chickadee memories

image credit: pixabay

Inside their skulls, the sophistication of the neural capacity of black-capped chickadees increases in autumn. The part of the brain that stores spatial information gets larger and more complex, allowing the birds to remember the locations of the seeds and insects that they cache under bark and in clusters of lichen. The superior memory of the birds that I hear in the tips of the fir tree is a neuronal preparation for the hungry days of late autumn and winter. The seat of spatial memory in the brains of chickadees that live in these northern forests is particularly voluminous and densely wired. Natural selection has worked winter into the birds’ heads, molding the brains so that chickadees can survive even when food is scarce.

Chickadee memories also live within societal relationships. The birds are keen observers of their flockmates. If one bird should happen on a novel way of finding or processing food, others will learn from what they see. Once acquired, the memory no longer depends on the life of any individual. The memory passes through the generations, living in the social network.

~ David George Haskell
(The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors)

Chickadees were probably the first birds I became aware of when I was a little girl. They frequented my mother’s birdfeeder which was right outside our dining room window. (Our tiny Cape Cod style house didn’t have a breakfast room or eat-in kitchen.) I still remember eating my breakfast at the table in the winter and the cold blast of air that made me shiver when Mom opened the window to spread more seeds out onto the protected platform.

I remember playing out in the snowy winter woods with the chickadee fee-bee song playing in the background. And the well known chickadee-dee-dee alarm call. My father taught me to recognize their warning call, which I often hear out of the blue on our walks in the woods these days. My guess is we might be entering someone’s territory so we respectfully move on quickly.

10.25.15 ~ woodpecker
photo by Tim

For many winters now we’ve been hanging a suet feeder on our condo balcony to attract the woodpeckers I also love. Chickadees hang around and glean the seeds that fall out of the suet while the woodpeckers are feeding. Unfortunately starlings have figured out how to hang onto the suet feeder and they wreak havoc with their large numbers. Why can’t they come one or two at a time like the woodpeckers and chickadees? We also welcome a fair number of titmice, nuthatches and juncos.

Every winter our neighbor complains that the birds poop on his balcony. For this winter I had planned to not put out the suet feeder in the interest of being neighborly but, unbeknownst to me, my thoughtful husband bought a few months worth of suet cakes he found on sale. A woodpecker already came by the other day and was hanging onto the sliding glass door screen, inquiring within about the missing feeder, no doubt. And the chickadees have also been checking out the balcony, it seems to be much earlier than usual this year. I used to put the feeder out mid-October, after Columbus Day. But the fall colors have arrived two weeks early; perhaps the birds are ahead of schedule, too.

Because our neighbor goes out on his balcony to smoke a cigar and the unpleasant fumes come into our unit even when the windows are shut, we’ve mostly ignored his complaints about our bird feeding. Tit for tat. I have a funny feeling my resolve to not feed the birds this winter is crumbling. Watching them brings me so much joy in the winter! Maybe just one more winter, since we are in quarantine? I’m going around in circles weighing the pros and cons… I have to decide now!!!

Wish the bird feeding quandary was the worst of my worries. Connecticut College now has 24 students in quarantine, a cluster of 4 positive cases and their friends. One of the students was in my sister’s class a week ago. All her classes are outdoors and all her students are wearing masks, still, I worry about her safety. It’s a grim feeling, the virus keeps coming closer and closer…

And now our reckless president has tested positive for COVID-19.

science is uncertainty

a man wearing a mask in 1918
image credit: Western Neighborhoods Project/OpenSFHistory

We all want answers today, and science is not going to give them. Science is uncertainty. And the pace of uncertainty reduction in science is way slower than the pace of a pandemic.
~ Brian Nosek
(The Washington Post, May 26, 2020)

I’ve been thinking about scientists a lot lately, beacuse of the pandemic, so when I read the above quote in the newspaper about “the pace of uncertainty reduction in science” it caught my attention. I remember my father teaching me that whenever science finds an “answer” it only brings more questions into focus. The more scientists learn, the more they appreciate how much they still don’t know.

