Posts Tagged With: why?

And now for something completely different…

I signed up for the August Postcard Poetry Fest — write a short poem per day, copy it onto a postcard, and send it off into the wild. 31 little poems, how hard could it be?

HARD. I hadn’t written a poem since college… well, the occaisional haiku, a few lascivious limericks. But this exercised mental muscles I hadn’t worked in years. But I struggled through. So for the next 31 days, in addition to my regular birdy posts, I’ll be putting my poems here with a photo or two. Here goes!

‘on a hot afternoon’

the cat melts

into the kitchen floor

a pool of creamsicle

an inch deep

only her tail alive

waving, waving

calling the wind

calling the storm

IMG_5601 2


Categories: Mammals too, postcard poems | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments


I just looked out the window to see something strange. The small birds had deserted the feeders. The only stragglers were a Red-bellied Woodpecker, two Downies, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. All of them, even the irrepressible Nuthatch, were pressed close against branches and rigidly still. Only their eyes moved.

After several minutes two chickadees flew in calling, and the silence broke. The usual throng flowed in and around, and the silent watchers vied for suet.

I think there must have been an accipiter somewhere just out of my sight, and when it took off the chickadees issued the ‘all clear’.


Categories: bird behavior, Feeder birds | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Birds, possessive.

We had some unpleasant weather last winter: snow, followed by sleet and freezing rain. We escaped the very worst, only getting 1/4″ of ice rather than the inch just 20 miles away, but it had an unexpected effect. I made sure to put out lots of high-energy food the next morning and the birds were out in good number, but their behavior seemed odd. Sluggish and labored. Then I saw these birds.

Another Titmouse had a large tuft of down pulled out on its shoulder, while Juncos hopped beneath the feeders dragging their tails in the snow. One Blue Jay’s crest was so full of ice pellets it flopped forward and sideways. I didn’t recognise the Carolina Wren for a moment — her jaunty tail was hanging straight down with the weight of ice. Were they caught while foraging for food, or were they trapped in their roosts, feathers frozen to branches?

Then a thaw and a day of icefall, chandelier prisms tinkling everywhere. The birds seemed to regain their composure and appetite. All the regular customers were back.

Except one.

I realized I hadn’t seen my Carolina Wren in two days, when she’d been a daily visitor almost all winter… Wait. My wren? How often I speak of my birds, my frogs, taking ownership of free creatures. Providing supplemental food, however thoughtfully purchased and prepared, doesn’t create a quid pro quo. They use the habitat we create, the plants we allow to overgrow in thickets, but they don’t need it specifically here in my yard. The chickadees and titmice certainly recognise me as a source of food (and nest material) (sometimes not even waiting for it to be offered).

They owe me nothing, of course. Whatever I do to make my yard hospitable is for my own benefit far more than theirs. The debt is all on my side for the joy their quick brilliant lives bring to me

I have an online friend who’s a falconer. He tells amazing stories about working with many different raptors and owls, the partnership between man and hawk and hound. The difference, he says, is the lack of the hierarchal pack relationship he shares with his dogs — his birds are, in effect, independent at-will workers, hunting for their own purpose, not under orders or out of love. You must never mistake the interaction for love: at best, it’s cooperation, at worst it’s ‘To hell with you,’, and the bird is gone.

I don’t know much about parrots — I suppose they might be different: intelligent, long-lived, and very social, perhaps they consider us pitiful flightless flock-mates.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Feeder birds, Why? | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments


At some point, it’s going to sink in to this guy that what he has here is not a lawn but a wet meadow. Hopefully before his tractor sinks in first.

