My little chickadee friends

What with one thing and another, mostly another, I find that the post I had planned for this week is not quite up to snuff.

Meaning I haven’t started writing it yet.

Instead, I’m going to show you one of the little chickadees who’s been visiting my bird feeder:

chickadee 2

Yeah, I know, it’s a lousy photo. But hey, considering it was with my phone and he was on the other side of my window — which could do with a cleaning — it’ll have to do. At the very least, you can see what dapper little birdies they are and will now understand why I’m so smitten with them.

I’m told they can get quite tame around humans. A woman from church told me that every morning as she fills her bird feeder, several come along and sit on a fence just a few feet away from her, waiting. Which I find rather charming, don’t you?

Also, here’s a YouTube video of my backyard bird sounds (gosh I hope this works):

Did it work?

If it did, you should be able to hear a two-note call over and over again (along with some geese and robins and I think at one point some ducks). That call is from the chickadees’ repertoire. Birders call it “fee-bee” and I’m told it roughly translates to “hey, sweetie.” Or as I like to think of it, “how you doin’?”

It’s a call you hear primarily in Springtime, as they’re looking for a mate to settle down and have kids together.

Admittedly, when I first heard these two notes over and over and over again, it was driving me nuts. But then I found out it was just a little chickadee looking for love and my heart went out to them. I hope they find it.

Before I go, I want to show you something I found in my quest for chickadee info. This came from a site run by a Dr. Laurie Bloomfield, who studies songbirds:

Chickadees use both songs and calls to communicate with conspecifics, and possibly heterospecifics. Songs are typically regarded as more complex signals than calls, however with only one song type (fee bee), several calls produced by chickadees may in fact be considered more complex. The vocalization made for which the birds are named is the chick-a-dee call. This call contains four notes types (in black-capped chickadees): termed A, B, C and D notes. Although the note types are almost always found in order from A through D, the number of notes in a call may vary and individual calls may not contain all note types.  For example, a call may be as followed: AAACDDD. The chick-a-dee call shows that chickadees may have an extremely complex communication system. For this reason, research continues in an attempt to identify the information that the chick-a-dee call is able to convey to conspecifics (and possibly heterospecifics). Another type of call produced by most chickadee species is the gargle call, which is used during antagonistic encounters with conspecifics.  Chickadees are well studied compared to many other species of birds; however there is still a lot that can be learned about their complex communication system. Each call variant by the birds needs to be analyzed further to elucidate the potential “message” attempting to be conveyed.

I don’t know about you, but I find the fact there are people in this world studying songbirds and analyzing their calls very reassuring. Whatever crap might be going on in the world, whatever garbage you hear in the news, somewhere else in the world there is a person looking up a tree with a mighty fine pair of binoculars, jotting down notes and probably wearing cargo pants.

I mean, just the idea that someone would write a paragraph about chickadees that includes the words “conspecifics” and “heterospecifics” fills me with joy. I must pursue this further.

Which is why I signed up for a birding class this summer in Storm Lake, Iowa. It’s part of a week-long “synod school” Husband and I are attending in late July. They have both fun and serious classes, and since he couldn’t do the ballroom dance class with me, I opted for the one called “Robins, Raptors and Ducks: The Basics of Bird Watching.”

According to the course description, two class periods will be spent at different “Northwest Iowa Watchable Wildlife areas.” Also, it says I’m to bring a good pair of binoculars, so if you have any suggestions for me, I’d appreciate it.

five birders with equipment
I will soon look like one of these people. (Gah, I need to get a hat!)

Birds: Helpful Neighbors or Ruthless Overlords?

treeA three day weekend before me, I had one plan and one plan only: to move a tree.

To be specific, a volunteer tree that was growing in a small shaded area between our home and the back fence. Far too close to both home and fence.

After some careful research, I determined it was a silk tree – Albizia julibrissin – and that it would make a pretty little shade tree near our front entrance.

My dad was a great one for transplanting volunteer plants, and I think of him whenever I follow his practice. Although my success rate is nowhere near as good as his, I like to think I’m improving.

I also tend to think it will go much faster than it actually does, because I forget I live in Phoenix. Digging a hole in Phoenix is not for the faint of heart.

After 20 minutes, this is what I accomplished:

Continue reading “Birds: Helpful Neighbors or Ruthless Overlords?”

Meditating on a Desert Hike

There’s a mountain preserve near our home – actually, I’m not sure if it’s a real preserve. parkThe real estate agent who sold us our home said it was a preserve. If it is, it’s the first one I’ve seen with a housing development and gravel company on it.

Even so, it’s a nice park with a Frisbee golf course, playground & picnic area, softball fields and basketball courts, plus lots of places to hike.

Including, to our great surprise, a labyrinth.

No, not that kind of labyrinth. You won’t run into a Goblin King here. It’s one of thoseWP_20160223_16_48_19_Pro[1] meditative labyrinths. Husband came back from a long hike, where he was trying to gain more steps for his Fitbit, and announced his discovery.

The next day, Dog and I set off to find it.

Continue reading “Meditating on a Desert Hike”

The Tragic Tale of a Beetle in Love

sad
Photo credit: Volkan Olmez, Unsplash

Typically on a Saturday, I try to post something happy. Something to make us smile. But this tale came to me recently and I can’t get it out of my head. It’s the tale — the tragic tale — of the Death Watch Beetle.

Cool name, isn’t it? It comes from a time when people died at home. (Sorry. I told you this wouldn’t be happy.) As the person was lying in bed ill, clinging to their last thread of life, the family members would be very, very quiet. Out of respect. This period was called “the death watch.”

And in those times of absolute silence, during the death watch, they would hear a light tapping. Almost like fingers drumming on a table, very faint and rhythmic. Legend had it that it was Death, drumming his bony fingers, waiting for the person to die.

As it turns out, it was actually the mating call of a little beetle. Hereafter called the death watch beetle. Scientific name: Xestobium rufovillosum.

This is the life cycle of the death watch beetle (you might want to grab a tissue):

Continue reading “The Tragic Tale of a Beetle in Love”