Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Who's that Eating the Mugo Pine?

They came from Europe to eat the, also European, mugo pine--the European pine sawfly (see this page as well for pine sawfly info). These guys have been showing up on this pine for a few years now--in ever increasing numbers.

I just learned what they are today, a well-known, fairly common, imported pest (I assume an accidental import). They not only attack this pine, but a number of native species as well.

After they're done.

An interesting little larvae--hard to see at first on the needles of the pine--but they rear up if threatened, sometimes in unison, creating a rather pleasant ripple effect over the tree.

Apparently, and this accords with my observations of them, there is just one generation of this sawfly in a season, so whatever havoc they wreak now will be the end of it until next year.

They can be removed, vanquished, with soapy water, and there are so many this year that I may take some out.

I have mixed feelings about destroying larvae, caterpillars, etc. They are another way nature turns plants into meat, in this case for birds to feed to their nestlings, so I usually leave them be unless they're going to actually defoliate a tree or shrub entirely, or harm one that is already weakened. These particular critters don't seem to be attracting much attention from birds anyway.


Today's the day that Circus of the Spineless is published--this month's edition is hosted by Bev at Burning Silo--a compendium of invertebrate mystery, tales, and beautiful images. Be sure to drop over and sample the best of recent invertebrate posts from around the blogosphere (and around the world).

Sunday, May 28, 2006

More Tales of the Caramel Bunny

While I was away I spent some odd moments wondering how the caramel bunny was doing. I didn't hold out a lot of hope for it--fat, possibly slow, and probably an innocent in the world of the fields, complete with coyotes, foxes, weasels, fishers, and the occasional dog. But this past Wednesday evening out in the fields I ran into it--slimmer, a little rougher looking, but very much alive, and once again, in the company of at least one eastern cottontail. There were actually two in the vicinity, but I only saw one actually interact with the caramel bunny--a bit of leaping and kicking, of the sort I've seen two cottontails engage in. I don't know if this is playful, or hostile, but no one was the worse for it that I could see.

The cottontail took off, but the caramel stayed around and let me come much closer to it than before. In fact, it came towards me a couple of times, as if considering whether to come in from the cold. I have very mixed feelings about this situation, but have decided that if the bunny asks for refuge I'll provide it somehow. If it doesn't, e.g., doesn't let me touch it, doesn't follow me home, or give some other clear signal, I won't try to force the issue. It gave no clear signal, and after a little while we went our separate ways.

Friday I saw it again, and again it was with a cottontail. On this occasion it didn't show as much interest in me as it had before, though also not much fear. This encounter took place at the north end of the area I call "the scrape," in honour of the topsoil harvest that has taken place there, leaving the ground bare for the first season, and starting to green up in the second (i.e., now). As they did last year, killdeers are raising young here--chicks are downless and growing fast--so killdeers were calling and displaying the whole time I spent with the bunny. The bunny took no notice, so I tried to do the same, though I did try to always move away from the chicks when I wasn't standing still. (This is complicated by the fact that this year there is a second killdeer family at the south end of the scrape, so as one set of parents calms down the other starts up--I don't know yet whether the second family is at the nesting or the chick stage, or where the nest or chicks are, so I have no way of passing by yet avoiding their area of concern.)

Here's the mystery. It's pretty clear now that the caramel bunny is hanging out with one or more eastern cottontail rabbits, described as: "a nocturnal creature which leads a solitary lifestyle. It is estimated each eastern cottontail requires up to three hectares of its own." (Canadian Biodiversity Eastern Cottontail page) At this page I found, mention is made of the occasional frolicking together of eastern cottontails, something I've read about elsewhere. This past winter I observed as many as four rabbits at a time under the birdfeeders (a first for me). Last summer I saw a family, what looked like a doe and a number of quite small young, playing around in the driveway down into the scrape.

Domestic rabbits are descendants of the European rabbit (Orychtolagus cuniculus), which is a social species. So I can understand the caramel bunny wanting to hang out with other rabbits. The mystery is why the others want to hang out with it. One macabre possiblity (which may assume more imagination on the part of the cottontails than is strictly warranted) is suggested by the old joke that when you're being chased by a bear don't worry about being able to outrun it (you won't), just worry about outrunning the person you're with.

More likely though is that cottontails are social in ways that aren't well studied. There is a tendency to divide animals into social and solitary species, rather than to appreciate a continuum or wider diversity of styles of sociability. Looked at from one fundamental perspective, all mammals are social species--all mammals spend at least some time in a social group: mother and offspring.

