Steve White’s Animaux

Pair of mallards copulating in the creek. He pushes her quite under the water! Fortunately, she’s a water bird.

After, they both wiggle their little tails in satisfaction, and…she poops out a bit of white stuff—was this his little gift? A little research reveals, this was probably just the case.

A walk in Neues Garten with Rachel turned up a song that stopped me in my tracks, a very melodic thing, but different from Amsel, Rotkelchen, and Nachtigal. We spotted him in a tree, pretty clearly a Gelbspötter (Icterine Warbler). The book says his song is full of imitations. Now, if you could, and if what you heard was Amsel, Rotkelchen, and Nachtigal, wouldn’t you imitate that?

Back home in Abilene, I was once again surprised by the fancy locals, this time especially by a Kingbird, doing the typical flycatcher flip from a telephone wire.

In the cemetery in Buffalo Gap, I heard a simple sweet song coming from the tree over my grandparents’ graves. I found the culprit, and found it hard to place: absolutely blood red from beneath. But he was once again a Painted Bunting. Surprising such an outlandish thing would be common anywhere.

Linda pointed out some Nighthawks flying over Abilene in the evening. Mom calls them boomers.

Before a big Summer storm, the swifts will be seen criss-crossing high in the sky. If you look closely, above them are many more, and above them, even more, and presumably, many are too high to be visible.

What are they doing up there?

Sure it’s fun, but they wouldn’t expend so much energy when there’s so much to do and life is so short. They must be feeding.

So between the billowing of the giant clouds and the splendid birds, a connecting agent is present, invisible to our eyes. The agent must be flying insects of course. For the birds to behave this way, there must be a lot of them. But that raises another question: why would so many insects swarm up into a thunderstorm?

The best answer I’ve heard is, it’s a great form of transportation for the bugs. By catching a good updraft they could be blown a hundred miles from where they were. By the hard law of large numbers practised by insects, it’s a good enough bet that some can thus find better feeding/mating grounds.

Linda found me a study from 1939, The Distribution of Insects, Spiders, and Mites in the Air, by P. A. Glick, Technical Bulletin No. 673 of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. They take this view as to why the insects hitch on thunderstorms, and do impressive gatherings of airborne critters under different circumstances.

I’m still blown over by the unseen agent aspect.

Park Sanssoucie, late July: several Maüsebussard (Common Buzzard) are hunting in the park, especially now the high grass has been mowed. I saw one lift off the ground with something, and snuck up on the tree it flew to. Sure enough it was in a low branch, dismembering some small animal. It didn’t take long.

They don’t appear to congregate, exactly. Rather, they’re just together to take part in the same repast. When they finish, they fly away separately.

For the North American readers: this bird is the buzzard, not the vultures we call buzzard in North America. As was often the case, the European settlers in North America didn’t have a word for the vultures, and gave them a familiar name. The buzzard here is a hawk.