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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Midnight Memories with Plumes

I once found a sticker pasted to the underside of a Cambridge theater toilet seat. On its weathered face were printed the words "Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time". I am quite fond of the memory of that particular sticker as well as the Marx Brothers movie which shortly followed it's discovery. Those memories swirl through my head now and blend with vibrant feathers like a mirage swirling through the darkened hours of this sleepless midnight.

A Painted Bunting flashes its vibrant colors into my binoculars. Closer to home my mind replays the song of the Hermit Thrush, sung from a distant mountain top. Spangled in the shade of stunted trees a Mourning Warbler hops from branch to branch followed by the chirping of House Sparrows in a city park. Navy blue clad Harlequin Ducks frolic in the surface thrown by the waves that glance against the faltering rocks. "Phoebe" says my memory. A Night-Heron's shrouded form hunches on a distant dock, unaware of the elvin terns that dance over his black-crowned head.

The handsome head of a Tree Swallow appears from the dark confines of a bird house, its stunning blue and white plumage giving it an almost penguin like appearance, but any similarities with those denizens of the south is ruled out by the mirage of metallic feathers that rear out of the dunes of a Cape Cod beach. Swallows vanish and sound appears; the morning chorus flutes through my brain.

Listen: John Shamgochian has become unstuck in his mind.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Yet another apology and an owl

It may seem to you, my scattered readers, that I have now finally mastered the bloggers failure of sustaining a blog and with you I fully agree.

Life has continued, flowing on in its endless, random and abstract style. It has in this fascinating process tossed me a biscuit or two: a bittern, a few Tundra Swans, the first January RI record of a Barn Swallow, more recently a Sandhill Crane, but my biggest recent enjoyment was the kidnapping of a quite substantial quantity of Dragonfly and Damselfly larvae which are now being cruelly constrained in a number of water-filled pickle jars which line an upper floor windowsill. They and their brethren have been latest in a number of wild-eyed obsessions.

Seeing that adult odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) don't overwinter I have not had much satisfaction in this thrilling new pursuit. Larvae odes are aquatic and look like what you would get if you bred a spider with a cockroach and, as might be assumed, are not quite as enthralling as their older selves to observe. To be fully truthful this enthrallment is not fully recent. I have been watching these sewing-needles since early last summer but at the time made very little headway on my identification skills. It took an insect net and a field guide to get me just about over the line of no return. A line which (as anyone who has ever fallen too deep into a hobby knows) will haunt you for many years to come (particularly financially; I have spent over $200 on ode-ing equipment since November.)

I have now resorted to polishing my net and occasionally taking a swing at some object thrown by a sibling which after netting will probably be misidentified (by me) as a Pygmy Snaketail or even a Lake Emerald and then after inspection through a loupe I will realize it is nothing but a rubber ball. I have long ago memorized the local species and now all I can do is wait for the coming of the summer months.

It seems that I have run out of things to say about the elegant insects of my current fascination and seeing that this blog post is pitifully small I think I will give you yet another average summing up of a recent encounter. Unfortunately the "other" in this chance meeting was deceased.

On the 12th of February in the year of our Lord 2013 at 3:15pm, a quick stroll along the Ten Mile River had come to the collective mind of the Shamgochian household. Fresh water was needed for the odes so it was decided to walk the section of river which flows from Turner Reservoir where the water flows at it's fastest and is easily accessed. After retrieving the water we happily collected a number of ants which had been discovered lying prone under a tree. Later it was realized that the largest ant, a soldier, was still alive when collected. I have yet to release the "fortunate" survivor.

The snow which blanketed the trail/road of a short and none-to-attractive loop of the grounds which starts and ends at the river seemed fairly compact and walkable so without any discussion the walk commenced down this trail.  As we neared the parking lot, I (weary from having worried continuously about the of unleashed status of our flesh-hungry dog combined with not-so distant main road and the locally large cottontail population and quite irritated with substantial long list of birds not seen) was pleased to see the mottled plumes of a sparrow. A squint through my binos and the identity of the sparrow was instantly obvious (it was a Song Sparrow) - the identity of the sleek pile of brown feathers at the birds dainty pink feet, however, was not.

As I approached swiftly, smoothly and surely it's name came towards my awaiting gray matter in leaps and bounds (as the Gazelle leaps into the awaiting jaws of a Lion aka. me). In seconds the name tickled my pimpled forehead and with one mighty twitch of my outstretched hand I flipped the husk of a life bird onto it's back. It would be cooler to say that two gold-black eyes stood out stunningly against the brown of the feathers and the white of the snow but to be fully honest it's feathered eye lids had drawn up over the two golden orbs. But that didn't bother me - it was beautiful as it was.

I gazed down on the (robin-sized) bundle of feathers in my hand, a handsome white on brown tail preceeded the similarly colored wings and the white breast and belly buttered with an artists touch by warm cinnamon. From these "butterings" protruded two down covered legs, ended by the yellow of the toes and complemented by the equally brilliant black of the (literally) needle-sharp talons. With it's heart-shaped face sheathed in a soft layering of tan feathers and ringed with chestnut, ornamented with sparkling white streaks like a fanciful tiara, it was stunning.

It, as you may have already picked up, was a very dead Northern Saw-whet Owl, an uncommon and much loved species.

I gazed at the crime scene and remembering the words of my detective hero Chico Marx "you gotta do like a Sherlock Holmes, you gotta get what they call the clues".
First you say to yourself what have you got?, and the answer come right back:  something dead!
Then you say to yourself what is dead? and the answer comes right back: a Northern Saw-whet Owl!
Now you say to yourself what killed the owl? and the answer come right back: something in these woods!
Now you take-a de clues and you put dem all together, and what you got? The owl is dead!
Where did it die? In these woods!
What killed it? Something in these woods!
Now we all we got to do is go to everything in these woods and ask them if they killed it!

There were some interesting features of the picture laid out before me. For instance a dead North American Deer Mouse was laid out on a gnarled branch. The frozen remains of the mouse sat above, and six inches to the left of it's (late) would be devourer. But despite the fact that pepper and salt had been metaphorically sprinkled on the owls furry dinner, it was on the outside not physically damaged.
Even stranger was the direction the owl's now stiff form faced. It was found face down in the snow and twisted 180 degrees from where it must have once perched. If the bird had fallen from the branch on which the mouse rested it seems only logical that it would face away from the same when it dropped.

Strange.

A photo of the crime scene







I finished the walk with 6 dead animals (and the living ant) on my person. Not bad for a short walk in a non-exceptional locale. Now there is a dead owl on the porch and I don't know what to do with it!