Thus Explaining Those Huge Holes in the Turf…

Don’t look now, but the Big Bird of Unhappiness has taken to hanging around out back.

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Y’know, urban turkeys are a lovely… idea when you see them up on hillsides and such, but when they’re DIGGING HOLES in the lawn, making 4 a.m., high-pitched waaaark-ing noises, and flinging dirt out of your potted plants, going out of doors with the push broom and a fierce expression seems quite a good idea.

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(…and, if you do that, do let us know how that goes, won’t you? We don’t quite have the courage, as Mr. I’m Not Afraid Of You tends to bat his wings about if anyone goes out into the yard and says “Shoo” and makes abortive gestures in his direction. T. decided that it would be not only rude but stupid to make him annoyed enough to chase her… she has bad memories of geese, thank you. And those vicious swans in Holland… So, the turkey gets to wander where the turkey wishes to wander, we guess.

Alas for the strawberries and the asparagus plants. And all the flowers… Why do we even bother? Between the drought, the squirrels, and the wretched birds…)

Hard — so, so hard — to believe it’s August already, and the light is swinging toward autumn. The backyard is super busy, and full of beeping, peeping and whistling as the birds (those not currently ticking us off) continue to take over. Returning from some summer vacationing are our woodpeckers — collectively called a “descent”, a “drumming”, and a “gatling” of woodpeckers. We’ve got a drumming of Nuttall’s – at least four – and an every growing and ridiculously noisy collection of Lesser Goldfinches.


It’s additionally hard to believe that D. is getting ready to teach his last online course for the summer already. He’s doing a lot of muttering under his breath has he deals with the kludgy web interface the university provides, and mumbling as he roughs out a course outline and selects books… meanwhile, it seems odd to think that T’s brother and sister have been to the college bookstore, too. Youngest sister was bemoaning her strapped and cashless state (“Mom says she owns me now into the next life,”) after buying textbooks… hard to imagine that she is starting her own collegiate experience … on Friday. o_0 Seriously seems possible, since it seems like just the other day, she was this precious round-faced little thing, babbling nonsense and squealing at the drop of a hat. (Oh, wait…she still does that…)


ANYWAY! Happy term time to all of our friends who are off to learn a few things, off to teach a few things, and off to leave the rest of us in the shade. Good luck, all.

NB: the title of this blog post is NOT “Hanging With Mr. Cooper.” That title has been strictly prohibited. Thank you.

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This is a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii). Or, a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), but we’re pretty sure it’s a Cooper’s. Mostly positive, almost. (How can we tell? Well, the Sharp-shinned’s tail is squared off when he’s at rest. Of course, our wretched bird wouldn’t …rest, but we sort of assumed. On the other hand, a Cooper’s is supposed to have more white on the tip. This is a juvenile, and the juvenile of the species of BOTH hawks are speckled and striped and much more brown than their adult black-and-brown, which completely screws up our reckoning on it either way. We’ll have to wait and see who he turns out to be – and we do think it’s a male, as the gents are much smaller than the ladies.)

This primping, fluttering, shrieking, refusing-to-turn-and-face-the-camera hawk is our newest avian yardmate, and has taken the place of our fascination with the steadily fattening house finches and the swift-as-a-blur goldfinches (who still refuse to be photographed. What is WITH that attitude?). It lives in the pine tree outside of our deck — and we mean right off our deck. As close to the little glass birdbaths in the corner as it can possibly get. It is vastly blasé about our sharing its space, and almost totally unafraid, likely owing to the fact that it dines daily on a diet of hubris and field mice, and thus its overheated little brain convinces it that all things fear it, and it could totally eat us.

Cooper’s hawks are medium sized, agile, and slightly mad (as evinced by the piercing golden eyes). Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest hawk in North America (about the size of blue jays), quick and loud, and also quite mad – really, all hawks are. Either are a good sign for urban wildlife and ecologically balanced yards, but this one’s really only here because Accipiters as a species are indeed deeply attracted to yards with… birdfeeders.

Yeah, so make that, “…it dines daily on a diet of hubris, field mice and the odd robin.”

Some homeowners are mightily incensed by that, but then, these area also the people who you see running down the street at six a.m., chasing the thuggish groups of wild turkeys who maraud around here every October. (We saw our first group of juvenile males just yesterday. Oh, it’s going to be a very thuggish and aggressive autumn in this hood.) We, however, are perfectly happy to have rapacious raptors – and we’re okay with them eating songbirds, too. We figure we’ll have fewer ginormous rats and digging squirrels, and if we have to miss the odd dove, seagull, mockingbird or a jay, well… we’ll also be able to sleep in past 4 a.m. as well. Win-win. ?

Okay, we take that last part back.


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Behold my mad yellow eye.

(HM. This picture is much more Sharpie than Cooper’s. ::sigh::
Oh, look A HAWK. Maybe we’ll just leave it at that.)

Settling Back In…

We’re settling back into the groove of being in California, and have finally made it to the local pool (yes, it’s free to swim … between 5:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., but you try getting out of the house and into the water in the cold, dim morning). Nothing much is happening here – just getting ready for Thanksgiving, and finally getting around to the idea that we should hang some pictures, since we’ve been in this house for over a year and it doesn’t look like we’ll be leaving any time soon.