Human beings are, of course, a social species--inclined by nature to form attachments. The first time I saw this rabbit I thought I was left the yard and I didn't see it again for quite a while. Now I've seen it four more times, talked to it, sat around with it a little--started to form a connection. The Canadian Biodiversity cottontail page makes this point about rabbits:
These animals serve a vital function in the environment...they convert plant material into meat....
I have found countless remains of predated rabbits in the fields--which is a good thing, rabbits reproduce so prodigiously that I wouldn't be able to walk back there for all the rabbits if no one was eating them. But now that I know this bunny, I don't want it to be eaten. As I say above, I have very mixed feelings about this. It's a rabbit, rabbits are food in these fields. It's not a wild rabbit, so either it shouldn't be there at all (should be eaten quickly), or it should be rescued. Why would I only rescue it if it asks? My inclination, personal and philosophical, is to let nature take its course--even in not-quite-natural situations such as this one. But there could be tears.

To learn more about rabbits, and who wouldn't want to, check out The most freaky of all mammals: rabbits at Tetrapod Zoology.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Summer's a' Coming

There have already been smog days in 2006--but tomorrow is supposed to be hot as well--a real summer day in modern southern Ontario. Belleville has too many times been the worst spot in the province for air quality--when the wind is from the south, as it usually is on a smog day, we share their air in Thomasburg. Prediction for tomorrow has the wind coming from the south in the morning, switching to the southwest later in the day. Rain forecast, but not enough to make a difference.

Courtesy of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment:
A SMOG ADVISORY* has been issued by the Ontario Ministry of the
Environment for the following forecast regions:

For: Sunday May 28, 2006

Barrie - Orillia - Midland
Belleville - Quinte - Northumberland
City of Hamilton
City of Toronto
Dufferin - Innisfil
Dunnville - Caledonia - Haldimand
Grey - Bruce
Halton - Peel
Huron - Perth
Kingston - Prince Edward
London - Middlesex
Oxford - Brant
Parry Sound - Muskoka - Huntsville
Peterborough - Kawartha Lakes
Sarnia - Lambton
Simcoe - Delhi - Norfolk
Waterloo - Wellington
York - Durham

The SMOG ADVISORY (issued on a previous date) for the
following forecast region(s) is still in effect:

Elgin: From May 27, 2006
Windsor - Essex - Chatham - Kent: From May 27, 2006

Advisories will remain in effect until further notice.

For more details visit the Air Quality Ontario website at:

During the smog episode, individuals may experience eye
irritation. Heavy outdoor exercise may cause respiratory
symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath. People
with heart or lung disease including asthma may experience
a worsening of their condition.

* A Smog Advisory means that there is a strong likelihood
that there may be poor air quality within the next 24 hours
due to ground-level ozone and/or particulate matter.

Spare the Air Actions

During a smog advisory, there are a number of actions that you can
take to help spare the air.

Travel tips - all year round:
- leave your car at home - walk, cycle, carpool or take public transit
- tele-conference instead of driving to meetings
- limit car trips by doing all your errands at once, and do
not let your engine idle
- keep your car well tuned, check your tire pressure and
drive at moderate speeds

Health tips:
- avoid exposure to vehicle exhaust fumes
- consult your doctor for specific health advice
- wear light clothing at work while air conditioning is reduced
- avoid strenuous exercise in the heat of the day

Electricity saving tips:
- save electricity at home by setting your air conditioner
temperature a few degrees higher (health permitting) and turning
off lights you are not using

Other pollution reduction tips:
- leave lawn mowing for another day
- restrict the use of gasoline-powered equipment
- delay using oil-based paints, solvents and cleaners

Friday, May 26, 2006

I and the Bird #24: The Graphic Novella Edition

Carel P. Brest van Kempen, artist, writer, and author of the blog Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding, is the host of the current edition of I and the Bird, the carnival of the best of recent bird and birder blogging. It's a wonderful presentation, a story in illustrations, and a great collection of posts. Check it out.

And if you haven't been to Rigor Vitae before spend some time there. Many of Carel's eerie and wonderful wildlife paintings are on display, as well as some great natural history writing. Just this past week his post In Cold Blood, about the different thermo coping mechanisms of cold-blooded creatures, answered a lot of questions that have been buzzing around in my mind.

