The birds of summer, and the aliens.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher Perched, by Kalen Malueg

I turned 29 two days ago and allowed myself to spend most of my time celebrating and zero time blogging. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about two good friends who are working on bringing a little baby into the world, a tiny bundle with limbs, toes, fingers and eyes, currently tucked inside of one of them but in position to be popping out anytime in the next few days. LIFE. LIFE IS CRAZY. And yes, I did just drink up a bit of a carafe of the house red at Santarpio’s over a brilliantly multi-cheesed pizza but, wow, you don’t need to be tipsy to consider the wild possibilities within every single wilderness. Like a baby in a uterus waiting to blossom out into the air, away from a life lived within fluid heat, a body lived within a woman, to quake and crack and squeeze out into a world of wind and breeze and bad jokes and optimism and everything grim. Life.

Briefly:

20th A belted kingfisher! It was perched along the little dog house that my boss made into a duck house. We no longer have ducks but their home continues to float along the pond. This is the first creature that I’ve seen using it, and I crept up lose to the bird when I realized its beak was way too wonderful to be anything but a kingfisher’s. It flew off shortly after I began stepping toward it, landing in a pondside tree and twittering a rattle at me and whatever else nearby.

21 The barn swallow that keeps clutching the wire above the bike rack, greeting me in silence as I pedal into work.

22 The anniversary of my birth. I spent a lot if time sweeping and breathing in heaven knows what. Dust mites! The remains of dust mites! Pieces of parking lot that blow in the screens and open doors! A lot of dirt. Dark lungs.

23 The drive-by-botanizing has lately been taken over by goldenrod. Everywhere. That margarine-colored golden assemblage of roadside blossoms strikes up in the most unexpected places. This includes random parking lots and sidewalk pockets.

24 I drank my morning genmaicha whilst watching a show in which Stephen Hawking discussed a fraction of the possibilities regarding life–and, terrifyingly, intelligent life–elsewhere in the universe. I also saw a beautiful mallow on a street corner. As I photographed it a man with a heavily scraped face suggested that he, Matt, and I go into crime together. Shoplifting, he suggested, adding that our movie star looks would help get the job done right. “We’ll think about it!”, we said. mallow

Random mallow by yours, truly.

Two words for snow: Swan Song

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From jacket-free overexposure on Tuesday…

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to thick wet rabbit tracking on Wednesday.

Two mornings ago I trudged through the front door, worn out and dripping. My hair, uncombed and restless from sleep, was tangled with snow, and the tips of my long underwear were damp from shaking the shrubs out back and standing too close. I beat away the cakey wet that had compressed itself against my plaid and polyester, sank into a chair, and stretched my calves along the footrest.

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Coyote: the lithe, silent, and long-nosed huter

Here’s a wonderful little post from Coyote Yipps on the hunting habits of the coyote. It illustrates nicely the manner in which they jam their snouts into the earth (at, for example, 2:21) whilst attempting to root out rodents. (I never cease to be impressed by the strong schnozes of canines. I once met a dog, a wonderful border collie named Syd, who played basketball voraciously, using her nose to steal the ball from any human antagonist. I was always worried, but after seeing film of foxes, wolves, and now coyotes thrusting their faces into the earth, I can see that Syd knew that her lovely face was in no danger.)

Coyote Yipps

Note how gingerly this coyote initially pursues his prey in this video. He begins by listening for little scurrying sounds of voles in their vast tunnel network underground — he does not want to alert them to his presence. So he tiptoes around the spot, carefully positions himself and waits — all the while listening intently. He’s very smart about what he is doing: clever and shrewd.

The hunt then shifts from a mental strategizing to a more physical one — there is a pounce/punch with nose and forepaws, followed by digging, and then another punch of the forepaws, followed by more digging. Punching serves to force some activity below the surface — if the coyote is able to collapse a tunnel or scare the vole, the vole might move so that the coyote will either see or hear it. His last recourse is to stick his nose in a…

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So that’s how skunks do it.


