Friday, September 07, 2007

Link Day

Photo courtesy of Neurophilosophy
Long time Central Park hawkwatcher, science buff, and sidewalk philosopher, Kentaurian, sent these fascinating links pertaining to a possible answer as to what may have caused the mysterious collapse of the honeybee population in the U.S.

And from Linda out in Huntington Long Island something for those who've attempted to herd cats...

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Pied-billed Grebe Floats and The Mules Watch

Pied-billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
From Central Park photographer, Eleanor Tauber, a lovely photo of the Pied-billed Grebe at the Model Boat Pond. She reports that the Grebe has been observed eating and seems to be doing just fine.

Though the Model Boat Pond isn't a natural pond in any way, it seems to be hosting the Grebe, its species being extremely partial to ponds, very nicely.

Looking at the Model Boat Pond's Grebe, a person could wonder why this pale beaked, small brown diving duck was said to be Pied-billed. Now a piebald horse has noticeable and contrasting spots. The Pied Piper, true to his medieval profession as an entertainer, wears bright parti-colored clothing.
So what's with the duck?
The Pied-billed Grebe, during breeding season, develops a black, not exactly bright colored but nicely contrasting with it's pale bill, ring around its bill.
The ducklings on the other hand are downright parti-colored when it comes to down. They have black and white stripes and a patch of red on the top of their heads and another between their eye and bill.

Once again here are my favorite mules, Kitty, Kitten, Dewey, and Zed. They're waiting their turn to plow once across the field in the plowing demonstration at the Rock River Thresheree. First comes the team of horses, then the mules, and various era tractors then follow showing the progression in American plowing practices.
I began to notice that the mules were watching the horses plow with various levels of interest. Dewey being the most focused. Could mules be competitive and Dewey just the most competitive of all?

Or does he find one of these blond mares to be particularly attractive? I'm betting on the mares.


A milestone was reached this week which reminded me of Henry the Raven. After 500 years, the first female Beefeater has been hired at The Tower of London. Which brought to mind Henry the Raven who was fired from The Tower. Dear Henry would escape from The Tower, walk down the sidewalk, climb a fire escape, make his way to the roof, and dismantle people's TV antennas. This proved to be extremely unpopular with the neighbors. After several episodes, he was sent on an "extended vacation" to a sanctuary in the country.
One does hope the sanctuary had cable.
Donegal Browne

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mysterious Raptor, Mules, Little Astors, and Currants

Never fear, we'll get to the hawk but first, meet Kitty and Kitten, sister red mules and Dewey, and Zed, two paired black mules. Look closely and you can see Kitten's ear back of Kitty's neck and Dewey's nose just beyond Kitty's.
They're getting ready to demonstrate how a mule team plowed before machines did all the work. Don't worry though these animals are considered working animals, their work isn't all that strenuous, they crossed the field once pulling a plow, and you'll notice they're extremely well groomed, pampered, healthy, and honestly looked like they were having fun. An elderly relative who had used mules to plow in his youth, once told me that some days mules have a great time. They get to hang out with their mule friends, frisk about in fine weather, and have the joy of attempting to outsmart the driver.
You'll notice that Kitty is staring at me. Now remember I'm extremely far away but Kitty must find the equipment and/or its noises interesting because she just kept watching me.

Here Kitty is getting on her plowing duds, still staring. I spoke to the owner's wife and we began to talk about mule intelligence. It's universally agreed that a normal mule is hands down much smarter than a normal horse. Why?
Now in case you've forgotten a mule is the offspring of a donkey and a horse. A mule is an infertile cross species mix and it's larger, stronger, and has more stamina than either of its parents. But is it smarter than it's parents? Probably not as it's now been realized that donkeys are extremely smart while being empathetic with humans. In fact some believe donkeys are up there with dogs when it comes to the length of time they've been domesticated. Therefore might the brains of a donkey, make a mule "clever" when added to the very large size it garners from being a cross species mix. We've all heard "stubborn as a mule". It might be translated as clever as a mule. Certainly mules have been known to refuse to do what their owners want, making them thought of as "stubborn", but they are just doing whatever it takes not to do what they don't want to do and to do what they do want to do. And they've a million tactics in order to get that to happen.
Once you get started lots of country folks have mule stories. The mule that would stand beside the barn with only one eye showing watching the gate, obscuring his body in hopes no one would notice he was watching and he could race out and go for a "frolic" before the human managed to get the gate closed again. Mules who go "lame" and limp sadly along if they don't want to pull the wagon to town. Even though their owner keeps stopping, getting out of the wagon, checking the foot, and finding nothing. And if the owner on the umpteenth trip out of the wagon to check on that "lame" foot, gets a touch careless holding tight to the reins, he might well find himself with a view of both mules heels, as miraculously "healed" of his disability, the mule takes his buddy for a run into a lush stand of clover. Always keeping just ahead of the driver.

Kitty, now wearing all her harness for plowing, is still staring at me. Though the horses that plowed today were harnessed two in front and two behind, interestingly the mules were harnessed four across, two reds on one side and two blacks on the other, with the bigger of each color harnessed in the center. It looks nicely symmetrical but it also works better that way I'm told.
After the horses are finished plowing their one demo cross of the field, it is the mules turn and they trot along pulling the plow and its rider as if they weren't pulling anything at all but rahter are having a lovely trot with their friends.

I notice by they edge of the field these little Asters of some description and am trying to figure out why some have yellow centers and others purple when I look up. Raptor scanning is an ingrained habit.

And low and behold, there is a raptor up there. Initially much larger and lower than this photograph might suggest, and she is busily circling and scanning something herself. In this case she is scanning the newly plowed area in the field. Perhaps looking for rodents that have been turned up by the plow?

She seems to be shaped rather like a Red-tail, is conceivably the size of a Red-tail, and flies similar to a Red-tail, but from underneath she is pale, pale, pale, pale. With perhaps just a touch of darkness on her wingtips.

After looking at the shape above, any opinions?

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber

And a question from whiz photographer Eleanor Tauber,

"Donna, don’t you think the photo you took and the one I took at Wagner’s Cove could be the same plant? The leaves look similar, I think....."

Here's the photograph in question, which I've tentatively identified as currants.
Yes Eleanor, they do look the same to me, too.
Donegal Browne