Showing posts with label birds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label birds. Show all posts

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Woodpecker drops in for sunflower seeds

I’ve often seen this fellow drumming on a wooden pole alongside the tiled box in which I put sunflower seeds for the flock of great tits [mésanges in French] that spend the winter months at Gamone.

He’s a great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopus major) [pic épeiche in French]. A red patch on the nape of his neck identifies this specimen as a male. Today, I discovered for the first time that he’s interested in the sunflower seeds inside the box.

Clearly, he had realized that the box contained good stuff for birds. He inspected the situation closely for a while, to make sure that it would be perfectly feasible to move inside for a feed. At one stage, he even made an aggressive gesture towards a great tit that had dared to fly into the box from an opening on the other side. Needless to say, the tit was no doubt surprised to encounter the large head of a woodpecker gazing into the seed box, and it promptly darted off to safety in a nearby shrub.

Finally, the woodpecker decided to venture into the box, where it stayed (out of sight) for a minute or so. It returned to its familiar wooden pole to break open the shell of a sunflower seed, but I suspect that it had rapidly opened and consumed seeds during its short stay inside the box. All afternoon, the bird returned regularly to the pole and the seed box to take advantage of its newly-discovered source of food.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Big-beaked finch has flown

An adjective that amuses me in the case of wild birds is "sedentary", which evokes a vision of a couple of tiny birds that have just flown in from Africa.

The male bird says to his wife:
"I don't know about you, dear, but I'm exhausted. In any case, I like this place. I got the address from a finch I ran into down in Morocco. He told me it's called Gamone, and the owner provides a regular stock of sunflower seeds. Why don't we settle down here for a while?" 
 And the female bird replies:
"Sure, dear, you're preaching to the choir. You know I've always told you I wouldn't mind leading a sedentary existence, at least for a while, instead of our usual jet-set lifestyle, traveling constantly from one land to another. I'd be happy to just sit around in the sun... as soon as it appears. And I'm sure we'd have more opportunities to spend time with the kids."

It's time that I got around to naming correctly the beautiful bird that stopped here at Gamone for a week or so. I used to referred to it disrespectfully, here, as the "Galapagos guy". That was a silly nickname, because everybody knows that the passerine birds studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos were not in fact real finches.

My ex-wife (and constant friend) Christine Mafart succeeded rapidly (I don't know how) in identifying my big-beaked visitor. He was a Hawfinch [Coccothraustes coccothraustes, known in French as a Gros-bec casse-noyaux]. I use the past tense "was" because I think my bird has finally flown, after a brief stay at Gamone. I'm left with a set of splendid images of this exotic big-beaked creature, while hoping that he'll retain my address for a visit next winter.

This morning, I found another family of finches hanging around in the same area.

These dark little birds don't match the majestic beauty of my glorious pink-legged big-beaked Hawfinch... who liked to tap on my bedroom window, imagining his mirror reflection as an alien bird. I hope he'll be back here at Gamone in a year's time.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Galapagos guy

The bird I've nicknamed the "Galapagos guy" is a finch that I presented in a blog post on the eve of Darwin Day [display]. He seems to like the general atmosphere at Gamone, which wet and snowy these days.

In any case, he has moved in here permanently. He never enters the wooden bird house where I put sunflower seeds for the yellow-and-black tits. The Galapagos guy dines outdoors at all times, in all kinds of weather.

Besides, he seems to prefer to dine alone, and gets upset whenever a tit dares to join him for dinner.

He tried for a while to use aggressive body language to scare away intruders. But thankfully, at this level, he appears to be evolving towards a certain degree of sociability.

I often wonder whether, deep in the mind of each tiny creature, they realize that they're all members of the bird family. Probably not. After all, they are a still a lot of people who refuse to admit that we humans are all members of a single family.

