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Dec 30, 2010

Pileated Woodpeckers near Ottawa

I was in the Ottawa area for Christmas this year and spent most of my time watching the antics of my four grandchildren and it was great fun.   I saw hardly any birds at all but the exception were several Pileated Woodpeckers.   I haven't seen one yet this winter near home, but I look forward to seeing one and getting some photos.   The Pileated is probably the biggest woodpecker in the world.   Two larger ones are the Imperial Woodpecker and Ivory-billed Woodpecker, both of the Mexico/Central America areas and both almost sure to be extinct.   We are so lucky to be able to see this magnificent bird with regularity in this part of the world.   Its size, roller-coaster flight path, and loud rising-and-falling wuck-a-wuck-a-wuck-a call are very distinctive.   My friend Glenn McKinnon sent me the photo above.   I believe his wife, Jo, took the photo, at their home, in the Muskoka region of Ontario.
Please comment if you wish.

Dec 24, 2010

Jupa, Goonda, or Grandpa Jupiter

BB BarrytheBirder and the baby birdsBB 

 I have two grandsons who call me 'Jupa' and two granddaughters who call me 'Goonda'.   That's the four of them and me, in the picture above, at Christmas last year. I decided very early that I wanted to be called 'Grandpa Jupiter' by my grandchildren.   I thought it would make me a commanding, larger-than-life, mega-grandfather.   It didn't occur to me at the time that Grandpa Jupiter consisted of five syllables and that no child, with just one tongue, was going to be able to say Grandpa Jupiter, right out of the starting gate.   My oldest grandson managed Jupa (short for Jupiter) and in due course, his younger brother settled on Jupa also.   On the distaff side, my oldest granddaughter was persuaded by her father to also go with a two-syllable nickname: Goonda.   Which was fine as long as I never went to India where Goonda is a Hindi word meaning gangster or hoodlum!   I'm still adjusting to my son-in-law's sense of humour.   Needless to say, my younger granddaughter knows me as Goonda now also.   The point is that now that I am into my 70th year, these dear little people are my reason for wanting to live another 20 years.   Christmas is for them and they are a joy to me.   Merry Christmas world.

Dec 22, 2010

Beyond the eclipse...

No moon, no man.
Late 19th century proverb

The evening sky was clouded over the night before last, in my neck of the woods.   While I wanted to take a photo of the lunar eclipse, it was not be.   24 hours later, I looked out my window and saw what you see above.   I snatched up my camera and ran out into the cold.   I captured an image that the entire modern world could see for the very first time: a photo of the moon, the day after a lunar eclipse.   Sure, there are now a million shots of an eclipsed red moon floating around out there (boring), but how many earthlings thought to get a shot of the celestial aftermath?   An event of this magnitude must be shared and as my generosity knows no bounds, I wish to say that this picture is available to the world, at no charge, and you may do with it as you will.   Well, I suppose I should also do the right thing and get an email off to The Smithsonian.
Please comment if you wish.

Dec 21, 2010

At the feeder...

Starling (Turdus vulgaris)                                                                     Photos by BarrytheBirder  
Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurnus carolinensis). Usually gray but often
 seen as black (a melanistic colour phase).

The cold weather seemed to take its own sweet time getting here this winter but now it has settled in with a vengeance.   It got down to -25C wind-chill one day in mid-December and the bird feeders have to be topped up daily or all hell breaks loose.   It happens easily enough when there are more than 100 birds at one time squabbling for the last few seeds.
Here's what we've seen so far with the bird name first, followed by the most-seen number, at one time:
 American Goldfinches ~ 61
Dark-eyed Juncos ~ 34
American Trees Sparrows ~ 22
Mourning Doves ~ 19
House Finches ~   4
House Sparrows ~   4
Chickadees ~   3
Red-breasted Huthatches ~   2
Blue Jays ~   2
Cardinals ~   2
European Starling ~   1
Cooper's Hawk ~   1
Downey Woodpecker ~   1
Please comment if you wish.

Dec 20, 2010

Humber Trails Conservation Area

down to the river
a winter raccoon sleeps there
undisturbed on high
Photos and haiku by BarrytheBirder

Dec 19, 2010

'Twas a bitter-cold day

Photo by BarrytheBirder
Eyes shut ~ plumes plumped
The dove rebuffs 'gainst winter
O'er me a thick tick

Dec 18, 2010

A little wind-blown

"What difference does it make anyway, when there is a tasty tidbit to peck away at?   Besides, I'm beautiful even when dishevelled...not that I want to crow about it".

