Friday, November 30, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
This question never crossed my mind until yesterday, when I began reading about emus' stabby, huge (not "quite small"!) bills. I guess that if I'd thought about emus' wings at all, I would have assumed they were that weird shaggy kind of pelt that emus have, as if they're wandering around wearing a blanket all the time.
But there is a reason you've never seen an emu's wings: they're underneath all that shagginess, and they're tiny. Smaller than a crow's. Of course, this makes sense, given that they hardly need wings when they don't fly and can run like something out of Jurassic Park.
The fear I had of them as a child is turning more into fascination and a kind of awe -- but I got a chill when I found the Aboriginal story of how the Emu in the Sky came to be.
The Emu in the Sky is not so much a constellation as a negative heavenly space: the shape of an emu's body formed not from stars but from dark patches of the Milky Way. The giant emu was consigned there for eternity by a husband exacting justice upon the bird for killing his wife, according to people from Papunya, in the Northern Territory.
If you fancy going to this link to a great article about Aboriginal astronomy, it's worth clicking through to the second picture in the slide show: an astonishing photo of the emu's shape visible in the night sky, mirroring an Aboriginal rock carving on the ground below, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, in Sydney.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Emus were right up there on my list of frightening animals. They were so much taller than me. Their necks were like furry snakes. Those giant eyelashes and great dark marbles for eyes, boring into you. The only reason the emus were actually staring was to see whether they liked the look of what you had on your sandwich, but that didn't stop me from thinking they were sizing up the best angle of attack. I most feared what they could do with those big triangular beaks.
Thank heavens I didn't know then what I know now: that it's their claws they use for defense, and those claws are strong enough to rip metal fences, and if cornered they kick with their big, three-toed feet. I guess I didn't notice the horrifying feet because I was too busy trying to keep an eye on their terrifying beaks, which always seemed to be erratically darting toward you on that serpentine neck, heading towards the above-mentioned sandwich . . . or, in one memorable case, a couple of Salada biscuits spread with margarine and Vegemite, which an emu snatched from my hands and seemed to quite enjoy. (For those who aren't familiar with this delicacy, Salada biscuits are like Saltine crackers. The best part about them was that when you stuck two of them together with Vegemite and margarine and then forcibly squished down on them with your chubby little fingers, the margarine and Vegemite would extrude out like tiny nubs of white and black spaghetti. Entertainment was much simpler before iPhones.) I'm sorry, Wikipedia, but the emu's bill is not "quite small." It's a gigantic pointy stabby implement.
When Frank found this video today of errant emus wandering the streets of western Sydney and disrupting traffic, I felt certain that as an adult, I would look at their beaks and bobbing heads and realize that my childhood perceptions were all wrong. In fact, seeing them against the suburban backdrop just highlighted how right I was to be awestruck by them. What incredible creatures they are. The way they move, the way they look so confident and inquisitive, the plumage on their backs that looks weirdly like shaggy fur, the general prehistoricness of them...which is no doubt why, as the guy in the pretty phenomenal hat in the video points out, they still don't know to look both ways before they cross the road.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Ceaseless honking. Sporadic squabbles. Strange outliers accepted. The solitary Snow Goose. The Barnacle Goose. The one Brant that doesn't know it's meant to be at the beach, not here in the middle of farmland. Four White-fronted Geese, whose orange feet not too long ago probably touched the earth of Greenland, which seems magical to me. The female Black Scoter bobbing limp at the water's edge, her life ending in this improbable place, never making it to the ocean for the winter. A Mallard hybrid who doesn't know his spiffy white bib sets him apart. The shabby-looking Common Merganser that I hope fattens up and makes it through the season.
