Tuesday, May 27, 2014

AVIAN RAGE – Nose to Beak With Killer Robins

HOW I GOT THE POINT
The way Nature has hard wired all living things to survive and reproduce never ceases to amaze me.

The other day, while working on the deck, I heard a scream from just outside the back door of our neighbor’s house. I called her, but she didn’t pick up. So I walked over and, not seeing her, rang the doorbell.

Just then I heard a robin chirping—not in its usual lilting spring voice, but in an excited, scolding tone. I turned around and, before I could even get my hands up, the bird flew right at my face and drove its beak into my forehead. Then its mate swooped in and barely missed me.

PHOTO: David Wildeman

Besides a rush of adrenaline, the first thing that went through my mind was, Aha! So this is why our neighbor was screaming. I’d forgotten about the nest. The robins built it on top of the utility box just two feet from her door. And we’d been keeping an eye on the blue eggs and then little heads inside as, each day, a few millimeters more of them became visible over the nest’s thatch-and-mud rim.

     Would you stand up to a one-hundred-foot-
     tall, one-hundred-ton alien creature?

A BEEF WITH A BLUE WHALE
As I dabbed alcohol on my small wound and our neighbor tended to her skinned knees—she’d dropped to the ground trying to escape the robin’s clawing and pecking at her scalp—I couldn’t help but marvel at the fierce protective instincts of those birds, each a mere one-thousandth of my weight, risking their very lives to protect their young.

Such instincts are, of course, the rule, not the exception, in the animal kingdom. I was aware of several defensive strategies birds use, including deception (think the injured wing distraction), posturing and even filching protection by building nests near those of other, more aggressive species. And, though I’ve been buzzed by birds before, I’ve never actually been hit.

What about you? Any bird war stories to share?

PHOTO: Alma Alexander

                Might our once-keen instincts 
                have dulled from lack of use?

Do you think every human parent would stand up to a one-hundred-foot-tall, one-hundred-ton alien creature (an animal of about the size of an adult blue whale, as big to us as we are to a robin) to try to save her/his child?

Or might our once-keen instincts have dulled from lack of use? Could they have gotten buried, over thousands of generations, in so many layers of cultural teachings and pretexts that, while those practices may suit today’s generally privileged, sheltered lives, the kind of involuntary, blind fury shown by those robins would be impossible?

Something to think about as we embrace summer and the amazing, complex dance of life that swirls around—and within—us. Keep your eyes open…and your head down.


Monday, May 19, 2014

UNDER THE WILD GINGER – Gift Book of the Year!

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

SEEN BEFORE GREEN – The Clever Allure of Magnolia

Magnolia, like azalea, rhododendron and camellia, is a flowering plant I've always associated with the south. Not Minnesota. But clever horticulturalists keep coming up with new, hardier varieties, bowing ever-farther north the lines on those growing zone maps gardeners refer to when looking for stuff that will survive their winters.

Zone-four-hardy magnolias first caught my eye because they produce their creamy, slightly lop-eared flowers before their leaves. I'd never seen that before, and I wondered why they do it.

            While its rivals worked on foliation, 
            Magnolia's flowers stole the show. 

It is an ancient genus, some members of its broader family dating from about 95 million years ago according to fossil records. That means they existed before bees showed up in Earth's stew of life. So perhaps that was the plant's first incentive to be creative, having to figure out how to attract beetles and other walking, crawling insects to pollinate it.

One way it gained a competitive edge over other plants was to pour all its spring energy into its flowers. This way, while its rivals worked on foliation, Magnolia's flowers stole the show. And to a bug, if one tree is sprinkled with pretty little flowers here and there between its leaves, and another looks like one gigantic flower, where are you going to go?

So, to this, the first blooming tree I've seen this long-overdue spring, thank you for that ancient ambition...and for luring this walking critter into the blushing center of your exuberant beauty!

Magnolia x loebneri 'Merrill'