Please excuse the poor quality of my bird photos. There's simply not enough light at Gamone these days, and I'm trying to take photos through the double thickness of glass in my bedroom windows. Incidentally, the birds don't seem to notice my presence behind the window glass, provided I don't move. Even Fitzroy likes to spend long moments there, observing calmly the birds. As for the Galapagos guy, he apparently notices his own mirror reflection at times, and he starts to peck furiously on the glass, trying to chase himself away.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Finch drops in for sunflower seeds

In this poor-quality photo—taken yesterday through the smudgy glass of my bedroom window on an overcast afternoon—the little creamy-hued tit seems to be awed by the massive beak of the finch.

The visitor loitered on the edge of the clay pot for about five minutes, during which time no tit dared to dive in for a sunflower seed.

I don't see many finches at Gamone. Rare visitors impress me and obtain my respect (I'm as awed as a tit) in the sense that I've always imagined finches as co-inventors, in the company of Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, of the principle of evolution.

Clearly, if this solitary finch happened to go out of its way to visit an evolutionary enthusiast at Gamone, I would imagine that the bird was aware of the approach of Darwin Day [display], which falls tomorrow, on 12 February.

[I'm aware that Darwin's so-called "finches" were not in fact common chaffinches of the Gamone variety.]

To celebrate Darwin Day, I urge you to visit the WWF website [access] and sign a petition aimed at "killing the trade that kills the elephant".

BREAKING NEWS (announced an hour ago)
Miracle on the eve of Darwin Day: Benny 16 resigns!
Darwinians of the world, let us unite and launch a lobby designed to spread a great idea: namely, that nobody should ever replace a pope who has resigned.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Online New York hawks

Like thousands of other bird-lovers throughout the world, I've been spending a lot of time, over the last few days, watching the couple of red-tailed hawks—named Ezra (male) and Big Red (female)—who are nesting on top of a metal pole (for stadium lighting) at Cornell University in Ithaca.

Click here to see the amazing live-video streaming organized by university ornithologists. For the moment, there are two healthy chicks, and a third one is due tomorrow.

Alongside the video, there's a dense and often interesting chat, whose tone and contents gravitate between expert hawk talk (including references to the fabulous ancient art of falconry) and dumb American trivialities ("Oh, they must be cold up there in the wind", "What are the names of the babies?", "Cornell University must get around to marketing T-shirts and coffee mugs with pictures of the hawks", etc).

For newcomers to the nesting behavior of hawks (such as myself), the video is highly didactic. You learn lots of things that can't be grasped by simply observing, say, a clucky hen on its nest. But most of all, I've discovered extraordinary aspects of the great struggle for survival in the wild (if we can be forgiven for suggesting that New York City is "in the wild"). For example, a few nights ago, the female hawk was spread out above her three eggs in a pile of snow that covered completely the twigs of the nest. The expert individuals moderating the chat explained that the female hawk had moved into what they referred to as "survival mode". That's to say, the bird "had realized that the situation was dramatic" (my inverted commas indicate that the hawk was not really engaged in conscious problem-solving cogitations) and that she needed to remain perfectly calm for as long as possible, so that the totality of her animal energy could be transferred to the precious eggs. And it was only when the snow started to melt a little around her warm feathers that she dared to adjust her position, and finally consume some food (pigeon meat) brought to her by her male companion.

Human onlookers of such a situation are constantly frustrated by their impossible desire to intervene, in the hope of making things easier for the hawks and their future progeny. We have difficulty in realizing that birds have been playing this aerial procreation game ever since they ceased being dinosaurs, and that they've had ample time to learn all the basic tricks. So, we must resist the temptation to offer them advice or assistance.

On the other hand, I believe I'm doing the right thing when I give the tiny wild birds of Gamone a helping hand in winter by providing them with a constant supply of sunflower seeds. Incidentally, I notice that the Common Tits (mésanges) have got around, once again, to using the nesting box that I built a few years ago. Click here and here to see that story. During their nesting season, it would be unthinkable of me to attempt to climb up and take a peek at what's happening inside that nesting box. But I came upon a nice photo that no doubt provides us with a good idea of the present atmosphere inside that box.

