The Thing That Went “Hnaaaagh.”

So I went out to Bond Park, to go birding. I saw a Double-Crested Cormorant, which was new for me, and the usual array of titmice, cardinals, robins, small crying children, mallards, Canadian geese, happy dogs with bandanas, etc, plus my first Ruby-Throated Hummingbird of the season. There were also a lot of things that I couldn’t get a good enough look at to identify–something brown and swallow-ish catching bugs on the surface of the water, a liver-colored thrushy kind of bird, and what I suspect was a black and white warbler going head-first down a tree, but can’t be sure of enough to list. There was a flicker nesting in a hollow tree–I saw him (or her) go in and out a few times, and baby ducks, which are always cute as hell.

And an absolutely adorable muskrat carrying grass back to his nest. D’aww.

And then there was the thing that went “Hnaaagh.”

I was hanging out in a swampy area–and I’m going back sometime when I’m wearing hiking boots–rife with sunning turtles, dozing ducks, and the industrious muskrat. Then something went “Hnaaagh.”

It was a weird ass noise. I thought at first it was something industrial, possibly a truck grinding gears or something. It was, however, repeated several times, and then another hnaagher answered from some distance away. Since trucks only call to each other in that gawdawful Stephen King movie about the murderous 80s trucks of death, I suspected something organic.

It sounds like a honk, while sounding nothing at all like a goose. It didn’t quite sound like a bird call, for that matter, more like one of those weird drumming or booming things that the weirder birds make in their chests. It might well have been a croak. There was a weird kind of metallic buzzing quality to it. It was like a muffled, flat car horn. “Hnaaagh. Hnaaagh. Hnaaagh.”

I tromped around the swamp for a bit, nearly stepping on ducks and causing the turtles to eye me suspiciously. I saw nothing. But the hnaaagh continued, fairly nearby. It was a densely wooded area, so my range of vision was obstructed and sporadic, it could have been a small mammoth trumpeting at the water’s edge and I could concievably have missed it, but still, the hnaaagh, the hnaaagh, the hnaaghs in the walls. Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhnaaaghan!

Now I just wanna know what the heck it was.

Anybody got any ideas? I don’t know if it was bird or beast, fish nor fowl. I could recognize the sound again–I think–but while I can visually identify a bird at least enough to tell where in the book to start looking, I can’t even begin to identify based on a species-ambiguous hnaagh. I can find the calls on-line, I just don’t know where to start looking.

Still…working…on website.

It’s not hard so much as tedious–I’ve resigned myself to the layout I’ve got now, with the understanding that as our knowledge grows, we may be able to do snazzy stuff like collapsing menus and whatnot. Better to get it up and on-line and working for me than obsessing. I am not a perfectionist. I think if I have had any success as an artist, it’s attributable to that–I’ll do my best, but at the end of the day, I am capable of saying “Good enough for jazz,” and putting the brush down. (This may mean that I will never be a great artist, but the odds weren’t really in my favor anyway.)

But anyway, the website. The problem is basically that I have SO MUCH ART. I’ve uploaded probably 3/4ths of it, and I’m slowly working through getting all the descriptions in, but it’s slow. I’m hoping to get it put up this weekend–it won’t have all the art, but it’ll have most of it, and since I can update so easily, I’ll be able to continue putting up the rest of the art, as well as the new stuff. I’d like to get all the descriptions in for the art before it goes up, but it’ll be a work in progress for awhile, I suspect.

Also, it’s worth noting that the Digger I am working on today is page 200. I’m rather wowed by this. While page 100 had our wombat heroine being stabbed in the posterior, this page is not quite so exciting, but I’m still kinda jazzed at how long this has gone on.

(crossposted to birdlovers)

Okay, now I’m having yet another ornithological identity crisis.

I have another Mystery Thrush. It hopped up on the railing in the early morning, bounced stiffly along it for a moment, looking like a somewhat chilly little ball of dark-eyed angst, surveyed the area and the indignant goldfinches, then flapped off.

Getting a really good look at it this way, I was able to rule out the vast majority of thrush-kind and also brown thrasher-kind. It’s deifnitely a thrush, it did the little look-I-can-be-a-fluffy-ball thing the bluebirds do when they’re cold, it had a brown back and white belly, shading to a slightly yellow-orangey bit at the throat (very slightly, nothing approaching a robin or bluebird, but noticeable just because of how white the breast was. It had the dark thrush eye, with white around it, probably too faint to really call an eye-ring. And–here’s the thing–nary a spot. There wasn’t a single spot, or even the ghost of a spot. There was some faint streaking where the throat grew darker, although you could say it was just the feathers creasing and I’d probably believe you–that’s how faint it was.

