Sunday, June 30, 2013

Of Peculiar Behavior, Odd Doings, and Other Curious Observations of Unusual Avian Activity

Steller's Jay, Yosemite National Park
In the world of birds, you never know who you might see – if you’re paying attention! And even if you are (tuned in to the world of birds!), it’s easy to miss catching some twist of normalcy in a bird’s actions. An occasional eyebrow raising activity. An eccentric (rarely observed) display of mercurial personality. Something, anything resembling a behavioral aberration, a departure from the norm. But what does it even mean? Do such hopelessly anthropocentric comparisons afford an understanding of multifarious avian behavior and protean characteristics? Or merely a tidy attempt to explain unexplainable aspects of quirky birds? There is another explanation, though – perhaps nothing at all unusual is happening, and it’s all totally normal, and I’ve just not been paying attention.

I’m shambling along in a North Berkeley park hoping to spot the usual suspects in the taller oak trees. Codornices Creek, enchants with a lazy shimmery flow, a perennially small miracle considering how dry things are. Near where an old oak recently fell (opening up a big swathe of blue sky), I suddenly become aware of some positively crazy antics of (what turns out to be) an Adult Pink-Sided
Goose in Flight, Briones Regional Park, Bay Area

 Junco engaged in decidedly bizarre behavior. Or so I think. Check him out, though – excitably perched on a tiny ledge of space on a car door, facing the rear view mirror, dancing, hopping, and jumping in a neurotic (?) display of . . .I’m not quite sure of what. The frantic, flighty fellow is so thoroughly absorbed in a desperate and utterly futile attempt to penetrate the everlasting mystery of his reflection that he’s risking physical injury from repeatedly colliding with the glass mirror. Whether preening, attempting to ward off a threatening competitor in a mano-a-mano (pata-a-pata?) confrontation, or just hoodwinked by a sudden burst of self-awareness of his bird identity, the blockage engenders extreme frustration and anxiety in the Junco. I observe this excitable activity for a good ten minutes, thinking never again will I see THAT! Well, the next day, presumably the self-same Junco is back at it (can two identical-looking Juncos exhibit identical histrionics?), having retained a memory of returning to the same car’s perch (still parked there) and repeating his confounding attempt to establish contact with. . .or repel. . .his unrecognized image.
Great Blue Heron, Pt. Reyes National Seashore, Visitor's Center
Many instances crop up where I’m in the right place at the right time, fortunate to witness peculiar behavior, behold odd doings, and observe unusual activity.
I’m watching a small Cooper’s Hawk – gotta be a mini Coop, don’t it? – in full pursuit of two frantic crows, swooping mere feet from me at low altitude in a blur and screech of black and brown feathers. (From my front porch in North Berkeley.)
A flock of 20-something turkeys are strutting like nobody’s business through a busy crosswalk, no less, on car crazy Buchanan Street near San Pablo Avenue in Albany. I surmise the Toms and Marys are scuttling over to an agricultural plot on the Bay side of the avenue for some fine dining on the Gill tract of land owned by U.C. Berkeley.

I’m sitting on my porch steps, when a cute as can be, stubby little Ruby-crowned Kinglet suddenly flies down to the sidewalk right at my feet, with his “ruby crown” exposed like an orange-red tam - when Ruby-crowned Kinglets were still somewhat of a mystery. I’m like WOW! The little guy proceeds to
 Wild Tom, Tilden Regional Park, Bay Area

 peck and hunt around under the rose bushes. Now, why would a skittish, flighty Ruby-crowned Kinglet decide to land right at my feet, bare his colorful head patch, and not even – is bat an eyelash the right term?

Observations of avian aberrations (enough already!) from previous posts are worth repeating:
Yawning crows – no murder, just boredom. (Side yard in 100 year old Interior Live Oak.)
A sea gull taking 30 minutes to devour a starfish, throwing it up and catching it every so often to soften another side of it for easier slippage down the gullet. (San Simeon, Pacific Coast, California.)
A beat up old Harlan’s hawk staring me down five feet away on a low bush, then, almost drunkenly (perhaps he had been poisoned, or was merely dying), flying off with a haphazard landing in a nearby tree. (Tilden Regional Park.) (I’m like WHAT THE HELL?)
 A Bald Eagle in kamikaze combat mode stickin’ it to three hysterical Ospreys (Marlette Lake, near Lake Tahoe).
A Great Blue Heron devouring several fish over the course of an hour in small park in Walpole, Massachusetts, watching the Nature Channel from a bench with my mom – Ora Lora Spadafora - who had never before seen such a thing.
Ground-feeding Junco acting like a flycatcher, acrobatically jumping and snatching insects in mid-air. (Is this unusual?)
Speaking of flycatchers, I am thrilled to spot my first ever Pacific-Slope Flycatcher at Cascade Canyon Open Space District in Marin County – a very nice-looking bird I know instantly I’ve never seen before. Or maybe I have and always thought it was a Vireo or something. This babe’s picking off white moths, one by one, totally five I count, to feed her hungry hatchlings, ugly things sticking greedy triangular shaped mouth-throats out of a hole in the tree right off the trail. In plain sight. So easy to miss. (What’s so odd or peculiar about this?)
A Bewick’s Wren taking a dry bath in the garden, dusting himself up big time, no doubt to foil mites and other parasites. And for the sheer feel good pleasure, I imagine. (C’maan! This is totally normal!)
No dummies, our friends the birds. Gotta give ‘em kudos and props, for they are evolution’s pre-eminent expression of physical dexterity, native intelligence, and soul-satisfying freedom. (Wouldn’t you say.)