Some Robins Can Be Sunbirds…Sort of

We always thought of Robins as birds who are the harbingers of spring. On the other hand, we’ve seen Robins in the middle of winter. We saw them today.

I realize that you technically can’t call a Robin a Sunbird. There is a species of Sunbird. It’s a small tropical forest bird. And you could call a person who travels from hot, humid parts of the country to cooler parts a sunbird—sort of the opposite of snowbirds; those who migrate from the cold north to the warm south in the winter months.

And so, I think you could call the Robin a sunbird—sort of. They’ll stick around all winter as long as the berries hold out.

A Day Without Glitches in the Matrix

Yesterday was the one of those days where everything seemed to happen for a reason. If we had arrived at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area a few minutes too early or too late, we would not have seen the mesmerizing rise and fall of the shore birds on Sand Lake.

I thought of the word “murmuration,” which refers to starlings flying in tight, swirling patterns. I checked the dictionary and discovered that the word “murmuration” refers to the murmuring sound similar to low-pitched noises starlings make as they fly in flocks, swirling this way and that, presumably to avoid predatory birds.

This led to my wondering if starlings were the only birds that form a murmuration.

I wonder of shore birds also do it because we saw them flying in a sort of swirling pattern when there were no visible predators.

We might have missed the light shining just right on a majestic American Sycamore in all its glory, festooned like a Christmas tree with its seed balls hanging from almost every limb. In fact, some people do make Christmas tree ornaments out of them.

We might also have missed the squirrel munching on his lunch in a tree. It was not eating American Sycamore seed balls, probably only because it was not sitting in an American Sycamore tree.

We have walked the Terry Trueblood trail often, in every season, including autumn. We’ve never seen the seed balls before.

And we might have also missed the Subaru Outback with Wisconsin license plates in the parking lot. It was covered with decals. And later I discovered that the word “decal” is short for “decalcomania,” which is exactly how I would describe how the car came to be so heavily decorated—from an episode of decal-co-mania.

A lot happened yesterday which seemed somehow just right. Some people see so-called “glitches in the matrix,” which are events that seem out of place and ill-timed, leading to the idea we’re living in a poorly run computer simulation.

What about the times we see and feel everything occurring so smoothly that we’re surprised by the flow? Maybe we don’t call attention to it so as to avoid interrupting the miracle.

Thoughts on Birds Banging into Windows

The other day we heard this big bang against one of our windows. We both guessed what it was—another bird collision. A couple of years ago, one crashed into a window, got knocked out, lay on its side, and puffed really hard for a half hour or so.

Then it flew away.

This bird was not so lucky. It was hard to identify until we looked at the large flock of similar looking birds in the backyard trees. It was one of a large gathering of juvenile Cedar Waxwings. They didn’t have the red wingtips but they had sporty yellow tail feather tips and they had typical masks around their eyes.

Sometimes birds attack their reflections in windows. Several species do that but this one was not on the list. We think it was just an accident.

They were probably after the winterberry shrubs. There are a lot of articles on the web about birds getting drunk from eating fermented berries. I’m not sure how anyone knows, but some writers say it can cause birds to crash into windows. Have the birds undergone some kind of field sobriety test (“Okay buster, stand on one leg, and touch your beak with your wings.”)?

Cedar Waxwings are very gregarious, raucous, and rowdy birds who eat berries with gusto. The adults look a little like clownish (and maybe drunken) bandits.

We planted an Amaryllis in a pot to celebrate the bird’s life. I guess Amaryllis bulbs can sprout new blooms for several years, almost like being reborn many times.

A little story from Greek mythology says that a maiden named Amaryllis had a monster crush on a shepherd named Alteo, a first-class heel who ignored her but loved flowers. She tried stabbing herself in the heart every day with a golden arrow for thirty days but at first that only led to a lot of trips to the local emergency room. But on the thirtieth day, a gorgeous flower grew from her blood. That’s the only thing that got Alteo’s attention; can you believe that jerk? They got married and honey-mooned at Niagara where they both got smashed on fermented winterberries, jumped out of the Maid of the Mist boat, crashed into a rainbow which turned out to be a wormhole portal to another galaxy where they finally sobered up by eating beef jerky from Sasquatch, who is an interdimensional creature as everyone knows.

The moral of the story is you should close your window shades more often, which might deter some birds from crashing into your windows—unless they’re really drunk.

Nature Walk with Rare Broochaprankumus Species

The other day Sena and I went on a nature walk at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. There’s a lot of Mullein growing out there. It’s a pretty invasive prairie type plant. It’s said to have medicinal uses, but don’t eat it.

The tree swallow chicks have all fledged. We didn’t see any water fowl but the red wing blackbirds were raising a ruckus.

There were many common butterflies like Monarchs and Black Swallowtails.

And there were a few rare species—compliments of Sena’s brooches, which you view for the first time ever in our video.

How the Feathered Half Lives

We were out on the Terry Trueblood Trail and saw a lot of different kinds of birds doing the things that birds—and humans do. Looking for mates, mating, nesting, hunting, feeding. We’re a little more romantic about it, at least sometimes.

Often, I wonder. Who are the real bird brains around here?

Walking the Clear Creek Trail—Looking for a Hamburger

Recently, we took a walk on the Clear Creek Trail in Coralville. There are always a lot of birds out and they all have different songs. We hear more birds than we see because the trail is crowded with trees.

On the other hand, the highlight of the afternoon was stopping for lunch at the Wendy’s drive-thru. They’re selling that $5 Biggie Bag. We ordered a couple of those and the cashier who took the order asked what we kind of burgers we wanted. She rattled off the choices so fast.

