I’m not the only guy to suffer an injury around the ol’ homestead this weekend. The little fellow pictured below flew headlong into the window on the east side at the rear of our house. He seemed to be stunned (beautiful plumage, eh?) for a little bit, and Spouse and I stood nearby to make sure he didn’t get scooped up by any wandering cats or foxes whilst lying in the garden, no doubt pining for the fjords. We were more than a little worried he was going to shuffle off this mortal coil and join the choir invisible. Spouse said she felt like a murderer, so I pointed out that the sum total of her ignominious crime was “owning a window”, but she still felt like a monster.
I took the opportunity to snap off a few pictures at very close range. After twenty minutes of resting or so, he gathered himself together and flew off to the top of the tallest tree in Juniorvania, fresh as a daisy.
Spouse and I headed out today with Popeye in tow for a walk in the winter woods. There are a lot of pretty well-known birding areas not far from the borders of Juniorvania, perfect destinations for wintry perambulations. The F.W.R. Dickson Wilderness Area is a beautiful little plot of land that is the site of some ongoing ornithological research:
Just nearby is Wrigley Corners Outdoor Education Centre. As part of their education and research programs, they have been banding the chickadees that come to the feeders here in the park. They use a combination of bands, both silver aluminum and coloured plastic ones, to create a unique colour combination that can be easily visually identified at a distance. This allows you to follow individual birds to learn more about their behaviour patterns and movements. No two birds in a study are ever given the same band combination, unless it’s known the previous owner of a combination is deceased. Band colours are read from top to bottom, with the bird’s left leg first, then the right.
Spouse read about the area in a little book Santa brought her for Christmas. We were intrigued by the write-up, which indicated that the chickadees in this area were known to feed from visitors’ outstretched hands. That little incentive was enough for us to gather together a bag of seed, the snowshoes (just in case) and a pile of photographic equipment and set out for an enjoyable afternoon.
It was a terrific afternoon; the snow was falling softly (giant round flakes), the place was virtually deserted (though we did see one other group, a man with his two young children) and the birds were very co-operative indeed.
We saw plenty of friendly little chickadees, both rose and white breasted nuthatches, a couple of downey woodpeckers, a pair of cardinals, a cedar waxwing and even a couple of robins that looked like basketballs with wings.
Snowshoes weren’t necessary, so they stayed in the trunk. I could have used some kind of a field bag, preferably of the waterproof/resistant variety in which to stow the camera and lenses. Without this key piece of gear, I was forced to carry the camera in my hands. I was worried about snow accumulating on the body of the camera and then melting, as it is my view that water and consumer electronics do not mix. I was convinced I was going to lose a lens cap. There was also a concern – not insubstantial, and based upon solid historical data – that I might lose my footing while striding along the path and go tumbling to the ground, with the attendant consequences for the camera. I ended up cradling the thing like a football and tucking it under an armpit, even shifting it from side to side depending upon the type of terrain I was traversing and the consequent likelihood of a port or starboard side tumble, all of which felt like some kind of weird naturalist tribute to Super Bowl Sunday.
The birds are so tame, they really are prepared to come right up to you if you display any kind of intention to feed them, and sometimes even when you don’t. I got the first chickadee of the day in my hand while crossing a boardwalk-type bridge; Spouse and Popper had gone up ahead a bit (Poppy doesn’t like seeing through the things he’s walking on, things like grates or decks, so he had to be urged along by Spouse). Spouse had the bag of seed, so I had nothing to offer anyone, but I noticed a little flock of chickadees gathering in the bushes at the side of the boardwalk. I held out an outstretched palm and – in less than thirty seconds – one brave little fellow figured I looked trustworthy enough to serve as a temporary perch.
Later, when we reached another boardwalk-type area, there didn’t seem to be many birds around. Nonetheless, we stood there for a moment, palms outstretched and filled with little piles of seed. Within a minute or two, there was a cluster of birds that had gathered, flitting from tree to tree, that began to swoop in and feed. After a few minutes of feeling the unmistakable thrill of feeling the tiny creatures alight on our hands, select a yummy seed and then dart back to a nearby branch, we moved on a few dozen yards. We noticed that the flock of birds was essentially following us, the little birds hopscotching from branch to branch along the path, staying roughly a constant distance behind us. Of course we rewarded them with some more seed.
