My daughter and grandchildren, for Christmas, gave me a book called The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman.
Ackerman’s thesis is that “the misguided use of ‘bird brain’ as a slur has finally come home to roost.” Scientific evidence shows that birds exhibit “toolmaking, culture, reasoning, the ability to remember the past and think about the future, to adopt another’s perspective, to learn from one another.” In short, “many of our cherished forms of intellect–whether in whole or parts–appear to have evolved in birds quite separately and artfully right alongside our own.” (p. 11)
Like humans, birds have brains that are large in relation to their body size. Bird brains and human brains share many similarities in directing social behaviors, in brain activity during sleep, and in learning. When scientists, in 2014, sequenced the genomes of 48 Continue reading Bird Brains→
Our phoebes are back! Newly returned from their winter homes in the south, they are perching on tree branches or fences. Our human residents often forget to wear their name tags in public, but the phoebe says its name over and over in a two-toned song: “FEEE be.” You can hear them at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Phoebe/id.
You might also interpret this song as “FEED me.” Our phoebes need food for the hard work of building their nests, mating, laying their eggs, and feeding their young.
And what we need to feed our phoebes is—BUGS!
The eastern phoebe (Saynornis phoebe) is a “flycatcher,” though it also eats wasps, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, midges, and cicadas. Perched on a branch, low rooftop, or fence, in a yard or open woods, our phoebe will wag its long tail up and down restlessly, and Continue reading Bugs! We Need Bugs!!→
To everyone’s amazement, an otter has been visiting the retention pond behind the Teaberry homes on the east campus.
This pond was constructed when the Teaberry homes were first built in 1996, as part of the storm water runoff system required by law to protect our wetlands. It has a rubber liner on the bottom, but it’s full of cattails, and we’ve seen plenty of turtles, frogs, salamanders, and toads in it, so there must be a layer of mud on top of the rubber. Since the purpose of the pond is to filter pollutants from the road, roofs, and lawns, the water and mud may be polluted to some extent.
Fertilizer from the surrounding lawn undoubtedly contributes an abundance of nitrogen, leading to heavy algae growth in summer.
American Woodcocks are small, brown, woodland birds that you very rarely see. They hang out in shrublands, old fields, and young forests, quiet and shy, superbly camouflaged against the leaf litter, walking slowly along the forest floor, probing the soil with their long bills in search of worms and insects.
Except now, when the courting males put on quite a show. East campus residents have heard them behind Huckleberry and Mulberry. You can find them in wood openings and fields at dawn or dusk. Listen for their buzzing “peent” sound, and the whir of their wings as the males leap straight up into the air. Hear them at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Woodcock/sounds
Spring nights at Lathrop ring with the chorus of spring peepers– little tree frogs that emerge from their winter hiding places in mud, logs ,or tree holes. An antifreeze in their blood has kept them alive, though partly frozen, during the winter.
Unfrozen now, they head for a pond to mate. The gals choose the guy who sings loudest and fastest. With a vocal sac under his mouth that is almost as big as he is, he peeps about 20 times a minute. The chorus can be heard up to 2.5 miles.
At Lathrop, we human residents are mapping and flagging our wetlands so as NOT to build on them. If our plans involve wetlands, our town Conservation Commissions, backed by state and local laws, will require us to submit descriptions and diagrams, notify abutters, post a notice in the newspaper, and appear at a hearing.
Meanwhile, ignoring the flags and the paperwork, Lathrop’s red-winged blackbirds, early harbingers of spring, newly returned from wintering in the south, are busy building their homes in our wetlands.
The nest is what Habitat for Humanity would call a “woman build.” The nest site is low to the ground or water surface, among clustered stems of plants like cattails, alder, goldenrod, or blackberry. Our builder weaves stringy plant material around several close, upright stems to make a platform. Around and over this, she adds more wet Continue reading Building in the Wetlands has Begun!→
Lots of creatures are moving on top of Lathrop snow–squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, foxes, and bobcats.
But some tiny black specks you see on the snow might be seeds or dust–until they jump.
These are so-called snow fleas (Hypergastrura nivicola), though they are not fleas. They belong to group of primitive insects called “springtails” (collembola) so named because two small latches hold their tails under their bodies, and when the latches are released, the tails spring out and catapult the snow fleas up to 100 times their own length–like one of us jumping the length of two football fields. Continue reading Critters on the Snow→