I flipped through my field guide to Carolina birds and discovered that our hero doesn’t, evidentally live in North Carolina. I went to my more exhaustive copy and found jack. Practically everything has spots. I’d have a really hard time believing that a clay-colored robin just decided to tour the east, and even if it did, it’s too dark–this guy’s breast was a white that wouldn’t have shamed an egret.

In despair, I went to E-Nature, and man, their photo of the veery is awfully close. It’s the right colors and the right shape, and the spotting at the throat is very pale–a hair less spotting, or if the spots blended into streaks more, and it’d be more or less exact. And it says veery’ve got the lightest spots of any of the thrushes. (It also looks nothing like the one in my field guide, which had big honkin’ black spots scattered across the throat, which was why I had initially dismissed it.)

The problem is that veery, it is claimed, are secretive and live in dense shade. My container plants would argue that I’ve got the dense shade thing down pat, and the greenbelt out back is indeed pretty shaderific, but for a secretive bird, it did quite the little boogie on the railing. And–this is the big one–it’s not supposed to be here. It migrates through in spring and fall, but it’s supposed to be with flocks that move by night, and it’s supposed to be in the mountains, not down here in the Triangle suburbs.

So now I’m stumped. Help me, o birders! I’m new to this. Is it more likely that there’s a veery in my yard, where there isn’t really supposed to be, or that I have some kind of freaky non-spotted hermit thrush? Compounding matters, I went back to the window with the binoculars, and actually SAW what I assume was a hermit thrush, with a breast so densely mottled it looked like it was wearing a fishnet bib, breaking into a nearly white throat with two long black broken stripes. No mistaking that one for my Mystery Thrush.

While I will lie in wait for as much of today as I can with the camera, that sort of thing is always kinda hit or miss. Any thoughts?

As I sat at the train crossing for the second time in twenty minutes, watching Amtrak cruise by, an inner voice piped up. It sounded like that sage voice that, in times of stress and crisis, will offer wisdom and advice (which I naturally don’t listen to, because once you start obeying the voices in your head, it sets a really bad precedent for the rest of the brain.)

It said, “You know, that indigo bunting wouldn’t scan worth shit.”

I considered this. The train continued to pass.

“First of all, it’s blue, and the scanner totally eats blue tones, and secondly, it’s really only blue because of the light refraction, and you know how the scanner eats gold leaf. There’s probably a good way to photograph ’em, but they just wouldn’t scan.”

The train finished passing. The bars began the pre-lifting joggling motion.

“It probably wouldn’t like being wedged onto the scanner bed, either,” the voice offered, and then felt silent. I drove across the tracks and on down the road.

Either my life is so good that this is my most burning issue, or man, I need a better class of ephiphanies.

Perhaps I Have Defective Radar…

Squirrel limping on right front forepaw. Keeps setting it down and picking it back up hastily, not putting any weight on it. While he* can rest the paw on the ground, or the rim of the water dish, and it doesn’t look swollen or bloody, there’s definitely something goin’ on.

*sigh* If he comes back tomorrow, he’ll get a name and join the ranks.

The squirrel with the weird raw patch on its belly–I balk at calling it “Cessy”, I just can’t do it–was back this weekend. The thingy’s still there. I got some photos, but haven’t pulled ’em off the camera yet.

It occurred to me that there may be a third explanation for the Defective Wildlife Zone–since I do occasionally lose track of squirrels, it’s possible that I do not so much have hundreds of mutant squirrels as a half-dozen Inspector Clouseau-esque squirrels. Notch, for example, had his ear mostly healed last I saw him, there’s no reason he couldn’t have healed up long enough to be unidentifiable and come back with an abccess. Stumpy…okay, Stumpy’s got a 99% chance of having gone to the Great Unbaffled Birdfeeder In The Sky, and I don’t think their tails grow back, but Lumpy, having lost the lumps and the scars mostly vanished, could then injure a foot and be limping around the feeder, looking like a fresh defective squirrel.

Gimpy’s marked for life, obviously, (and is dangling in midair by his good hind foot and one hand, shoving seeds from the finch feeder into his mouth as we speak) and I suspect Scarface’s distinctively villianous visage is permanent. But I can’t swear to some of the others. And of course, while *I* know that I’m not doing it, if I were, say, a reader of a suspicious turn of mind, I’d probably also suspect me of having some kind of freaky tree-rat version of Munchausen-by-proxy. But I’m not copping to anything unless they promise to name the variant after me in the medical books.

