This past week was my grandson's 3rd birthday....His dad is frustrated in that he spends little time kicking balls, playing with bats etc... (being a huge Philly fan dad is), but loves to be outside and pick up rocks, look at plants....does little science experiments with his parents etc. So, it was only natural that he deserved to have a bird feeder for his birthday. I went over to the Ace Hardware in Galloway and purchased a nice feeder for him.....that was 'squirrel proof'...supposedly. And though it is squirrel proof, I have found it is not kid proof or cat proof, well...in a sense as senses have everything to do with it.
I hung up the feeder on a pole outside their living room window in a bushy area with a tree overhanging...perfect for birds to be safe from predators, and also perfect to prevent grackles, crows, cowbirds etc...Jonah and I poured feed into the feeder and while he understood the concept of 'pouring', it wasn't altogether a perfect 'pour'...
But here is the issue.....cats and kids and senses. The house cat...(inside), has found the window seat to be her favorite perch and watches hours of live bird television from there. The kid, loves the same window seat and chases the cat away as he watches bird TV. They have a tough time sharing the window perfect even sharing is in his vocabulary.
The birds on the other hand, notice the cat or the kids even though they are inside and thru a closed window. I noticed today how tentative they were about approaching the feeder with the cat in partial view. When the kid is anywhere in view, they are beyond tentative.
Now, birds are skittish as we all know from any bird feeder we have in our yards. When we sit on the deck and swat away mosquitoes, birds really could care less about our problem. They peck on. But if we approach the feeder no matter how stealthily we might be, they flitter away.
So how relative we are in terms of closeness to the feeder comes into play. The other thing is 'bird sense'.....not as in horse sense, but sense as in 'sense of smell' and 'sense of eyesight' or what I believe is a hidden sense, that of 'sense of instinct'.
According to Tudge (2008), he states that birds are aware of predators not only by eyesight but by smell. It is debatable about how keen their sense of smell is, and much research suggests that the sense of smell is secondary to that of sight. Perhaps..... As in this particular case, can a bird smell a cat thru a closed window? Not sure, but surely they can see a cat thru a closed window.
The other sense that I often wonder about as I view birds is that of 'instinct'. I believe I have eluded to this before but how many times do I observe a bird either in my walks or on feeders etc...and when I grab my bins or scope to view them, either the bird immediately flies off, or ....I almost see it pause it's behavior, and stop ....think...reflect (no perhaps not think as in our understanding of that word)....but more along the lines of an unknown instinct to humans of being 'aware' ... A sense of awareness, a sense of presence, a sense of danger, a sense that someone is watching me and it has 'big eyes'.
Having an acute sense of instinct wouldn't be uncommon as other species have senses we lack. Did you realize that the ancient Egyptians recognized 18 senses within humans and yet, today, our world of humans only recognizes the basic five. Hmmm...makes you wonder that yes, perhaps using those instincts, they could have built the pyramids.
But back to the bird feeder..... I haven't yet....but I intend to move the feeder a few yards away from the window to prevent either the cat or kid from chasing away birds.
This week past I decided to take a small drive thru Forsythe...meander thru Jen's trail a bit and Leeds trail to the point. It was sunny day and I expected a lot for being March. Yet alas, it was pretty quiet.
I think that as 'humans'....(a fairly blind species in many ways)...we have a tendency to think that everything runs on our time, our clock...our calendar and our view of the world. Well, not so. Just because it was a glorious 'still winter' day in Jersey, with the sun out and my expectations high....Spring Birds were not on my calendar page.
You see migration is up to the birds, not me....in deciding when they are going to bless our eyes with flight. Now I know that climate change has come into place, and unless you watch the FOX ENQUIRER, most of us realize that slowly our understanding of what and when birds migrate, the range maps etc...are perhaps up for grabs. But if I was to look at Sibley's "The Birds of Cape May' dated 1997, I would find that we are just on the cusp of a few of our favorites due to arrive.
Although the Woodcock is around us daily....only recently have we been really seeing them in numbers as evident by the chatter on Ebird-alert. The Pine Warblers should be within our midst real soon. Eastern Phoebe, Osprey, Blue Winged Teal, Glossy Ibis....and a whole slew to follow in April.
