War and Peace

 

I spend many hours writing in my office, where I also look out at the trees and bushes and the astonishing number of birds that come to our three feeders. I can’t actually identify them all. But I am learning…slowly.

These three feeders are right outside the windows of my office and since my office is basically three-quarters windows I have a great view of nature every day.

My wife the Beautiful AP likes to go into the backyard and take pictures of the birds (and trees and bees and plants and bushes and butterflies) but yesterday was a different day. AP was busy going over some pictures she had taken earlier when I saw them at the feeders, two (what I think were) grackles, one black, the other gray.

The gray one stayed on the top bar of the feeder away from the other birds while the black one went to the grain in the feeders, shoving aside the sparrows, and put some feed in his beak and flew back to the gray one and fed her beak-to-beak. He did this over and over again. I called the Beautiful AP over to take a look and maybe get a picture of this.

I know that mother birds and often father birds will feed their chicks in their nests but these two birds were basically the same size so I assumed they were both adults and since males tend to be more colorful than female birds I made the assumption that the magnificent black bird was male and the somewhat less magnificent gray bird was female.

“I’ve never seen anything like this with two adult birds,” said AP attempting to take a picture through the window.

These two (lovebirds? mated birds? courting birds?) continued in this fashion for about fifteen minutes and then they both flew away.

“What do you think?” I asked AP.

“The only thing I know,” she replied, “is you can’t get a decent picture through a window.”

She hadn’t. Too bad. What the heck was actually going on? Was I right in some of my assumptions?

A while later I saw her tromping around the backyard with her sunhat on her head and the camera at her eyes. I wondered what she was photographing.

I found out when she came into the house about a half hour later.

“I got two blue jays at war,” she said. “They were really going after each other. First a cardinal attempted to scare off the first blue jay but the jay just lunged for the cardinal and the cardinal flew away really fast.”

“Blue jays are tough birds,” I said. “I can see they probably evolved from dinosaurs a few million years ago. They’ve got that attitude.”

“Well, the cardinal turned tail. Literally,” she said.

“Our lovebirds didn’t come back,” I said.

“No,” she said, “but then another blue jay came over and these two blue jays were not friends. They went at each other along the fence. I think I might have gotten a decent picture of them going at it. I would think those two were not lovebirds unless it was violent love. They’re aggressive.”

Yes, they are. I have heard and read many stories where blue jays have attacked people for getting too close to the nest – like about 30 feet! They are dangerous birds and when they come to the feeder most of the other birds get away, to a different feeder or altogether out of there.

I did see one blue jay get killed when a cat nailed him and scattered the blue jay’s feathers and guts under the bird feeders. Okay, I admit, blue jays can’t defeat cats.

I have been now watching birds in a somewhat serious manner for two years – more or less – and they fascinate me. First thing, they can fly! Give me my choice of a single superpower and flying would be it. I don’t need super strength because if someone were bothering I could – snap! – just up and fly away, just like that cardinal did.

So today I experienced two aspects of the bird world; love and warfare. Some relationships combine them. Just like Frank Sinatra sang, “Love and warfare; go together like a horse, carriage and carnage.” AP and I are thankful that our relationship is love minus the warfare, once I learned that in marriage one person is always right…and the other is the husband.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores. Read Frank’s ongoing series about his teaching experiences in School Scobe.

Save the Best for Last

 

My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I went bird watching recently at the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens, New York. This is my favorite place to go for the variety of birds, and for everything else—the marsh, the lakes, the ponds, the bay, the paths, the forest and the magnificent vistas.

You are in beautiful nature yet, through your binoculars off in the distance, you can see the skyline of Manhattan, which is always a spectacular sight. And since this refuge is quite close to Kennedy Airport you get to see hundreds of planes flying into the sky—mankind’s successful attempt to mimic the birds of the air.

Having gotten out of a 10-day post-New Year’s single-digit deep freeze, it was a relief to escape into 40-degree weather, although along the ocean and wetlands, it was still cold and windy.

We had to sneak into the park; it was closed because of the Federal government’s shutdown. We did a two mile walk on the main path; on our left the salt quarter-frozen bay and on the right the completely frozen freshwater lake.

About a hundred feet into the walk we encountered a young female photographer who was sitting on a bench looking at the bay on the opposite side of which is Far Rockaway.

“Any luck?” asked AP.

“Nothing except some flitters that are too fast to photograph,. They zip into the bushes and vanish,” she said. “Nothing is standing still today. There just isn’t really much to see.”

“Well, good luck,” I said as we walked on.

When we hit the area that had no bushes or trees on either side of the path, the wind whipped us. “So much ice,” said AP, looking over the bay.

“Nothing out there,” I said. Just then high overhead a small flock of Canada geese sailed over our heads. “I wouldn’t want to be a Canada goose,” I said. “Nobody seems to like them.”

“Do you like them?” asked AP.

“Not after stepping in their shit all these years,” I said.

“Remember the ones that were so aggressive at Hall’s Pond? If you didn’t give them something to eat, they attacked you.”

“Even if you fed them,” I said. “They still bit you.”

So we kept walking the path, stopping occasionally to look through our binoculars to see if there was anything to see. There wasn’t. The Manhattan skyline looked great as did the planes soaring into the air, but that was about it.

“Maybe we will see something in the second half of the walk,” said the Beautiful AP. “Maybe the second half will be good.”

“The second half of life’s been good,” I said.

“My first half wasn’t so hot,” said AP.

Indeed, AP’s first 29 years saw her more like a deer caught in a car’s headlights on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. She titled her parents’ marriage “Ozzie and Harriet in the Twilight Zone.”

