Monday, February 18, 2008

Stand up and be counted

High: 48° F
Low: 26° F
Conditions: Winter weather advisory. Sleet and freezing rain changing to all rain by afternoon.
Today is the last day of Audubon’s Backyard Bird Count, and we’ve slipped into a structured rhythm here at the house. Each morning, Ari takes her place at the north-facing dining room window, where she surveys the bird feeders.

The sister cats settle for the east-facing windows above the bookcase, where there is better seating but no feeders and, thus, considerably inferior viewing.

The humans mostly mill about, sipping hot tea and listening to “Morning Edition” on NPR (who said one must suffer for science?).

This routine all seems very tidy and casual, until someone tries to improvise. Ari will not tolerate anyone sharing her window. When Mouse tries, she is punished by having her entire head engulfed in Ari’s mouth. When Leila Tov signals with her tail that she has seen something interesting, Ari tries to evict her from her stoop to take over. This prompts the humans to scold the dog, which makes Mouse meow in gleeful retribution. The ruckus sends the timid Leila Tov scurrying, taking the candles with her and invariably scaring all of the birds in the vicinity.

So it’s not a perfect system. But it has still allowed continued avian viewing. And we’re beginning to realize that a very similar social pecking order is taking place just outside these very busy windows. There, the hairy woodpecker is always the first to alight. He’s also the first to be spooked and leave. Soon after, he is followed by the only slightly more intrepid nuthatches (both red- and white- breasted), who are then shooed away by the brassy redpolls. These birds are ruthlessly pack-oriented, and think nothing of pushing one another off the feeder.

Their aggression makes for messy eating, which in turn delights the red squirrel, who lurks in the crab apple tree, just waiting for an excuse to stuff his cheeks with dropped seed.

If there is one thing everyone in our house can agree upon, it’s that the red squirrel has no place at our feeders. In an instant, the cats convert into military special operatives: every pore seems to shout killing machine as they try to figure out how to unlock the window and eat the squirrel. Ari, not nearly so focused in her animosity, simply barks her objections (or maybe her glee?).
The only creature not disturbed by this interspecies racket is the black-capped chickadee (Parus atrica). The chickadee is as common a bird as you’ll see in Maine, which may be one reason why it’s also our official state bird. This prevelence used to disqualify the bird from our list of interesting species, but lately we’ve had to reconsider. The chickadee is the only bird brazen enough to stand up to the redpolls, the squirrel, and the racket inside our house. Each day, we’ve counted them by the dozens. And in truth, they’re hard to miss with all of their lively chatter.

Their presence delights Ari, who likes nothing more than to be engaged by little creatures in trees. Sometimes, we think this is craziness on her part. But when it comes to the state bird, who greets us in any weather and under any circumstance, we can't help agree.

A special thanks to all of our blog friends who have sent in their sightings! Khyra reported a Khoopers Hawk in Pennsylvania, and Tubey eyed an eastern bluebird down in Missouri. Zim gazed at geese in Kansas; the D'Azul Siberians even counted chickens! But the winner of our bird count challenge is. . . . Marigold, the Goat Philosopher! Check out the email we received from her:

Hi! Here is a count from 'Marigold' on the Olympic Peninsula in

A male and female Mallard (they had 9 ducklings in our pond last year and they just reappeared, so spring must have sprung! :))

~ 30 dark-eyed

Juncos (regular winter residents at the feeder)

3 Red-Breasted Nuthatch

A large flock of ~50 Pine Siskins (they have good years and bad years, so this must've been a good year :))

4 Spotted Towhees6 Stellar Jays

2 Douglas squirrel (okay, not a bird but at the feeder :))

~8 Purple Finch

2 Varied Thrush

2 Northern Flickers (red shafted)

1 Mourning Dove

3 Red-Winged Blackbirds

3 Starlings

~30 - 40 Robins (at one time, no kidding)

2 Chestnut-backed Chickadees

1 Red Breasted Sapsucker

1 Cooper's Hawk (attempting to 'raid' the bird feeder)

1 Great Blue Heron (looking to land in our pond, but either saw the pair of ducks or me feeding the goats and decided to go work on the neighbor's goldfish :))

2 Canadian Geese (that flew over just after the Heron)

and last and most incredibly 3 Trumpeter swans!
(Overwinter here and live in the pond across the highway from us).

