Saturday, February 7, 2009

SET 'EM UP, JOE…

A recent snow squall, which for almost an hour poured in like a minor blizzard, apparently generated a powerful thirst among the local avian population. One minute the ice-shelf across from the cottage was empty, the next two-dozen or so birds were lined up at the ice’s edge, tippling forward and back, drinking like they hadn’t seen a drop of water in weeks. They looked for all the world like a gaggle of parched cowboys all bellied up to a saloon bar, at the end of a long and dusty cattle drive. The group was constantly changing. Birds few in from the thickets along the bank, found a space in the lineup, began imbibing. Others, their sudden thirst apparently quenched, flew back into the brush. At one point I counted nearly fifty birds strung out along this ice shelf. This is really one of those shots you need to click and enlarge…and even then, you may not be able to identify the participants. Most of the birds in the photo are robins, along with a few starlings. The bird near the center, the one sort of isolated and hunkered down, is a flicker. That flicker remained in that same spot, drinking a few sips at a time, for twenty minutes, through who knows how many shift changes of robins and other species. However, at one point, before the flicker appeared on scene, every bird drinking off the ice’s edge—more than thirty of ‘em—were robins. The feathered drinkers shuffled and sipped for half an hour. Then, lounge time over, they departed as quickly as they’d arrived. Snow continued to fall, the river slipped silently along, and the ice shelf was again empty.

11 comments:

bobbie said...

This is a wonderful picture and a great post. Must have been fun to watch.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bobbie…

It was fun…and funny to watch them jockey for position—though not the flicker; he stayed put and everyone left him alone.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I love the picture - and its shape.
I think birds probably get quite thirsty in snowy weather - I wonder - do they "drink" snow? I have noticed that it is every man for himself in the bird world - we have fourteen blackbirds and they spend more time chasing each off than they do in eating the food I put out.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Don't know about the "snow drinking" business, though I'd imagine a bit of snow and moisture gets inadvertently taken during feeding, when plucking a seed or bit of grain, for example.

What amused me was how, all of a sudden, everyone wanted a drink—and all from the same ice-shelf edge, though at the time, there were similar ice-shelves on both sides of the river, as far as you could see up or downstream. Why just this one small shelf portion?

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I love the photo, and also love watching the behaviour or birds, especially around the food table. I don't recall having watched any drinking. It must have been fascinating, especially the way they are all in a line!

giggles said...

Today's roll call: New ...of note... Pine siskins (4) at the thistle feeder...an apparent irruption...and a brown creeper...!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

Actually I see birds drinking from the river all the time—about as often in winter as summer. But it was belly-to-the-bar lineup that got me.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Hey, I'll trade you a Cooper's hawk and, if you'll keep it in a fish, a blue heron for a few of those siskins. (Nope, not willing to kick in one of my pileateds so don't ask.) Haven't see but one siskin (didn't know they came as singles!) so far this winter. I'm seriously siskin short.

But keep up the roll call.

I'm at 29 species so far, which doesn't include any ducks, geese, kingfishers and herons on the river, but does count mallards because several times a few have ambled up to sample the cracked corn. I'm hoping a pair or two of Canada geese will do the same so I can tally an honest 30 species.

giggles said...

Deal!

I thought I saw a siskin the other day, but it came as a singlet, so I didn't believe it...today...4 and reading a birding post, I am positive.... (Please visit "blog.wildsidenaturetours.com" and see previous posts, fyi... It's chock full o' good stuff that I imagine you might enjoy....!)

I haven't been keeping total tally...day to day will suffice... I don't think I've mentioned cardinlas yet, but they are here (a pair) every other day or so....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Hey…if you're skimpy on cardinals, I can make you a real deal! I'm talking BULK. Around here, a dozen cardinals in sight at once is nothing—I don't even starting counting until I think there's at least twenty.

Once, years ago, my father rang me up excitedly to come see his cardinals. We only lived a couple of blocks apart back then, so I took a shortcut through the yards and got there in maybe two minutes. I knew it had to be something special or Dad wouldn't have called. Dad had fed birds with backyard feeders for years—all my life, in fact. Any bird around knew where to head for free eats.

It was just after Christmas and the ground was covered with snow. Several of Dad's feeders hung in the big haw tree near the back door. He also had cracked corn scattered on the ground and ears of field corn on spikes he'd secured in the tree—for his bevy of squirrels.

Anyway, when I looked out the rear window, I saw something I'll never in my life forget…that haw was literally awash with redbirds. Prettier than the Christmas tree still in the living room. Mom, Dad, and I all counted, and as best we could make it, there were 62 cardinals total! It was an incredible and wondrous thing. And there wasn't a single other bird in the tree, or working the feeders or ground food except cardinals. The mix of males to females was about equal—but those scarlet males stood out like beacons against the snow. What a sight!

giggles said...

Wow!! Sounds amazing!!