I hate snow, but our cats love it. It’s great for bird watching. We got about a foot of snow today in the Kansas City area, and the forecast calls for more. The crowds at the bird feeder were huge today. I saw five pairs of cardinals, black-capped chickadees, blue jays, doves, nuthatches, a red-bellied woodpeckers and some birds I didn’t recognize. Click on the photos for a better view.
Tag Archives: Birds
I saw only one ostrich when I took this photograph near the Cape of Good Hope on the Cape Peninsula of South Africa in January 2013. The ostrich is the largest bird in the world. How did I miss the other ones when I was taking the photo? Maybe because I ran back to the car as soon as I clicked the shutter a few times! Do you see the beak on that bird in front? He looks mad! (My companions took photos, too. I wonder how many ostriches were in their photos.)
I knew not to get close to this irascible bird. I was nearly pecked in the face by an ostrich in a zoo. He came to the fence where I stood. He looked me in the eye and then attacked. (He had big, beautiful brown eyes.) Thankfully, the fence stopped him from making contact with my face.
The ostriches in my photo were well disguised while sitting in the fynbos (fine bush) vegetation, which includes proteas, heath and reeds. The Cape of Good Hope is part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, which includes 1,100 species of indigenous plants, many of which only occur naturally in the Cape area. There is also a lot of wildlife in the area, including baboons and antelope. Several species of whales can be spotted offshore, although we had missed the season, which is June to November.
Before visiting the Cape, I didn’t know much more about the area than the names of some European explorers, such as Bartholomeu Dias, who first rounded the Cape in 1488. The Cape of Good Hope marks the point where a ship from Europe, following the western African coastline, begins to travel more eastward than southward. Portugal’s King John II named this area “Cape of Good Hope.” Bartholomeu Dias first named it the “Cape of Storms” in 1488 (it is very windy here). In 1580 Sir Francis Drake who called it the “The Fairest Cape in all the World.”
The Cape Peninsula is a fascinating place. Cape of Good Hope.
Check this out! Panoramic View of the Cape of Good Hope
Years ago in a biology class, I learned about the Indian Mongoose’s introduction to Hawaii (in 1883) as a predator to kill the rats that were thriving in sugar cane fields. Well, like so many ideas like this, it was a disaster (rabbits to Australia, for example…) The mongooses ate the native birds and their eggs instead.
I’d forgotten about the mongoose until I recently saw one dashing across the road on the Big Island of Hawaii, where they are pests. As it dashed, it looked like a small ferret. Every so often, my husband and I would see another one running like mad across the road. I was never fast enough with my camera. Finally, I did get a few blurry photographs of a mongoose that seemed to live in the bushes of someone’s yard outside of a botanical garden. When it stands, it looks like a meerkat, which is one of its relatives.
From wikipedia: The 1800s were a huge century for sugar cane, and plantations shot up on many tropical islands including Hawai’i and Jamaica. With sugar cane came rats, attracted to the sweet plant, which ended up causing crop destruction and loss. Attempts were made to introduce the species in Trinidad in 1870 but this failed. A subsequent trial with four males and five females from Calcutta however established in Jamaica in 1872. A paper published by W. B. Espeut that praised the results intrigued Hawaiian plantation owners who, in 1883, brought 72 mongooses from Jamaica to the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island. These were raised and their offspring were shipped to plantations on other islands. Populations that have been introduced to these islands show larger sizes than in their native ranges. They also show genetic diversification due to drift and population isolation.
Only the islands of Lana’i and Kaua’i are (thought to be) free of mongooses. There are two conflicting stories of why Kaua’i was spared. The first is that the residents of Kaua’i were opposed to having the animals on the island and when the ship carrying the offspring reached Kaua’i, the animals were thrown overboard and drowned. A second story tells that on arriving on Kaua’i one of the mongooses bit a dockworker who, in a fit of anger, threw the caged animals into the harbor to drown.
The mongoose introduction did not have the desired effect of rat control. The mongoose hunted birds and bird eggs, threatening many local island species. The mongooses bred prolifically with males becoming sexually mature at 4 months and females producing litters of 2-5 pups a year.
If that isn’t bad enough, Mongooses can carry the infectious bacterial disease Leptospirosis.
A red-bellied woodpecker in our background.
In my post on January 8, I spoke too soon about enjoying a snow-free winter. A few days later, more than seven inches fell, and it’s not likely to melt any time soon in the below-freezing temperatures forecast to last for a week.
