Your Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

Like most people who drive I only go into my local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office once, every five years, to renew my driver’s license. I just got back.

This visit was a very disappointing experience; very disappointing.

There was no waiting in a long line with a bunch of other grumbling customers. No screaming kids. The whole driver’s license renewal process only took about 15 minutes. The guy behind the DMV counter was very nice and efficient; even funny a couple of times. No novice drivers ran me down in the parking lot, taking their driver’s test.

I’m disappointed because this DMV visit generated no whimsical anecdotes for me to share! NONE! Maybe my next visit in five years will; hope so.

Oh, just make this piece qualify as a ‘Tiny Moment’; there were no birds inside the DMV but I did see a few finches out in the parking lot.

Your Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

From SVBC executive officer Lydia Vogt.

We are finally getting into some chilly weather here in Southern California,
and even a bit of rain- a lovely respite from our ongoing drought, but very
modest compared to the torrents those of you in Costa Rica are
experiencing this month. One of my favorite resident birds doesn’t seem
to mind the rain at all- the California Quail. Our resident covey seems to
have had a mast year, and Big Daddy now is supervising over 20 females
and juveniles, as they dart from shadow to shadow, running along the
ground as if they were rolling on a tiny wheel. Their behavior is unique and
as identifiable as the male’s adorable black topknot.

But the young, as in many species (including our own,) are impatient and
brash, and yesterday a beautiful young fellow, frightened by something
unknown, flew from across the driveway at warp speed and hit a sliding
glass door on my patio. Even though the screen door was in front of it, it
was a fatal strike. He was just too impulsive. I picked up the warm, limp
body, and he briefly struggled, then collapsed in my grasp, sending an
explosion of lovely, soft, breast feathers all over. His head lolled, the tiny,
hooked beak opening a closing a few times, then grew still. A little later as
darkness fell, the Chief called to his group from an unseen low perch. It’s
a wonderful, unique 3-syllable call, chi-CA-go, very high-pitched on the
2nd syllable, and is used to call the family together. Sadly, although he
made numerous calls, tonight there was one family member absent.

To hear the iconic call, follow the link below, click the green ‘Listen’ button, then select the 2nd option.

Your Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

From SVBC member Jo Davidson.

As those who know me are aware, every morning – whether it’s hot, cold, sunny, rainy or snowy – I sit on the front porch to sip my coffee and see what Mother Nature might have in store to catch my eye. A couple of days ago, she wasn’t kidding around! I have been lucky in my rather lengthy life to have seen a good number of European Starling murmurations, usually off in the distance over an open field as I drove down a rural stretch of road. (On the off chance someone hasn’t had the same good fortune, there is a link to a video below.) On this particular morning, however, the murmuration came to me! Quite literally! I had scarcely settled into my chair when I looked toward the little cherry tree in the front yard to see if the resident Northern Mockingbird was there to sing me awake. Just at that moment, about 600 Starlings swooped in over that very tree and headed toward me. I had little time to react as they came within a few feet, rose upward, swooped down again, made a quick turn and then another, and as suddenly as they had arrived, flew out of sight! I’m not sure whether their wings or my heart were fluttering faster! By murmuration standards, it was a small one, but by Tiny Moment standards, it will loom large for a long time.

Your Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

We’ll, it’s been nearly eight months since since we’ve been in San Vito. We’re getting very anxious to come back and visit our friends, bird with all our Club members, play Mex Train, and enjoy hiding from our Connecticut winter.

Here is my Maggie practicing for the flight! She was wary to start, but those treat rewards for entering her carry bag make it her ‘happy’ place!

It’s not a wild ‘tiny moment’, but it’s the tiny moment that gets me closer
to San Vito!

Arriving 5 December!

photo courtesy of Judy Richardson

On Tanagers

It is true; even we grizzled, hard-nosed, wing-bar counting, crawling through the weeds briders enjoy watching pretty birds more than we enjoy watching plain birds.  I think it’s just human nature to like bright shiny things.  Tanagers are bright…Tanagers are shiny.  Some folks even call Tanagers ‘the butterflies of the bird world’.  

