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Feb 19, 2009

Mice in the treetops

This is a photo of Monika Halvelka and a White-footed Mouse, during a ramble, at the Koffler Scientific Reserve last week. Monika is a University of Toronto professor and small-animal mammalogist at the UofT's Erindale campus in Mississauga, Ontario. She was a guest lecturer at my Natural History/Docent Training course last week. She stopped at a tree with what appeared to be a bird-box mounted on it, at about chest height. She reached inside and pulled out this groggy little guy. He was in a state of torpor.
White-footed Mice are excellent tree climbers (great swimmers, too). I was surprised to learn they will spend the winter in covered-over, abandoned bird nests, high in hardwood trees, or in tree cavities when they occur. Although they can enter a state of torpor for several hours, they do not go into true hibernation and therefore they cache food in the fall for the winter. The little guy above had stored several acorns into the tree box, from which Monika had pulled him. These tree boxes in the Koffler Scientific Reserve, at Jokers Hill in King Township, are artificial nests which make scientific observation of the mice much easier for researchers and students.
These mice usually eat at night and their diet consists of nuts, seeds, berries, grains, fruits, fungi and insects.
Maybe in another 10 million years, these little creatures will evolve to have wings and they'll fly around in the treetops, as well as nest there. Who knows? We do have flying squirrels, right?

Feb 13, 2009

Talking dirty

My friend, Pieter, at Toad Hill, near Mansfield in the Mulmur Hills, recently e-mailed me a fascinating, albeit lengthy, piece entitled: "The Origin & Common Usage of British Swear-words". It was very informative and somewhat titillating. I won't post it here, but it does start with this warning: "This entry discusses the etymology and application of a selection of words that, to varying degrees, can be considered vulgar and offensive. As a necessity, this entails the use of said words, and it is strongly advised that, should you find such words distressing or inappropriate, you do not read on beyond this point". Well, that stopped me dead in my tracks. Yeah, sure it did!
It went on dredging up many old and new, rude and crude words, names and phrases. Many of them referred to body parts and body functions. It was all very educational and I was familiar with one or two of the terms. I did have an ever-so-slightly queasy feeling at the end of it, but felt I should reply to Pieter's generous sharing of the information.
I sent him the following haiku, and directed him especially to an acronymical riddle in the third line. You, dear reader, are invited to solve the riddle also. And for those of you who need the benefit of academic research to solve the riddle, I direct you to .

Sometimes takes my breath away
Swearing has its tangs
Please comment, if you wish.

Feb 3, 2009

The Redpolls prevailed

After writing the blog below, I thought there might be a skeptic or two thinking I might be exaggerating the numbers of Pine Siskins and Redpolls, so I decided to try to get a photo, through the livingroom window, to give credence to my numbers claim. In the photo above, there are 82 birds at my largest feeder. There are two more feeders nearby. Most of the birds in this shot are Redpolls. There are a couple of Pine Siskins and Tree Sparrows, but after the grand congregation this morning, the Redpolls have prevailed. Inexplicably, they swelled their numbers from 50 to over a 100, between this morning and this afternoon, and sent the Pine Siskins packing - except for a couple who decided if they couldn't fight the Redpolls, they'd join them. Gotta run now...time to fill up the feeders, again.

100 Redpolls & Pine Siskins

Photo by Don Norman/King City
This morning set some kind of a record, I think. I had over 50 Common Redpolls and 50 Pine Siskins at my backyard feeders, at the same time. The Juncos, Chickadees, Tree Sparrows, and other usual suspects were completely intimidated. Even the Mourning 'Duuuvs' were sitting on the sidelines, waiting their turn. A few weeks ago the Pine Siskins showed up in a horde, but disappeared one day when I forgot to load up the feeders. A few days later the Redpolls showed up and and have been around ever since. They are much more forgiving, it seems, when I am tardy replenishing the feeders. But this morning the Pine Siskins returned to duke it out with the Redpolls. All hell broke loose. At this rate, I'll be filling the feeders twice a day.