And there's more: Carel has recently had a book of his art published, RIGOR VITAE: Life Unyielding. Clicking on the link takes you to a site where you can see sample pages from the book, and learn more about it.

To learn more about the blog carnival that is I and the Bird, click here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Here for the Season

A few days of winds from the west, cold temperatures and very unsettled conditions has stopped the flood of migrants into the yard. I haven't heard how things have been the last few days at Prince Edward Point.

Since things are quieter, I've been able to spend more time thinking about the birds that are already nesting here, or at least getting ready to.

The laneway down to the beach here goes through an area of coniferous plantation on one side, fields on the other. Whenever I get to a particular point on the lane a female Red-winged Blackbird flies up to near the top of a tree on the other side, where she is joined by a male. They chatter and watch me from the treetop until I'm once again a safe distance away. Yesterday I finally got to see the nest, in a low crotch of a shrub some 3 metres from the edge of the lane. In the same field, and the field across the road, the meadowlarks are not only singing, but also appear to be "on territory"--acting kind of nutty in their meadowlark way. A flyover by a crow or raptor causes a great deal of fuss.

This morning there was a pair of Blue Jays sitting in a tree looking pensive, one was carrying nesting materials.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived here on May 8 was that the American Robin I had seen sitting on eggs the week before (I normally come down here to Prince Edward County, to this spot, for the day about once a week, to work) now had young in the nest. I could just see their little beaks above the edge of the nest.

A few days before fledging--Four nestlings

By the 16th all four had fledged. Interesting, because starlings were also feeding young in a nest who were so noisy I could hear them from almost anywhere in the yard when a parent flew in--and yet the robins fledged first. The grackles' nestlings have just become audible in the last few days--I know where their nest is roughly, but can't actually see it.

It's the robins that have me feeling some regret that I'm leaving here today. Almost as soon as the chicks left the nest, the parents began renovations. Then a grackle started checking out the empty nest--there were a couple of skirmishes--I don't actually know whether there were any new eggs laid, but the robin wasn't sitting.

American Robin

Now a pair of robins are building a new nest high in a tree. Ironically, perhaps, very near to where the grackles are nesting. Same pair of robins? I think so--but can't say for sure. Another pair of robins has a nest on an air conditioner on another side of the house. They were building when I arrived, and are sitting on eggs now. The net result is a lot of robins in the yard--it's hard to tell if there're two pairs or three. A few weeks before I came down to stay, i.e., on a day trip, I noticed a pair of robins building a nest high in a tree on the other side of the yard (near where the starlings are nesting now), but that effort seems to have been abandoned. All the time this is going on the fledglings are still being fed. They are spread out through the woods below the house where I can hear them, but rarely see them. I do see the busy parents tracking them down to feed them in between getting ready for the next batch. I'm curious about just how soon these robins will be sitting on eggs again.

Chickadees are busy, a pair of Northern Flickers are working their boundaries every few hours, Song Sparrows, Belted Kingfisher, Mourning Doves, and more are clearly here for the season. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will almost certainly nest here--maybe the singer of the last few days (and the female I finally saw) will stay. I think that the American Redstart is on territory, as is the Common Yellowthroat, and maybe the Yellow Warbler. There are still too many orioles, both Orchard and Baltimore, for me to be able to say with any certainty if anyone is here to stay. I'll be back down here in ten days or so, for the day, and will catch up to who's nesting then.

Later today I'll be back home in Thomasburg--I can't wait to see what changes these two weeks in May have brought.

American Robin Update:
Later the same day

I finished writing the above post and went outside only to see that there is now a robin sitting on eggs in the new nest in the tree, and a robin sitting on eggs in the renovated nest from which the first fledglings emerged. So now there are three robins on nests (two on air conditioners, one in a tree) all of which can be seen from the centre of the yard. That's a lot of robins! I wondered about the fledglings, still dependent, that belong to one of these sitting robins. And I found this:
The nestling period lasts from 13 to 16 days. The next clutch is usually started about 40 days after the first egg of the year, but females often start the second nest, including laying the eggs, before the first group of young is independent. Sometimes the overlap is extensive, with the second clutch begun before the first nestlings are out of the nest. When this happens, the male cares for the first nestlings.
At Hinterland Who's Who's American Robin page.

So I guess daddy will take care of the fledglings for the next several days--then new nestlings will be wanting to be fed, and it's only May. The page linked suggests that three clutches is possible--I'm thinking it's probable.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Too Many Birds!!

