Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Colbert Report

It's been too hot to be outside---but I'm ever aware that the wild creatures who share their space with me can't share my luxury of choice about staying where it's cool. The life that teems out there has not stopped just because I'm not there to observe it.

All it takes to find a topic for a blog-post is to show up. (Wish I could remember to apply the same principle to my more intentional writing endeavors.) This morning, no matter the high heat, I spent a half-hour weeding in Sarah's 21st birthday garden, and sure enough, much presented itself about which to comment---mainly the hawk next door.

At first I wondered if it was one of our abundant bluejays mimicking a hawk's whistle, as I've been fooled many times before. But these whistles seemed too long, too persistent, too loud for a jay. I stopped weeding to look in their direction, in time enough to spot the powerful and majestic silence of a hawk taking flight from the fence between my yard and the neighbor's into the leafy canopy. Had this hawk been watching me weed? I had been aware of its whistle while I worked. It continued from some higher perch unseen, long after I returned to my hoeing.

I half-expected the Colbert Report to begin. dkm

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Squirrel vs. Gravity and Safflower

Q: How long can a squirrel hang upside down without righting itself?
A: At least eleven minutes if an uncontested food source is involved.

I know because I timed it, and it would have been longer if another squirrel hadn't chased the first one away. I had cleaned up an old tube-shaped bird feeder that hangs from an arm on a pole in my garden and that I know is not squirrel proof. I refilled it with safflower seeds because the package said squirrels don't like them and finches do. Without dwelling on that bit of false advertising, I find it hugely surprising that a squirrel can hang upside down from a bar for eleven minutes eating ANYthing.

This squirrel's hind feet held tight to the bar while its body stretched long and thin and straight downward. I had an urge to tickle its pure white soft-looking belly. Its head and front feet snatched the seeds from the bottom of the feeder, barely within reach. Its tail flopped loosely around, I assume assisting with balance.

The whole spectacle seemed counter to everything I know about gravity. Wouldn't the pressure of blood draining into the squirrel's head cause it to turn upright once in a while? Wouldn't the downward force of gravity prevent the chewed and swallowed seeds from moving upward through a wrong-turned outstretched esophagus? How long could it have continued its upside down quest if it hadn't been chased away? These are questions whose answers can not be found on the internet. Still, I'm curious. dkm

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Window Theater

What would cause a seemingly healthy male cardinal to go bald? At first he looked deformed, misshapen, splotchy red and black about the head, but as more and more crest feathers fell out, I saw that his head was perfectly round like a bird's head should be--and surprisingly black, when featherless. By now, he is frightening to behold, with bare black head above a body fully feathered in red. He never stills long enough for a photo.

The cardinal in question has come to the feeder outside the sliding glass doors since mid-May, almost certainly the patriarch of the nest in the neighbor's holly tree. Through two months of live-acting, he gradually revealed more and more black-skinned head.

First spied mating in the azalea thicket, then in and out of the holly tree, often on the banister feeding his beloved a sunflower seed from the feeder, he has been a model lover and father. Now his adolescent sons and daughters come to the feeder with him, sometimes lined up three at a time on the deck banister, waiting their turn on the feeder perch. The young are smaller and browner and comical looking, the males turning redder and cockier by the day. Only the absence of their father's head and crest feathers makes for a less than perfect family portrayal.

Is it caused by an environmental hazard, or is it genetic? I'm guessing the former. Either way, I half-expected the young to show signs of the same problem, since both their habitat and genetic codes are the same as their father's. So far, the new generation looks healthy. Time will tell.

Mysteries abound when one pays long slow attention. I would have expected more answers, fewer questions. It's been quite the opposite. The only truth revealed is that the more one sees, the more one finds about which to wonder. dkm