It seems that every bird as the winter approaches knows that this is a good place to be. Rawk, there goes two Ravens overhead. Great Blue Heron. Red-tailed Hawk. And then there is the peculiar boy with the peculiar dog -- half black Lab, half Chow. The boy proudly proves the dog's Chow ancestry by prising open its willing mouth and showing off its purple tongue to me. "His name's Seamus," he says. "I'm trying to get him to catch one of these geese here, so I can eat it." He throws bread at the birds, which sail around him at a safe distance, watching with canny eyes. "Seamus is an alpha male. He'll attack and kill anything," the boy explains, as the purple-tongued dog snaffles the scattered bread, wags its tail, and lumbers over for a pat, oblivious of the waterfowl.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
The clear New England sky, bare branches, the oxygen in my lungs, my heart beating in my chest, love and warmth and friends, acceptance, hope, life and memory and the fact that even those who are no longer taking in that oxygen and that crisp autumn sky are still here as long as they are in our memories.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
(Picture: By Charles R. Knight (Making of America) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Monday, November 19, 2012
|(Just spare a thought for a moment for the stylist who worked on this shot. You know it took hours.)|
I don't think Wild Turkeys are dopes. I think they're majestic and gorgeous, strutting and wobbling their wattles and preening feathers that to me look like some kind of lustrous suit of armor.
|Wild Turkeys, Arizona (Photo by Frank Gallo)|
|Wild Turkey, Arizona (Photo by Frank Gallo)|
|Guinea fowl (Photo by Fir002/Flagstaffotos via Wikimedia Commons)|
|Mmm, delicious-looking guinea fowl. (Photo by By FASTILY via Wikimedia Commons)|
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Thank you, auto-focus, for completely blurring the Black-capped Chickadee I was attempting to photograph. Were you trying to send me a message? Were you trying to warn me of the true demonic intent of the chickadee's Tufted Titmouse ally? The bird looks as though it is planning - and capable of - world domination.
I only noticed this shot when I downloaded pics from my camera today hoping that I would have got a lovely one of the Red-throated Loon I saw at the Connecticut Audubon's Coastal Center at Milford Point this afternoon.
But I had only photos that frustratingly could never quite capture the beauty of the bird or the late afternoon autumn light.
The whole idea was to find a stunning image because today I didn't have much time for writing. I spent most of it down at the Coastal Center learning about the impact of two amazing people, Noble Proctor (astonishing naturalist, professor, author) and Helen Hays (force of nature, chairwoman of the Great Gull Island Project). A celebration was held for them, and it was beautiful to see how they had changed the lives of everyone they have taught and inspired, from ages 17 to 100. One of the things I love about the birding community is the tradition of mentoring and of having respect for those who have so much to teach us about the natural world.
The sun set over the marsh seemed especially vivid in their honor . . .
Saturday, November 17, 2012
- The sun's surprise reminder of warmth on my face when I step into the backyard after lurking in bed sick with a cold
- That the starling sitting at the top of the spruce tree soaking up the rays doesn't feel remotely offended that my immediate thought upon resolving its shape into something I recognize is "Oh, just a starling"
- The moment when a gull goes overhead and I get a hit of dopamine as my brain toys for a split-second with whether it might, in fact, be a cool raptor
- That Mourning Doves look so peaceful and naive when they're plodding around beneath the feeder, but when they think you're not looking, engage in vicious territorial disputes with each other
- The fact that the silence and privacy I prize too dearly is broken by my neighbor starting a conversation
- The hot drink of lemon juice and water and honey that soothes my jagged throat and makes me think of my dad standing in the kitchen making this
- The chicken that is being transformed with red wine into a stew in the crock pot
- This cosseted life of hot tea and warm baths and double-paned windows
Friday, November 16, 2012
And here the animal self does bubble up, for a moment at least: the guy behind me who just can't take it any more honks his horn, long and loud and drawn out. And then it bubbles up in me, as I wave my arms and shout back at him in the rear-view mirror. Blood vessels throb in my brain, and I feel as though I could do some damage.
Then the animal self ebbs away again, our reptile brains retreating as the other driver and I shake our heads clear and see the logic of the situation, once again accept this peculiar life that we have created for ourselves. Pavements, and suits with ties, and lipstick, and little rectangular objects we carry with us everywhere to connect ourselves to . . . to . . . what exactly?
A male Northern Cardinal shoots like a scarlet missile across the road, followed quickly by a female, duller but more subtle and just as beautiful. Two Red-tailed Hawks are circling high up in a thermal above the road, elegantly slicing through the air. Inexplicably, something about them up there and me down here makes me feel teary. I put the window down and hear a Goldfinch calling, the sound coming to me in waves as the bird rises and dips in flight: potato chip, potato chip, potato chip.
