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Monday, September 17, 2018

Agility Lessons from a Redbill Hornbill

Hey, Folkes!

I had a fun little visit at the York, Maine, zoo recently, and I wanted to share this part with you because it's like the Red-billed Hornbill there felt it very important to share some tips on Life Agility - you know, keeping the fun and freedom alive while working with and around obstacles, et cetera.

His calls from his cage, followed shortly by grand aerobatics, captured my attention. I ended up having to agree with him that, yes, he's full of talent, and pretty smart to stay strong and ready in case the door of his cage was ever left open. Because, you know, 'life'...

ANYhoo, in the mean time, he seemed happy to accommodate my having to switch to the 'sports/action' setting of my point=and-shoot camera due to his speed. A patient teacher to anyone willing to look up from their own lives long enough, he set about teaching some maneuvers - and not just once. It was important to "get it".

Very important.

So, let's begin.

"Agility" is about getting good practice on what to hang on to, what to let go of, and when. The "how" is more about "whatever ways work - style it!". He gave some examples using a spot he's very familiar with now, and seems pretty satisfied with himself that he rarely repeats youthful mistakes anymore. And when he does, well, life happens, and getting busy with something else helps the pain, fear and embarrassment fade.

Trade Secret: Study the OPEN spaces; ANYthing can act like a 'perch'. With time and practice, it'll be easier and easier to do in just about any situation.

Because perches are only there to rest, not live; fly however you can, rest whenever you need. You'll get the rhythm of it.

OK. Ready?

Meet the Red-billed Hornbill. Look up his cool "call" sometime; he speaks up freely, too.
One of these inspired the bird 'Zazu' in 'The Lion King' years ago, but I think I'll just call this one "Red". Not like he'd answer me, anyway.

Now, here is where Red was after he was done calling and had my full attention.
"Firmly in place..."

...and then "firmly in place" at his next point.  "Leap, and your wings will follow; reach, and your perch will appear."
I think he read that in an entrepreneur workshop or something, but don't quote me on that.
And now that we've warmed up a little, it gets a little fancier.

Instead of heading for a boring straight shot forward, Red wanted to enjoy his stretch,
so he hooked a sharp left, banked to port, and wove himself around the 'things behind him'.

As he did so, it's like Red was trying to say, "So what if it's narrow? I know my wings, and I know this part is plenty wide enough - BUT watch what I do next."

Little bit of a tuck for a few split seconds on the way. No big deal. Marsh (Harrier) Hawks do it all the time between tree branches.

Big space for an easy go.
Enjoy a fun up-swoosh and peg that landing.


NOW: Once more, with feeling!

Dive into the free space!

Wow them with your maneuvers!

Glorious and naturally "you" at EVERY angle!

"I couldn't help but add a flourish there!"

(In time, even "tight spots" look like "nothing" and break the stride less and less).

(Down-swoops are EVERY bit as grand as up-swoops; the grandeur just happens to be more visible to an onlooker than ourselves).

"Stayin' Fancy in the Free Space"

"NOW to throw in the glorious finish!"

"Ah...Look at these amazing feathers put together just so! Aren't they great?" To Red, every day's a reminder of the first time he discovered what his feathers and wings were for...just to soar...oh, and, yeah, there's food along the way, of course...

"Trick is to be a LITTLE less flappy when reaching for the next pause, or you'll arrive with some force and wonder why you feel beat."

"See how calm that looks, when you aim for Firm Placement?"
All right, now, one more time!
Be sure to note the 'Start' is about leaning forward so the rest of the energy follows. Leaning 'back' makes the wings work against gravity - if they work at all. So, just don't.

"Use a sense of thrill, and let that be behind your launch. Because every day is a good day to fly."

More of a "swoop" in the turn, more wingtip action to show off the accents, in case you didn't catch that...

"Notice I'm going a little HIGHER than the sticks this time, preferring the sense of free space this time instead of agility and making myself smaller..."

Last home stretch...


"AAaaaand a LA!"
 And there you have it - three times is the charm! Must've been pretty important to see for Red to be so willing to interrupt his day for it with a casually-touring human like me!

I wonder if he ever spoke with a friend's dog that insisted we throw balls and such during a long walk, to remind us to "play along the way, throwing while you're going, because life's too short to go without it too long."

Well, happy trekking!


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Bring a Human to Work Day: Northern Short-Tailed Shrew

Say hello to our other little friend, the Shrew; he likes to open up nickel-sized holes around the seeds we put down. They say he doesn't see or smell well (uses echolocation, like a bat), but - wow - he sure move like lightning between the holes over the soil and from underneath! Pretty much every 10 seconds for half a minute, then wait 45 seconds (perhaps he's stashing seeds deeper), then back to 10 seconds. These days, though, he uses more than one of the holes in that 10-second interval.