The birds are very active at our bird feeder now that their food sources are covered with snow, so I get lots of great photo opportunities. The red-bellied woodpecker is among many species of birds taking a turn getting seeds from our feeder. The red-bellied woodpecker eats insects, fruits, nuts and seeds. We’re lucky that we live in a forested area, so that we can catch a glimpse of these colorful woodpeckers, which depend on large trees for nesting.
I love bird houses. I don’t know how practical some of these are or whether birds actually live in them, but they certainly are cute. After seeing these, I’m inspired to build my own. I’m not very handy with a saw and a hammer, so maybe I’ll grow a bird house gourd.
The green bird house hangs on the front porch of my friend Jan. Plenty of birds nest in her yard, building their own homes. Some of the homes are pretty flimsy, like the piles of sticks put together by the doves, she says. Parrots roost in her fig trees.
The church birdhouse stands on the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano. The rows of birdhouses sitting on the white patio beams are on a home on Catalina Island.
My favorite parrots are in the news again! A Kea parrot has stolen a passport from a tourist visiting New Zealand. ( See the story below.) The Keas hang out at a tunnel that everyone must pass through to get to Milford Sound. Everyone stops there, because it’s a one-lane tunnel. The keas are probably part of an international passport theft ring. At the bottom is a link to a post I wrote about keas, which includes some great videos (which I didn’t take).
An Associated Press story, May 28, 2009.
– Polly wants a passport — and isn’t above stealing one.
A brazen parrot, which spotted a Scottish man’s passport in a colored bag in the luggage compartment under a tour bus, nabbed the document and made off into dense bush with it, the Southland Times newspaper reported Friday.
The bird — a parrot of the Kea variety — made its move while the bus was stopped along the highway to Milford Sound on South Island, and the driver was looking through the compartment. Milford Sound, which runs inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer rock face, is part of Fiordland National Park, a and major travel destination.
Police told the newspaper the passport has not been recovered and is unlikely to be located in the vast Fiordland rain forest.
“My passport is somewhere out there in Fiordland. The Kea’s probably using it for fraudulent claims or something,” the passport owner, who did not want to be named, told the newspaper.
A replacement passport from the British High Commission in could take six weeks and cost up to $250.
“I’ll never look at a Kea in the same way,” the man was quoted saying.
Kea, the world’s only snow line-dwelling parrot, are widely known as inquisitive birds who appear to take delight in attacking rubber items like windshield wiper blades.
Native to New Zealand, the birds are found only in or near South Island mountains, where they live in high-altitude beech forest and open sub-alpine herb fields that stretch up into the snow line.
Covered mainly in brown and green feathers, they have large flashes of bright orange feathers under their wings.
IMAGINE THIS SCENE: A man and a woman are watching ”Country Calendar” on the television in their house on a lonely sheep station near Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand. The woman gets up from the couch to get some tea. She hears a fainting tapping on the front door.
“John,” she calls out, a little alarmed. “There’s someone here.”
She peers through the door’s sidelight window and sees a bloody hand smearing the glass. “Oh, my God, John.”
John rushes to the front hall. “What is it?”
“A man. He’s hurt. He needs help.”
John looks through the window. “Jill don’t open the door.” He gets a cricket bat from a closet. He motions to his wife to get back as he opens the door.
The stranger struggles to stand on the porch. “They took it,” he snuffles miserably. He weakly lifts his arm. His shirt cuff is shredded.
“What did they take?”
“My Rolex,” he cries, collapsing on the porch. ”My wife. Oh, my God, my wife. They took her jewelry. Her gold earrings. She’ll die without those. We didn’t have insurance.”
“Who did this?” John walks out onto the porch to help the man to his feet.
“They’re coming. Don’t let them in.” The stranger puts his hands over his head, whimpering. “I saved for months for that watch. It was so cooool. Now it’s gone…….It isn’t right. They don’t even need to tell time.”
An eerie sound pierces the air. ”Keaaah! Keaaah!” Seemingly out of nowhere, a flock of green birds swoops in, a flash of red under their wings as they dive toward the open door.
“John, John!” Jill yells, terrified. John starts flailing at the birds.
A few birds swoop toward Jill. She barely gets the door closed in time. The birds flap at the window for a few moments, and then they disappear. John and Jill help the stranger to a chair. “It’s too late,” the stranger says. “You can’t escape them. They won’t stop until they get it all.”
“You’re safe now,” Jill soothes, heading toward the kitchen. “I’ll get some tea.”
The two men hear a noise, something rustling. Wings. Screeching. They hear Jill scream, “Oh, my God, the kitchen window is open!”
“Cut,” the director calls out. The actors are relieved. Those Kea really play their parts well. (It’s all acting, folks! Keas do like shiny objects, though.)
The birds retreat to their perches, where they get the star treatment they deserve — plenty of mango, figs and even spoonsful of honey.
Wouldn’t this be a great scene for the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” ? A new version of “The Birds” is in the works and scheduled for release in 2011, maybe in 3-D, with Naomi Watts and George Clooney. The Kea parrots of New Zealand would be the perfect birds to star with A-listers in the dramatically beautiful country of New Zealand. Super producer Michael Bay, are you listening!
A flock of these cheeky, brilliant, mischievous and curious parrots could almost take over the world, if they wanted to. They work well in teams to solve puzzles. (See videos below.)
Keas are clownishly adorable and pose no real threat to humans. Fortunately, Keas are more likely to run off with your sandwich, snatch a gold earring or rip the rubber edging from your car. There are so few Keas now — 1,000 to 5,000 — they are in serious danger of disappearing altogether. They’d have to be replicated by computer generated images to produce enough Kea parrots to create a menancing flock. There were tens of thousands of them as recently as forty years ago. They were named Kea by the Maori for the “Keaa!” cries they make.
Their numbers have fallen drastically for a number of reasons, including a bounty that was once placed on them because they do take a bite out of livestock now and then. They also killed by poison set out to kill possums. Keas, now protected, are an endangered bird on the South Island of New Zealand, the only place in the world where they naturally occur. They live in the harsh conditions of the New Zealand Alps, eating a wide range of food from fruit and seeds to other birds and carrion.
New Zealand’s spectacular scenery, already featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, would be a perfect location for this new version of “The Birds”. Naomi Watts is rumored to be in “talks” to take the role originally played by Tippi Hedren in the Alfred Hitchcock version of the Daphne Du Maurier short story, originally set in Cornwall. Watts has already starred in King Kong in New Zealand under LOTR director Peter Jackson, so she’s familiar with the terrain. And who wouldn’t want to visit New Zealand again?
- Kea Conservation Trust, information about the Kea Parrot.
- About the Kea parrot.
- On a related topic, Kiwibloke talks about the Kakapo parrot, the world’s only flightless parrot.
The third video is one I took at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A friend’s recent soggy — and fruitless – quest to see a Resplendent Quetzal in Panama reminded me of my own rained-out effort two years ago in Honduras.
My husband and I went with our long-time friends Michael and Anita, who know their birds. Even their son when he was three could fire off the names of all of the birds in Florida, not just pelicans and flamingos but anahingas, wood storks and roseate spoonbills and other (probably less flashy) birds I don’t even remember. I’m a haphazard birder with no particular bird identification skill, no life list, no great spotting ability and a weakness for seeking out flashy birds. Still, I love to watch any kind of bird. It’s calming.
On our quetzal quest, Michael, Anita, my husband and I stayed overnight at an inn and brewpub near Lago de Yojoa, Hondura’s largest natural lake, which lies in a depression formed by ancient volcanoes. Bird-watchers flock to the area around the lake, which is home to more than 375 species of birds. We planned to hike up the Santa Barbara mountainside with a guide to look for the gorgeous Resplendent Quetzal.
The sky was overcast. We asked the innkeeper/brew pub owner about the weather forecast. He laughed. “Can you see the top of Santa Barbara?”
“That means rain.” The innkeeper, kind of a gruff guy originally from Oregon, was an old hand at lowering expectations. It rains a lot at Lago de Yojoa. This innkeeper had the right idea when he started brewing beer for his rain-captive guests.
We crossed our fingers. Maybe there would be only a sprinkle?
Soon it did start sprinkling. Not so bad at first, but then the downpour came. It rained as we ate our dinner of tilapia from the lake and drank the inn’s beer (four kinds!) The rain pounded all night on the tin roof of our cabin, and it was still raining in the morning. No hike for us. The closest we were going to get to a bird was the incessant clacking of toucans in the forest around us. We never saw so much as a single beak from one of those 375 species of birds!
We dashed to the covered patio, where the meals were served. Rain blew in. The innkeeper appeared as we were eating blueberry pancakes. The blueberries were from a farm down the road, he told us. The pancakes were delicious, but they couldn’t distract us from the dismal scene and the disappointment.
“Hey, I want to show you something,” the innkeeper said, beckoning us to a little shed up the hill. He was dressed in coveralls and ready to head off to his day job of digging septic tanks and swimming pools.
We squeezed into the tiny building, where the innkeeper showed us the artifacts from the ancientthat he’d found while digging trenches and holes. One by one, he removed treasures from a glass case. He trilled on a 2,000-year-old pottery whistle shaped like a macaw, let us handle a large jade ax blade and showed us brightly painted pottery.
