birds

It Might be Time for a Change

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A few months ago, on one of my little adventures in the bush, I had an experience that I just can’t forget. I had decided to go for a walk to explore the bush along the edge of a clearing. The clearing was roughly square-shaped, and I walked along one full edge, intent on checking out the corner, which had some vague interest for me. As I walked, I was pleased to find an abundance of wild strawberries growing in the clearing! I stopped to pick a few, savouring their intense flavour. Along the way, I came across a little pile of cut firewood; someone was obviously going to come back for that some day. The bush was pretty thick, but to be honest, I wasn’t looking into it much. I was distracted by the strawberries.

As I got close to the corner, I could see that there was a little opening in the trees where a couple of them that had fallen down in a wind. With one more step, a flurry of activity erupted from the bush. Grouse — local people call them “chickens” — flew every which way, as though with that one step into the bush I had tripped an invisible laser-alarm, and they could not sit still. I hadn’t seen any of them until they all moved — their camouflage is excellent — and after they flew away only one remained.

This one, lone bird did the strangest thing, this thing that I cannot shake the memory of. It was crouched on the ground, among the fallen leaves, again invisible against the background. It shuffled forward and I could see it again, and it made the strangest sound — exactly like a puppy whimpering. It did it again, a little shuffle and a distinctive whimper. I couldn’t believe how much it sounded like a puppy. It did it a third time, which allowed me to reassure myself that’s exactly what I was hearing.

How strange, I thought, and then realized that there must be a nest of young ones nearby, not yet able to fly away to safety. I was pretty sure I knew where it was — to my left, behind a log and near the point I had seen all the adults fly away from. I was very tempted to walk over and take a look, but the pitiful display of this lone grouse made me hesitate and ultimately change my mind. It had intentionally stayed behind when the others flew away to sacrifice itself to this strange, upright predator. It drew attention to itself with its cries and movement, making sure I could both see and hear it, the pathetic whimper as if to say “eat me, I’m weak and defenseless — an easy meal.” I just couldn’t satisfy my curiosity — to find the nest and see the little ones — after what this adult bird had done for its young.

But not just for its young; for all the young that were in nests nearby. I knew from the number of adults that there must be at least three nests, and this one stayed behind to save the young of them all. You know, all around the world we see incredible acts of sacrifice by people for their children, but not as often for others’ children. I, for one, had never seen such a display first hand, of an animal so willing to die that it would call out to the predator to ensure its strategy of misdirection and ultimately, its sacrifice, would be successful.

There is not much I can say. It was humbling. That grouse showed intelligence, compassion and courage. And it’s just a bird, with a brain no larger than half a walnut. I guess courage, compassion and intelligence don’t have anything to do with brain size, but it does make me wonder if I have been letting myself off easy, not demanding much of myself lately. My idea of an act of courage these days is to go into a crowded room where I don’t know anyone. Compassion consists of smiling respectfully at strangers, whatever state they are in (i.e. sober or not, poor or not), and my intelligence has been primarily engaged in knitting and dreaming up floor plans for tiny houses. I think it might be time for another challenge. I think it might be time for an extreme compassion adventure! It might even be time for a sacrifice, and damn it, I had better not complain, because I’m pretty sure I won’t be whimpering on the ground, hoping the predator will eat me instead of the children nearby. Wow.

I took this photo of a spruce grouse in winter as it crossed our front yard and driveway.
I took this photo of a spruce grouse in winter as it crossed our front yard and driveway.

Twittering

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A poem and a photo for you to enjoy today.

Twittering

Bank swallows
strung out on a line
like musical sixteenth notes
twittering away
in the sun.

bank swallows on a wire

The Big Thaw

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Spring is finally here. I know, it’s April, so you think I wrote this a month ago, but no, I didn’t. It’s been a cool spring — just what the Farmer’s Almanac said it would be, apparently — but it is really starting to get nice out now.*

As temperatures rise, one’s mind wanders to things of spring… the birds and the bees… snow transforming into mud puddles in that miraculous way it does each year… waxing poetical in blog posts…

cardinals
Guess which one is the male? :)

Seriously, let’s talk about the birds and the bees. If you are teaching your children about them, are you really talking about how the males chase the females around, and how the males have all the pretty plumage (generally) to attract the females. The females choose their mate, according to the experts, by the colour of their feathers and display the males make. Some birds, mind you, mate for life, but I suppose the initial selection is done by plumage. And then what do you say when little Suzie asks “Mommy, what’s ‘mating?’” :P

What about the bees? How would you explain to your child that the female bee has thousands of slave drone bees — all male — in her service? Their job is to collect food for the colony, and in particular, for her. She lays hundreds of eggs in time, all thanks to her slaves. I wonder if that’s why some little girls are “princesses…” They are practicing to be queens.