Click here to read the interesting BBC article that provided this photo.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Fabulous image. From the Guardian's Week in Wildlife, photo by Mircea Costina in Dobrogea, Romania [click to enlarge]:

Perched high in the air, in the middle of the day, this small owl is no doubt planning to hang around discreetly until it sights a prey.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New unidentified birds at Gamone

Yesterday, a new group of tiny colorful birds arrived at Gamone. The following poor-quality photo (with my telephoto lens, there's not enough depth of field) gives you an idea of the bird's appearance:

Instead of darting into the bird house and flying out with sunflower seeds in their beaks, like the mésanges [tits], these newcomers simply hang around as a group on the roof of the bird house, and dine calmly on the seeds I placed there.

Meanwhile, on the ground, where I've also spread several kinds of seeds, finches chase each other around, as if there weren't enough seeds to go around. The little creatures give the impression, viewed from my bedroom window, that they're competing aggressively in some kind of rough soccer match.

For the moment, I haven't been able to identify these new visitors.

BREAKING NEWS: Christine just phoned to inform me that these birds are European goldfinches [chardonnerets in French].

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dear old birdman

Something has changed in the eating habits of my winter colony of mésanges [Great Tits]. Up until now, there hasn't been much snow at Gamone, and it hasn't even been really cold yet. So, normally, the tiny birds should be able to move around easily and find food. Instead of that, they've got into the habit of lining up to enter the bird house, for sunflower seeds, or pecking at the suspended cages of fatty stuff.

Their food consumption has increased to such an extent that I decided to purchase a 15 kg bag of seeds.

It's not as if the tiny creatures scoop up mouthfuls of sunflower seeds. On the contrary, a bird picks up a single seed, then it flies up into the linden tree, a fruit tree, or maybe the dense branches of my rose pergola, where it thrashes the seed patiently, for anything up to a minute, in order to remove the husk and get at its tasty interior. A visitor to Gamone might well wonder what has caused my small pear and plum trees to be surrounded by pale husks. As soon as it has finished its seed, the bird darts back immediately to the store to obtain another seed.

I would imagine that there's a good reason for this eating surge. Many of the birds that are visiting Gamone at present were probably born here either last year or the year before, following the installation of my custom-built nesting house.

When I used to watch a couple of birds flitting around to feed and guard their precious progeny, hidden inside the box, I used to say to myself that it was a pity that these native creatures of Gamone would simply disappear in the middle of spring, without my ever actually seeing them. Well, I'm now convinced that I'm seeing and feeding these birds today. And I'm happy to find that they have healthy appetites. As the lady at the agricultural cooperative said to me: "The birds know when they've found a good address."

I decided to purchase a couple of dense cylinders of bird food made in the USA.

The one in the photo is composed of a mixture of dried fruit and crushed earthworms. Sounds delicious.

When I told the lady at the agricultural cooperative about the appetite of my birds, she looked at me with a kind expression, as if she were listening to the innocent complaints of a dear old birdman, and said: "Ah, I'm sure they keep you occupied." And she asked me if I needed help to carry the 15-kg bag of seeds out to my car. I said: "No, I think I can handle it." Then I asked myself in horror: "Jeez, am I really starting to look like a decrepit old birdman, who has nothing better to do than complain about the fact that the birds are eating him out of house and home?"

