26 December 2007

Thomas Hardy

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

This is about as upbeat as Hardy gets. This poem was written around and is about the turn of last century. I learned that and also the justification for my use of the Nightingale picture for a poem about a thrush at this wonderful page.

(photo courtesy of wikipedia)

12 December 2007

Poor Dead Cedar Waxwing

In the first episode of the fantastic sketch comedy show "Mr. Show", Bob Odenkirk's Terry the Cameraman character mentions offhandedly how he received a baked carrot from the Society for Unpleasant Gifts. I thought of this briefly when Kellie's co-worker Jennifer gave me this window-collisioned Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum).

Nice and fluffy after a near-thaw

A few weeks later, just pulled from the freezer

It's quite a thoughtful gift, though, from an interesting and interested woman. The poor thing (the bird, not the gift-giver) had been one of a flock to be flushed from her parents' yard in Rhode Island on Thanksgiving. Besides the wife's pet Budgerigar, I've never been closer to a bird than through my binoculars. So now I guess I've got a specimen. In the freezer door.

For the past, jeez, two months or so now (Kellie the librarian I'm sure could tell me exactly how long) I've been reading David Sibley's excellent The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. And coincidentally enough, soon after receiving the dead bird, I came upon the Waxwings chapter. And I quote (extensively):

Waxwings are named for the red waxy "droplets" on the ends of the secondary flight feathers of adults.... The color of the droplets comes from carotenoid pigments that are found in the birds' diet of fruit and that cannot be synthesized by the birds directly.... In the bombycillids [i.e. waxwings], deposits of a bright red carotenoid (astaxanthin) are concentrated in flat, expanded extensions of the rachis that project beyond the feather vanes. Immature waxwings have few or no droplets, but the number and size of droplets gradually increases with each basic molt, at least over the first few years.

In the tail, the yellow carotenoids are normally incorporated into the vanes at the tips of the feathers, producing a yellow band across the tip of the tail that is not waxy like the wingtips.

Wow! I had no idea about any of that! Let's take a look at that, exclamation point!

Again, again!

Now that I've discovered that tidbit, however, I'm unsure of what to do with the carcass. I feel like I should donate it to a collection to be taxidermied, or have it necropsied, or something else; even though it's a familiar bird that died a quotidian death, it must still be of some scientific worth. I know nothing of the subspecies, or what to measure to determine which subspecies it might be. Any suggestions?

06 December 2007

Emily Dickinson


A Bird came down the Walk--

He did not know I saw--
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass--
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass--

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around--
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought--
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home--

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam--
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.

(photo courtesy of wikipedia)