I've been down in Prince Edward County since a week ago Monday, and have been wanting to write about the birds here since a day or two after I arrived, but I couldn't winnow out the story from the mass of experience. I still haven't really.

Prince Edward County is almost an island that reaches out into Lake Ontario--it's southernmost point, Prince Edward Point experiences huge fallouts of spring migrators--the Pelee of eastern Ontario. (Here's a link to the Prince Edward Bird Checklist) This place is great for birds all year round--as I've written before. But I've never spent so much time here in May before (during the birding festival), not since I've taken up "serious" birding anyway. Well, it's excessive! The place I'm staying is on the south shore, just a few kilometres from Prince Edward Point. And some mornings in the past several days, or when the weather was mixed, some afternoons, the trees around the house have been just full of warblers.

I cheered when John at A DC Birding Blog finally got to see a cerulean warbler. I enjoyed the stories of Mike at 10,000 Birds getting together with Charlie of Charlie's Bird Blog to go out and look for a cerulean of their own. Then, I, who has heard but never seen this same bird, was tortured by one singing high in the trees just off the edge of the yard here for several hours. I could hear it from inside the house (where I was trying to work), and was drawn out over and over to try again to catch a glimpse of it--I never did. A couple of days later another came to sing but by then, thankfully, I had finally relaxed. Let them sing--I'm pleased just to hear them.

The cerulean is a bird of interest to me not just for its relative rarity or its reputed beauty, but also because it's a bird I identified a couple of years ago entirely from hearing it sing and comparing that to recordings of other ceruleans singing. On the one hand this is an extremely distinctive singer to my ears--on the other, of the now three individuals I've heard, only the third sang a "textbook" cerulean song.

Listening to so many singers these past 10 days (and still being a very beginning song identifier), I am more convinced than ever that birds sing what they want to--they don't learn their songs from the recordings that birders use. At times there were large numbers of yellow-rumped warblers here, many singing--and singing not just at different volumes, but also at different speeds! Fortunately I was able to see a lot of the singers to confirm this. I also got a chance to relearn the American redstart song styles. I wrote on this blog last year that the redstart sings "who, who, who, julio (hoolio)," and then was uncomfortable about it afterwards. I'd hear/see a singing redstart that was saying nothing of the kind. Well, it turns out, sometimes they do sing this--then they sing something else for a while.

Today the yard was full of Baltimore orioles--a couple would be singing from the treetops--four more would chase each other around in a colourful aerial parade.
baltimore orioleAlso singing, sometimes from the same treetop, an orchard oriole (not to mention the singing catbird, who'd borrowed a few oriole notes). So I was able to confirm that what I did hear that terrible inattentive day last spring in the far field at home in my atlassing square was an orchard oriole singing. It does sound, to me, like a Baltimore oriole who's forgotten the tune.
gray catbird
Then, the thing that got me to sit down and write something, late this afternoon, in the rain, a couple of northern parulas (and another bird, who will remain unidentified--though that bold eye ring should have given it away.....oh well), were feeding in the lilac just outside the kitchen door. Another bird who brings back a bittersweet memory of breeding bird atlassing. In the early days of the atlas, in my earlier birding days, I didn't keep good notes. One spring day in year two I spotted a northern parula in the cedar bush. I looked it up, to confirm it, and to see if this was possible breeding habitat for it--looked good, I recorded it as a possible breeder. The cards we were given to record breeding evidence indicated species that were considered rare, and so needed to be documented in more detail. But of course, since the cards were for everyone, they didn't indicate "regionally rare" birds. Turned out that the northern parula is regionally rare for me, but I didn't find out until the end of the summer when I was entering data on line(another lesson--don't wait until the end of the season). At that point I didn't even have a date for the sighting (I was a much better record keeper after this). Since I couldn't document the sighting, and since I felt uncertain about the whole thing, I kept hoping that the code could be changed from possible breeder to merely observed. Powers that be went back and forth on what the code should be. It still stands as a possible breeder to this day--but is under review. The incident shook me up some, got me thinking that I'd never even seen the bird (neurotic, or what?). But I feel better about that now--the second time is always better.

Interesting, frustrating, a time of learning, and a confirmation that "east, west, home's best." I like the breeding birds. I like birding in context best--seeing and learning more about the birds who hang around. It's exciting being in this place, at this time, where almost anything might turn up--but it's exhausting too. In a few days I will head back to Thomasburg, and soon the migration will be over and the birds will be settled into their summer homes. And maybe that cerulean I heard a couple of years ago will return to nest in Vanderwater Conservation Area again this year, and this time let me get a look at it.

Meantime, the yard list from 10 days in this wild place, includes a laneway of about a kilometre down to the lakeshore, and the view of the fields across the street, doesn't include the several warbler species, possible other vireos, thrushes (I thought I heard a gray-cheeked thrush this morning, but I have no confidence in it, for example), and who knows what all else I've heard but not recognized, or seen flitting by out of the corner of my eye.

common loon
great blue heron
black-crowned night heron
turkey vulture
wood duck
common merganser
hawk (sp.)
ruffed grouse
wild turkey
sandhill crane (probably)
gull (sp.)
mourning dove
ruby-throated hummingbird
belted kingfisher
downy woodpecker
hairy woodpecker
northern flicker
least flycatcher
great-crested flycatcher
eastern kingbird
warbling vireo
blue jay
American crow
purple martin
tree swallow
bank swallow
barn swallow
black-capped chickadee
white-breasted nuthatch
house wren
American robin
gray catbird
European starling
cedar waxwing
blue-winged/golden-winged warbler
Tennessee warbler
orange-crowned warbler (possible heard)
Nashville warbler
northern parula
yellow warbler
yellow-rumped warbler
blackburnian warbler
cerulean warbler
black-and-white warbler
American redstart
northern waterthrush (possible heard)
common yellowthroat
Wilson's warbler (possible heard)
scarlet tanager
eastern towhee
chipping sparrow
field sparrow
song sparrow
white-throated sparrow
white-crowned sparrow
nothern cardinal
rose-breasted grosbeak
red-winged blackbird
eastern meadowlark
common grackle
brown-headed cowbird
orchard oriole
Baltimore oriole
American goldfinch

Carnival of the Very Small

The latest edition of the blog carnival Animalcules, 1.8, is up at its home site, Aetiology.

This is a blog carnival of posts about:
Those poor little creatures that are ruthlessly killed every day of our lives--the underappreciated, the underloved, the oft-maligned--the animalcules.
I've been a reader for a while--there's always something interesting going on among the animalcules. Now I'm a contributor. This edition includes my post about the cedar-apple rust fungus, Overnight Sensation. And lots more besides. Check it out!

For more information about the carnival, submission guidelines, links to earlier editions, etc., go to this page.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Leaves of Three--Let it Be

Last year in June I spent some time down here in Prince Edward County, and on the first night of the stay, I wandered down the lane a little ways in sandals, was drawn to investigate a strange sound in the woods, and was stopped partly by common sense, and partly by this three-leaved sight at my feet. (For more about what happened that day see Close encounters)

I've never had a poison ivy reaction, so may not be sensitive to it--though as I understand these things that can change with the next exposure. But there are two reasons to be cautious around this stuff. One, that you'll end up with a rash, ranging anywhere from annoying to requiring medical assistance. But two, that you'll bring the oil home on your clothes and spread it around for others to pick up.

This year there is more of this stuff here than last--several more patches on the same side of the laneway: another reason not to go tramping off the trail.

For More Information:
Poison Ivy: The Scourge of the Trail (Hike Ontario)
Outsmarting Poison Ivy (USFDA)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Overnight Sensation

It has been very dry around here--I'm in Prince Edward County this week and next. Last night it rained, and this morning I looked out to see the red cedars covered in

Eastern Red Cedar - Juniperus virginiana is a kind of juniper, and subject to a fungus called cedar-apple rust. On the cedars (junipers) the fungus produces a gall that "blossoms" when it rains, and sheds spores.

The spores go on to infect apple trees (the rust phase), where they cause some trouble, and eventually pass the infection back to the cedars (which aren't much bothered by it) to start the cycle over again.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

It's I and the Bird #23

Up at birdDC, a collection of the best of recent bird and birder blogging. And there's a game with prizes too!! Check it out.

The next edition of I & the Bird will appear on May 25, hosted by Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding. Submissions due by May 23--go to I and the Bird Central for more information.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

More Adventures in Raptor Identification

I was standing up by the shed casually surveying the yard when a grey, barred bird about the size of a blue jay flashed by at eye level.

It landed in a nearby tree and stayed long enough for me to walk over fairly close to take a look. Raptor, so small, bluish, merlin? I hadn't really seen it flying clearly, just the flash. Before it landed I even wondered if it was some kind of unknown (to me) large woodpecker (not at all likely). I watched it for a while, while it surveyed the yard with some intensity--with its strikingly large eyes. I went in to get binoculars and my camera, and to my great pleasure it waited in the tree for me to come back.

