What You Can See on Feb. 7
Submitted by Ted Williams on Tue, 02/07/2006 - 12:44.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. The Language of Chickadees Legend has it that on January 6—Twelfth Night—wild animals can speak. Certainly this is true for chickadees, not that they shut up during the rest of the year. If you learn their language, they’ll even tell you what they’re doing. Winter is the best time to undertake the study because the garrulous, quarrelsome little birds have the silent woods mostly to themselves. Now they flit about in tight flocks of six or so, hanging upside down from snow-laden boughs and picking insect eggs. They have at least 15 distinct vocalizations, and each bird has a dominance rank within the flock that does not change, even with injury. Dee-dee is uttered after a chase or skirmish. Chebeche means “Get away. I outrank you.” Members keep in contact with a high-pitched “tseet-tseet.” Individuals that have strayed may attempt to relocate their comrades with the familiar chickadee-dee call. The sweet, clear fee-bee song of the male, heard in late winter, indicates the onset of breeding behavior. A bird that spots a predator freezes the flock with a whistled warning in perfect English: See-see. See-see…Shore-Hugging Whales Heart-shaped plumes of mist blooming from an early-winter seascape indicate the passage of gray whales plowing south from the Bering and Chukchi seas to Baja California. Stand on a point or headland anywhere along the Pacific Coast and you may spot this primitive, shore-hugging cetacean, the only marine mammal ever taken off the Endangered Species List. In this migration, the longest of any mammal on earth, there will be three to five 10-foot-high plumes every 30 to 50 seconds, then an extended dive. If you see a dead gray, don’t despair. Carcasses, some emaciated, frequently wash up on Pacific beaches--probably an indication that the species is doing so well that there’s now competition for food.