I guess so. I was wearing a round woollen bonnet pulled down over my forehead, which makes the best of men look stupid. And I've got into the habit of wearing a recently-purchased snow parka, which is ideal at this time of the year, but which has the disadvantage of making me look like a plump aging Eskimo. (And I haven't even got around yet to donning the fabulous black rabbit-fur chapka that I purchased recently, made in Russia or China, which would only makes sense if Gamone were to be hit by freezing temperatures or a snow blizzard.) But I won't squabble about the impressions of people who see me. Yes, I've become an aging birdman from the slopes of the Vercors. In fact, I had got around to thinking of myself essentially as a dogman. Maybe I'm both...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sky droppings

The French Libération website has published an amusing story about mysterious stuff that has been falling from the sky onto the village of Saint-Pandelon, down in the south-west corner of France, near Dax. The mysterious substance, rapidly identified as some kind of excrement, has been falling onto automobiles and rooftops, and polluting local parks and gardens. For a moment, some people suggested that this disgusting stuff might have fallen from airliners… in much the same way that human excrement used to be dropped between the rails from trains. Aircraft experts were obliged to point out that this is not the way that WCs function inside a giant pressurized fuselage, where pressing the button alongside the toilets does not create a momentary orifice in the plane's skin. (On the contrary, shit completes the voyage to the aircraft's destination... along with the crew, the passengers and their luggage.) The culprits, above this French village of 750 inhabitants, were flocks of swifts.

I often see the Alpine variety of this bird in the skies of Gamone. People mistake them for swallows, but swifts are much bigger than ordinary farmyard swallows, and more sophisticated from an aeronautical point of view. Unlike swallows, they remain almost permanently in the air, where they feed on insects. Besides, if a swift were to land on the ground, its large wings are so heavy that the bird might not be able to take off again.

I've always been fascinated by the symbol of this perpetually airborne creature. Heavenly clouds end up coming down to the ground in the form of rain, and even the wind makes contact with us when it ruffles our hair. But the only messages sent to the surface of the Earth by swifts are little balls of shit. Next spring, I'm convinced that the parks and gardens of Saint-Pandelon will be graced with exotic wildflowers of an angelic splendor.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Franco-British leave

When somebody disappears abruptly, we say in English that he has "taken French leave". In a similar situation, the French would say that he has "left in an English manner". (There's another amusing example of Franco-British passing the buck. The contraceptive device known in Britain as a "French letter" is designated by the French as an "English overcoat".) So, I'll split the difference and say that my family of mésanges (common tits) has taken Franco-British leave of Gamone.

I had imagined confusedly that the parents, on the eve of their departure for Africa (or wherever they plan to spend summer), would drop in on me for a moment to show me the babies, bid me au revoir (see you next winter), and maybe even thank me for my hospitality. But no, they simply packed up their stuff (maybe during the early hours of the morning) and disappeared, without a chirp. Maybe the family of mésanges will return here next winter, with scores of others, but I'm not sure I'll recognize them. I've never been good at remembering faces. Besides, they'll all have a suntanned look after spending the summer months outdoors in a place like Africa or Arabia.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Birds have moved in

In my article of 26 February 2010 entitled Building for the birds [display], I described my construction of a nesting box for mésanges (common tits).

A couple of weeks ago, when my ex-neighbor Bob caught sight of this object attached to a thick branch of one of my linden trees, he immediately started to make fun of it, claiming that no self-respecting bird would ever decide to build a nest in such an artificial contraption. Bob was particularly troubled by the small interior balcony, saying that the parents would be afraid that their babies would climb through the hole and fall to their death. I tried to convince him that experts point out that this kind of balcony is a luxury that is greatly appreciated by the birds when they enter or leave the box. Apparently it gives them a place to rest for a second or so while they're summing up the situation and deciding what to do next.

Over the last couple of days, I've noticed that a male mésange has been flitting around the box in a regular pattern, as if he were standing guard over it. He can be seen in the background of the above photo. This afternoon, I finally discovered that he was periodically entering and leaving the box.

In the above photo, he is clinging to the edge of the circular hole and taking a rapid look inside to make sure that everything's OK. (The green haze in these photos is caused by out-of-focus leaves on branches moving in the breeze.) I imagine that, down at the bottom of the box, his female companion is already nesting.