There was a little blue jay fuss, and one robin might have noticed it, though it wasn't clear--no one else around seemed concerned by its presence. Finally a couple of goldfinches landed in a tree not far away and it made a move. Missed, a flew off to the neighbours' shed roof, and out of sight.

So I went back into the house to consult the guides. Bars on the breast, not streaks, not a merlin at all, but a sharp-shinned hawk. I've seen a sharp-shinned before, harassing robins as a kind of joke I thought at the time--but maybe this bird could take down a robin? I've never seen one this close--and though I knew how small it is from seeing it with the robins, it didn't sink in. Maybe because it is rare to see them close up, but somehow I have a lot of trouble getting raptors into my head. I hope that after yesterday at least the sharp-shinned has now joined the very short list of raptors I can identify with some confidence (northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, kestrel, bald eagle, osprey--and even these can fool me).

The merlin and sharp-shinned links above are to their Canadian Peregrine Foundation Raptor Identification pages--a good resource to which I must remember to turn more often.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Caramel Bunny Update

The first time I saw the caramel bunny was the morning after the night I photographed a raccoon in the maple. So I checked the date of that photo: March 22, putting the first bunny sighting at March 23. April 20, a month later, was the first time I saw the bunny in the fields (memorialized in Bunny Gone Wild). Then last night I ran into it again in the far field. So the caramel bunny has now been living rough for at least a month and a half.

I was able to spend some time with it yesterday--confirmed some of my observations. It really does have short legs for its size, although this impression is enhanced by the very thick fur on its legs. It looks pretty good, possibly has a scratch on its nose, but otherwise not beat-up looking. When I first saw it I was, as always, startled by the colour--then I realized who it was and slowly, casually walked up until it started to get restless, when I was within about 20 feet. So I sat down on the path and watched for a while, which was tolerated for a few minutes, then that was uncomfortable for the bunny and it moved off slowly. I wandered after for a bit. It never let me get any closer than 20 feet, but never panicked either.

So it doesn't associate human beings with comfort or companionship. Food is plentiful out there, so a food association wouldn't carry a lot of weight. But it must be classing human beings as non-predators. If it was responding to foxes and coyotes (and perhaps there are fishers around too) the way it responds to me it would be long gone.

I recently read that killdeer, who nest on bare ground, distinguish between predators and creatures who might accidentally step on their nests. The predators get the circling, calling, and then broken-wing treatment to distract from the nest. But they just take a direct run at the others (cattle, deer, etc.) to back them away from the nest site. Quite rightly human beings get the predator treatment. But it's interesting that they make the right call when we're quite different from the other mammalian predators--tall, two-legged, awkward and slow.

I've seen photographs and read reports of deer and domestic cats meeting in a friendly way--touching noses. Cats in general are among the most formidable predators--if not the most formidable on land. Yet the deer apparently recognizes that the domestic cat is no threat. Just from its size?

I listened to a black bear expert on radio a year or so ago who said that when asked what people should do if confronted by a bear he responds by asking, "How close do you want to get?" He pointed out that the reason that black bears are so likely to run from human confrontation is that they evolved in a context where there were many predators much larger than they are--it's just in the last 12,000 years or so that they are among the largest on the continent, and they haven't got used to the idea yet. I also think that one of the benefits to human beings standing upright is that it makes us appear much larger than we are--something that would have been helpful in our own ancestral environment, which at times at least, if not all the time, would have been filled with predators much larger than we are.

I think it has been ever since I saw the fuss among the feeder birds that an appearance by a northern shrike created one winter day I've been very interested in this question of threat recognition. I was on the porch and saw a bird fly into the snowball bush in front of the house. My initial impression was of a blue jay--but when I got a better look I saw that it was a shrike. Meantime the small birds at the nearby feeder had reacted immediately to the threat. How could they tell so easily, so quickly, that this passerine was not like the others, not like the blue jay, who admittedly they don't like much, but doesn't freak them out. There seem to be shrikes in all or almost all parts of the world (the things you learn from the international bird blogger community), and maybe this is the answer to that question. That is, all of these birds evolved together, survival for the small birds required gaining the capacity to put the shrike into the raptor category. Just as survival for the forbears of the caramel bunny, in the artificial process of selection for domestication, may have required a capacity to respond to human presence calmly.

