Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

salt marsh trail between first two bridges

The salt marsh can be a nasty place in the winter.  Even on a sunny day, the wind can be harsh and the salt spray biting.  Regardless of the elements, my grandson and I set out on our adventure on New Year’s Eve along the salt marsh trail, determined to make it at least as far as the first bridge.

The trail was icy in spots and the wind was convincing us to turn back with every step past the shelter of the trees.  However, as we approached the end of the Canada Goose bridge, we caught sight of the first of four bald eagles hunting in the marsh.

eagle flying over salt marsh

Inspired to plod on, we forced ourselves forward in order to get a closer look.

eagles in the salt marsh

We caught sight of one on the next bridge.  It too was clearly fighting the wind, clinging to the wooden bridge rail with its mighty talons.  We ignored the pelting salt spray but the wind kept thrashing us about.  It became more and more difficult to just hold onto the camera, let alone take a decent photograph of our subject.

eagle on bridge

Despite the difficulty, we were quite elated to have had such a close encounter with such a magnificent creature.  Doing hard things has its rewards.

an eagle eyeing us from the bridge

Before flying off, the eagle looked directly towards us.   Wow.  We headed back, glad that we had dared to venture out into the marsh on such a windy day.

heading back from the salt marsh

Later at Tim Horton’s, I wondered if the bald eagles were having duck or fish as we enjoyed our soup and coffee .

Happy New Year to all!  May you always find the joy in doing hard things in the year ahead.

All photographs and text copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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Gifts of the Crow

It’s easy to take the crows in our midst for granted.  We see them so often that they eventually fade into the scenery.  They’re in the woods, the yard, the salt marsh, on the roads and at the beach.  Yet I’ve seldom been inclined to fix my gaze upon them, let alone take their photograph.  They’ve always just been part of the background.  Until now.

Gifts of the Crow:  How Perception, Emotion and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans opened my eyes to what remarkable creatures crows truly are.

They possess superior language skills, a proneness to delinquency, a capacity for insight, frolic, passion and wrath, risk-taking, and an awareness that’s well beyond what we might imagine.

Even those among us who would suspect crows of being crafty risk takers would still be surprised to learn that they’ve been seen luring unsuspecting animals onto highways so that these can be feasted upon after becoming roadkill.  They can also recognize individual faces, using that information to get an easy meal or avoid people who might harm them.  They’ve even been known to wreak vengeance with their droppings on vehicles.

Crows may look serious in their black garb, but they engage in play for play’s sake just like us.  Innovative, they’ll also employ tools such as sticks and work together to manipulate squirrels and seagulls to get their food for them.

‘Social Junkies,’ solitary birds will even befriend humans and pets for companionship if they have the opportunity.  Since the authors explain crows’ intelligence by pointing to their relatively large brains, could relatively large souls explain their emotional human-like qualities?  So much of their nature is still a mystery.

I wonder if the crow shown at the top of this post left a gift of one of its feathers for me on the bridge.

The authors make the argument that crows have all the qualities to make wonderful pets.   Due to their many gifts, at the very least, they deserve our respect and attention a little more than we’ve been inclined to give them in the past.

GIFTS OF THE CROW:  How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans  by John Marzluff and Tony Angell
Publication Date: June 5, 2012

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maple buds in spring

Canadian maple buds.  Check. 

coltsfoot in bloom

Coltsfoot.  Check.

junco attacking car mirror

Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror.  Check.

chickadee and mourning dove calling from treetops

Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops.  Check.  Check.

crawly creatures under rocks

Creepy crawlies under the garden stones:  Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

Nova Scotia slug

Slug.  Check.

red squirrel defending its territory

Red squirrel defending its territory.  Check.

snowshoe hare in april

Snowshoe hare on the lawn.  Check.

periwinkle or myrtle

The first periwinkle of the season.  Check.

Hope rekindled.  Check.