Dec 17, 2010

Great Blue Heron a.k.a. Arsnicker

Photo by Don Flucker
With a beak like the one above, a Great Blue Heron, possibly attacking from behind, would certainly be well-nicknamed Arsnicker.   Which starts my second (and last) look at bird nicknames.   The first part was back in early December and used, as the source for interesting old bird nicknames, a 105-year-old field guide by Charles A. Reed.   This time, I am using, as a reference source, my Peterson Field Guide "Birds of the West Indies", first published in 1936 with none other than James Bond, as its author.   And this James Bond is indeed the namesake for Ian Fleming's James Bond (see below).   The real James Bond's field guide is an excellent book and, probably unintentionally, seems to have more bird nicknames than any other guide in existence.   The nicknames naturally have a delightful Caribbean proclivity and are often humorous or sometimes inexplicable.   Who knew that so many birds could have so many nicknames...and usually in three different languages: English, French and Spanish?   Here's a sampling of noteworthy, colourful and mainly English nicknames.

1/ White Pelican, a.k.a. Alcatraz Blanco
2/ Flamingo, a.k.a. Filly-mingo or Flamenco
3/ Northern Shoveller Duck, a.k.a. Shovel-Mouth
4/ Ruddy Duck, a.k.a. Rubber Duck
5/ American Kestrel, a.k.a. Killy-killy or Bastard Hawk
6/ Yellow-breasted Crake, a.k.a. Twopenny Chick
7/ Oystercatcher, a.k.a. Whelk-cracker or Sea Pie
8/ Common Stilt, a.k.a. Crack-pot Soldier
9/ Jamaican Blackbird, a.k.a. Wild Pine Sergeant
10/ Least Tern, a.k.a. Kill-'em Polly
11/ Mourning Dove, a.k.a. Long-tailed Pea Dove or Fifi
12/ Common Ground Dove, a.k.a. Tobacco Dove
13/ Barn Owl, a.k.a. Death Owl or Death Bird
14/ Common Nighthawk, a.k.a. Killy-dadick or Gie-me-me-bit
15/ Most hummingbirds are nicknamed Doctor Bird or God Bird
16/ Most woodpeckers are called Carpinteros
17/ White-eyed Thrush, a.k.a. Long Day Hopping Dick
18/ Many warblers are called Chip-chip
19/ Adelaide's Warbler, a.k.a. Christmas Bird
20/ Blue-hooded Euphonia, a.k.a. Mistletoe Bird
21/ Jamaican Becard, a.k.a. Mountain Dick (female) and Judy (male) - go figure!

One of the very last entries in the guide, the Black-face Grassquit, has the most nicknames, including Parson Bird, Parson Sparrow, Sin Bird, Chitty Bird, Black Sparrow, White See-see, Ground Sparrow, Grass Bird, Straw Bird, Cane Sparrow, Tobacco Seed, Parakeet, Grass Quit, Chamarro Negro, Gorrion Negro, Juan Maruca, Barbito, Tomeguin Prieto, Petit des Herbes, and Cici des Herbes.   And these are just the most common nicknames for the Black-faced Grassquit!   In fact, in the West Indies, if you ask for the name of a bird and a person does not know the name, they'll often just make one up, on the spot.   How delightful.
As for James Bond (1900-1989), he was an important 
ornithologist whose name was appropriated by writer Ian Fleming for his fictional spy, James Bond.   Wikipedia reports the following.   Ian Fleming, who was a keen bird watcher living in Jamaica, was familiar with Bond's book, and chose the name of its author for the hero of 'Casino Royale' in 1953, apparently because he wanted a name that sounded 'as ordinary as possible'.   Fleming wrote to the real Bond's wife, "It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born".   He also contacted the real James Bond about using his name in the books and Bond replied to him, "Fine with it".   At some point during one of Fleming's visits to Jamaica he met with the real Bond and his wife as shown in a made-for-DVD documentary about Fleming.   A short clip was shown with Fleming, Bond and his wife.   Also in his novel 'Dr. No' Fleming referenced Bond's work by basing a large ornithological sanctuary on Dr. No's island in the Bahamas.   In 1964, Fleming gave Bond a first edition copy of 'You Only Live Twice' signed "To the real James Bond, from the thief of his identity" as a final thanks.
In 2002 Bond film 'Die Another Day', the fictional Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan, can be seen examining 'Birds of the West Indies' in an early scene that takes place in Havana, Cuba.   The author's name (James Bond) on the front cover is obscured.   Another example from the same film, when Bond first meets Jinx, played by Halle Berry, he introduces himself as an ornithologist.
Please comment if you wish.