Again, after a few minutes we moved along – and the birds again followed us, so we fed them more. That cycle repeated itself maybe three or four more times as we headed out of the woods and back towards our car.
I really couldn’t believe how fearless the little birds became. I noticed that while Spouse was standing with palm outstretched feeding a group of birds that were perching in a small bush in front of her, there were at least a half-dozen birds in another bush right behind her – no more than eight or ten inches from her back – that were curiously looking on and waiting for an opportunity to join in the fun. On another occasion, I had stopped on the path and attached my long lens in an effort to photograph the basketball-sized robins. I had the camera raised to look through the viewfinder and was adjusting the focus on the barrel of the lens with my other hand when one little chickadee swooped in and landed first on my lens-adjusting hand, then on the lens, then hopped back to my hand. All the while, I continued adjusting focus and I was even calling out to Spouse to get her attention; the little bird stayed put even while I clicked off a couple of shots of his woodland friends.
Spouse and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and resolved to return with family members in tow. For sure, we thought, our nieces would get a kick out of hand-feeding the birds. Even more likely to enjoy this, we think, are our parents. But the happiest of all about today’s walk in the woods? This guy:
Being recent immigrants to the rural paradise that is Juniorvania, and therefore infatuated with all things pastoral and wild, there are something like nine or ten separate bird feeders hanging up in and around the area surrounding The Pond just outside our back door. The rear of our house features several contiguous large windows, offering an expansive view of the consequent avian comings and goings, to be enjoyed while munching on a bowl of Honeycomb at the dining room table, futzing about with a recalcitrant bok choy in the kitchen, or tippy-tapping on the notebook while seated on the sofa in front of the fireplace.
As you can probably imagine, the number and variety of these many excellent observation posts has encouraged a significant increase in the amount of ornithological research being carried out by the scientists, philosophers and other thinkers the Glorious Leadership have on permanent retainer. Any natural scientist worth his NaCl will tell you that the first order* of business is a concerted effort towards species identification. Thus did the People’s Theorists initially identify the following creatures, believed (at one time) to be birds.
The American Goldfinch (nomenclature unofficial, there is a motion on the floor in the People’s Legislature to re-designate this species as the “Juniorvanian Goldfinch” or (this suggestion from the Hard Rock Party of Juniorvania) the “Juniorvanian Asskicker”:
the Redwing Blackbird:
the Blue Jay:
the Rose Breasted Grosbeak:
the Indigo Bunting:
and this noisy (but thankfully high-flying) little fellow, to date unidentified:
The comings and goings of the birds are many. There is one cedar tree in particular that behaves much like a particle emitter, except rather than spewing neutrons, there are little yellow goldfinches asskickers rocketing out from deep within it’s hidden recesses and darting wildly in all directions. Staring out into the yard, one gets the distinct feeling that the scene is the ornithological equivalent of O’Hare airport, with both arrivals and departures coming in a steady stream and any number of incoming craft stacked up over the field, waiting to begin final approach.
The immediate consequence of all this airborne activity is that our National Seed Consumption is up significantly. So far, two re-supply excursions have been made to the local purveyors of niger, sunflower seeds and suet, and it is looking very much like a third is in the offing. Every one of the feeders in the entire yard is cleaned out like old Mother Hubbard’s proverbial cupboard. Again.
It was this persistent and prodigious seed consumption that has led the Scientists of the Great Republic of Juniorvania to their most astonishing scientific discovery to date: the creatures pictured above are not in fact avian, but rather porcine. These brightly coloured little pork chops knock back way too much chow to be birds; they do not, as it were, “eat like a bird.”
So there you have it; Juniorvanian scientists have conclusively proven that pigs can – and do – fly.
