Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Wish List

I don't have a big wish list. I've got what I need, and if I don't, I won't take it personally. Still, there are things.

I want to see a woodcock. I want to watch that goof strutting with his big old eyeballs on top of his head. His eyeballs are so big his brain had to slide down the back of his neck just to fit them in, and I'm not even kidding. He's dashing. He's got rhythm. He goes PEENT. He is everything I want in a wish, except Here.

Also? I want a personal bushtit nest with personal bushtits in it. As wishes go, it's not out of line. We are butt-deep in bushtits all year. They fly plurally from one tree to the next. If they had to practice social distancing they would just die. The only time of the year you'll see just two bushtits together is when they're building a nest. The rest of the flock has to be sitting around hyperventilating until they're all invited back for the open-house. And believe it or not--they will be.

Standard number of bushtits, on suet feeder
I make a point of looking for bushtit nests when we're out walking. They're often dangling from the branches of evergreens, but I've seen them in other kinds of trees as well. That's right, dangling. They totally knit a sock. A fuzzy sock.

So the bushtits in our yard have to be nesting somewhere nearby, and every year I hope I'll spy the sock, so I can watch. My sheltering-in-place plans already included trying to spot bushtits with nesting material and figuring out where they go.

And then, on a March evening warm enough to take our beers out to the front porch, we saw it. We saw it! There are two bushtits knitting a nest in our WISTERIA! Which is like six feet away from our chairs! On the PORCH! Right the heck THERE! Right the heck IN FRONT OF US!

Day two
Oh my god oh my god. They were just casting on, but I guess it takes a month for them to finish a sock. Once they turn the heel, they're home free. I read that the male will be starting two or three nests at once and the female picks one and they finish it together, so there's some danger she'll pick a different one. But we're a week in now and I think this thing is happening. So far it doesn't look like there's any actual knitting going on. It looks like it's entirely made of individual dandelion flufflets and static cling. But there's plenty of spiderweb and moss in there too. Maybe they're just putting in the lining and they'll bring in something stouter for the siding later. I plan to see.

Just think of it: can you make a sock with your face using only spider butt juice and lint? Okay fine, but then can you pop out eggs in it and jam yourself and your teenage kids and your in-laws in there until teeny weeny bushtit babies come out? I thought not. You can't even spend that kind of time with your family on Thanksgiving. But bushtits are all of the same mind when it comes to politics. It works for them. Thanks, thanks, thanks, praise the Lord and pass the creamed aphids.

And unlike most chickadees--Marge and Studley excepted--you can tell the bushtits apart. The boy has brown eyes and the girl has yellow eyes. That's Chip up top and Mitzi to the left. We're trying to give them all the space they need (and they don't seem to need much) but we have been eavesdropping and we do know their names.

Everyone? Meet Chip and Mitzi. The Vinebustles.

And bonus woodcock from Mr. Internet:

42 comments:

  1. What a wonderful primer on bushtits, Murr. Thank you! I used to see bushtits flitting about the bushes and small trees; but, we're waiting to see the total effects of our new neighbors' new, 150' solid wooden wall. (It's not for certain, of course, but it is possible "the wall" was a factor in, for the first time in 20 years, our bluebird box's not being occupied, so far.)

    As I ate dinner, yesterday, I watched a small flock of cedar waxwings in our ash trees - right on time for their annual appearance.

    Good luck on the woodcock.

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    1. I have to go somewhere for my woodcock. Somewhere else.

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    2. Our woodcocks are peenting up a storm right now. We can give you a rain check for a visit in the future.

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  2. That woodcock dance--have you read Aldo Leopold's description of it in A Sand County Almanac? I teach that book and show the same video to my students--that's one sexxxxxay strut! LOL!
    I never even knew of Bushtits, but I have marveled at every bird's nest because the construction is amazing--and all without opposable thumbs, too!

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    1. They can do more with their face that we do all year with whatever we got.

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  3. I've seen living woodcocks a number of times. That would be two. First one was kicked up on a hike in a swampy woods. It flew up, zigged in and out between the tree trunks and then dropped and disappeared. Second one was late one moonlit night in the spring. I was looking for frogs at a pond that close to a grassy clearing in the woods. I heard a PEENT! Looked up in time to see a little silhouette spiraling back to earth and then shooting up into the sky again. I've only seen one dead one.

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    1. Well poop! I thought they were real common, you know, where they exist.

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  5. Happy, happy days. Please keep us posted.

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    1. Count on it! They're still building, so I think we have a keeper.

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  6. We have woodcocks, but they fly at dusk and they fly right in front of me really fast. If I didn't already know what they were I wouldn't be able to see their distinguishing features. Once in a while they stop moving, but not where I can get much of a look at them. I've heard they are tasty, but I just couldn't do that to them unless I was desperate.