Bob was finally interested to see that a couple of birds have accepted this abode. I explained to him that I had deliberately installed the box at a certain distance from the branch in order to prevent small rodents from trying to enter the bird house and eat the eggs.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bird stories

Sometimes, it's hard to decide whether certain bird stories are genuine. David Attenborough presents the amazing lyre bird, which mimics the calls of other birds in this video clip from The Life of Birds.

I'm inclined to ask whether the bits about imitating camera shutters, car alarms and chainsaws are indeed authentic.

A week or so ago, on French TV, I saw a documentary about a splendid partridge that was totally and amazingly bonded to a friendly fellow living out in the French countryside. The commentator told us that this fellow had walked outside one morning and come upon a stray partridge, which promptly ran towards him... and then never wanted to leave him. The images were indeed spectacular. The partridge would even go boating with the fellow on his private carp pond. But there was a moment of doubt when I learned that the fellow actually reared all kinds of exotic fowls as a hobby. It soon dawned on me that, clearly, this fellow had arranged things so that he would be the first being to be seen by a newly-hatched partridge, who would be bonded to him in a well-known fashion.

I was furious to think that this renowned French TV series would have joined up with the partridge fellow in an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of spectators, with their ridiculous tale of a kind of mysterious love affair between a partridge and a human being. I feel like saying: "Go tell that to the birds!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feeding the snow birds

During the night, there was a heavy fall of snow at Gamone. As soon as the sun rose, in a misty sky, groups of small birds started to drop in on the seed supply that I maintain beneath my bedroom window.

There are three categories of visitors. The balls of fat attract tits of the variety designated as charbonnière (coalman), because the males have a black apron on their breast that brings to mind the appearance of the men who used to deliver bags of charcoal for heating. Other tits aim directly for the heap of black sunflower seeds inside the bird-house. Meanwhile, finches prefer to scratch around on the snowy ground beneath the bird-house.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Latest avian construction

Alongside my bird-house, I've just erected a bird-post, designed to carry three balls of fat and seeds at a height that Sophia cannot attain.

Both the bird-house and the bird-pole are both becoming popular places for mésanges [tits].

Now, if you want to see what my compatriots think of the perfectly normal English term tit, to designate birds of the Paridae family, use Google with the words "Australia tits".

Last night, there was a small New Year ceremony at the town hall of Choranche, which enabled residents to obtain the latest news about the risks of rocks rolling down from Mount Baret. I asked Bernard Pérazio, the locally-elected regional councilor, whether a project for a tunnel beneath the Trois Châteaux promontory above Pont-en-Royans was a purely science-fiction affair. First, he informed me (surprisingly, needless to say) that his only recollection of such a project was a vague line that somebody had once traced on a local map, which he had seen furtively many years ago. In other words, our man in charge of all past, present and future civil-engineering projects in the region was apparently unaware that such a project might be feasible. Nevertheless, he answered me precisely: "William, from a technical viewpoint, the project you evoke is not at all science fiction. But it soon becomes science fiction... from a financial viewpoint." Fair enough. That was better than hearing him say that I didn't know what I was talking about. I ventured a comment concerning the current situation: "Bernard, if we had a short tunnel from the other side of Pont-en-Royans through to Choranche, the current problem due to rocks rolling down from the summit of Baret would not bother anybody." Bernard's instantaneous reaction proves that he's totally obsessed by the threat of falling rocks. "We would soon have rocks rolling down from the Trois Châteaux onto automobiles emerging from your tunnel." I didn't bother trying to get into any further discussion with Bernard, who's obviously in a constant state of anguish A few minutes earlier on, he had admitted, in front of us all: "Whenever my phone rings during the night, I'm always afraid that it's somebody who's about to inform me of yet another rockfall."