* The taxonomists among you are no doubt killing yourselves over that little pun…
Sitting in in one of the yellow Muskoka chairs under a tree in the backyard. My belly is full, (eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast) and I have a warm cup of tea at hand. Popeye is slumbering in the grass about ten feet in front of me. The birds are chirping and warbling. Hanging from the branches all around me are a series of completely empty feeders – it’s been a big week at the Juniorvanian Avian Fly-Thru Restaurant – so I suppose that there is some mild belly-aching going on in the trees surrounding my current position. It’s an overcast, but not unpleasant day – a slight chill in the air more reminiscent of fall, but with all the grass and the budding leaves in the trees so unmistakably green, there is no forgetting it’s spring.
There is a stack of work waiting for me inside the house, in a briefcase somewhere near the front door, where I abandoned it in the excitement of arriving home on Friday night. There are things in that case that need to get done before this day is over, things that will take some time, effort and concentration.
I pull up the hood on my sweatshirt to brace myself against the cooling breeze that’s coming over the farmer’s field to the southwest and I resolve to turn off the computer for a few minutes, and just listen.
JUNIORVANIA (AP) – Senior officials in the Juniorvanian Ministry of External Affairs and Department of Homeland Security tonight confirmed rumours running rampant in this tiny hillside country that the nation was nearly overrun earlier this evening by a hostile army of four-legged intruders bent on destroying the natural beauty of the homeland. The aliens in question have been thought to target in particular the attractive and apparently delicious euonymous plants scattered throughout the Juniorvanian countryside. Nervous residents have, in recent week, been cautiously eyeing the many unexplained footprints littered throughout the snow covering certain grasslands adjacent to the southern border.
An unidentified source within the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of being given a free Payday bar, confirmed that as many as fifteen to twenty unidentified intruders (pictured below) roamed across the lands immediately adjacent to Juniorvanian borders at approximately 7:05 p.m., right around the washing up after dinner hour. In an official statement released shortly after 10 p.m., the Glorious Leadership pointed out that these obviously aggresive interlopers were quickly spotted by an alert lookout posted and trained to deal with just such a threat to national security, and that appropriate steps were immediately taken to diffuse the threat, though the local authorities declined to specify what actions in particular were deemed necessary. Although critics of government policy point out that the beasts in question appear to be harmlessly grazing on vegetable matter in the available photographs, official-looking people with expensive suits and a very busy demeanour dismissed these criticisms as helpful to the enemy and possibly treasonous. “That’s helpful to the enemy – and possibly treasonous” said Juan Gohoam, a spokesman for the Glorious Leadership and part-time cobbler. Nevertheless, anti-government sources speculate that the action plan set in motion upon receipt of the alert included opening a window and watching in quiet wonderment until the terrible beasts became bored of looking at the crazy people hanging out of an open window in the middle of winter and simply moved along.
Mr. U.R. Kidd-Enmie, Chief Padishah of the Department of Homeland Security, took the opportunity to remind Juniorvanians everywhere that although there was no need to panic, it certainly couldn’t hurt in the least to do so, as that would make it far easier for the government to justify the ridiculous expenditures on “security and defence related” planned by government as part of the upcoming budgetary process. “Tonight, these strange creatures spared us the intense pain of a gentle gnawing that only complete herbivores can inflict ,” he said, “but we might not be so lucky next time. We might be mistaken for a bucket of ferns, for example, or it might be rampaging dinosaurs or berserker robots that appear from within the adjacent woods.” Citizens, however, were reminded to panic an orderly and respectful manner, only in the approved and pre-designated areas, and were asked to refrain from generating any unnecessary noise, litter or unsolicited opinions. Also, the government reminded would-be panickers to refrain from breaking any of the really nice stuff we might like to use in the future, and suggested instead that civil disobedience and abject fear of extinction might best be expressed in the form of an interpretive dance or haiku.
Juniorvanian defence forces – consisting at this time largely of a fifteen year old one-eyed dog with no tail and a profound desire to make friends – remained on alert level fuchsia for most of the evening, except when yummy cookies were distributed on the living room floor, and when American Idol was on because that’s prime snoozle time.
Government officials would not comment on suggestions that tonight’s encounter was related in any way to weekend sightings of numerous winged creatures within the borders of the country. Some commentators have suggested that the small flying intruders noted recently by many citizens may act as spies and informants for their larger mammalian masters; the Science Ministry, however, is reputed to be too busy looking up the meaning of the word “herbivore” to be able to respond meaningfully to such inquiries at this time.