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  7. I have only seen Bushtits 7 times. One time there was a pair building a nest. I was fascinated watching them. As you say they are a gregarious group.
    We have Woodcocks that nest about 2 miles from our house. We go out each late winter/early spring to watch and mostly hear their performances.
    One time near a wildlife refuge we came upon one crossing a road. We stopped our car in the middle of the road to stop traffic because it was 1. fun to watch the stroll across the road and 2. we didn't want anyone flying down the road to smash it. We had non birding friends with us and they were mighty impressed with this look at nature.

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    1. Wait, did you see bushtits and woodcocks in the same location? (I'm moving if so!)

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  8. Oh no. I have seen Bushtits in AZ, CA, BC while on vacation.
    Woodcocks near my home in Indiana.

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    1. Bushtits are nearly always plural. DAMN, they like each other!

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  9. Is it just my computer, or did everyone watching the video get "suggested: The Bangles, Walk Like an Egyptian" superimposed on it? pretty funny, given that strut :)

    I loved reading about the bushtits. I hope they choose the nest that gives you ringside seats.

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    1. Not just you. I tried to find a straight woodcock strut with a PEENT but couldn't. Nobody who has a video can resist putting music to it. If you look around, them woodcocks on the internet is dancin' to all kinds of music.

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    2. Not just you at all - and the best video I have seen to that song.

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    3. Now I just feel stupid because I didn't realize the video was set to that song - I didn't have the sound on. DUH! But I'm sure that while the PEENT would have been more realistic, that tune was a lot funnier :)

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    4. I'd never seen a woodcock strut before, and watched several set to different music. Then I sent a link to one (I believe "Tequila" was the soundtrack) to our "dancing" front row in the chorus. It was so evocative of the choreography for our uptune! Poultry in motion, indeed.

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    5. I happen to be one of the "dancers" on the front row, so they knew it came from love and a firmly cheek-planted tongue.

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  10. If you ever make you way to Rhode Island, your fans here at the Audubon Society will be happy to take you on a woodcock walk. We know where they are! Be happy to spend time showing you.

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    Replies
    1. We'll have to make a date for next Spring!

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    2. I got to see bushtits in CA and they are adorable! Didn’t know they were so clever. As to woodcocks, I saw a blur one night they tell me was one. I couldn’t prove it. One of those birds I have heard but not really seen. And how they get PEENT out of that call I have no idea.

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    3. It's kind of a fart noise. Yet another point in its favor!

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  11. Hurrah for bushtits! So kind of them to drop by for you.

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    1. They're hanging around Studley now as he accepts mealworms from our hands. No takers yet, but they're interested. Oh boy.

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    2. Wouldn't that be great if the bushtits would accept mealworms from you? The entire flock could hang off you at once. If it happens, have Dave take pictures!

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  12. So the bushtit sock nest is built using the TARDIS design? MUCH bigger on the inside..
    I hope you get to see much more bushtit activity at the nest.
    The woodcock dance walk had me laughing out loud.

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    1. I've never seen that show. There are a lot of shows everyone's seen but me and yet I still know a lot of the plot lines. (Star Wars?)

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    2. I'm such a Doctor Who geek that my first thought on seeing her screen name was "Hmmmm... I wonder if that's a Doctor Who reference to River Song..."

      I don't like the more recent episodes, though. Too preachy.

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  13. When I was married to my first husband, we had a little house near the Susquehanna. One morning we looked out our window and saw a strange bird parading around on the ground under the birdfeeder. My then-husband declared, "That's a woodcock!" He mostly worked on his motorcycles and stuff so I was quite surprised that he knew this bird. I later divorced him anyway. My new husband (of 31 years)has a lot of interest in birds.

    We have spotted an active hawk's nest on our property, which isn't grand but it does border a state park with streams and ponds. The nest is 80 or more feet high in a tulip poplar tree. We have strategically placed lawn chairs in a few locations where there's a view (rapidly disappearing as the trees leaf out). Yesterday I happened to see the hawks exchanging a tasty frog. Raw nature.

    The bushtit nest will be so much fun for you to watch. People all over this country and this world live their entire lives never having sat and watched a bird build a nest and feed chicks. We are among the very fortunate. Bunnies don't lay eggs either. WHERE'S MY CHOCOLATE? Happy Easter.

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    1. Ah yes. First year the Easter Bunny hasn't come. Your property sounds mighty grand to me.

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  14. Murr, I just read the bushtit piece above. Loved, loved it. Thanks. Lindy

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    1. If one must shelter in place, one should have a set of these!

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