Experiment, observe and gather data. Make educated guesses and investigate some more. My father spent his entire research career studying chicken viruses. It’s kind of astonishing that there could be so much to learn about just one kind of virus. Years and years of probing and analysis.

My father at work at the University of Connecticut,
sometime in the 1960s
~ photo by Thommie White, my grandmother

As far as I can tell, the scientists studying the coronavirus pandemic have been very candid about what they still don’t know. Yet, their best guess is that wearing a mask makes sense because it will likely protect other people from you if you happen to have the virus (with no symptoms) and are spreading it without realizing it. Combined with social distancing and frequent hand-washing, this is our best strategy for slowing down the spread of COVID-19 for now. Rest assured scientists are still searching for answers, hoping to reduce the uncertainty as soon as humanly possible!

a secret garden

“A secret garden. Made by Barbara Lyn (sic) Chomiak. Seven year old.”

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun — which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one’s eyes.
~ Frances Hodgson Burnett
(The Secret Garden)

I’m still poking around through my childhood papers and drawings. My mother was the true bookworm in our family. So many images coming back to me now, like my parents in the evening, my mother with her nose in the newspaper and my father watching television.

At bedtime, my mother read to us, even after we were old enough to read for ourselves. One of my favorite books was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Apparently I loved it so much I illustrated my own version of a secret garden.) And often my father would start playing the piano, gentle Bach lullabies sending us off to sleep.

Spring is in the air! Time to pick up the pace and plow through some more boxes. Onward!

into the mist

hmmm… what have we here?

Last weekend we flew down to North Carolina to see the little one, and her parents, of course. 😉 A visit to the Museum of Life & Science in Durham proved to be a great adventure. The museum’s tag line is “know wonder.” We spent most of our visit at the “Into the Mist” outdoor exhibit because that’s where Katherine’s curiosity led her.

time to investigate the intermittent mist at closer range…

Activate push-button mist fields and watch as droplets of water suspended in air form clouds that hover over small valleys. How does humidity and wind impact your misty landscape? Take a one-of-a-kind stroll through this cooling landscape and watch as rainbows appear then disappear. Climb through tunnels, make sand sculptures, or just sit, cool off, and observe the beauty of mist, landforms, and rock.
~ Museum of Life & Science website

noticing how slippery the steps are…

Katherine is an observer. This little amphitheater/mist pit captured her attention. For a good while she studied carefully how the other children played until the mist stopped coming up from the ground and then how one of them would run up the stairs to push a button on top of a pole to make the mist appear again.

continuing her investigation…

still figuring things out…

watching another child press the button…

a new friend to play with on the sidelines…

but it must be more fun in the middle…

think I should try this, Grandpa?

When she finally decided to take the plunge she had a wonderful time and got thoroughly soaked in the mist.

cool!

oh this is fun!

taking note of a pine cone…

joy!

it’s so wet…

the little scientist explores…

After changing Katherine into dry clothes we all had lunch and then Grammy & Grandpa Tim got to take our little darling on the Ellerbe Creek Railway. She’s very interested in trains these days and there are a few more in the area we hope to ride on during our next visit. While on the train we passed the Hideaway Woods outdoor exhibit and will definitely have to check out the huge tree house playground. But we had all had enough excitement for one day and it was getting hotter as the day wore on. Hard to believe it was still February.

delightful dots

1.17.15.2626
Katie and Barbara ~ 1.17.15 ~ Billerica, Massachusetts

Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.
~ Lois Wyse
(Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother)

a quiet moment with Grandpa
a quiet moment with Grandpa Tim ~ 1.17.15 ~ Billerica, Massachusetts

Saturday we spent the day north of Boston, visiting Katie, who was visiting some friends there with her mother. Katie the observer, she is definitely an observer, bright-eyed and curious. She had grown a lot in the month since we saw her last.