This will be a little test to see if the animated gif of it I did with a dozen shots came out; if not, well, welcome to the view of the shrew's holes at the Observatory, and enjoy the still shots! What can I say?

Only about 3" long, and I'm pretty sure he knows when he feels the thumps of our footsteps, that's his cue to check for seeds.
Long body comes in handy to bend right back around to go back into his hole.

Normally, they eat snails, salamanders, earthworms, voles and mice. His saliva can paralyze prey, even kill small mammals; a bite would be painful for humans, and it wouldn't surprise me if face and leg injuries to the red squirrels vying for seeds came from such as this little guy. We once saw a red squirrel stomp its feet near a shrew hole to discourage it from popping out.

It's hard work to be a shrew, eating three times its weight every day. They have two or three litters a year, but their lifespan is about 14 months (about as long as a grey squirrel); only 6% of the young survive their first winter.

So, hats off to this little guy, and Godspeed!

See you soon!


Monday, September 25, 2017

Bring a Human to Work Day: Cross Orbweaver

Good morning! I was able to catch a couple glimpses of our friendly neighborhood cross orbweavers (tiny little spiders building plate-sized circular webs in the woods here in NH). At least, that's as close as I can identify them for now; feel free to correct me!

I was recently asked (re: my nature photos in general), "HOW do you FIND these things!!??" I guess it's partly about knowing where to look and a critter's habits, with a good dose of disregard for sweat, bush scrapes, and maybe a little bug looking for warmth from your skin or a bite for its kids. But timing is also crucial, as is angle of the sun for webs.

These passive spiders aren't out to get us, and they really do try prefer twigs close to trees and bushes and to stay out of high-traffic areas where tall or wide-antlered moose might wreck their work (webs take between a half hour and two hours each to make). Before getting creeped out by some of its sticky look, I hope you can appreciate that pound for pound that silk is stronger than any steel metal mankind can work up, yet more flexible than nylon (which we have to make as a byproduct of petroleum/fossil fuels).

As far as finding these webs, they're sort of like rainbows in that you can only see them if the sun's at a 45-degree angle to you. Since the earth spins away from the sun by the second, we're lucky if we have even a minute to see a little spider web close up (rainbows are more distant, and on a bigger surface area to enjoy longer). Pro tip: before 8 a.m. and when the sun gets low on the horizon in the afternoon are best times to catch glimpses of these, especially if you know a low or slow water source that their bug foods like to hang out in.

So, if you see a web, get what you can however you can, zoom in at first and get as close as you can. These photos were all I had left after seeing the full "dish" of its web's rainbow initially; seconds really do count. The earth's spin will not stop for you, the spider won't stop its work for you, nothing owes you cooperation. It's all on you, so Godspeed!

Used image editing to knock down the midtones and bump up the contrast a little to show the lines and reflections better.

This one looks huge, but was about a foot in diameter.

Little better shot of some of the spokes coming out from center as work continued. Once all the radials are done (side bits we see here, connecting the spokes), she'll return to the center to eat that little anchor and replace with some tighter strands.

Weavin', weavin', weavin'...

Happy trekking, all - til next time!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Daze Cache: 9/19/17 - Head Counts

Good Day, All! All seven of the monarch butterfly caterpillars have disappeared overnight, perhaps due to same as the half dozen in the back forty; no sign of chrysalis thingies this time. BUT, I had fun with a Painted Lady Butterfly. I hope you enjoy the closeups of its eyes and stuff but, too, there's a lesson to be had that it turns its back on lifeless resources and goes from one feast to another - and isn't life full of them? Scope 'em out...

Meanwhile, several chipmunks (including our Stonewall from last year) are cozying up to us (and the seed tin) of late, comfortable enough to turn their backs on us for a nice long draw from the brook.

The large set of red squirrels have all but disappeared; this one having been victorious, albeit a little muddy around the beak, for having found great pine cones to stash (I'd tell you where along that sharp edge of the brookbank's corner under the old muddy stump, but he swore me to secrecy - would YOU want to betray a face like this? I think NOT!)

The chipmunks have done much barking about aerial predators, mostly having to do with the marsh hawk (larger) that'll swoop along the brook, but also (now) an immature sharp-shinned hawk who easily flops about tree limbs like the robins and blue jays, just pretending to be 'part of the gang' since he's similar size.

But, no, when the chipmunks are barking AND the robins are giving sharp scolds, all telling the threat "WE see you! Move along and leave us be!", they give up and do. I've even seen an eagle chased off by first a crow then a little pair of kingbirds. I guess few critters stay alive better than heeding warnings of neighbors, joining them, and having a little sense of one's worth.

Take Tiberius, for instance. He owns the road as much as he dares, knows which engines are 'friendly' enough they'll slow and yield to him (but moving in a half crouch ready to spring out of harm's way).
Teddy, on the other hand, seems to prefer the fuller living method of avoiding feeling like a fool and burning more calories in a half crouch by owning the stone walls which line this back road. But who's to say which cat is wiser?