I have to consciously fight the urge to pull off onto the grassy verge, abandon my metal capsule and walk into the woods. Yes, these woods are degraded and despoiled and weed-entangled, filled with trash and runoff and cigar wrappers and Bud light cans. But deer also graze here. Woodchucks barrel along. Orchids grow. Baby birds call to be fed. Bluejays make sounds like rusty gates swinging in the breeze. Crows skulk. Squirrels pounce. I know I would last nary a night out here with no electricity or grocery stores or the rule of law. But right now, even that seems appealing. Nature is so much less cryptic, so much more honest, in its brutalities.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
|Just try having a fun picnic near this bust of Malcolm Fraser in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.|
If you're not building a nest, you're going to extreme lengths to find a mate. If you're not hunkered down over your eggs in a relentless storm, you're fighting off a predator. If you're gorging on food, it's not just because you feel like it but because you have to survive a long migration across the ocean.
So if you're a Hooded Crow in snowy Russia and you find the lid from a jar of mayonnaise at the dump, you . . . use it like a snowboard, of course!
It's so pointless!
So utterly, fabulously, joyously pointless!
There will be enough hard days. There will be plenty of time when all the serious business of life is like a heavy black overcoat. So the next time I find a metaphorical mayonnaise lid, I'm going sledding.
*After retiring from politics, Mal was found wandering, dazed and trouserless, in the lobby of a seedy Memphis hotel favored by hookers, so apparently even he could maintain such dourness for only so long.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Monday, November 12, 2012
I'm 12 days late to the party, but as Einstein said, "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." (The only reason I know that quote is because it's a chapter opener in a book I'm copyediting. Thanks, clever and very personable client!) Jess is holding her own version of NaBLoPoMo, blogging every day until her next baby is born. I don't have that kind of stamina, so I'm going to try NaBloPo2.5 (National Blog Posting Two-and-a-Half Weeks). Today, a birdy poem:
Clouds aching to rain
Cormorant and kingfisher together on the dock
A chaos of fish flop in the shallow water
Three mallards shoot by,
wheezing like squeaky bed springs with every wing beat.
The world outside my own head:
it cracks me open and washes me clean.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
You may remember Mink as my little friend who helped me make Osprey-themed party decorations. This is the way I like to remember her . . .
She was a keen supporter of all wildlife, not just Osprey. Being an indoor-only girl, she liked to stare fixedly for hours, every muscle tense and coiled for action, at the sparrows nesting in the gutter just on the other side of the window. And she especially loved a good TV nature documentary with wild dogs howling.
Little Minky Widget
Saturday, October 6, 2012
|No, I don't have a photo of a Connecticut Warbler -- because you know where this quest is heading, right? Instead, here is a Connecticut Warbler (top), Mourning Warbler, and MacGillivray's Warbler illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.|
|Frank Gallo, birding companion extraordinaire|
4. A sewage treatment plant. They call them water treatment plants now, but we all know what they are. And no birding birthday is complete without one.
5. High-tension power lines. These are a must on any birding expedition, really. The bizarre directions (see point 2) must include a reference to them, e.g., "You want to be on the other side of the power cut." Preferably they will be pulsing and throbbing and crackling in a way that makes you walk really, really quickly through that power cut.
6. A fleeting glance of bird that could be the bird you're looking for. On the way to your ultimate location (e.g., fallen log with chicken wire around base), you should get a very quick sighting of a bird that may fit the description of the rare bird -- or not. For instance, you might notice a gray hood and a yellow body but no other details. It could be a Connecticut Warbler. It could be a Mourning Warbler. It could be a Nashville Warbler. But you will never know, because it has disappeared into an overgrown thicket and will never be seen again by human eyes.
7. Several hours of staring at one spot. The spot should be densely vegetated, almost entirely with weeds. It could also be a slushy bog with an unidentifiable oily slick on top and an abandoned truck tire poking out. There is about a 99% chance that it won't be a picturesque meadow.
|(Other) people had actually managed to see a Connecticut Warbler in there in previous days.|
|A weird spiky fruit/gourd thing|
Friday, June 29, 2012
|Silver Sands, Milford, Connecticut|