Ask most anyone to give an example of a symbiotic relationship between birds and mammals and they’ll probably mention, cattle and Cattle Egrets. One rarely sees a field of cattle without seeing some Cattle Egrets opportunistically feeding on the insects and other inverts that are stirred up in the weeds by the browsing bovines.
There’s another and very similar relationship in Costa Rica as well; monkeys and Double-toothed Kites. Similar deal…but it takes place up in the forest canopy.
Here in California, my wife Helen and I discovered another and similar bird/mammal symbiotic relationship; River Otters and Great Blue Herons.
Recently, we watched a family of River Otters doing their otter-thing in a rice field irrigation canal…gracefully chasing fish, frogs and crayfish (which we call ‘crawdads’). Twice now we’ve observed a Great Blue Heron cautiously following the otters down the canal. The heron was obviously picking up prey that somehow escaped the otters.
We also noticed that the heron would never got too close to the otters. Otters, as you know, can be fierce, alpha, wetland predators and Great Blue Heron probably tastes pretty good. People often describe otter behavior as ‘playful’. SHUH…it may look playful but it’s deadly serious.
I planted the Chokecherries out front when I first moved in five years ago. They have tiny white flowers in Spring, lovely red foliage in Fall, followed by the last red berries that feed the birds in winter.
I’ve been trying to keep the deer from eating them with not much luck, but they are tall enough to have berries at the top! Why is this a tiny moment?
Because finally I won my reward! Yesterday I had two Eastern Bluebirds come and snack; and today I watched a Northern Mockingbird eat six berries!! He was there for a half hour before he could take off!!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Welcoming migrant birds in September and October is such a pleasure! Black-and-whites, Chestnut-sideds, Golden-wingeds — these small and fearless flyers have made it back again!
This week a Summer Tanager — La Rojita — arrived in our garden with its cheerful ‘picky-tuk’ call and bright red feathers.
Each of these arrivals is a miracle. Flying thousands of miles with hunger, muscle fatigue, bad weather … how does it even happen?
Let 2023 be a special year for these visiting migrants and bring some joy and peace to all.
We plan to augment occasional Bird Walks with butterfly and plant experts and to add outings to special ‘birdy’ places we haven’t visited in recent years.
Please help us with these plans by sending your annual dues for 2023. You can click on the Support the Club button found below or on the website’s Home Page (www.sanvitobirdclub.org) and pay via PayPal or credit card.
Or bring cash to a Bird Walk — the dues are: $25 resident individual, in colones C15,500; $50 resident family, in colones C30,000 OR $20 international individual and $40 international family.
We look forward to spending more time together in our favorite pursuit.
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.
‘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.
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!