But just as important as those which arrive....are those who leave. I always know Winter is over when the Juncos depart. Now, as I look at my feeder outside my office window, I still see Juncos, so perhaps the Ground Hog was right. My eyes see 'sun', but the birds see winter. The loons are still out at Barnegat, the Grebes....the (2) Tundra Swan at Forsythe,...as are the Mergansers with their 'hair', the Buffleheads,and White-throated Sparrows.
This is a special time....We smell spring....we feel it, sense it. But the guards have not changed yet and while a new set of guards will come in to replace the ones just left, for now, we have to take these last few days of March and appreciate that which will not be here in just a few weeks. This reminds me of a song by Seals and Croft---'Advance Guards'---Do you remember the lyrics?
I used to look out from my window
And see the tall grass in the wind
Standing there just like advance guards
Waiting for the battle to begin
My mother used to be much younger
She'd sing me soft, sweet lullabies
I saw my fortress in the mountains
Each time I looked into her eyes
But now she's gone
Take me there, take me there, I don't care where we go
Take me I just want to know what I used to know
Take me there, take me there, I don't care where we go
Take me there, take me I just want to go
My father's hair has turned to gray now
I never stopped to ask him why
And all the things that he once treasured
I see them slowly drifting by
Okay.....a slice of sentimentalness ....but while the guards change in our family, so do they in birds. ......
Okay, you know the drill....every once in awhile we get into these bird quests where we are after 'one' bird...and yet that bird is the most elusive all 'for you' while seemingly presenting itself to others at will.
The last time I had this happen was in Ecuador when I was after the Andean Torrent Duck. The bird books list this bird as 'fairly common' and easy to find in fast moving rivers, of of which, are abundant in the Andes. Well, it took be 5 tries to a specific location known to man where the Torrent Duck exists. Five attempts in rainy weather. The last time I was there with a group of people, there it was. We came around a bend in the river and viola, the duck was there. It must have missed the office memo or early alert warning that I was on my way. But I found it....one more bird ticked off my list.
My current bird quest involves a rather common bird here in Jersey...the Snow Bunting. Now come on, I am not asking to see a Black Rail or an Upland Sandpiper or some other odd' duck'...(pardon the pun from previous paragraph).... but a snow bunting.
One of the first things I have learned since temporarily migrating to New Jersey was to rely on a good book "A Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey" by William Boyd (the Green version). According to Boyd, the Snow Bunting is common at Barnaget, Holgate etc during the winter months.
I keep a diary/journal of my birding visits as I find while photo's are nice, I in particular prefer scanning thru a journal and recalling the days spent birding at different locations. It enlightens me to see what I have done during the past year. So looking over my diary/journal....I see Barnaget, Holgate....on my listing of birding trips for 3 times now in the past winter. The bird is winning 3-0 presently. The last time I was at Barnaget I found some awesome birds but no snow bunting.
Yesterday I ventured up to Barnaget once more. The weathermen said it wasn't going to rain until 3pm, so I hastened with my work and left the house around 11am. I would easily have time to drive up, find the Snow Bunting and come back prior to rainfall.
In that sense, I was right...I missed the rain and weathermen were right. I am always in awe when I happen by chance to have a birding weather experience that matches to their 5% correct prediction outcome. None the less, I took my scope and glasses and walked the dunes. This was not as easy as when the dunes are frozen or covered in snow. This time, I had on my trusty Gore Tex boots that I have had for over 25 years. When I was a ranger for the National Park Service, these boots led me to many miles in the likes of Olympic and Rainier National Parks. Boots and soft sand though are not the Pacific Northwest and are 'not made for walking' ....I just heard that song by Nancy Sinatra the other day as Deb and I dined at the Italian Gourmet.
So I trudged along...setting up my scope and waiting patiently for Snow Buntings. I scanned the dunes, walked the dunes...flushed out birds of all calibers, even experienced some chiggers.... but still no evidence of a single snow bunting. I saw Tree Sparrows...... found a Hermit Thrush near the visitor center, .....was twittered by tweets from Yellow Rumped Warblers, and was once more teased by sparrows that were a cross between X and Y....as they were impossible to ID. But no where did a Snow Bunting appear.... Four times now...next time will be my 5th time and I am running out of Snow Bunting time. But I am banking on the luck of the duck here.... 5th time will be a charm.