How many of us, during that first trip to Costa Rica, can remember our first encounter with a Scarlet-rumped (Cherrie’s/Passerini’s) Tanager?  My first came in 1979 in a sleepy little two-hostel town called Manuel Antonio.  I still have a dusty 35 millimeter slide of that bird somewhere.  

So your family, your friends have come down to visit.  Does this sound familiar?

‘Oooohhh, what’s that black and red bird?’

‘Oh, I just love those sky blue birds!’

‘Oh my god!  That bird on your feeder…it must have seven different colors!  What is it?’

Charismatic, those Tanagers are.

I even named my entire property after Tanagers, using the made up name ‘EL TANGARAL’; which means, (because I say so), the place of Tanagers; or more specifically a menagerie of Tanagers.

FYI: If you’re interested in some truly fantastic musings on Tanagers, I recommend you find a copy of ‘The Life of the Tanager’ by the speedy and powerful Alexander Skutch (also known as the Audubon of Central America).

Here then are my thoughts on a few of our southern zone Tanager species.

#1: Shark’s Eyes

One of our less brightly-colored Tanagers is the Palm Tanager.  The Palm Tanager looks quite similar to our Blue-Gray Tanager but is colored a soft, dusty olive green with a dark patch on the primary wing.  Appropriately named, the Palm Tanager seems to prefer hanging out in palm trees, usually up rather high.  I start off with Palmy for this reason; I consider the Palm Tanager to be ‘King of the Tanagers’ and I’ll tell you why.  Back when we all had bird feeders and bird feeder contests I noticed there was a distinct bird feeder hierarchy.  Species-A chases off Species-B and is then chased off by yet another, Species-C.  Usually this hierarchy is simply based upon size.  Bigger birds chase off smaller birds.  I’ll bet you’ve noticed this.  But Palmy…Palmy with those black shark-like eyes, I noticed would invariably stand up to bigger birds like the Clay-corored Thrushes, Saltators, and even Woodpeckers; Palmy would just stare down those bigger birds and continue dining on banana.  We all knew a kid in school like this; not the biggest or strongest or smartest kid but there was something deep-down in this kid’s eyes (boy or girl) that made us slowly back away.  That’s who the Palm Tanager is.

#2. The Opportunist

Here’s some good advice.  If you want to succeed in life…learn how to do a variety of things other people can’t or won’t do, be willing to try new things, don’t get stuck in a rut.  Do this and you’ll succeed.  This philosophy describes our previously mentioned Scarlet-rumped Tanager (the black and red one)…(but the female is brown and orange).  You’ll find Scarlet-rumped Tanagers making a living in a variety of ways…eating seeds, fruits and insects on the ground, eating seeds, fruits and insects in the trees (at all levels), and they are also quite adept at flycatching,   In many areas of Costa Rica the Scarlet-rumped Tanager is the most commonly seen and numerous Tanager…maybe even bird.  Very strong family values these birds have.  Early hatchling birds have no problem helping out their parents with the feeding and care of late season hatchlings.  Here’s another good skill they’ve developed; they don’t seem to mind living around people and if you haven’t noticed we people are almost everywhere.

#3.  Ooh-Aah

Private and somewhat of a feeding specialist, the Bay-Headed Tanager never fails to elicit a deep-throated ‘Ooohh, aaahh’ from birders and non-birders alike when spotted.  Bright green, bright blue with a brownish/red (bay) head the Bay-headed Tanager just seems to LOVE eating melastome berries.  Bay-heads also glean insects but berries are the dominant food.  Ask any bird bander…if you hold many Bay-headed Tanagers in your bare hand by the end of the day you’ll look like you’re wearing purple gloves.

Of course we have many more Tanagers down here; plus the closely related and spectacularly colored Honeycreepers, Dacnis and the Euphonias.  Easy on the eyes; truly fun to watch.