And is their purpose to, truly, be compared with each other, as if there's somehow a 'right' or 'wrong' way to be a cat? I don't think I'd make a good judge, so I'll recuse myself on this one.

PS Here's a new-to-me fuzzy caterpillar; guess it belongs to a Brown-Hooded Owlet Moth which - yes - is as fuzzy and brown/gray mottled on its wings as the name suggests:
But if you think it's something different, please be sure to sing out. Far be it from me to ever be incorrect about anything! ;)


Gwyn (aka "Lark")

Friday, August 25, 2017

Daze Cache: Monarchs and Tigers and Squirrels, Oh My!

We have a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar at the house! (Maybe MORE than one - gotta check the OTHER milkweed plants about the yard!). This may be the third set they do, with maybe more to come in Sept/Oct before that last migrates down to Mexico and Cali and is able to live four to six months (the other three batches only live two to six weeks each).

We've been waiting and waiting for years, and looking and looking for eggs, etc.

Their life cycle is 4 weeks from egg to butterfly: egg hatches in four days, spends two weeks as a 'pillar, then attache to stem or leaf and molts out that colorful cloak and hangs out 10 days.

In that time, its molecules are all scrambled, the body turns to gel, and just 'magically knows' how to rearrange what used to be skin and a bunch of Mary Jane-shoed feet into the classic Monarch.

Its milkweed comrade, the Milkweed Tussock or Tiger Moth caterpillar (fuzzy guy that looks like a calico Pekingese dog) braves our NH winters in a cocoon aided by that 'fur coat'. The young instars (stage of caterpillar between molts) know to avoid the veins of the milkweed leaves; the older ones give the veins a cutting chomp to stop the latex flow to their feeding area.

Wonder where they learned that, with no grownups around to teach 'em sense and skill?

Now, with the nights getting cooler, our one remaining gray squirrel (have seen only one red one, as well) is taking to enjoying a monopoly on the acorns, which we heard dropping near the Observatory. (Actually, in this pic, he seems to be eating a beech tree nut while hanging from his back toes).

I can't prove it, but I have a feeling squirrels are closely related to monkeys. Or vice versa. You tell me. What nuts he forgets about may hatch into treelings next year or serve as forage for deer and bears. 
A she-bear's spring mating this year will only 'take hold' if she puts on enough calories to see both her AND young through a winter pregnancy.

Meanwhile, both the beech trees and the oaks (where acorns are built) will keep their scratchy-sounding leaves until next spring, perhaps acting as "Open" signs for the nuts that may be found all around them, kind of making food easier to find. 
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll have to make a point to monitor the milkweeds over the next few weeks in between chores and stuff. Hope you're finding cool stuff where YOU are! 
Have a good 'un!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bring a Human to Work Day: Northern Water Thrush

Hello, chickadees!

I'm so pleased to present a Northern Water Thrush in the first of (what I hope!) will be a series I'm calling "Bring a Human to Work Day", perhaps to gain a little more appreciation on what all goes into making it so we get to enjoy crossing paths with these happy nomads we call birds.

This "thrush" is actually a warbler (why it's escaped being renamed, who can tell?). Since the sexes look alike, I'll go ahead and name this one "Micah", just for giggles.

Today's our first sighting of Micah since her return from wintering in Puerto Rico, though she could've crossed the New Hampshire border weeks ago, following the thawing ice in flat streams. With the thaws come access to fallen leaves underfoot, where all sorts of bug larvae hide.

Last year, I only saw her make her way at a distance, and only one time. Today, though, I like to pretend she recalls we just like to swing our "eye box" (camera) her way without trying to approach, to explain her being content to carry on with a day at her "office", the brook downhill from the house.

Here she is, looking a little coy, or maybe just giving her neck a good stretch before resuming her food gathering.

Bingo! Tasty little morsel!

She went stock still for about a minute, to my advantage! Normally, her tail bobs up and down as she walks.

I learned a lot about life watching her. 
Sometimes the hunt includes getting a face full of water...

sometimes a current will loose our footing...

other times, we have to just wade right in in search of the prize...

Many, many times it takes muscling obstacles out of the way...

as well as twisting and stretching our "all" to get things done!
And it's like all of nature agrees that just "being" and "doing one's best" is all the good and proper needed, leveraging what we know about opportunities in their seasons, good places to be for the most sensible comfort, among many other things.

Of all the places Micah could've settled, I'm glad it's right here and that she let down some of her wylde guard enough to not let us get in the way of her "be-ing". Of course, when you're a little winged thing and brave tropical storms and wintry mixes, people like me must seem like peanuts.

Still, studying the Art of Being a Bump on a Log has its advantages, and I've had a LOT of years of practice - nearly half a century!

Well, I'll sign off for now, chickadees, and see if I can get you another critter for the next "Bring a Human to Work Day".