Here at Kestrel Hill we’ve taken on a long-term lawn reduction program. It’s simple, really — whatever sprouts up, mow around. In 20 years or so that cone planted by a squirrel will be a 15′ pine. Birds will merrily poop seeds everywhere. Before you know it, you’ve got a young jungle of honeysuckle, autumn olive, brambles, and multiflora rose. Oh, and poison ivy. Did you know it has delicious berries? As far as birds are concerned it does, and they’re happy to spread it all around. And when that happens —

I’ve been called a chainsaw gardener. That’s not quite accurate. I don’t own a chainsaw. But I do have a collection of clippers loppers and saws sized from snipping individual leaves, to ‘OK, sucker, you’re goin’ down!’ Everything gets hauled off to our brush row, currently over 4 feet tall and some 30 feet long, edging the squidgy border of the swamp. That’s where I saw a mink one spring day, catching  and cacheing frogs.

We leave enough and more for catbirds to build their untidy nests, for rabbits and woodchucks to hide in, for snakes and mice and stray cats. I harvest a handful of raspberries and leave the rest for the critters. I should probably cut away the vines helping to pull down the old shed, but then I’d be depriving the hummingbirds of their trumpet vines, and waxwings, robins, and turkeys of their wild grapes. Yes, I mow around milkweed. (Not thistles, though. Those suckers goin’ down).

Who needs a lawn, anyway? As long as it’s green and painless to walk across, that’s good enough for me.

This mild-mannered rant inspired by this post at 10000 Birds and my friends’ adoption of new lawnmowers.

Categories: Mammals too, scenery, Why? | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Life and death behind the U-Haul building (trigger warning: small animal death)

I stopped by Cohoes Flats this morning in search of the Little Gulls (more on that later). Dipped on the gulls, and as I was returning to my car I saw a Fish Crow with something white in its beak. It was hop-flying around a mowed lawn, pursued by a …rabbit? I couldn’t figure out why a rabbit would be dashing after a crow for a chunk of discarded sandwich — then I heard the squealing. The crow had a rabbit kit.

As long as the baby kept crying, the mother tried to scare the crow into releasing it. She charged at it spooking the bird into short flights and driving it off its prey more than once. Oddly, she didn’t then approach the crying kit to carry it back to the nest, allowing the crow to grab it again.  At last after several long minutes the kit was silent and stopped moving, and the crow landed and began pecking. It was immediately joined by two more Fish Crows, both squawking, gaping, and fluttering their wings. The first bird stuffed them for a while before abandoning the carcass to the young birds.

As soon as the baby rabbit stopped squealing, the mother ceased her aggressive behavior. She sat staring at the crows for a while, scrubbing her face with her front paws — displacement activity, maybe. She moved a few feet away and hunkered down on her form* again, until the crow dove at her, driving her away and snatching another kit. This one was also killed and fed to the hungry nestlings — a shorter process this time with fewer charges from the rabbit as though she was getting discouraged.

Once again, and the crow took a third kit. Perhaps this was the last of her young, because after a few perfunctory charges the rabbit retreated to a brushy hedge and I lost sight of her.

The crows took off too, and I crossed the field to find a circle of dry grass and rabbit fur. All the young ones were gone.

I didn’t take any photos while this was all happening. I was tempted to intervene, to run over flailing my arms and shouting, but why? Young rabbits die so young crows can thrive and be eaten in turn. That’s life, and death, and a rabbit’s life is no more valuable than a crow’s, and neither is mine.

There’s a rabbit in the yard right now, about half grown, busily nibbling a daylily leaf. Its eyes are half-closed against the sun but its nose and ears are in constant radar movement. A tap of my finger against the window, and it freezes. I relish its presence, its apparent pleasure in the day and abundant food. I’d feel much the same if a fox pounced on it to satisfy its own hunger. All as it should be. If only we big-brained masters of all creation found it so easy to figure out our place in the web, how to move through it without snapping threads and destroying the intricate connections we can’t even see.




*That’s the term for a rabbit nest. A squirrel nest is a drey. Now you know!

Categories: bird behavior, Mammals too, Why? | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Every kid loves sweets

Here’s a young-of-the-year Downy Woodpecker sampling hummingbird nectar.