Hmm… I’m not sure how that all relates to men and women, culture and reproduction. You’ll have to excuse me; clearly, I’m feeling cheeky today! So, are men supposed to dance around and impress the women, in particular with their fancy clothes and groovy moves, as it is the world of birds? The female birds do the judging by appearances, contrary to our society where it is the males. I would love to see that reversed — it would be hilarious to see men primping in front of mirrors, painting their faces and wearing flashy clothes to get the attention of the women!

As for the bees, I don’t see how that would ever work. Thousands of men, working for one woman, without ever a hope of getting any, ahem, action with her… I just can’t see that working. Maybe, if they can keep a hope that they might be the chosen one…

Even though we joke about spring being the time for reproduction, it’s interesting to note that most children are conceived in the fall, when temperatures drop and men and women everywhere huddle together for warmth. Spring is the time we shed clothes and let our skin feel the sun, which I suppose leads to other sorts of activities of the huddling variety.

So there you go. Spring is in the air! Be careful, folks.

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By the way, I have seen some new birds around — another sure sign of spring! A woodpecker flew by the window (I didn’t get a really good look at him to say what kind), and I saw a small flock of cedar waxwings last time I went snowshoeing. :) There are also lots of snow buntings.

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*After writing this, it has snowed, rained, sleeted, the wind started howling, and the snow is now coming down sideways. Oh, well. Maybe we’ll just skip spring and go straight to summer…

A Day for the Birds

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Today started out normally enough. Most of my morning routine passed uneventfully, and I was sitting on the love seat in the living room surfing for something or other when my whole day changed.

I heard a loud “thwack” on the living room window and looked up in time to see a bird-projectile and feathers flying. Oh no! I leaped up and looked and, sure enough, there was a small bird, huffing and puffing — it probably had the wind knocked out of it, poor thing. It was sitting on the ground in the snow-shadow of one of the cedar trees outside our house.

This isn’t the first time this happened. In summer, a gorgeous Evening Grosbeak crashed into the window and laid in a similar spot for a few hours. I didn’t know what to do. It was belly up, so I cautiously reached over and flipped it over. I wondered if I should try and put it in a box to help it recover, or just let it heal on its own? I checked on it several times and it seemed to be doing ok. Still breathing, not twitching terribly, but not exactly ready to fly away. I was working in my garden in the back yard that afternoon, and after 3-4 hours of me checking on it, Darren said “bad news, Teresa.”

“Oh, no! Did it die?”

“Worse. A cat got it.”

Oh no, oh noooooo! I felt horrible. There were grey, black and yellow feathers spread out on the front lawn like a crime scene. Oh, man, did I feel bad. I think I cried! Poor bird, recovering slowly, and a cat came along for an easy meal. *Note, it was definitely not my cat, as he doesn’t go out in the front yard.*

So today, when that little bird was sitting there, after 30 seconds or so of staring through the window and wondering what to do, I sprung into action. This little one, a female Pine Grosbeak (my bird book said), was not going to be eaten by any cats.

So, I figured I needed a box. A shoebox would be great, and Darren got new shoes recently, so new, empty boxes were easy to find. I quickly put a bit of toilet paper in the bottom as cushioning. Then it occurred to me — I can’t bring it inside! A bird in a box in a house with a cat?!? This was not a good plan. Put it in the car, perhaps? Keep the car running so it wouldn’t be -13°C? Not a good plan either. The outdoor storage room, with a trouble light on for a little heat? Not bad… but not enough warmth. A heat lamp? Ah, yes, but where is it? No time to look. Then I had the best idea yet – I quickly grabbed some cloth, put a pile of wheat in the middle — I have wheat to make therapeutic wheat bags with — wrapped it up and threw it into the microwave to warm it. I had to work fast! That bird was in shock and it was cold out!

I got it all ready, put it in the outdoor storage room, and walked quietly over to where the bird was. I reached between the hedge and the house, my arm fully stretched out, gently picked up the bird, cradled it in both hands while I walked over to put it in the box. It didn’t struggle at all. It could feel the warmth, I think, when I put it in the box.

I checked on it a minute later, and put the box lid almost all the way on, to keep the warmth in. At least it was out of the snow and wind.

I checked on it a little while later, and it had moved! It had pulled its wings in more — I wasn’t sure if they were broken or not — and it turned its head to look at me! Yay!