Well....a few of us braved the AAS Barnaget Field Trip this Sunday, March 1st.... For once, the weathermen was right for it snowed about the time they said, wow....someone buy them dinner! Gees, they are sure super, aren't they?
Lets see...... Common Loons were 'common' , and in quite a few cases they were dressed in breeding plumange decked with their white checkering on back. We also saw 'up close'....Horned Grebes without horns, Common Golden Eyes afar, Brandts, Black Scoters, and Red Breasted Mergansers (one of whom is the object of this 'murder').
When I taught 3rd grade....and would have the kids walk down the hall from PE or Music back to my classroom, unless I wanted to take 30 minutes and walk backwards--slowly, there were always going to be stragglers....you know, usually boys. Well in this case, our little AAS group of 8-10 folks just kind of staggered along the jetty. Some were more up front, others forego'ed the jetty altogether and walked the sand, but to everyone's credit....no one fell in between the jetty rocks. I saw no hands flaying wildly as they poked from the crevices.
Yet the snow continued to fall...... and as the flakes mounted, the group slowly went AWOL. Some made it all the way down the jetty and were pleased to see a few Harlequins, great looking birds. Yet the snow continued and then there was just one left. I met up with a group that Tom Gleason was working with and at the jetty end, in the ocean we saw one Iceland Gull, a King Eider, tons of Common Eiders and a White Winged Scoter. A treat....but no Snow Buntings. Ah, no no no Snow Buntings....
Now an interesting thing about the Iceland Gull is that it is almost identical to the Thayer's Gull and are often thought of as being the same species. When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, we would see the Thayer's Gull off the coast of Oregon. Experts would tell me that the only way you could really tell the difference was on 'what coast they were found''. If on the Pacific Coast, they were Thayers' and if on Atlantic coast, they are Iceland. I always had to chuckle when someone on the West coast would say they saw an Iceland Gull. Yeah right....I would have a tough time believing their birding ID skills even if they found an American Robin ( IN FACT: The British Ornithologists Union as well as the British Birds Rarities Committee still treat thayeri (Thayer Gull) as a subspecies of Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides ).
Okay....now to the murder. It happened around 12:15pm, just on the long side of noon. The location was 50+ yards from the Light House itself, in full sight of anyone who was watching. It occurred on the water. Now, I have seen an attempted murder of the exact same individuals (or I should say species) while driving the drive at Forsythe. The victim was a hapless Red Breasted Merganser; female. In my previous siting of this attempted murder, it was also a Red Breasted Merganser but it escaped. The guilty bird ....was the Great Black-backed Gull.
You see what happens is that the Great Black-backed Gull will swoop down and mount the back of the Merganser and attempt to takes it life by pecking away at the head and neck. This is fairly common and here is a YOU TUBE of a 'like' event which took place in 2008. They are predators and according to Pat and Clay Sutton from Cape May, they have witnessed them kill Black Skimmers, Ruddy Ducks, Buffleheads, Coots, Grebes etc... This has been reported in research dating back to the 1920's, so my seeing a killing of a Red-breasted Merganser, and an attempt at another last year, is not unusual. These large gulls are predators and while they do not kill other birds as a primary food source, this does occur. One would think that a Great Black-backed Gull coming in at 30" and weighing 3.6 pounds VS. the Red-breasted Merganser coming in at a size of 23" and a weight of 2.3 pounds might not be enough of an advantage. But the key you see is stealth.
The Gull will pounce on the Merganser from behind.....catching the Gull by surprise. But what interests me is why do Mergansers, or other ducks, grebes etc...who could possibly be potential victims of the Great Black-backed Gull not be more leery of the presence of those Gulls? If a Bald Eagle approaches, the ducks will warn each other of their presence and fly, or dive or whatever. The point being they are aware of the predator when the predator is an Eagle, or a Peregrine, but not a Gull....why?
Nature is seemingly cruel but it is 'nature' and survival.