I guess we weren’t listening. I think you get 3 choices for burgers (although I cheated for this post by googling it): junior bacon cheeseburger, crispy chicken BLT, or a double stack. You also get chicken nuggets, fries, and a drink.

Sena said, “I want a vegetable hamburger, two of them.” I had to laugh when the clerk was silent for a long moment—and repeated “vegetable hamburger” in a puzzled-sounding voice. But I give her credit; she made a quick recovery and said “Oh, do you mean you want the junior bacon cheeseburger?”

Sena just said, “Oh yeah!”

I’m pretty sure the cashier was having a moment about the “vegetable hamburger” bit. It’s likely a dated term and many younger people might think it means a meatless sandwich.

In fact, when I did a quick internet search asking “does anybody know what a vegetable hamburger is these days?” I got all kind of hits for plant-based burgers. No hits for a real meat hamburger with tomatoes, lettuce, onion, and pickles. A veggie burger nowadays is defined as a “burger patty that does not contain meat.”

And that reminded me of the Wendy’s 1980s ad campaign with the “Where’s the beef!” lady starring in the commercials, which I’m pretty sure nobody but baby boomers remember either.

And then there’s the Wendy’s new Biggie Bag commercial. It’s the one where a bunch of Wendy’s workers are singing about the Biggie Bag and a customer asks, “Is that a real song?”

I couldn’t understand the lyrics in the jingle and had to google the YouTube video. Only one of the commenters almost nailed it, but I think it’s:

“You got that bag; you got a biggie bag.”

There were almost 700 comments. People really want that jingle to be a real song.

Okay, so that’s a long way from the walk on the Clear Creek Trail. So be it.

Iowa City Nature Challenge Begins!

The Iowa City Nature Challenge began on April 29, 2022. It’s sponsored by the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability and the Environment. According to their web site:

“From April 29th to May 2nd, find and photograph plants and animals in your backyard, in parks, along city streets, on school grounds—anywhere you find nature in Iowa City. Then, simply use the iNaturalist app to upload your photos and add them to the Iowa City project!”

It sounds fun. Read all the instructions carefully. This reminded me of my own amateur naturalist post back in 2019 about a toeless Mourning Dove.

Video Description from my YouTube post:

This is a rather sad little video about a Mourning Dove without toes who visited our back porch in early August 2018. The first slide is of a bird with normal feet, followed by several shots of the bird with abnormal feet.

There’s a slide with a bird seemingly sitting in its own poop, which is said by some to cause the problem–which is doubtful.

The last shot is that of a pair of doves trying to nest in our window box, which was full of sharp, plastic artificial plants, which was painful to watch and I wonder if their hazardous habits could lead to injuring their feet.

Speculation about the causes of these injuries range from something called string foot (string or human hair used to build nests getting wrapped around toes leading to amputation), sitting in poop leading to infections, and frostbite.

I think frostbite is plausible, and so did a birdwatcher named Nickell, who published an article about it over a half century ago; Nickell, W. P. (1964). “The Effects of Probable Frostbite on the Feet of Mourning Doves Wintering in Southern Michigan.” The Wilson Bulletin 76(1): 94-95, complete with hand-drawn illustrations that look exactly like the one in the video.

String foot is also plausible, but I’m reminded of an essay by E.B. White, Mr. Forbush’s Friends, White, E. B. (1966). “Annals of birdwatching: Mr. Forbush’s friends.” New Yorker. 42(1) or in White, E. B. (1999). Essays of E.B. White. New York, Harper Perennial, in which White recounts the book, Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States by Edward Howe Forbush, in which you can read one of the many anecdotes from amateur ornithologists about bird behavior that Forbush collected for his book, which was published circa 1929:

“Mrs. Olive Thorne Miller. Reported case of female tufted titmouse stealing hair from gentleman in Ohio for use in nest building. Bird lit on gentleman’s head, seized a beakful, braced itself, jerked lock out, flew away, came back for more. Gentleman a bird lover, consented to give hair again. No date.”– Forbush, Edward Howe, 1858-1929. Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States. [Norwood, Mass.: Printed by Berwick and Smith Company], 192529. I wonder why a bird would risk string foot by using hair in nests?

Lucky Spring Birds Are Back!

We finally got a sunny break yesterday and headed out to the Terry Trueblood Trail for a walk. It was good to stretch our legs. The spring birds are back. The Tree Swallow nest boxes are installed, although one of them was upside down. I’m not sure how that happens. A sparrow chased one of the swallows off, probably staking a claim on one of the nest boxes. Lucky break for the sparrow. Lucky for all that the nest boxes were available; unlucky if some are upside down, though.

The great weather was a lucky break, actually. Rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days. Talk about luck. We both got lucky playing cribbage the other day. Sena got a double run of 2 through 5 counting the cut card—and so did I. We both got 12 points. I had the crib, and got 12 more. Neither of us can recall what we threw to my crib.

Luck is important in cribbage. An expert player, Frank Lake, once said that cribbage is 85% luck and 15% skill. Others back him up.

Some say it’s often better to be lucky than good.

Birds of a Different Feather

This is the first day of spring in 2022 and it was a beautiful day. We went for a walk on the Terry Trueblood Trail. There were a lot of people out—different ages, different colors, different shapes. Just about everyone was smiling.

There were plenty of birds out too. In fact, we saw many different species of birds congregating together. Everybody knows the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

You know, it has been observed, not just by scientists I’m sure, that birds of different feathers hang out together too. Sometimes they’ll even fly in formation together, cooperating by staying about the same distance apart in V-formations, just as they would if they were all members of the same species.

It can happen.

%d bloggers like this: