Monday, May 25, 2020

Remote zoology.

We were given a doorbell cam for Christmas. It took a while getting around to installing it, but  once connected, it allowed 24-hr zoology, and also explains why the neighbours' motion-activated lights turn on at 3 AM

Anna's Hummingbird, poking the lens with its bill. 


Very large dog, wandering around the neighbourhood at night.

Sudden change of direction. Can you see why?



Monday, May 18, 2020

Warbler is over.

The last week of April plus the first two weeks of May is Warbler, the shortest, most frenzied month. Every day is Christmas, and Christmas Eve! And like the NORAD Santa tracker, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology posts a Live Migration map:

You can watch the flow of birds, the northward surge, which trails the sweep of sunset each night, petering out at sunrise the next morning (click on the animation).  The map covers only the continental US, but southern coastal BC is geographically a continuation of Puget Sound, so whenever the top left corner of the map is glowing, it's time to get up, grab your binos, and rush to the nearest woodlot.

Even before getting there the neighbourhood is alive with birds, the street trees filled with the "thwips" of Yellow-rumps, the" needleneedleneedle" of Wilson's warblers, and the "zzzuuUURrurrrurrrrr" of orange-crowns. 

Both kinds of Yellow-rumped Warblers, the Audubon's (note yellow throat),

and the Myrtle (white throat) are here.

BTW, "Yellow-rumped Warbler" is a pain to type, especially into a phone. (Anything with a hyphen.) Let's just go with Myrtle. Okay? Good.  (As long as "Myrtle" refers to a plant, not a person's name. I'm with those in favour of changing species names that are patronyms.) 

For example, Wilson's Warbler. Change it to Other Yellow Warbler. (There's another one already called the Yellow Warbler.)

Orange-crowned Warbler is descriptive, but not adequately. It's basically just a green bird. Some may bear a smudge of Cheetos powder atop the head, but you rarely see that. You actually also rarely see the bird, mostly just  hear it. Call it Greenish Warbler.

Townsend's Warbler, a joy to see among the Myrtles, Other Yellows, and Greenishes, should also be renamed. I don't encounter them often enough to supply a suitable habitat-related name and am fine with leaving its renaming it to someone who knows more about them. For me, they're always a pleasant surprise; I didn't see one until I moved to the west coast. West Coast Warbler? (Note, I could have inserted a hyphen, but refrained.)

But then it's mostly done. There are also Black-throated Gray Warblers (an okay descriptive name, but a pain to type (hyphen)). I only see a few each year. There are also McGillavry's Warblers, which are rare skulkers whose name should be changed not only because it's a patronym, but also because I'm not sure how to spell it.

Also note: The Pacific Northwest Coast has nowhere near enough warblers. We have about 5, well, 6, including Common Yellowthroat. Eastern North America has 87 (or so), including Ovenbird,  2 Waterthrushes, and other things not named warbler. Redstart! Oh to see a Redstart again.

Back here: Also among the warblers, habitat-wise and migration-wise, doing its own burbly, awkward, thrashing about thing, is the Warbling Vireo, which actually warbles. Most warblers do not, but resemble distantly-related European birds that perhaps do. The history of bird taxonomy is as fraught with cluelessness, politics, and cultural imperialism as anything else.

The song of the Warbling Vireo is the background to Warbler. It has stopped now. Warbler is over, the month is done. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Plague Notes IV

One time I went to the Canadian National Exhibition with some friends, and we decided to leave at the same time a big show was getting out from the grandstand. The crush at the streetcar loop was so bad that we could sense the decrease in ground-level oxygen. A small boy became separated from his mom, who started screaming. We lifted him over our heads and passed him, hand to hand, back to his mother.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Plague Notes III

Spring is not paying attention at all, is going gangbusters. We're already deep into the second wave of cherry blossoms, and our tree peony is about to pop. So much pent-up pent-uppedness. I go out in the morning, alone, a man of mystery, and check the goings-on at a nearby park.

A few other people of mystery have the same idea, but we remain well-removed. Pale, crushed stone has been spread on the paths, which is loudly crunchy underfoot. Without looking, we maintain distance, by sound. Like a bat, like a cetacean.

Look, Gunnera!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Plague notes II

The weather is nice but it isn’t real.

CBC radio folk seem intent on mining every ounce of grimness. Telling people that things are even more awful than they already know, when they’re in a situation where there's nothing they can do about anything, isn’t helpful. It’s demoralizing. Coming up next is a segment on how to hold funerals in the era of social distancing.  

Maybe stop talking for a few months. Or tell stories. People love stories.

From my window I watched a woman in a blue mask stop to photograph a red tulip.  She is my new hopeful image.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Plague notes.

White–crowned Sparrows have been singing since the beginning of the month. They start at dawn.  


Their world is wide open.

The cherries are shedding their petals into the birdbath. I'm tired of looking at them anyway. They're dragging time, and drawn with  a crayon look like a virus.

The weather is suitable for puttering or going for a walk. Almost everyone understands the 6-ft rule. Cooties is hard-wired.

At first we exchanged wry smiles. After a month, few make eye-contact. Implicit hope is shelved for now.

No need for a mask when alone in your car. Your glasses might steam up.

There is still pollen. It also is invisible, and interferes with puttering.

Don't worry, it's just allergies.

Thank you letter carrier. We keep the mailbox open, to help.

Tomorrow the day will be longer and the White-crowned sparrows will start earlier. 


Wednesday, April 1, 2020


The neighbourhood is quiet. We knew when we bought a home near the airport that jet noise would be a thing.  I miss it now, worse than 911.

We've been watching the cherries bloom.

(Actually, we don't care about the cherries. We care about the squirrels, what they're up to.)

In years to come, cherry blossoms will remind us of this time.

Standing in the yard, I hear the bing bing bing of a basketball on a driveway the next street over.

The cherries are noisy too, the mesmerizing buzz of  bees. 

Those are hopeful, no?

Making chicken for dinner, I feel nostalgic for Salmonella.

Update, April 2: 

Delicate snowflakes and cherry blossom petals are falling--at the same time! 
(Some signs of the apocalypse are quite pretty.)