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If anybody should need a Thanksgiving Turkey, just know that they frequent our neighborhood, and that we’re not responsible for your actions….

-D & T

Tha’s Some Evil Wee Beasties

Ah, swans.

We have the fairytale — the birds of great strength, elegance, grace, and beauty, with twenty-three neck vertebrae arching into that classic curve. We have the ballet. The mythology. And then, we have The Truth:

Their wings can break a grown man’s arm, they hiss, chase, and bite, crushing fingers, and drawing blood. Beautiful as they are, these things are a nasty piece of work.

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We discussed it, and concluded: we’d both rather take on a goose, and D. has had experience with a goose attack. But here, since all swans belong to the Crown, we couldn’t even really kick one if we had to — the rowers at Cambridge who were assaulted last summer by “Mr. Asbo” and are continuing to be pecked, smacked, and bloodied have no recourse but to paddle really fast, and beg the queen for help. Which is just — wow. Quite something. (Who knew the Brits could be such good, obedient subjects? Guess no one wants to risk the public flogging handed down as sentence for anyone who messes with HRH’s birds.)

This is a Mama Pen, Papa Cob, and all ten of their cygnets. It’s hard to believe, but this photo was shot from a train, as we went over a small bridge on the River Tay. And just look at them — all fuzzy and dark, not a one of them a misplaced duckling… from this distance, don’t they look cute?

But YOU know better.

Here are some swan facts for those of a turn of mind to know their enemies. ::cough:: Um, we mean, find out more about the stories, history, and lore of this gorgeous bird. Yeah, that’s what we meant.

Birds plus Camera equals No Work Done

So, we’re all settled into our friend Barry’s house, trying to get some work done while we’re on vacation (yes, there’s something wrong with that). The problem with setting up our computers next to the window, though, is that we’ve not had a decent view for the past 7 months or so, plus we haven’t had any real wild birds about since we moved to the UK (pigeons and urban seagulls don’t count). What has this meant for productivity? Well, it has meant that every time I get settled in to try to do some reading, there’s another new bird flitting about, begging to have its photo taken.

We have no idea what kinds of birds we’re seeing, other than the red-tailed hawk, of course, and the woodpecker and the blue jay. It’s really amazing, once you start taking their pictures, how many different kinds of birds are just … flitting about, taunting you with how quick they are, and with how auto-focus is really good at catching the leaf or the branch beside the bird. It’s quite a challenge, getting them into focus: I think I’ve taken around 500 bird pictures in the past couple of days, and have thrown out most of them.

Some of them, though, are quite surprising. Who knew that the innocent looking little gray birds, with the cute crests, have had the tips of their tails dipped in bright yellow? Who knew that the “black” bird, whose picture I took because he was making such a racket, is really kind of a golden color, shot through with spots?

It’s Winter here, too, but it’s nowhere near the level of darkness they’re experiencing in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s not just clouds or lack of clouds, but it’s on an absolute scale: I can take pictures of fast-moving things here and have them come out. I set my aperture on the camera to the widest it’ll go and let the camera calculate the exposure duration … and the camera complains, sometimes, that I’m going to overexpose the shot. In Glasgow? In Glasgow I’d be cringing, wishing I’d brought my tripod, because the exposure would be going for so long that I’d blur the picture from not being able to hold still for that long.

I’m sitting here, looking out the window at nearly 5 p.m., and it’s still quite light outside. My camera tells me that it’s lighter than it gets in Glasgow during the middle of the day. Photography here is about there being too much light.

And here’s me, with loads of journal articles to read, and T. with a book revision she’s trying to get done. And the birds, distracting us both.

Strange Nature

As this photo clearly demonstrates, the hummingbird found in California is known to be predatory, and to consume small amphibians. In this shot, we see our subject clutching a small tree-frog, which has been anchored to something, so that we could catch the hummingbird in the act. They are notoriously cagey about allowing others to see them engaged in this behavior – perhaps because their mouthparts are quite insufficient to the task, and the act of eating is more of an act of supreme slurping.

OK, enough fun. I just couldn’t resist, though, when I happened across this picture. It’s difficult to shoot these guys, because they are so cagey about being photographed. But, moving slowly, I was able to get close enough to have him pose for quite some time atop the wind-chime. He’s also posed atop another wind-chime (a ceramic finch) which is only a few feet away from this one. Both of the chimes are about a foot away from the feeder, which is why he’s sitting there: guarding the food. Not predating frogs. Maybe.

Nest of Evil … or not.

If you look very closely you’ll see a head, inside the mouth of the gourd. It almost looks like I spliced it in there, because her head’s turned sideways, looking … somewhere. But I didn’t, I promise! Finally, somebody has inhabited the gourd!

Of course it’s Pippi, with her evil nature, but I figure that someday she’ll get over herself a bit, and will possibly decide to lay some eggs in there. So, it’s a happy occasion. I’m just glad that she’s young enough to try new things, ’cause the others have been running in terror of the gourd for a couple of weeks now, while Pippi is just strange enough to bite everything, so she’s made herself a nest. Nobody shares it with her yet, which is fine, because this has the added benefit of making for a more peaceful cage, all around.