Wow. Now THAT’s caninaturalism (and from a ruminant, nonetheless)! We have a special thank-you surprise for Marigold and her human friend, Maryann. And you dog fans out there will want to be sure to check out their blog soon. Rumor has it Marigold has a new puppy. Thanks to everyone who participated in the count: we had great fun, and hope you did too!


JB's Big World said...

What a great assortment of birds you have in your area. And I sure do like the sister cats!
Thank you so much for your nice comment on my blog! I would love to be a caninaturalist. I suppose I would actually be a felinaturalist?
My mom really loves all types of animals, so I think she is probably having more fun at this than me! hee hee

Kapp pack said...

We did have fun and love you reporting on the issue with the squirrel. I always like to chase them when they get into my dog yard!

Kisses, Sky boy

Simba said...

You get so many animals in your garden. I love the photo of the cats.

Simba xx

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

I'm with Sky boy! I stare at 'em and even try to follow 'em up the tree!

We khaught the Khooper's hawk on our Sunday walk too - akhtually, he/she is a resident in the neighborhood as he/she has visited the birdbath from time to time -

Khongrats on another khool and infurmative piece!

My mom listens to Morning Edition too - on her way to work and then when she gets her khomputer fired up!

Stay khool!


Farmgirl_dk: said...

Wow - I laughed my entire way through your description of your home's inhabitants and how everyone interacts with each other. Very funny! While my intent was to be more active in this, I wound up being a backseat bird observer this weekend, listening and watching from afar, as I did major winter clean-up and pre-spring pruning. Oh, and compost pile stake-out. yay.
(No numbers, but I saw (and heard) chickadees (black-capped and chestnut backed), nuthatches, steller's jays, towhees, dark-eyed juncos, pine siskins, finches, 1 chipmunk, and 1 varied thrush - the other one ran into our glass door last friday and died :-(

Congratulations to you, Marigold - good work!! I'm very impressed. :-)

Gus and Louie said...

We love the picture of the squirrel. We have sugar gliders but they are much smaller than your squirrel and they get to stay in cages in our house. Dad gets them out every night so they can fly around the living room. Of course we have to stay in our condo's while they are out and the cats go outside.. Dad thinks we would think they were flying snacks..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

sue1101 said...

Ari sounds like such a character. Thanks for keeping us posted: she always makes me smile.

Dakota said...

We loved doing this! Thanks for letting us participate.
I'm sorry we didn't see more!

Mack said...

All eyes on the birdies!

umekotyan said...

The squirrel is pretty.
At the same time, I feel the thing where the feline doesn't exist.
And, bird's living is a rich neither nature nor natural enemy but is proof.
Moreover, the seed is carried by the bird and the squirrel.
Circulation of nature.
...seem cold in the snow scene it...
And, the change of nature richly makes the mind. :)

from loved ume tyan

The Daily Echo said...

Mom thoroughly enjoyed that report. I snuck in the guest room last night and would like to report my inventory:
2 Parakeets - mighty tasty looking ones!

Holly said...

I can take care of that squirrel for you!!

And the birds too. I caught a couple and brought them into my mom each time, but she was not too happy with me.


Sharon said...

You all had a lot of fun with the birds.
I loved your morning story! It made me smile. The cats look like one I had, Snicker. She was such a sweet cat and I miss her.

I enjoy your blog,
Rusty's mom

I wish I was there to help you chase the squirrel.


Island Rambles Blog said...

Thanks so much for visiting my blog and I love your blog...I never can find good blogs unless they come and comment on mine (it is difficult to locate blogs on blogger, so many of them), so I am extremely glad you did come by. I have had a quick look, and marked it as a favorite to visit each day. (I will come back and go through your archives too). This was a special surprise for me to wake up and see your blog. We have just lost our beloved dog to cancer at five years so I will relish every blog about your dog. (and I had a cat that looked the exact same, same coloring...weird hey). Sorry I yakked too much. Cheers.