Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Buds of Spring

We don't have a garden, with the dogs and all, but I do have a small plot on the side of the driveway where Rhubarb grows. It comes back year after year. It's indestructible despite being driven on and plowed over, so full of life nothing can stand in its way.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What's that sound at dusk? American Woodcock mating calls

It's an odd sound; loud and'd never suspect it comes from a bird but a monstrous frog, or ueber-insect*. You'd never guess it's from a homey-looking butterball of a bird.  

For the past three evenings I have been listening to a Woodcock peenting nearby in a low lying wet area of tangled brush, fallen trees and small clearings,  advertising his position to local females. Last night, using a flashlight, I finally got a glimpse of him standing amidst clumps of dead weeds and last year's grass. 

At dusk  I'd see him rising high up in the air and spiralling in wide circles all the while making a twittering, whistling sound with his wings. After a while the twitters change to chirping, gradually getting louder, then silence as the bird descends among the trees to land in a clearing

Chester A. Reed, The Bird Book, 1915

I managed to get a recording of the song. Here is snippet of the spectrogram. and wave pattern 

There are four types of sounds: the thin nasal  buzzy "peent" call preceded by a barely audible "tuko" sound, the twittering made by the wings during sharp turns, and the vocal chirping during during aerial flight which becomes louder as the bird descends. The last part of the descent is silent. Then a soft fluttering of the wings as the bird lands.

I have been holding off publishing this to try to get a photo, going out at dusk every day but no luck. The first day was the best one in that the bird landed not 5 feet from me, but my camera was not in position. I got a good look at him though, as he was standing in the grass, making soft "tuko" sounds, that sound to me  like the cooing of a dove, only much briefer. After a couple of minutes he started "peenting", sounding like a sharp ripping and tearing of paper.

Anyway I never got that lucky again. Every night he always appeared just at the opposite end of the clearing from where I had positioned myself. . Although I was then able to approach him to within a few feet, by that time it was too dark, despite the almost full moon, to focus my camera - so I got just a bunch of blurry pictures of weeds and shrub. ..

The moon however was beautiful.

*It's not in the dictionary. I took if from Nietzsche's "Uebermensch", or superman.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

River Otter emerging from the ice, American Woodcocks peenting

Last night around 7:30 I heard two American Woodcocks peenting in the field next to our house. One of them was sounding close by from a low lying area, still covered with snow. I didn't have any boots on nor a flashlight on me, so I didn't go any further, but I'll try again tonight, hope to see it and maybe even get a picture.

This morning looking from a window we watched a River Otter emerge from a hole in the ice on the pond behind our house, its backside still covered with ice...

taking a good look around

doing some exploring

and lounging on the edge for a few moments

before diving back in and vanishing

Monday, March 15, 2010

First of the year Red-winged Blackbirds, and how to prevent window strikes

This morning while sitting at my computer reading the NYT I heard the familiar Konkaree outside, the first of the year for me: Three pairs of Red-winged Blackbirds were busy working and picking over the grassy field next to our house.

The crab apple tree with the feeder was a-flutter with Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and a couple of Gold Finches still in winter dress. A White-breasted Nuthatch extracted a seed and then flew off to a nearby twig.

On a different, and sad note, a bright red male Cardinal  struck our picture window in front and dropped down dead. In the fall I had drawn patterns on the outside with a soap bar, along with affixing two "Warning Web" decals from Droll  Yankees to the outside glass. It looked goofy but it must have worked since we hadn't had any strikes all winter. But the window had started to look so grimy and the decals had acquired brown stains along the edges, that I finally decided to clean it ---to my great regret. I did some research and came up with a different solution: I bought two Feather Guards from Birders' Digest. Those are 5' strings with colored feathers attached to them which are hung from the window with suction cups. Supposedly this warns the birds off by motion, color and loose feathers, to which birds have natural, probably predator induced aversion.
I'll report back on the success.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Canada Goose with head tuft

Yesterday I observed a Canada Goose with a peculiar head tuft pursuing another goose, presumably a female, on the Power Canal in Turner's Falls, MA. I took some photos and submitted a couple to the avian forum on The responses were interesting.

Canada Geese

Here is the most interesting response:

"I think Jim DeWitt is spot on, in the sense that the term "tumor" means literally "a swelling or lump"! As a veterinary pathologist (Ret.) with particular interest in wildlife diseases and more than two decades of specific interest in avian diseases I must say I've never seen such a lesion in any bird. However, the feathers growing at the site in question are of a size and pigmentation quite different from those normally produced in that species in that particular feather tract. It thus is strongly suggestive of a congenital anomaly (which could include, but probably doesn't in this case, a genetic mutation) resulting from displacement of cells from a site destined to be in another another feather tract to this site early in embryonic development, probably within the first day or two of incubation. Without the opportunity of thoroughly examining the affected tissues under a microscope, I can only suspect that this is, in technical terminology, an example of a epidermal heterotopic pterylogenic hamartoma ( a mass characterized by anatomically displaced but otherwise normal and functional skin and feather follicles from another feather tract). There is another condition ( which IS documented in birds) characterized by the growth of multiple feathers from a single feather follicle. However, in this condition of follicle polypterylosis the basic features of the feathers so produced as regards pigmentaion and size are generally consistent with others produced in the same feather tract, save for some physical deformations associated with developmental crowding in the distended follicle.

Yeah. That was probably overkill, as my grad students and residents used to say....
Dave Graham, South Dakota"

What do you think?

If it's due to a gene mutation and inheritable, and is attractive to female CG,  we may soon see little goslings with head tufts and perhaps observe the process of evolution close at hand :-) !!