“I was in the Twilight Zone with them,” she said. “It was a middle-class suburban family in chaos.”

“I had wild ups and downs in my first half of life. I certainly disappointed my father,” I said.

“You didn’t become a major league baseball player,” said AP.

I laughed, “I didn’t become the next Joe DiMaggio. I was nowhere near as good as you had to be to become a professional player, even a minor leaguer. So I didn’t get the fame he wanted for me. I petered out. And then a bad marriage, divorce and damn it wasn’t exactly turning out like It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“If we hadn’t met each other I sometimes wonder if I would ever have left Twilight Zone,” she said.

“Without your support I would never have become a well-known writer,” I said.

“The second half has been the best,” said AP.

“Agreed,” I said. “I’ve always felt bad for the people who look over their early years, say in high school or even in college, and reminisce as if these were the best years of their lives. It is sad that the right now is not their best times.”

“I have no nostalgia about those years. I’d never go back,” said AP.

“Me too. Just as we wouldn’t go back from where we came from on this walk, other than a flock of Canada geese, not a bird in sight, I prefer moving ahead. ‘Let the dead past bury its dead,’ as someone famous once said.”

“So let’s move on with the future of this walk,” said the Beautiful AP.

Right then a sparrow landed on the path in front of us. Our first non-goose! AP focused her camera but the sparrow scooted into the bushes before she could take a picture. The sparrow was not the last. We took a couple of steps and two unidentifiable black birds zipped over our heads. At least they were birds!

At the tail end of our walk all hell broke loose! Or maybe you could say that the heavens’ opened. Suddenly there were a half dozen different birds flying overhead, landing in the denuded trees, walking on the snow on the path searching for water and seeds, and some just stood on the side of the path looking at us. AP took dozens of photos. A couple came over and both the husband and the wife exclaimed, “Look at all the cedar waxwings!”

These birds are small and look like miniature cardinals. They were not skittish and the Beautiful AP got dozens of pictures of them. There were cardinals and robins and sparrows and gulls and, yes, flying overhead and honking like crazy were those Canada Geese. There were some other birds too—I just don’t what kind. It was, I kid you not, like being in an aviary.

When we finished, we snuck out of the Refuge and walked  to the car.  AP summed up our lives and this bird walk stating, “The second half was so much better!”

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

Camera Shy

“They are smart,” said my wife the Beautiful AP. “This can’t be just coincidence.”

I agreed with her. We were talking about Hooded Mergansers but such applies to almost all birds. They are smart.

Too many ornithologists come down on the side of birds just being creatures of instinct with no real intelligence. My wife and I have two parrots and let me tell you, they are both intelligent. In fact, more often than not, they outsmart me. Their goal in a day is to manipulate me; my goal is to be left alone so I can do my work. They often – quite often – win.

I guess you can say that for the Beautiful AP and for me, birds have passed our version of the Turing Test. This test was created by Alan Turing to determine if a being were actually intelligent or just a machine of some kind.

According to Turing, if a machine responds as if it were intelligent, then indeed it is intelligent. Anyway that’s what Turing’s test tries to show. I’ve just extended it to animals and birds. I agree that there are instincts (or unconscious programs) but intelligence is there, in some cases (as in parrots) that intelligence is pretty high. I assume other animals pass the Turing Test too. I am not saying animal/bird intelligence is equivalent to human intelligence; just that those minds are working.

“So why can’t I ever get Hooded Mergansers?” AP whined.

She was right. Every time we saw Hooded Mergansers they were always on the other side of the lake. We’d then walk around the lake – even a far walk – and as soon as we got to where the Hooded Mergansers had been, those rotten birds were now on the side of the lake from where we just came.

This didn’t happen just once or twice but multiple times in multiple places both on Long Island and in Cape May. Come on, they had to know they were busting the Beautiful AP’s chops. Maybe these birds had some kind of psychic connection to each other as in, “That dumb photographer is heading to Cape May from Long Island. Let’s screw around with her as our LI brethren have done. Awk! Awk!” (“Awk! Awk!” is the derisive laugh of birds.)

Next, we have a couple of Cardinals who come to our three feeders quite often. Cardinals are magnificently colored creatures; red as red can be – the males that is. The females are far plainer, but still quite pretty.

But the Beautiful AP cannot get a picture of this magnificent male bird. He will be on the feeder, beaking his food, when AP positions the camera to capture him in all his glory and then – the stinking bird will scoot over to the other side of the feeder where he can’t be seen.

“Damn! Damn it!” says AP.

The bird now peaks its head around the feeder at her. You can see it looking at her. But as soon as she lifts the camera, Mr. Cardinal scoots around back again. This does not happen with the host of Sparrows, the many Blackbirds, Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, Grackles, Mourning Doves, Tufted Tit Mice, and Black Capped Chickadees. These birds just eat and swiftly fly away when a cat crouches to kill them. No, just those miserable male Cardinals play this nerve-wracking game.

When the Cardinal was in a bush or tree, every time she lifted the camera, the damn bird would scoot behind a leaf, a branch, a feeder – anything to hide himself.

No one should ever think a bird’s brain is just a birdbrain.

AP is undeterred. She plans to have an exhibit of her bird photos in less than a year and vows to have great shots of Cardinals, Hooded Mergansers and other smarty-pants birds in the display. If I know my wife, she will prevail.

“’You must do the things you think you cannot do,’” AP said thunderously, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt.

I could be a smarty-pants myself. “’I can resist anything but temptation,’” quoting Oscar Wilde.  Then I poured myself a drink.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from Amazon.com, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]