At the end of the speeches, we all gut stuck into delicious traditional Epiphany tarts, made with ground almonds. They were accompanied by sparkling white wine [called Clairette] from the town of Die [pronounced dee], down on the edge of the Provençal Drôme region. I was amused to find that Monica, the ex-wife of a former mayor of Choranche, was running around collecting all the crumbs from the Epiphany tarts. "It's for my mésanges. Throughout winter, I have to feed about fifty of them in my garden." I was almost jealous, but I didn't say so. At Gamone, at any one time, I never have more than half-a-dozen mésanges in my garden. The difference, I think, is that Monica's garden lies just alongside the River Bourne, with dense woods on the far side. So, it's an attractive setting for tiny winged visitors... including bats, apparently. Maybe, though, I might look into the idea of baking Epiphany tarts for my bird-house.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Supply store raided

After being informed by Tineke and Serge that their wild birds seem to prefer a straight diet of sunflower seeds (rather than the mixture of many seed varieties sold in supermarkets), I adopted that solution for my bird house.

Inside, there's an ample stock of sunflower seeds, while balls of fat and seeds hang on nails around the perimeter of the structure. For the birds, it has become a popular supply store. Funnily, visitors often tend to wait their turn to enter the store. When a rapid flyover detects the presence of an unidentified bird inside the store, a new visitor often perches in the branches of the little tree seen in the lower lefthand corner of the photo. The store has front and rear doors. So, as soon as a bird leaves from one door, another bird enters through the other door.

Early last night, in the darkness, an unexpected intruder raided the birds' store, consuming two balls of fat and seeds. Fortunately, I was able to identify the raider as she was strolling back towards her warm wicker basket in the kitchen, grasping a third ball in her snout, in anticipation of a late-evening supper.

It remains a mystery whether Sophia actually ate the seeds along with the tasty (unidentified) fat, or whether she spat them out, one by one. In any case, my rose pergola has also become a popular meeting-place for birds. So, that would be an ideal dog-proof place to suspend a new stock of balls.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bali bird flu

Last year in February, a Sydney-based think tank named the Lowy Institute succeeded in scaring shit out of everybody by announcing the theoretical worst-case scenario of a bird-flu pandemic capable of taking 142 million lives. [Click here or on the image to display the CNN article.]

At that time, we Europeans shuddered most, because the mortal H5N1 virus had been detected here in migrating wild fowl. French authorities reacted to this threat in a draconian fashion by outlawing outdoor chicken yards. Meanwhile, people feared that the celebrated recipe of Poule au pot farcie Henri IV might soon become a thing of the past, like roast pheasant. [Click here to display the recipe in French.]

Today, alas, the action has shifted to Australia's playground: the tiny Indonesian island of Bali. Now, I hasten to add that I've never set foot in Bali, and have no immediate plans to go there. Besides, I've never understood what draws young Australian tourists to this place. Wouldn't it be a relatively simple affair, for filthy-rich developers, to create an exotic but safe Bali-like atmosphere in delightful local places such as Bondi or Byron Bay? Or even Yamba or Woolgoolga?

Judging from this morning's press, there's no panic yet in Australia. At the moment I'm writing, Australian health and tourism authorities don't seem to have issued any directives concerning Australian citizens who are already holidaying in Bali, or those who might be preparing to go there. Is this absence of official declarations an indication of calm and clear thinking, or rather a sign of negligence?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Alpine Swifts

I've just been admiring the aerial ballet of a flock of Alpine Swifts above the oak trees on the ridge up behind my house. They're darting and diving incessantly, to capture edible insects. These elegant birds, which reappear once or twice a year for short spells at Gamone, have always fascinated me, because ornithologists claim that they simply never alight anywhere on the surface of our planet during their entire existence. I've always found that story hard to believe... like the tale of the 5th-century Syrian ascetic Simeon Stylites who is said to have resided permanently on top of a stone column. What I mean to say is: How could ornithologists possibly keep track of individual swifts, day and night, to make sure that they never land anywhere? That would be even more difficult, to my mind, than parents trying to keep track of the nightly movements of their teenage offspring.