Steve White’s Animaux
2008

Riding up the hill known hereabouts as Babelsberg next to the park by the same name, I heard this morning a thumping that could only be a woodpecker, but it was a heavy, slow woodpecking.

I found the bird high over my head. A huge woodpecker, a Schwarzspecht or Black Woodpecker. I didn’t see any color on the head, so I suppose it was a female. She was very shy, peeking at me from one side of her tree, then the other, until I moved away.


In Park Sanssouci early February, before the trees got their leaves, after a golden sunset, I heard a very pretty song. I’m not good at identifying bird songs, but I found it familiar, but not Amsel…so who? I found the singer far up in one of the naked trees. He was dark, and about the size of an American Robin. Then I remembered the song. He is Nachtigall, the Nightingale. I have heard them many times at night, but never could find one.

I tried for a minute to join in, but he didn’t tolerate me for long.

Later, a big round leafless tree cradled a sliver of moon, and a little bat flittered around underneath, with the Neues Palais framing the landscape beneath the deepening orange sky.


OK, not about animals, but about German: I always thought that “Fledermaus” somehow meant “flying mouse”. But “to fly” is “fliegen” in German—a pretty far cry from “Fleder”. So I pulled out the Duden, which informed me that this “Fleder” (which occurs only in “Fledermaus”) is related to “flattern”: our word “flutter”.

It’s a flutter-mouse!


I’ve been told about the Wildschweine (wild pigs) hereabouts as long as I’ve been here, and never seen one outside of the zoo. But a little group, a mother and four piglets, came to forage on the AIP campus, just outside our offices.

Somebody said “delicious” Wildschweine, but I thought they looked fine with their hides on.

I got a good look a Grünspecht, too. One was pecking a pretty deep hole in a tree outside out offices, days later.

And finally, I got a real feast of plumage, that I had been looking for ever since I saw them in my bird-book: Seidenschwanze, (Hypocolius Waxwing). My colleague Christer knows them by their voices, high, and strangely distant—hard to place. They moved from tree to tree in the AIP campus, hanging out in those with lots of Mistle (what we call mistletoe), eating the berries. They’re rather shy, and tend to move to the opposite side of a tree from a person. After finding one that would tolerate my presence, the trick was to move so it was between me an a big branch: then its unbelievable colors would light up.


In Odense, Denmark, while visiting Julian and family, I saw again Teichralle (oder Teichhuhn), the Common Moorhen.


The Kopfsteinpflaster on the AIP campus is home to numerous Sandbienen

I first saw one hovering over the stones carrying something green that glinted in the late-afternoon sun. I watched it take this down into its hole, and thought at the time it was a leaf. I later saw bees drop such things, and confirmed they were indeed pieces of leaf that had clearly been cut, to be about the size of the bee’s body.

I have watched them digging the holes, which they do by shuffling the sand back with their feet. I have also watched them bring stunned insects such as beetles into the holes. (These insects don’t come back out, as such.)

Are the leaves are used as bulwarking, or as wrapping of the food and eggs? How big are these nests are and what form they take? Some holes have had enough sand excavated from them for several meters of hole, if it is of the same diameter as at the opening.


I finally took a vacation, and visited the folks back home. Linda and I took mom and the other Mrs. White to San Angelo State Park. We left them in a bird-blind to look at the Littlefoot Trail.

In addition to the petrified Permian-period reptile footprints in the gulch, we saw a very pretty six-lined racerunner, that posed for the camera. Then this very strange grashopper hopped in front of us, and let me get several good pictures. Then we had a good look at Bullock’s Oriole and later, one of their hanging grass nest.


My mom, sister Jo and I visited the “other members of the family” at the Buffalo Gap Cemetery. We heard a tiny, occasional peeping, and Jo spotted a tail, high in a tree, twitching in unison. Then she found his mate, apparently, in a nest in a little tree nearby, at head height. We all got a good look and made a positive ID. He was a Lark Sparrow,

On the same visit, we also saw a pair of young deer, just losing their spots. We think their mom leaves them in the cemetery for its safety.