If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed the neighbours’ White Pine in some of my photographs. At the bottom of this pic runs the top of the four-foot-high chainlink fence.
Well, I don’t want to brag or anything, but we got quite the storm last night. High winds, lots of snow, and a bit of rain added to the mix.
The waves from the rain reached only to the middle of the windows. Here on the driveway side, that’s a mere two metres. The wet stuff came and went around midnight, with more snow on top of it.
After my tea this morning, I went outside to inspect. Even the White Pine was surprised at how much snow we got:
By popular request (okay, Jayne in Australia asked, and I thought Novroz over in Indonesia might not know these birds), I have decided to present a few photos of a European Starling chiseling away at our suet feeder. Since the photos, taken with the zoom lens through the living room window and then tightly cropped, aren’t very sharp, I will
plague treat you to four pictures to give as much fuzzy subtle detail as possible.
Starlings are medium-small birds, bigger than sparrows but smaller than crows. (To compare, the suet cage is about 13 X 15 cm.) Males and females look pretty much the same.
Other than their pink feet, the colouration of European Starlings depends on the season and the time of day. In Winter, they’re spottier because they’ve worn their body feathers down to the spots.*** In their new Spring outfits, they’re a little more uniformly black. In Winter, their beaks are darker; in Spring, they turn yellow.
If you squint a bit, you’ll notice a green sheen on this bird’s feathers. That’s a trick of the sunlight that starlings share with other black-feathered birds.
You don’t need to squint at all to notice that the suet cage is now broadside to the camera. The wind that day was spinning the cage like a hypnotist’s watch.
In this photo, you can see the starling’s long, narrow, pointy beak. It works well for picking bugs out of the grass, plucking berries from bushes, or pulling bits of suet from between the cage bars. Starlings will eat anything. They are not picky eaters, like birds of prey. The raptors, however, aren’t jealous. Instead, they graciously rejoice in the starlings’ easygoing ways that have helped to spread their population, in just over a century, from one end of North America to the other.
Starlings also make tasty, nutritious meals for hawks.
One last picture. Here you can see the starling pausing to inspect its artwork. Will it incise “I love Turtle”? Will it fashion a reliefwork basket of tulips? Will it decide which breadcrumb is biggest and best?
The world will never know.
My funny valentine was in fact the work of many starlings, not simply the sculptor seen above. They often arrive by the dozen, some playing King of the Castle on the suet cage while others stand on the snow beneath, catching the fatty crumbs that the mock warmakers drop. Their chattering and clowning in the snow-coated stillness brightens my day.
***Nota bene: I got this part wrong. Starlings get new clothes for Rosh Hashanah, not Easter. Their new suits are spotted, and by Spring they have worn some of the spots off! Please check out Seabrooke’s informative blog entry for more info on these birds.
My little camera didn’t do yesterday’s storm justice.
No, this wasn’t a natural disaster (there’s enough of those elsewhere recently), it was simply a typical good dump of snow, about 6 inches, like Binky got out his way.
It was, though, enough to be exciting. Scary, even, for me. So while you look at the fun side of snow in this morning’s pictures, let me regale you with a tale of yesterday afternoon.
A flake or two meandered down about 14 00. By three, it was so thick that the accompanying sound effects in a movie would have been, “Ka-FLUMP! Ka-FLUMP!” E.g. went out to the main road with her camera, and watched a fourteen-wheeler crawling its way up the hill, a van with its four-way flashers on, and at the bottom of the hill, a police cruiser at the intersection. (You can find pix here.) Good thing we weren’t going anywhere.
Then we remembered her dad.
Eddy had a routine doctor’s appointment at the hospital. While he can drive all right during the day, he prefers to be a passenger at night or during inclement weather, when visibility is reduced. E.g. called her parents’ place, and yes, Eddy had left before the storm started and was now in the thick of it. Would Rose like us to help her husband get home? Well… all right.