I checked on it a little while later, and it was dead. Tipped over on its side, dead. Oh, dear. I felt bad, but I had known that there was a good chance it would die; it probably had internal injuries. I felt okay, though. At least it hadn’t been eaten by a cat or frozen to death. Either one of those would be worse, I think.

I don’t like to interfere in nature too much, but on the other hand, when I can help, I just have to. I felt so much better after setting up my little incubator! I had done something — taken action to safe a life! The fact that that sweet little bird died anyway doesn’t bother me… I think I alleviated its suffering a little, and in a way, it didn’t die alone.

I wonder if its partner is looking for it? My bird book doesn’t say much about them, like if they mate for life. There are a flock of them in our neighbourhood, and the other day I walked right beside/under them in one of our trees and they weren’t afraid. They have a gentle, quiet song.

She's looking right at me! :)

This doesn’t end the “bird day” I had today though! About an hour after the bird died, I went to see Darren in his office and there was a large, round bird on the snow outside the window! It was so cool! It had fuzzy feet, and was standing on one foot at a time to keep the other warm. It walked a little around the trees and shrubs, and then went “snowshoeing” across the front yard towards the driveway. We got several great pictures of it and its friend-bird, which were walking around on our driveway and even down the sidewalk.

These two (my bird book tells me) female Spruce Grouse just absolutely made my day! They reminded me of the abundance of life. Death is nothing to fear. Come to think of it, Rev. Patrick talked a lot about death on the podcast I listened to this morning (before all this happened). Co-incidence? Perhaps not.

Celebrate life today — go out and find some birds!

Snowshoeing across the yard
Aren't they handsome? Check out those feet!
Isn't she beautiful?

The Mystery Bird

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Encounters with wildlife excite me. It especially amazes me when an animal approaches me, as if to be my friend, even though it is wild. I wonder why they do, or why they run away. A couple of weeks ago, we went camping at a recreational site about 40 minutes from home. We’d never been there, and the camp sites were nice, with lots of trees around them — in some places, the usual poplar, but in other places, magnificent tall, straight pines covered in “witches’ hair moss.” There aren’t any pine trees on the drive there, just at the rec site and parkland around. We drove the campsite loop and chose the site we liked best — not too shady and not too open. We wanted sun, because it wasn’t going to be too hot out, but also wanted some wind break.

Machesis LakeNot long after setting up camp, Darren noticed a bird hopping along the ground and then sitting on its nest. It was only about 20 feet from where we’d pitched our tent, but the bird seemed fairly undisturbed by us. It sat there for quite a while and we eventually went off to explore the lake.

We had a great campfire both nights we were there, and even made a fire in the mornings to make our egg, weiner, and cheese sandwiches baked in the invaluable pie-iron. :) We love the pie iron, whatever would we do without it! The first morning, as we ate our delicious egg-wiches, we saw the small bird hopping along, picking insects out of the air for its breakfast — we hoped it was eating mosquitos! — and then returning to its nest. It was a pretty small bird, with long legs, Bird's nestand later I got a picture of it and searched the bird book to identify it (click here to see if you can spot it). I think it was a Veery, way out of its range, but it may have also been a Hermit Thrush or Swainson’s Thrush. The second morning, the bird was off its nest and not around, so I cautiously approached and took a pic of it (seen at left). I was surprised how deep the nest was — probably about 10 cm (4″).

It was a little after breakfast on the second morning that a most amazing thing happened. Darren and I were standing beside the picnic table, wiping dishes I think, when a different bird landed on the picnic table and just looked at us. Then it hopped to change its direction, looked at us a little more, for about 20 seconds altogether as we stood motionless, and then it flew into a nearby tree. It sat there for another minute or so before flying away. It seemed so smart, and curious about us, and completely unafraid. What ever caused it to land so close to us? It was only about 3 feet from me, 4 from Darren.  Incredible. It was completely dark grey — no stripes, spots, or any other colours. It had dark eyes and a fairly large beak, and incredibly shiny feathers. It was amazing! We had lots of time to look at it as it checked us out… and I haven’t found it in my bird book. A friend suggested it might have been a young crow or raven, curious about us… but it was grey, not black. So, it’s a mystery, and I feel quite blessed to have been visited by it. There’s no explaining it… maybe it just knew we are peaceful, and wouldn’t hurt it, so it flew down to say hello.

Bear tracksWe went for a long walk on the first day, along an established skidoo/quad trail. It was like a quad highway, very wide, sandy, and with lots of tracks — some people, bikes, wolves/dogs/coyotes, and even bear tracks. We didn’t see any bears at all, which was good. For all we know, they were in the bush, watching us and keeping their distance.