Strange Birds

Within the realm of “strange” must fall … our resident King Of The Hummingbirds. He’s found that the Finch wind-chime is a perfect place from which to guard the feeder. So, there he sits, watching the feeder for competitors. And our finches? They watch the Hummingbird King. They’re getting used to him, but when he takes to perching on top of their cage … well, they hold very very still.

Life is so odd in the birds’ little corner of the world, but this one just takes the cake. To the birds, I’m sure it’s nothing but a … rock? But to us it’s hilarious, because it’s just birds on top of birds on top of birds. Crazy.

Finch World

In the interest of getting these guys out here for everybody who’s interested, and because we’ve had to spend so much time with them over the past few days, I thought I’d throw out a few pictures of Finch World. Shown here, with his black-and-white self, is Flitter; to his side is Pippi. They’re probably contemplating some evil, because that’s about all Pippi seems interested in.

We can be fairly certain that their evil doesn’t involve Twitter, as he’s pretty well staying out of all of the chaos. Yes, Pip will pick on him, too, but only if Miniver has managed to elude her. Or if Pip has met with the spray bottle in conjunction with Min, and, thus, thinks that she should take it out on somebody else.

Miniver, here, is simply glad to eat. And eat and eat. We think that she’s trying to get as large as Pip, but we’re afraid that it’s a futile kind of thing. Min is a Spice Finch, you see, whereas Pip is a Zebra. Zebras are much larger than Spice Finches, and a bit larger than Society Finches, too. Thus, Min is doomed to eat and eat and never get particularly larger.

We think that Flit and Min are going to hook up, because they hang out quite a bit, and they’ve been doing the mutual grooming thing. There hasn’t been any of the shuffle / fluff / dance / squawk behavior from Flit, though, so it could be that things have just been too chaotic. Perhaps it takes a bit longer for such things. Or perhaps Pip is really just a juvenile, despite her largeness.

Min, on the other hand, is having none of it. She’s pretty solitary most of the time, bouncing from one side of the cage to the other, flinging herself about. Or she’s at the food dish. I did see her this morning having a bath with Twitter, but … well, we just can’t tell yet. If it does end up happening, they’re the best hope for further reproduction, as Spice Finches and Society Finches can breed, as can Zebras and Societies. However, there are some which are infertile coming out of these crosses, so while they may end up with children, they may not end up with grandchildren. C’est la vie.

In a rare showing of … society, Min gets between Flit and Pip. Not to worry – Min really won’t stay long, and is probably just rubbing it in that Pip is the one who gets the spray bottle. You see, Pip just can’t stand it when Min gets the top perch, or the food dish, or a bath. So, she edges up and pecks. Min takes off, and ends up stirring up everybody, and it’s all-out chaos.

You see, Pip gets the water, but Min instigates. So, taking advantage of her small size and her experience in dashing about, Min antagonizes Pip, Pip responds with bites, and then Pip gets the spray. Unfortunately, Pip takes it farther than she needs to and doesn’t know when to quit, so Min can end up going without food for quite some time, as Min chases her about, and keeps her away from the food. Oh, the psychoses of two females trying to get the attention of a couple of old bachelors.

Drama in Finch-Land

No pictures as of yet, but Friday we got a new finch. It’s that the other two (Flitter and Twitter – or Flit and Twit) had been acting … well, lonely, I suppose. We believe that they’re both male, as they trade off doing the strange little mating hop/dance that society finches do. Now, we’re OK with that, and they’d seemed to be OK with that, too, but they’d begun to really pluck themselves bald … so, we figured we needed to change something up in Finch-land.

First change was to get rid of their nest and to switch it for the lovely gourd shown to the left. It’s one we grew last year, but which broke off, so it’s suitable only for a small nesting box like this. That was quite a significant change for Flit and Twit, and they regarded it as EVIL for quite some time, and still haven’t climbed into it. Based upon that worrisome behavior, we figured we’d get them a companion, since the nest wasn’t the problem … or something. We’ve since heard tell, from the Finster Log, that finches may ignore a nest box for over a year. But, we hadn’t found that particular link yet.

So, the decision to get a new finch, perhaps of the female variety. Send one of us to the pet store … and arrive home with a female finch, certainly. A female Zebra finch, that is, because … well, because I didn’t believe that zebras could be fawn-colored and drab.

We’re waiting for the chaos to settle down. Twit has gone all still and strange, hiding in a corner. This is definitely not usual, as he’s usually the dominant one, and is quite fearless. Flit, now, has been doing the hopping dance. Considering that he was the one plucking out all of his feathers, I’m guessing that he doesn’t particularly mind that the female is of a different species, so long as the plumbing works. We’ll probably end up with some strange little half-zebra hybrids in a few months. I’m hoping that Twit will get interested as well, because Twit is the all-white one, and I believe that would be a nice cross. According to what I’ve found, the chics are likely to be sterile, but that’s not a drawback, in this case.