Friday, June 10, 2005

Friday bird, tree, and cat blogging.

Spent part of yesterday walking between two trees at the edges of a what used to be a farm but is now overgrown in mesquite and hackberry trees. One tree had a painted bunting in it, the other an indigo bunting. Painted and indigo buntings are closely related, and, alas for this particular birdwatcher, they have songs that I have never been able to tell apart with certainty. Their songs are to my ear so much alike as to be for practical purposes identical.

Both these birds were easily visible, and were singing from trees maybe a couple of hundred feet apart. They did not fly away as I tramped back and forth. This is unusual. Birds, even small birds, seem to be dislike being watched, unless it is the price of admittance at a birdfeeder. At least that is my experience.

Anyway, I think I finally have it now, in my mind. The painted bunting song is weaker and in some way more melodic, and sometimes begins or ends with sharp chip, but this is not reliable. The indigo bunting song is a little louder and has a trill segment--sometimes--that approaches a buzz. Of course a verbal description is helpful only as a mnemonic in the presence of the actual song.

I took along no recording gear, but variants of both songs can be heard here

These recorded songs are a little different from what I actually was hearing, but close enough. The site is useful for bird songs, by the way, and handier than loading a cd.

The unmistakable invisible sound of yellowbilled cuckoos was all around me. This sound means summer is really here--as if the beads of sweat running down into your eyes is not clue enough. You don't often see the actual cuckoo.

I watched an ash-throated flycatcher catch 3 or 4 insects in the space of a couple of minutes. If it kept it up all day it would become too fat to fly.

My walk was through what looks now like African savannah, but 75 years ago it was farmland, fields of corn and cotton. The savannah look is due to the mesquites, which are secondary to abandoned fields. The original vegetation, before farms, was clumps of trees, hackberries or cedar elms or oaks, surrounded by grassland. Supposedly periodic lightning-caused fires suppressed the growth of a uniform forest.

Since we now do suppress fires, who knows what we will end up with? Maybe, eventually, a forest where once there was mostly grass.

Actually, we may end up with farmland, again, if William James Kunstler's vision of the future comes true. The end of cheap oil and the beginning of hard times. It's hard to say if Kunstler's vision is apocalyptic or utopian--it will be a world in which, to quote Tom Waits's song, you got to git behind the mule and plow.

It the meantime, it was a lovely summer day. The twist-leaf yuccas are flowering.

Yucca flowers
Twist leaf yucca flowers

Savannah-like vegetation
Austin savannah

Gray doing what he does best
Gray sleeping, Grendel in background

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