Categories: Bird photos, Feeder birds, Why? | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment


OK, Birds and Blooms magazine is not where I go for ornithologically rigorous material, but superimposing this question on this bird? Really?



Sheesh. *facepalm* And other expressions of incredulity.

Categories: Bird photos, Why? | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

New Year’s Resignations

There are things I’d hoped to do this year that just aren’t going to happen. No pelagic trip, no 3-day excursion to Cape May (*sigh*), no new binoculars (*really deep sigh*). Ah well. Life goes on. and birds go on all around me.

Richard Fried set a new NYS record with 352 birds last year. My year list isn’t nearly as impressive (OK, I only have 212 birds on my state life list) but I made some shiny additions. Three trips to Montezuma NWR gave me Sandhill Cranes — 16 the last time we looked! — Black Terns, Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, several Sandpipers, and a really life-worthy look at an American Bittern. The Cohoes White Pelican that hung around for weeks was a standout I don’t expect to see again soon. New habitats like the Fort Edward grasslands brought great looks at a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk. In all I added 15 species to my state list. Not bad, considering I can’t just go dashing off to Suffolk County for a Mountain Bluebird, or a shopping mall in Ithaca for a Snowy Owl, just two recent state sightings.

I can’t responsibly do a Big Year, even a state one. Nevertheless, I’m restarting my counter at Bird Zero today and keeping a tally for the year. I hope that by taking advantage of the local birding institutional memory and all the day trips I can manage, I can bring my Small Year to a respectable total. What will that number be? I can’t even guess. But as of right now, 1/1/12, 9:38 AM, my count stands at 9. What a wonderful year ahead!

Categories: NYS 2012, Species count, Why? | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Reptile rant

One day on Long Island a neighbor dashed into our driveway, screaming she had seen a viper! a viper! in her yard. Her husband heroically shouldered a hoe and before we could stop him, chopped a harmless terrified Garter Snake* into pieces. Needless to say, there are no vipers on Long Island, no poisonous snakes of any sort, and this was my first exposure to the ignorant animosity people hold towards snakes.

A more amusing story: a girl at camp decided to smuggle home a Green Snake very much against her mother’s wishes. No, she said, there were no snakes in her backpack, her duffle bag, her sleeping bag… She might have gotten away with it, too, but that the snake poked its inquisitive nose out between the buttons of her blouse. The snake went back to the grass, and the bra may have been burned.

Come on, tell me this isn't adorable. This photo © herp/Old/smoothgreen.htm

I know Milk Snakes are not-uncommon here, but I rarely see them unless they’ve been run over. This morning, though, I saw something in the road — a branch? No, it was a big dark milk snake, as long as my arm, lying still. I thought at first it had been hit, but no, it just didn’t want to be disturbed. My usual tactic, stomping my feet nearby, only seemed to annoy it and it coiled up and made a few open-mouthed strikes in my direction. I was casting about for a stick to move it — they’re not venomous but it was big enough to give a painful bite — when a car stopped and the driver jumped out shouting, “Lady, that’s a rattlesnake!”

“No, sir, it’s a milk snake. They’re not venomous and they eat a lot of mice. Good neighbors to have!” He didn’t look convinced yet, but I think my calm demeanour and the way I prodded the snake with a stick only a foot long seemed to take the edge off his nervousness. “There are rattlesnakes in the Catskills and some in the Adirondacks, but not right around here. Almost any snake you see is harmless, and it’s doing you a favor eating ants and grubs and mice.” The snake finally uncoiled, stretched to its full impressive length, and undulated into the undergrowth.

So I saved a snake today, and just maybe I made one person think twice before running over the next ‘viper’.

*Garter Snake. Gar. Ter. Not ‘garden’. Even the NYTimes has gotten this wrong. Grrr.

Categories: the occasional herp, Why? | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Look! Up in the tree!

It’s a bird! It’s a squirrel! It’s …

Not-just-on-the ground hog.

a woodchuck?

Categories: Mammals too, Why? | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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