The plan was that E.g. would find her dad and drive him home in his car. Since there was no sense leaving a vehicle at the hospital, or E.g. stranded at her parents’ house, E.g. and I took the automatic so I could retrieve her from Rose and Eddy’s. And I got behind the wheel, for my first taste of slippery streets.
Windshield wipers on. Long strings of crawling traffic. The dictum to Always keep going, Never stop unless absolutely necessary. The terror of losing control as we went downhill (Saint John is very hilly — not tall ones, but numerous). The car jerking sideways no matter how delicately I applied the brakes or titched the steering wheel. Falling onto the shoulder and easing the vehicle back onto the asphalt. And E.g. beside me, talking me through it.
We made it to the hospital, and E.g. went in to find the doctor’s office. It was closed and dark. No dad. All we could do was return home, this time E.g. driving.
Another call to Rose and Eddy’s revealed that Daddy wasn’t home yet — a bit unsettling, since they live closer to the hospital than we do — but with another look out the picture window, Rose rejoiced to find her husband powering up their long, steep drive.
Eddy is an excellent driver, and has always loved to drive. He told us later that afternoon that most of the trip home from the hospital, though slow, had been manageable. The hardest part had been the final right turn onto their street, in the thickest whiteout, when he really couldn’t see much of anything. After fifty-one years of turning right onto this road, however, he decided to use his body-memory to make the turn, and succeeded.
He called it “gut instinct”, but he may have been thinking of another source of Help that begins with “G”.
My recent post about Josephine the compost rat having generated a goodly number of comments from you, dear readers, I’ve decided to write a double postscript to it.
First, Colleen Dick mentioned “pantry moths”, a good, descriptive, polite-company name for them. While I don’t know their proper name, I think Seabrooke would classify them as “micromoths” (she would know, being half the team preparing the upcoming Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America).
Pantry moths are itty-bitty, skinny brown things. It takes two of them to make a family, and one family to make an invasion. The white, pink-tinged caterpillars enjoy cornmeal or other grains, dried beans, or even dried fruits. They can chew through plastic bags. They spin their winsome little cocoons in any modest cranny. Both larvae and adult are slow, stupid, soft, and squishable. Ugh.
So the other day, E.g. and I cleaned the food cupboards, discarding wormy grains, reducing cocoon hideouts, and gathering like objects — teas, pastas, dried fruit, legumes — into sealable containers.
And guess which lucky rat is benefiting from the composted chickpeas, bulgur, and dates?
Second, Alyson asked whether corgis don’t have the ratter instinct. I don’t know about Pembroke Welsh Corgis (the “Queen’s Dog”), but yes, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi was originally bred as an all-purpose farmhand, whose duties included rat-catching.
It was Fergus and Cai, in fact, who originally alerted me to Josephine’s presence this Fall. Fergus, especially, kept hanging around the compost bin, circling three sides of it, or snuffling the narrow space between bin and lean-to.
One day, as I was shoveling out some finished compost through a bottom hatch, I heard a squeak, a rustle of dry leaves, and a soft clatter where Josephine had fled through a gap in the lean-to wall. Now I knew for sure: a) she’s moved in, and b) she’s safe from the Cardis.
A few weeks after the bustle-and-squeak incident, I noticed the furchildren hesitating near the raised veggie patch beds. As I walked towards them, Fergus picked up something in his mouth to show me. “No no, drop it!” I called, and he laid it down again: a dead rat.
I picked the thing up in a gloved palm to dispose of it, and was surprised to find it still gasping for breath. I have since read in Rattie’s blog that rats don’t tend to live long, so maybe the poor thing was dying when Cai and Fergus found it. At any rate, I carried it just beyond our back fence, and sprinkled a few dry leaves over it for a privacy screen.
What fascinates me, Al, is that for all Fergus’s interest in the compost bin, and Cai’s delight in shaking the shoot out of rubber throw-toys, neither had the instinct — the heart? — to dispatch that poor old rat.