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downy woodpecker drumming

Whether you’re a professional athlete or a parent just trying to keep an active child safe, concussions are a growing concern these days. Post-concussion problems endured by football players and other brain injury survivors are not new.  However, concussions sustained by local hockey wonderkid Sidney Crosby have brought more attention to the potential danger of head injuries over the past year. 

downy woodpeckerRecently, researchers in China decided to answer a question asked by scientists and birdwatchers around the world:  Why aren’t woodpeckers harmed by their head banging?  They discovered that there were three factors that enabled woodpeckers’ brains to survive intact after repeated blows to their heads:

1.  The top and bottom parts of  a woodpecker’s beak are uneven in length, and the longer bottom beak deflects force away from the bird’s brain on impact.

2.  Unlike us, the woodpecker brain is encased in spongy plate-like bones.  These are arranged unevenly around the brain and leave no space between the brain and skull.

3.  A seatbelt-like hyoid bone connects the beak to the skull where it then surrounds the brain.

woodpecker drumming

Together, these factors ensure that the woodpecker’s brain is affected as little as possible  by the constant impact of head banging. 

Unfortunately, even if these factors were incorporated into the design of sports safety helmets, there is no way to get around the fact that human brains are separated from our skulls by a gap that is non-existent in woodpeckers.   And it’s the motion of the brain within this space that would still remain a factor in potential injuries.

So, unless you’re a woodpecker, the best way to avoid head banging injury to your brain is to not bang it in the first place.

For more information, see Why Do Woodpeckers Resist Head Impact Injury:  A Biomechanical Investigation.

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Canada geese may be just barely visible beneath a cover of marsh mist but their morning talk is unmistakable.  Their communication is not just limited to their signature honk but to a medley of sounds as they wake to another day in another marsh.

According to Ducks Unlimited, Canada geese may be only next to humans in their talkativeness.  Greetings, warnings and contentment are all communicated from the time a gosling is still in its shell.

However, as there are some humans who like to talk more than others, there are probably some geese who are also more talkative than the rest.  I wonder if some geese put their heads underwater to get away from the nagging chatter under the pretext of finding food.

geese talking

Don't even think of flying next to her today!

Considering the amount of effort that goes into planning a trip abroad for a large group, it’s probably the communication skills of geese that allow them to be so successful in their migrations year after year. 

Geese are known to share the responsibilities of leadership, especially in flight.  Also, if a member of the flock is injured, two will stay behind to nurse it back to health, rejoining the larger flock together after it recovers.  Any of these actions would require a great deal of planning and discussion.  No wonder they’re so talkative!

Once the geese have breakfast, make their flight plans and leave, quiet returns to the marsh until the next flock arrives to spend the evening.  

For more information about these beautiful and talkative birds, see Facts on Canada Geese at Ducks Unlimited.

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The sun may be lighting up the sky in a spectacular display of color, but there’s another reason why nobody’s sleeping in this morning.  Some mother’s child is upsetting the peace and quiet of the marsh with incessant whining.  Good grief!

Despite its camouflage plumage and the low light, it’s easy to see from where the annoying whining is originating.  I’ve caught this act before.  It’s not unusual to see immature seagulls pestering adults for food.  It’s an odd sight as some of these juveniles appear just as large as the parent.

The whiner’s mother is of course ignoring it and pretending it’s someone else’s offspring that’s waking up the entire neighborhood.

What’s a parent to do, especially with a child that should be old enough to fend for itself?

‘Feed the brat!!’ the cormorant suggests. But is that really the best solution?

Don’t give in to whining.  Giving in teaches a child that whining is the sort of behaviour and tone of voice that will generate a result.

~  Jo Frost aka Supernanny

Okay, so you don’t give in.  But surely there has to be a way to make it stop.  Late last week I came across the carcass of a juvenile gull along the trail.  Did the eagles take matters into their own hands talons that day?

Who knows?  Unfortunately, what goes on in the marsh stays in the marsh.  The cormorants certainly weren’t disclosing anything on that story.

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