Submitted to the Friday Ark -- go on over to see who's on board.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Of Trilliums and Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds do not ride on the backs of Canada Geese. But do they follow the blooming trilliums north?

According to the sketchy garden journal record of firsts, once the white trillium is in bloom, the first ruby-throated hummingbird will put in an appearance. Usually it will first be seen exactly where the hummingbird feeder hung the year before (and of course is the signal to get the feeder back up again). The earliest date in the last 6 years for the first hummingbird is May 6. Today, May 4, the white trillium bloomed.

Where are the hummingbirds?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Most Beautiful Birds Meme

John at A DC Birding Blog, encouraged by Nuthatch of Bootstrap Analysis, created this meme, as follows:
Rules: Post a list of the 10 birds you consider most beautiful on your blog; you may limit the list to the ABA area (continental United States and Canada) or use a geographic area of your choice. Mark birds you have seen with an asterisk. Tag 3 bloggers to keep it going.

I've been following its progress through the blogosphere, enjoying the diverse lists, and the reasoning behind them, thinking about birds and beauty. Then this morning I discovered that Troutgrrrl at Science and Sarcasm has tagged me. So the time for thought is over: my 10 most beautiful birds.

Well, a little more thought is required. Since being tagged I've been composing lists in my head, and seeing birds in the yard, and dropping and adding. I left a comment at Science and Sarcasm this morning remarking that the only ugly bird I could think of was a bird I've never seen in life, the Marabou stork. Doing so put this bird in my head all day--and my position is softening. Ugly? No, quite a striking bird really, once you stop and think about it. I won't list it though--I've decided to only list birds I've seen in my region. And I've listed only one member of any family or group. When I began to think about who to include I found my mind drifting from one family member to another: the eastern kingbird is fine looking bird, but I like the great-crested flycatcher, must choose at most one Tyrant flycatcher.

1)common yellowthroat*
I spent a lot of time last year observing this bird. It's striking looking, but it's also of good character--a vigilant parent and mate, hard-working and energetic.

2)great-crested flycatcher*
Handsome bird, nice emphatic call, good to have around.

3)great blue heron*
Majestic, elegant, and on my mind because I heard one call the other night as it flew over, a first for me.

4)northern harrier*
The raptors have their own fierce beauty. Lots to choose from, I chose the harrier today because it's only a few days since one flew right by the house, just a few feet away as I watched through the back window. Magnificent.

5)pileated woodpecker*
Always a treat to see this beautiful bird--I saw a pair fly through the cedar bush just last week.

6)white-throated sparrow*
I couldn't think of a sparrow for this list. Then a white-throated sparrow landed in a tree just above my head today and it took my breath away. Perfect combination of greys on the breast, just the right dash of yellow, and the white stripes topping it off.

7)barred owl*
Owls are beautiful--I've never seen an owl, in a picture or in life, that I didn't like. I chose the barred owl because I love its call and I've seen it most often.

8)barn swallow*
Of the familiar swallows in my life, the most beautiful. I love the colours of this bird, the shape, and the voice.

9)cedar waxwing*
Pretty bird, smooth elegance, cheerful and friendly in its flock.

10)brown-headed cowbird*
The smooth black, the rich brown of the male, combined with the sweet song, lovely. Yes, the much vilified cowbird. Vilified because somehow their brood parasite breeding style strikes human beings as inherently immoral, and also because our fracturing of forest habitat all over the place has exposed birds to them who have few or no defences against them. The cowbird is on my mind because I saw a pair mating a few days ago which got me wondering about how they manage their difficult lifestyle--at least how she manages. The female of the pair I saw first called until a male came along so that she could mate. And it got me wondering: does she find a nest first? Or is she confident that she'll find one in time for her egg or eggs?

So, there are the ten: all birds that have been on my mind lately for one reason or another. As Trougrrrl remarked of her own list, another day would've produced a different list.

Tag 3? Home Bird Notes, Rurality and Sand Creek Almanac.

Circus of the Spineless #8

It's up, at Get Busy Livin' or Get Busy Bloggin'. It's a great collection from slugs to praying mantis, from bugs (including my own Western conifer seed bug) to spiders and more. Lots to learn, great photos, lots of action, lots of gore..Check it out!

The next edition of Circus of the Spineless will be hosted by Bev at Burning Silo. For more information about the carnival, go to Circus of the Spineless.