Dec 16, 2010

Waiting its turn...

Photo by BarrytheBirder
It's been so cold and windy and snowy the last few days, that there have been several times when we have had up to 100 birds at the feeders at one time.  So far this winter we have had 12 species show up, including a Cooper's Hawk which has reduced the Mourning Dove count by at least one.   The list includes:
Blue Jay
Northern Cardinal
Mourning Dove
Dark-eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Re-breasted Nuthatch
House Sparrow
House Finch
Downey Woodpecker
Cooper's Hawk

Dec 14, 2010

At the feeder...

               Mourning Dove                                     House Finch

Dec 13, 2010

Antique photo for online card

Click on photo to enlarge
My wife Linda and I decided to send a personal online message to friends and family this Christmas.   We've never done this before.   We illustrated the message with the old family photo that you see here.   Linda's Grandfather Glass is the gentleman standing and a great aunt and uncle, his siblings, are seated in a one-horse open sleigh with jingle bells. The idea of an old, old photograph being sent out electronically has a certain spanning-the-generations appeal.   An old winter tradition is seen once again, to be shared instantly across the country and beyond.   I love this photo and what it captures: an old winter-time family outing.   I rode behind a few teams of horses, long ago as a child, when visiting my grandfather's farm, especially at haying and harvesting time.   I even got to drive the horses with a manure spreader in tow!   I've never ridden in a one-horse open sleigh with jingle bells, but I imagine that for anyone who has, the sound of those singing bells is forever in their memory.
Please comment if you wish.

Dec 11, 2010

Recent feeder sightings

Photos by BarrytheBirder
American Tree Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Northern Cardinal (Male & Female)

Dec 10, 2010

Reptilian doggerel

If a turtle loses its shell,
would it be homeless or naked?

BarrytheBirder photo

Dec 9, 2010

Cormorant Update

Photo by BarrytheBirder

Yesterday's Cormorant was gone today. The last open patch of water in the Holland Marsh North Canal was frozen over. This sad little tale seems to have come to an end. See blog below.

Dec 8, 2010

Cold Cormorant in trouble

Photo by BarrytheBirder

This is the Cormorant I mentioned in my blog back on Nov. 25. The canal at the Holland Marsh is almost completely frozen over and it was occupying one of the last very small patches of open water and was unable to escape. It dived under the water but had to come up in the same spot or be trapped under the ice. I now had time to take its photo. I was puzzled that it still had not migrated south before the freeze-up. Then I noticed its left wing was being held up at an odd angle (see photo above - click on it to enlarge). I think this wing is damaged. So now, apparently it cannot fly and if it could the ice has taken away its take-off stretch of water. The temperature this morning was -12C. Its prospects seem dismal. I called the Toronto Animal Rescue hotline and alerted them to the Cormorant's plight. They asked to see the photos I took and said they would consult with their rescuers about a possible intervention tomorrow morning. Stay tuned for a follow-up.
Please comment if you wish.

Dec 7, 2010

Short ode

Haikus brief poems
crystallizing images of
nature into truth
Haiku and Mourning Doves photo by BarrytheBirder

Dec 6, 2010

At the feeder...

New seed is put out

Mourning Doves and Blue Jays joust

Juncos hide and wait

Photo by BarrytheBirder

Dec 3, 2010

Puffin a.k.a. Sea Parrot

I've always been curious about bird nicknames. In my last blog, below, I wrote about the Peregrine Falcon's epicurean taste for duck meat, so much so that long ago this raptor was called the Duck Hawk. It got me thinking and I did some checking. As my reference tool, I consulted a bird guide written almost 105 years ago, in 1906, by Charles A. Reed. It was published in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1910, although my own copy is a 1926 edition. I frankly think this guide is as good as the 1934 Roger Tory Petersen bird field guide; a book described as seminal and the first of its kind to spark the cataclysmic interest in birds and environmental protection in the 20th century. This is not meant to be an essay on etymology or onomastics, but just a light-hearted look at the simpler side of selected bird nicknames. In this case, the selected birds are from that old Chester Reed guide to "Water Birds, Game Birds and Birds of Prey East of the Rockies". Moving beyond the Peregrine then, let's begin with the...

