To describe my lifelong fascination with flight and with creatures that fly I like to echo the words of John James Audubon who in 1839 wrote of himself as "...one who never can cease to admire and to study with zeal and the most heartfelt reverence, the wonderful productions of an Almighty Creator."
Monday, October 30, 2006
Canada Geese in flight
"Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a far-away dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ears at that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on. "The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer." Aldo Leopold wrote that in *A Sand County Almanac* about migrating geese that did not stop in his state of Wisconsin. By contrast, here in Oregon's Willamette Valley the geese are happy to stop for the winter in our green fields, and if we happen to live nearby, we can enjoy "goose music" almost daily.
Lincoln's Sparrows return to the western Oregon lowlands every winter, but it's not easy to get a good look at them. They like to stay down in the thickets of grassy, brushy areas, only coming up for a few second's to take a look at the birder who is making that "pishing" sound. Fortunately, this one came up for a second look yesterday, giving me another chance for a photo.
This "flycatcher" wasn't catching much in the fog of yesterday, but (assuming it's female, which may not be the case) maybe she didn't mind too much since her web had been transformed into strings of pearls.
This immature Northern Shrike, a winter visitor in Oregon, was terrorizing smaller birds this morning along the edge of a grove of Cottonwood trees near the Willamette River. A female American Kestrel was not pleased at having her hunting territory invaded, and tried ineffectively to chase it away. The shrike protested loudly at the harrassment, and did not seem intimidated. The bulge just below the bird's throat perhaps indicates that its hunting had been successful.
I spent last weekend in Mexico City, but had very little time for birding. Fortunately, there are a few species there, such as the Inca Dove, that seem to be thriving in the world's largest city. These small doves (about 8 inches long compared to our familiar Mourning Dove at 12 inches) are seen everywhere, even searching for tidbits on busy sidewalks. I suppose they must be calling (or "coo-ing") regularly, too, but their voice is usually drowned out by the almost constant noise of traffic.
Since putting this photo up here, and asking for help in identifying this creature, I've learned that it's a Glowworm Beetle in the family Phengodidae. (Phengo comes from a Greek root meaning "light, splendor or luster.") It is either a female, which does not become winged, or is the larval form of this beetle. The female feeds on millipedes. The male is much smaller, and has "frilly" antennae. This individual was found by a young girl in our neighborhood when she noticed its spectacular lights glowing in the darkness of late evening. Each segment has a glowing spot just above the lower edge. It was found near a Douglas Fir forest here in western Oregon.
"I see you on the far side of the river, standing at the edge of familiar shadows, before a terrified chorus of young alders on the bank. I do not think you know it is raining. You are oblivious to the 'thuck' of drops rolling off the tube of your neck and the slope of your back... Perhaps you know it is raining. The intensity of your stare is then not oblivion, only an effort to spot between the rain splashes in the river (past your feet, so well-known, there beneath the hammered surface like twigs in the pebbles) the movement of trout."
From *River Notes, the Dance of Herons* by Barry Lopez
Unfortunately, reflections in windows often trick birds into making fatal mistakes in their choice of flight path. But that does give us an occasional opportunity to study some of their markings that are difficult to see when they are moving so quickly around us. This is the wing of an American Goldfinch, and as I read the book, the buffy coloration of the greater coverts indicate that this is a juvenile male.
I almost overlooked this little juvenile Tiger Shrike when I was birding on Penang Hill in Malaysia last week, and I've been overlooking him among my photos now that I'm home again. But he was such a companionable little fellow along the forest road that I have to give him his moment of recognition here.
I'll be leaving Bangkok in a few hours, glad to be heading for home. I didn't get any good looks at birds here in Thailand except for a few Ashy Woodswallows at eye-level in Chiangmai perched on an antenna 20 stories above street level. But a Black Giant Squirrel [Ratufa bicolor] that I saw on Penang Hill in Malaysia last week deserves to be my final posting from Asia on this trip. Not only was it extremely handsome, it was huge! I estimate that it was about 3 ft. long, including the tail which must have made up more than half of that length. It behaved very much like American squirrels, including the twitching tail, and hanging by its hind feet to reach a desireable nut.