downtime with the birds: courses and sightings
MY SPADE AND RAKE REMAIN IN COLD STORAGE, but the birding binoculars have been getting quite the workout. So it goes on winter days here at A Way to Garden, when I count on (and simply count) things avian to keep me from going mad. Do you perhaps need a distraction, too? Join me for some bird-watching, virtual or otherwise.
BEST BIRDS PHOTOS: Never mind its name (which is not G-rated, but what the fu-k?). This wonderful site powered by Tumblr blog technology is packed with photos of birds I could just spend all day looking at. And sometimes do. I hope you enjoy Fu-k Yeah Birdwatching (as in: yup, I’m a bird watcher) as much as I do.
WATCHING WITHOUT INFERENCE: I just completed an online bird-behavior course with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called “Rivalry and Courtship in Birds,” taught by the noted ornithologist Ken McGowan (his world-class work on crows is ongoing since 1988). Amazing videos from the Lab’s unrivaled collection combined with online reading and interactive quizzes to form the curriculum, and extensive “classroom” discussion (actively moderated by the instructor) took place on sophisticated forums each week.
“Thinking of animals like people is misleading and unhelpful,” McGowan “said” in the class forums. “Thinking of people as animals with the same survival goals can provide profound insights into what we do.”
Learning to observe but not infer was therefore a primary thrust of his teachings, and once you start looking at things more matter-of-factly, it changes everything. We learned to identify what McGowan calls “suites of ritualized behavior” (like tail-shaking and rhythmic head-pumping that helps some duck pairs coordinate their activity for mating).
Those of you who read this blog regularly know I am a serial anthropomorphizer of not just animals (think: frogboys) but even plants. Not very scientific, and of course I know better. Mea culpa. I should therefore resist saying that Jack the Demon Cat found it frustrating to hear birds calls emanate from my laptop when I was “in class,” but I cannot.
The next five-week session begins today, then March 31 and May 12; registration is $255 for Lab members of the Lab, $295 otherwise. Class is open 24/7 during the semester; work at your convenience.
SECRET LIFE OF CROWS: Ever wonder what all the squawking is about? This month-by-month explanation of crow habits written for laypersons, also from the Cornell Lab, makes it all begin to fit together. Crows are the most common “cooperative breeders” in North America, meaning that one breeding pair may be joined by up to 15 individuals—mostly older brothers and sisters, last year’s fledglings, who help Mom and Dad raise the new brood. Talk about an extended family.
LEARNING TO FLY, TURNED ON ITS HEAD: Did birds learn to fly from the trees down (the long-held theory) or the ground up? At the annual conference of the American Ornithologists’ Union recently, bird-flight expert Kenneth P. Dial of the University of Montana-Missoula challenged the conventional wisdom. Maybe those earliest birds-to-be, certain small-winged feathered dinosaur ancestors of the flyers we know today, were not flapping to soften the landing from on high, but instead trying to get up and away from predators using “wing-assisted incline running”? Research videos from the Montana lab show how the studies are undertaken (click on the thumbnails to play them; the one of the bird and plank, and the bottom one, two below that, interested me most). A fast PS: I just love that Dial is a pilot, too.
1, 2, 3 CHICKADEES: The four-day Great Backyard Bird Count ended Monday; nothing out of the ordinary to report here, except a crafty Cooper’s Hawk who used a coniferous shrub just outside the back door as a blind of sorts, and tried to score the songbirds I was tallying. Remember the one who met his death in the garden when he his a tree while in pursuit of a meal last year? Do you do the GBBC or Project Feederwatch?
Any good sightings in your neck o’ the woods lately?