*This is the default pronoun in this case, and not a result of me actually peering beneath a squirrely tail

On a whim–because it’s the weekend, and I can kill time however I want without guilt, damnit!–I thought I’d compile a list of birds I’ve seen in the yard here. My actual lifelist is probably of no interest to anybody but me, and weighs in at only 86 birds anyway, but the ones I’ve seen around here….actually, I can’t think why anybody’d be interested in those, either, but what the hell. I couldn’t imagine that people would be interested in defective squirrels, either, and boy, was I wrong. And hey, in case e-nature ever goes down, I’ll have a backup.

However, I’ll cut tag it out of politeness to the non-ornithologically-inclined.

Read more

More wildlife, non-defective

A good weekend for the ‘ol lifelist–saw an absolutely bluer than blue little bird. My first thought was “lazuli bunting” but of course, I’m not on the west coast any more, so it’s an indigo bunting. Every time I think I’ve seen everything my patch of backyard can possibly offer, new species drop in out of the blue. Like the defective squirrels, I find myself wondering if I’ve gotten lucky, or if any patch of ground with five feeders and a bunch of trees would be home to such a variety, and I’m just finally paying attention.

Found the leak causing the hummingbird feeder to drain. I knew I’d have seen anything chowing down at THAT rate. Fixed it. Bluebirds, after several weeks away, seem to be back on the suet again. I hope they’re feeding chicks somewhere.

When I was taking out the trash earlier, the lid of the can had fallen to the ground, and I flipped it over with my foot, revealing two terrified little deer mice, obviously juveniles, huddled together and looking up at me with those gigantic anime-maiden eyes that deer mice have.

“Sorry!” I said. “God, aren’t you cute?!” After a minute or two, realizing that yes, the horrible monster had spotted them, they took off running. Unfortunately, they ran into a coil of gutter tubing laying on the ground, which curves around to drain the run-off down a small slope. Following the curve of the tube brought them back around, so in absolute terror, they found themselves running right between the monster’s feet, as I stood like the Colossus of Rhodes (plump female version.) Bouncing in absolute terror, they fled into the safety under the deck. Doubtless we’ll meet again in the silverware drawer, some weeks hence.

The squirrels are in a mood this morning. One of the nameless hordes is obviously feeling rather more homicidal than usual–instead of the usual chase-chase-reverse-chase scene that seems to define squirrel politics, this one threw himself on a fellow squirrel and actually attacked, giving rise to a brief rolling ball of scratching and biting across the leaves, which quickly split apart as the victim fled, to drown his sorrows in the comforts of free suet. Undaunted, the aggressive squirrel turned on another squirrel in the vicinity and attacked again, with similiar results.

There’s a definite pecking order, but it’s hard for me to tell apart most of the members. Fortunately, the top two are easy–Scarface is the Boss. If he’s on the feeder, nobody else is allowed within ten feet. Next up, bizarrely enough, is Gimpy. I would have assumed our three-legged hero would be an underdog, but he’s actually something of a bruiser. (Must have been all those camellia buds…) He’ll even stand up to Scarface for brief periods, and he’s always the chaser and never the chasee with everybody else.

There’s one male that I suspect is usually the same, who I have tentatively named “Scrawny” because he’s so nervous and shaky and thin. He’s definitely at the bottom of the pecking order. He creeps up to the feeder when the other squirrels have picked it over completely and snuffles through the discarded shells looking for a full sunflower seed. However, since it’s mostly a behavioral identification, I’m not confident enough of my ability to ID him regularly to add him to the line-up.

An inch of nectar is gone from the hummingbird feeder. I haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet, but SOMETHING’s eating it, and there’s a bee guard, so it’s probably not bees.

The Return of the Slice of Life

Today we tried to figure out where to put James’s newly acquired mountain bike, and confronted again that age old truth–no matter how much space a place has when you move into it, you will expand to fill it in no time flat. It horrifies me that two people need a three bedroom place, but…well, I suppose if you consider that I have a home office/studio, it’s not so bad.

James: “This would be no problem at all if we had a loft.”

Ursula: “You have a real thing for the loft idea. I dunno.”

James: “It’d be perfect! The next time we move, let’s get a loft.”

Ursula: “I have a lot of books we’d have to put somewhere.”

James: “We’ll build you a temple of books! With cinderblocks and crates!”

Ursula: “I had kinda been hoping that I’d left the cinderblock-and-board furniture period of my existence behind forever.”

James: “Never! We’ll get cinderblocks and two by fours, and wear bathrobes, and live like hippie kings in a loft built for two.”

Ursula: “….”

James: “The cat can come too.”

Ursula: “….that was either really romantic or desperately stupid, and you know, I’m not sure which.”