but the coyotes of Northern New York are actually wolf-coyote hybrids.
The admixture of wolf gives them a bigger frame, and a somewhat less scruffy appearance. And maybe some vocal range.
From Base Camp on the Farm, we listen to their songs (which sound remarkably like what I image a chorus of the damned) often. I used the video function on my camera to capture this bit of soundtrack, so the sound is fairly –– er –– tame.
YouTube thoughtfully asked if I wanted to enhance the lighting on this video-clip. Bless their hearts.
Spotted this petroglyph while hiking out of Ketchikan, Alaska. What it means? Well, that might be a story...
Story 1 – Raven Sees the Sparrows
It happened before the Moon was first eaten by mice, before the lands in the west were swallowed by the ocean, before the stars in the night sky were given names. This was a long time ago.
Old lady Raven was hopping and muttering on the gravel beach where a small river emptied into the ocean. "Where are the dying salmon, pink and angry?" she said to herself. She picked up a pebble and flung it into the water. "Where are the blubber-rich scraps of walrus?" She lifted a raft of seaweed and said, "Where is the fat carcass of a goose that has died?"
Then, hopping to the smooth silver trunk of a driftwood log, old lady Raven shook her shining black wings and shouted in frustration. "Where? Where?"
Deep within the alder bushes that grew along the river, just on the other side of the gravel beach, a pair of sparrows were keeping their heads down. They did not know the old lady, but they did not like the look of her strong beak or the sound of her peevish muttering. You never knew with people, but then again, you kind of did.
They fluffed their grey feathers against the wind coming over the ocean and then tried not to catch one another's eye as old lady Raven yelled so loud that she nearly tipped herself from the driftwood log. The one sparrow spoke as softly as he could, leaning in to the soft nape of his mate's neck, "Who is she talking to?"
His mate sidled a little closer to him and said nothing.
"Wouldn't it be funny if we were to pretend to be the god of ravens and answer her?"
His mate chuckled, low in her throat.
"Wouldn't it be funny if we told Raven that the food she wants can be found under water?"
His mate gave him an indulgent look.
"The god of ravens would croak, 'Dark lady, I hear you! I have prepared a feast and you, my beautiful daughter, will be the first to the table! I have every kind of meat set aside for you there!'"
The sparrow stopped to wipe his beak on a twig, because it was difficult to imitate a god of ravens quietly and his voice was a little sore. He continued, "Then the god would say, 'Take up a large pebble in your mouth, my daughter, and swim with your fine shining wings to the bottom of my ocean!' And overtaken by awe and greed, the silly creature would abandon the open air. She would dive under the waves and swim with her strong wings until the moment came when she drowned."
Whether his mate would have chuckled again or not, the sparrow was never to know, for old lady Raven was suddenly perched with them in the alder bush.
The sparrows could each see their reflection in the glittering black eyes of old lady Raven. One fat sparrow in either eye and Raven's beak like a fine obsidian hatchet in the middle. The first sparrow blinked at his reflection. His mate made a tiny, indelicate noise by accident.
The raven laughed. Then she raised her shining black wings and shouted, "Fly!"
The sparrows flew.
Old lady Raven shook her feathers back and preened for a moment. She croaked a musical note and said, " 'And that moment,' the sparrows will tell each other, 'with a single word, the goddess Lady Raven first brought sparrows into the world.' "
*As a tourist, I saw only the outermost level of Tlingit culture: the totem poles, the wooden buildings, story-telling at the visitors' centres, and the occasional petroglyph. My rift on the tradition of Raven is a pale copy of the real stories, but meant respectfully.
When my sister and I were green and youthful singletons*, sharing a happening beach apartment on Pass-a-Grille Beach, we witnessed a Christmas miracle. Of sorts.
(*That time was roughly ten minutes or so ago on the geological time scale.)
Not just any old city bird, this was a pure white dove that stomped in its pigeon-toed way across the thin, sandy carpet of the living room, past the mod, mirrored wall of the dining room, straight into the bathroom where my sister was showering.
"Caa-hooo! Caa-hooo!" the bird insisted.
The bird was nonplussed by the Bottacelli vision of my sister emerging from the shower. The reciprocal –– less so. My sister found the pearly-white creature creepy and unsettling in her personal space, but it was unmistakably a bird of peace, so we put out a dish of water, scattered some crumbs on the patio, and shooed it back outdoors.
The next morning, the dove barged through the door cooing. It waddled straight to her bedroom and hopped onto the pile of blankets covering my sister. "Well, F-ing-A Tweetie," my sister said.
We had a propensity to speak the intensifying phrase "F-ing-A" in a John Wayne accent that year. The sobriquet "Pilgrim" was also heard rather more frequently than one might have wished.
The bird fluffed its feathers and settled more comfortably onto the hump of blankets.
"F-ing-A Tweetie," my sister said. "A Christmas miracle."
The dove said, "Humpf," in bird-language and left a small deposit on the blanket.
F-ing-A-Tweetie lived with us for a week, during the cold snap of that Christmas season. Quite tame, the bird suffered itself to be handled and was happy to settle on the back of the couch when we watched television. It was not banded, though it must have been someone's pet. Unless it truly was a Christmas miracle.
At the turning of the year –– by the Festival of the Epiphany, say –– the visitation ended. Day dawned, and no cooing and no stomping around the house. Then another day and no bird, and another. We hoped that F-ing A Tweetie hadn't been eaten or blown into the Gulf, but that might have been too miraculous to hope for a bird of peace flying around in the world.
Thank you, Emily Dickinson. Even though that poem is not my favorite of yours (I like the shocking ones like, "Because I would not stop for Death/He kindly stopped for me––").
But still, these are the words that come to me over coffee as I sit watching the birds at the feeder.
Who doesn't like a bird-feeder? (Answer: don't even tell me. Killjoys.)
There's a nice variety swooping in the first week of April: nuthatches and chickadees, house finches and gold finches, cedar waxwings and juncos. (My sister intones "There's a rumble in the junco!") Plus flickers and downy woodpeckers, robins and pigeons, red-winged blackbirds, a single determined crow goose-stepping at the perimeter.
The birds are at war, I think, despite how they sound chipper and some poets might suggest they embody hope. They are always skirmishing over seed at the feeder. Or chasing off potential suitors. Or courting like overcharged sixth-graders.
It's a little like watching the television news. Only a little less bloodless and a lot less duplicitous.
Though I have blogged about it before, I can't get enough of the critter cam photos of the Would-Be
Farm. We set up a couple of these stout little digital cameras and get a peep at what's happening. When we leave the Farm, they keep working –– unless the batteries freeze solid, or beavers move the trees on which they are mounted, or some reprobate half-inches them.
I wonder if there's a humorous technical term for when a user fails to correctly set the time and date on a digital device? Like, say, "Lazy"? Yeah, but...anyHOW, disregard the dates, times, temps that appear at the bottom of the following captured images:
ABout the Blog
A lot of ground gets covered on this blog -- from sailboat racing to book suggestions to plain old piffle.
Trying to keep track? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or use the RSS option below.