When interested in making fellow library patrons feel fairly unsettled, just take a gander at this video, ideally at 25:45 or, better yet, 25:59. I definitely watched it about ten times in a row, mouth agape, before I realized how much of a creeper I was/am. Hint: it involves the process behind a certain offensive odor created by a certain darling creature.

Thanks to http://www.encore-editions.com/ for the excellent image of critter fantasyland. 

News and Gratitude

If you’ve been following Spokes and Petals for awhile, you know that I really have a thing for skunks.

Happily, they occupied the front page of the NYT’s Science Times last week, along with some of their mammalian partners in chemical warfare. Natalie Angier writes… Continue reading

Snowy Owls: a graceful poem in flight

People are getting purely blissed out on snowy owl sightings. These beautifully garbed carnivores, with legs booted in plumage and wings right out of a Japanese print, have traveled south from the Arctic in an irruption. What is an irruption, you say, and how is it different from a migration? Well, a migration is a “regular seasonal journey,” such as the annual odyssey of the monarch from Canada to Mexico, while irruptions happen in more capricious ways that are difficult to anticipate. Generally defined as “a breaking or bursting in,” irruptions are ecologically understood as the temporary exodus of a population when the checks and balances of their home environment swing out of control. In this case, the favored prey, lemmings, experienced a population crash, so their predator moved on to greener pastures.

While the wayfaring birds don’t seem to be especially drawn to cities, they do have a fondness for airports, with Boston’s being attractive enough to merit a mention in the New York Times. The airport actually sustains the largest population of snowy owls in the entire northeast. The terrain of Logan is very familiar to the owls, being so like their native Arctic tundra with its long, flat, treeless expanses. And while there certainly aren’t any lemmings in Massachusetts, the airport landscape is filled with delicate morsels such as voles (cousins of the lemming) and rats. For the birds, airports serve as an ideal home away from home, but the owls are large enough (over two feet tall, with a wingspan of nearly five) to pose a threat to aircraft. As a result they are typically captured, banded, and released in a less dodgy area. On occasion they are also fitted with tiny transmitters that allow researchers to map their wanderings.

As long as you live in the United States or southern Canada you should keep your eyes wide open during the next few months – with an owl seen as far south as Hawaii(!!), who knows where you may come across one. If you have already enjoyed an encounter with one of these beautiful birds I would truly love to hear about it in a comment.

Sources: Photographs – owl flying from http://www.hdcelebrity.net/, owl on wire from the Sam Zim blog. Title taken from Snowy Owl by David Lessard.

Coyote comes to town

I am happily returned to Boston. While I dearly miss my friends and family out west, it has been wonderful to settle back into my life here. My days have been filled with naps, delicious food cooked by Matt, and walks filled with snow and one lone, charming coyote, relaxing in an overgrown lot a few blocks away from our house.

I am very familiar with the calls of these animals – their yipping, whooping, siren sounds have kept me awake and rapt through long nights on New England farmlands. However, I’d never actually seen one, and was quite shocked and fascinated when I did. The discovery has led me to consider what a prime habitat this corner of Boston offers – there are wooded lots, sumptuous dumpsters, and a medley of squirrels, rabbits, and small rodents like mice, moles, voles and rats.

Ancient American mythlore portrays Coyote as both creator and fool, and contemporary opinions of the animal are similarly nuanced. Whole websites are devoted to shooting, trapping, and poisoning coyotes, and there are videos of them being killed on Youtube. While they are infamous sheep eaters and are thus considered a threat on many livestock farms, coyotes present few dangers in urban and suburban living, where they may fit nicely into ecological niches as a nontoxic form of rodent control. It is unfortunately true that they will attack roaming cats and small dogs, but this can be avoided by keeping your animals indoors if coyotes are a potential threat. (Side note: the threat posed by coyotes is dwarfed by traffic mortality, which kills 5.4 million cats annually.)

Here in our cat-less Hyde Park household, the knowledge that we are cohabbing with coyotes just makes for a little extra intrigue while walking and a few double takes whenever sirens are heard at night.

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Coyote drawing by artist Susan Fox. Tracking sketches from Good Shepherd Farm Alapacas.

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