*Please do me a favor and don’t mention that I said that Euphonias are closely related to the Tanagers to any Bird Taxonomists.  Apparently they’re not that closely related and even though most Bird Taxonomists are slight, frail and myopic…they can also be wretched and spiteful when angered.  I’ll bet a lot of Bird Taxonomists have Palm Tanager eyes.*

Your Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

From SVBC member Ellen Beckett

I am fascinated by leafcutter ants, although friends tell me this is only possible because I am a renter, not a landowner.  I could watch them for hours, tirelessly carrying large pieces of leaves on their heads, scurrying in an almost straight line back to the nest and then returning to pick up another chunk.  Looks like the equivalent of me carrying four-by-eight pieces of plywood on my head. (They can actually carry pieces of leaves almost 50 times their own weight, and they have a groove in the top of their head that helps balance them.)

And what motivates them?  Sociobiologists of course tell us that they are ensuring that their genes will be passed on, as all species do.  Still, do they ever wake up and say, “Nah, not today”?  Do they think of organizing a strike?  What consequences do lazy ants face?

Next time, before you go for the poison, take a minute to appreciate one of nature’s marvels:  the leafcutter ant.

Atta cephalotes (Leafcutter Ant) courtesy of Wikipedia

‘They get wet.’

‘Ahhh, what happens to the poor little birds when it rains this hard and this long?’

(My answer is in the title above)

There’s nothing wrong with getting wet! Birds are homeothermic (warm blooded) just like we are and the monkeys are and the agoutis are and the bats are. We all generate own own body heat and have the ability to maintain an almost constant temperature; it’s like having an ‘internal thermostat’.

But that internal thermostat will cease to function if isn’t fed. Calories are required. Birds must eat.

So during these extended and intense rainstorms we’ve been having don’t worry too much about the birds. They know what they’re doing.

And here’s a bird watching tip: When the intense rain slows down or stops, get out there and look around. You’ll likely see lots of birds coming out to get a quick bite to eat.

And if you get wet…don’t worry! Dry off and have a bowl of hot oatmeal. You’ll be fine. Worrying about getting wet is much worse for your health than getting wet.

When it rains, it pours.

Your Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

From SVBC member Judy Richardson.

So fall is here in Connecticut, and I went to fill the bird feeder. The seed is in a plastic container with a lid to keep it fresh. When I opened the lid, to my surprise, there were four, baby mice huddled in a corner! Yikes, how did they get in there?
I scooped them up in the seed scoop and dashed outside to free them. Some seeds went with them for a snack.  They were so cute, and didn’t seem the least bit scared of me. Clearly there was a party that I was wasn’t invited to!

Mouse in the millet photo, courtesy of Judy Richardson.

Your Bi-Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

From SVBC member and former Detectives de Aves instructor Roni Chernin.

For years I had heard about how Yellow-throated Toucans rob other birds nests and eat the eggs; but I had never seen it personally. Until now.

The other morning I heard some scuffing in a tree and looked up. A Toucan was in there along with a few other birds on nearby branches.

I watched him take off for a nearby tree, carefully balancing an entire nest in his beak. He perched in a fairly open tree so I could plainly see him working his beak and claw with the nest. Though I could not see the outcome I hoped the meal was eggs and not chicks

When he was finished, the empty nest fell to the ground, not unlike a discarded sandwich wrapper.

Some may call the Toucan’s behavior nasty or rude. But nature makes no such judgements.

Yellow-throated Toucan; photo courtesy of Helen LeVasseur.

Your Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

From SVBC member Nancy Warshawer.

A couple weeks ago I was checking in on my epiphyte-filled trees (as one does), and I was just about to brush aside some thready dead fern leaves when they began to vibrate. There was no breeze and nothing else was moving, so it got my attention. It took a second to figure out I was looking at a…praying mantis.

I suppose her defense mechanism of vibrating didn’t evolve to defend against humans! Ironically, it may have saved her from an accidental death at my hands. I have been checking in on her regularly and she’s remained within 6 inches of where I found her. It’s always fun (for me, anyway) to follow some individual creature going about its life.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Warshawer