Most magnificent was a finely polished concave slab of dark marble with a rolling pin.
“Do you know what this?” he asked.
“Does it crush corn?” someone answered.
“It’s a paper maker,” he said. He explained that the marble roller squeezed and flattened tree bark pulp on the slab’s calibrated surface.
He pushed the roller. It smoothly rocked over the slab like a perpetual motion machine. A hair, plucked from my head, was placed on the slab. The roller shuddered a little as it passed over my hair. Soon the strand was flattened to a white powder.
“You can see how the Lenca made really fine paper this way,” the man said.
It was such a magnificent and stunning object that I forgot for a moment about our dashed and splashed plans to see a quetzal or any other birds. What amazing people these Lenca were.
As we packed up the car to leave, the sun came out, and now we were heading to our next destination, the spectacular Mayan ruins at Copan. (Scarlet Macaws there.) Despite coming up short in quetzal viewing, I was glad we’d come to the lake.
Anita and Michael, who lived in Honduras at that time, decided to return the following year to Lake de Yajoa in search of quetzals again. They arrived in sunshine and hoped they’d have better luck this time.
They had just visited the impressive Pulhapanzak Falls waterfall there (which we missed on our trip), when it started to rain. This time they had chosen a hotel that looked out onto the lake. The hotel’s big veranda was a pleasant place to watch the rain, but rain wasn’t what they’d come to see.
“The rest of the evening it poured, much like the last time we were here,” she said. Prospects didn’t look good.
Fortunately, the next day was beautiful with the sun out in full force.
“We went with this eccentric British tour guide named Malcolm, with a long grey beard and hair who spent half his life in India pursuing Buddhism,” Anita said. He promised us a four-hour hike, which was really eight hours over very rugged, muddy slippery terrain. The terrain was steep, and we were often using horse trails. Coming down was almost worse than going up. We all came back covered in mud. I guess that kept the mosquitoes down.
“We saw an interesting type of toucan and a few other song birds, but there wasn’t a quetzal in sight,” Anita wrote. “The guide kept saying he just saw quetzals two weeks ago.”
Two weeks ago? I’m beginning to think that this quetzal is as mythical as the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent.
Anita decided she’d probably never return. Sadly, I probably won’t return to a Central American rain forest to see the Resplendent Quetzal, either. Can I still brag about getting this close?
P.S. By the way, the friend Mary who missed seeing the Respendent Quetzal in Panama did see some other great birds, such as the oropendola, which make nests that look like airport wind socks. Dozens of the nests hang in a single tree.
Kookaburra Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra
Gay your life must be
Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Eating all the gumdrops he can see
Stop Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra
Leave some gums for me
Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Counting all the monkeys he can see
Stop Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra
That’s no monkey, that’s ME!!!
At Girl Scout camp in Kansas, we roasted marshmallows and sang about the Kookaburra. I had no idea what a kookaburra was. And a gum tree? What was that? Was it spearmint, doublemint or Juicy Fruit?
Finally, I got to Australia and met this large laughing bird, which sits high in eucalyptus (gum) trees on the lookout for snakes, lizards and baby birds (ugh). It’s also called the “Laughing Jackass.” It gets to be about 17 inches long and will smash its food, whether a snake or a baby bird, against a rock to break its bones to make the prey easier to swallow. The kookaburra is an essential part of the Australian ecosystem, especially when it eats those very poisonous Aussie snakes. The bird at work, though, doesn’t paint a lovely lyrical picture for me.
The song was written by an Australian woman, but kookaburras don’t eat gum drops or any seeds, and there aren’t any monkeys in Australia, except in zoos. What kind of a song is that to teach to children!
You won’t see the kookaburra at the bird feeder with the cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets and the rosellas, but it might swoop into an Aussie backyard (or “garden”) for some barbecue.
In Sydney at the house of friends who lived in a wooded area, we awoke at daybreak every morning to a chorus of kookaburras, otherwise known as the bushman’s alarm clock.
Half asleep, I dreamed I was on the jungle ride at Disney World. The kookaburra’s laugh is the iconic jungle sound on a number of movie soundtracks, although the kookaburras live only in Australia, New Guinea and the Aru Islands. The kookaburra laugh, on high speed, was also used as Flipper’s “voice” on the television show about the dolphin “Flipper.”
Now, I can’t get that darned song out of my head! Or the kookaburra’s chorus, either. You can find many versions of the song on YouTube.com. Listen to it, if you don’t mind it taking over your brain.