Things have been relatively quiet around here. We’ve postponed some plans because a few relatives and friends have caught that severe flu going around. I haven’t had the flu since 1988 and I hope to keep it that way! We get flu shots every year, but this strain mutated and this year’s vaccine is only about 33% effective.

And the nursing home where my aunt lives is under quarantine, because of the flu outbreak, which may interfere with our plans to celebrate her 100th birthday on the 30th. So far she hasn’t caught it.

happy child
happy Katie ~ 1.17.15 ~ Billerica, Massachusetts

Zoë, who normally has excellent litter box habits, got the trots. Poor thing was doing her best to get to the box on time but we had a day of cleaning up after her. She wouldn’t eat and she didn’t want to be around us, but she is now back to her hungry, sweet, affectionate self.

And so I am enjoying my winter rest, puttering around the house, watching the birds, wishing for a little more snow, pruning my family tree (still), and making travel plans. My eyes get very bleary reading these travel guides……

We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Conduct of Life)

observing nature

theodorkittelsen.january
“January” by Theodor Kittelsen

The place to observe nature is where you are; the walk to take to-day is the walk you took yesterday. You will not find just the same things: both the observed and the observer have changed; the ship is on another tack in both cases.
~ John Burroughs
(Signs & Seasons)

identifying gulls

8.18.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
young and mature laughing gulls ~ 8.18.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

Gulls – a word of inherent paradox. Almost anyone can recognize a gull – or “seagull” – as such, but to identify certain gulls to species can vex the most experienced observers.
~ Steve N. G. Howell & Jon Dunn
(Gulls of the Americas)

8.18.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
8.18.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.18.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
“regular” herring gulls with their new and smaller laughing gull neighbors ~ 8.18.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.18.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
I love these petite laughing gulls and their little black legs! ~ 8.18.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

Until April of 2012, when we were visiting our son and his family in Georgia, I was unaware of the fact that there were about 50 different species of gulls, about 22 of them found in North America. At Cumberland Island National Seashore I was very surprised to see two black-headed gulls perched on a dock.

Then in the summer of 2012 we noticed a couple of HUGE juvenile gulls at our local Eastern Point Beach here in Connecticut. After some sleuthing we determined that they must be the largest of all the gulls, great black-backed gulls. Awe-inspiring! I took pictures of them next to what we started calling “regular” gulls to show the difference in size.

This summer we were hoping to spot some adult great black-backed gulls, which we finally did. But before that, I noticed we had more new visitors, these little gulls with black legs. Time to purchase a reference guide! I’m not 100% positive, but I think they are laughing gulls.

Now what species are my beloved “regular” gulls? Again, not absolutely sure, but I think they are ring-billed gulls. The problem I seem to be facing is that gulls molt several times as they mature and look a little different during each of their four cycles, sometimes dramatically different.

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
an adult great black-backed gull with a “regular” ring-billed gull ~ 8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
great black-backed gull contemplates taking off ~ 8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

It was considered unlucky to kill a seagull, as they are the souls of dead sailors. So if a seagull were to land on the bow of the ship, you didn’t want your captain to see you chase it off as a comrade has come to visit.
~ K. E. Heaton
(Superstitions of the Sea)

So many of my ancestors were lost at sea – I have to wonder sometimes…

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
perhaps the great black-backed gull is headed for the approaching ship ~ 8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

an amazing puzzle

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The universe is a more amazing puzzle than ever, as you glance along this bewildering series of animated forms, – the hazy butterflies, the carved shells, the birds, beasts, fishes, snakes, and the upheaving principle of life everywhere incipient, in the very rock aping organized forms. Not a form so grotesque, so savage, nor so beautiful but is an expression of some property inherent in man the observer, – an occult relation between the very scorpions and man. I feel the centipede in me, – cayman, carp, eagle, and fox. I am moved by strange sympathies; I say continually, “I will be a naturalist.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Journals)