1/ Western Grebe, a.k.a. SWAN GREBE, because of its extremely long neck.
2/ Eared Grebe, a.k.a. DEVIL DIVER, for its diving at the flash of a gun and swimming long distances before coming to the surface.
3/ Puffin, a.k.a. SEA PARROT, for its large, almost grotesque, red and yellow bill.
4/ Black Guillemot, a.k.a. SEA PIGEON, for sitting in rows on rocky ledges.
5/ Dovekie, a.k.a. SEA DOVE or ICE BIRD, for its abundancy in the far north and because it is sometimes blown inland and found with its feet frozen fast in the ice of some ponds and lakes.
6/ Ivory Gull, a.k.a. SNOW GULL, because it breeds in Arctic regions, further north than any other gull, except for the Ross's Gull. Whalers gave it the name Snow Gull.
7/ Forster Tern, a.k.a. SEA SWALLOW, for its resemblance in flight and form to swallows and their embodiment of grace in the air.
8/ Sooty Tern, a.k.a. EGG BIRD, because eggs of this bird were collected by the thousands for food in tropical islands.
9/ Greater Shearwater, a.k.a. HAGLET, so named by fishermen who noted their greedy and continuous quarreling in their flocks, over the lion's share of food.
10/ Storm-Petrel, a.k.a. MOTHER CAREY'S CHICKENS, because it seems to walk on water, in a flock, looking for food.
11/ Anhinga, a.k.a. SNAKE BIRD or AMERICAN DARTER, because it swims with its body submerged, with only its serpent-like head and neck visible, and also for its habit of perching in dense swamps and diving after fish, frogs and lizards, etc.
12/ Greater Scaup, a.k.a. BLUE BILL, for its blue bill.
13/ Bufflehead, a.k.a. BUTTER BALL, SPIRIT DUCK, DIPPER, etc., because of the speed with which it can disappear under the water.
14/ Ruddy Duck, a.k.a. BROAD-BILL DIPPER, BULL-NECK, BRISTLE-TAIL, all of which speak to some characteristic of its form.
15/ Fulvous Whistling Duck, a.k.a. LONG-LEGGED DUCK, for its long legs. In 1906, it was known as the Fulvous Tree Duck because it laid its eggs in tree hollows.
16/ American Bittern, a.k.a. STAKE-DRIVER, because of the peculiar pumping sound the male makes during the mating season.
17/ Limpkin, a.k.a.CRYING BIRD, for the odd wailing cries that they utter, day and night.
18/ Dowitcher, a.k.a. RED-BREASTED SNIPE and ROBIN SNIPE for its reddish-brown called by gunners with whom the bird was a favourite.
19/ Knot, a.k.a. RED-BREASTED SANDPIPER and ROBIN SNIPE for its reddish-brown colour in summer, and GRAY-BACK when in winter plumage.
20/ Pectoral Sandpiper, a.k.a. JACK SNIPE and GRASS SNIPE, probably the two most common of its great variety of nicknames.
21/ Marbled Godwit, a.k.a. MARLIN or STRAIGHT-BILL CURLEW, just two of its many aliases.
22/ Long-billed Curlew, a.k.a. SICKLE-BILL, because of its much decurved and very long bill (up to 8"), the longest of any shorebird in eastern North-America.
23/ Ruddy Turnstone, a.k.a. CALICO-BIRD and CHECKERED-SNIPE, among many other names, for its its peculiarly pied appearance.
24/ Northern Harrier, a.k.a. MARSH HAWK, because it is found most abundantly around marshes and wet meadows.
25/ Cooper's Hawk, a.k.a. CHICKEN HAWK or HEN HAWK, for its preferred food.
26/ Merlin, a.k.a. PIGEON HAWK which, when led by pangs of hunger, is bold and courageous as it chases down pigeons as big or bigger than itself.
27/ Osprey, a.k.a. FISH HAWK, for its exclusive diet of fish.
28/ Barn Owl, a.k.a. MONKEY-FACED OWL, for its odd visage.
29/ Barred Owl, a.k.a. HOOT OWL, because of its noisy hooting and wailing, which 19th century children were taught to regard with terror.
Of special mention is the Great-horned Owl, which has no nickname and how it escaped being called the Skunk Owl is a mystery, because its favourite food is that malodorous mammal. Chester Reed, himself, noted that these owls "...seem to be especially fond of skunks, and nearly all of them...have given unmistakable evidence of their recent and close association with these animals.
(Puffin Carving by Dale Davies)