Monday, June 8, 2009

Snow Bunting, Captured!

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Okay, bird lovers, smooth those ruffled feathers. I'm talking about capturing this elusive character digitally. But you knew that, right?

After feeling rather jealous of Clare's recent shot of a Snow Bunting and then absolutely drooling over these, I continued to carry my camera literally everywhere, hoping my moment would come. And it finally did...at four o'clock in the morning! Good thing we've got plenty of sunlight to accommodate.

The little guy I photographed seems partial to that particular spot. I'm pretty sure he's the one that I've observed there quite a few times before. He sits very close to the edge and sings to his heart's content. I can hear it in the house, even with the windows closed. This isn't a great photo, I know. I certainly would have loved to have been closer or able to zoom in more, but it's still the best I've been able to capture so far and I've been trying for years.

Why the mildly obsessive interest in Snow Buntings?

Good question.

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they are the first birds to return in spring (except for ravens and seagulls). They flit all around the village, doing aerial acrobatics, heralding from every rooftop and telephone pole that winter is really behind us.

In early spring, while snow is still abundant, the Snow Bunting's black and white color scheme makes spotting them something of a challenge.

But there is absolutely no mistaking that sweet song.

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According to whatBird.com the collective word for this species is "drift."

A drift of buntings. Isn't that beautiful?

How very appropriate for a group of birds that blow in on the wind and flutter like snowflakes through the frosty springtime air.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

In Lieu of Trees

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In a land with no trees...one must make do.

And, apparently, ravens are extremely good at exactly that! This pair of Common Ravens staked out an interesting piece of real estate and set up house keeping lickety-split.

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Now, birds are great adapters, I know. They spare no effort nor creativity as they attempt to cope with human encroachment on their territories. If you doubt that, check out this amazing Osprey nest from the archives of Pure Florida, a terrific, mostly-nature, purely-Florida blog.

However, these ravens are not victims of territory infringement or over-crowding. They could go anywhere, hundreds of miles in any direction, and be away from "civilization" if they really wanted to. I imagine (perhaps naively) that they come here and live in this village, claiming the telephone poles, rooftops, heating vents, and even satellite dishes completely by choice. I'm sure dumpsters are a big draw in and of themselves, but I find myself wondering if they might hang out in a village because they actually like being around people (and their pets). Not in a friendly, up close and personal sort of way, but from a distance, out of curiosity and an innate propensity for pestering.

Some of the kids around here call these birds "crows." I grew up surrounded by cornfields in the South. I know what crows are and these are not crows. Not only are they much larger than crows, but their vocalizations are completely different. I found a great sound file on whatBird.com (one of my favorite resources) along with a nice map of their habitat which ranges across most of North America year-round. There are a couple of sounds that I've heard ravens produce that are not on the website recording and they're difficult to describe...something akin to the clicks and whistles of R2D2 in Star Wars. I couldn't find a free copy of that, so you'll just have to use your memory (or imagination).

Ravens have personality. I can't even count how many times a raven or two has followed my dog and me on our walks across the tundra or along the river. Are they opportunistic? Absolutely! Maybe they follow us in the hope that we'll scare up lemmings or other such potential food, but when I mimic their vocalizations, they always talk back. I don't imagine it to be amiable conversation. It's more like talking to a crotchety old geezer who shouts unsolicited advice from his porch.

My first experience with ravens ocurred back when I was still a newbie in this village. Two were on the roof of my house, waging war, their enormous claws clicking loudly against the tin. I hurried outside to reprimand whatever naughty child must be throwing rocks on the roof and found the enormous dueling-twosome instead. They looked like shiny black knights locked in mortal combat.

But these two, on the other hand, have something different in mind.

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Ah, spring!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Nature's Abstracts

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Hot or cold? Damp or dry? What will it be today?

The elements subtly play their cards while puddles and piles await their fate. The Sun seems to hold a winning hand, but the Arctic wind may conceal an ace. Chips stack up on either side as round after round is perpetually played.

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Nature's abstracts abound in spring...

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...for she has no poker face.