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Wednesday, 10 February 2010 17:04

The Naturalist's Corner

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The good; the bad and the ugly

The good

Ben Morrison, compiler of the Wilmot, Ohio, Christmas Bird Count, contacted the Ohio Birds Records Committee and provided documentation for the purple martin I wrote about in the Jan. 20 Naturalist’s Corner. According to Gabe Leidy, compiler of the Ohio rare bird reports, the record is sure to be accepted.

A single purple martin lounging in Ohio in the winter surely has little species-wide implications from an ornithological perspective but these little tidbits offer a glimpse into “the secret lives” of birds. We tend to lump all other creatures into groups like cows, bears, dogs, deer, chickens, hawks, etc. We forget that all species, like homo sapiens, are composed of individuals with individual stories.

No one knows why that particular female martin missed her flight to South America. She showed up in Apple Creek in August with a late fledgling. Perhaps her mothering instinct was stronger than her migrating instinct. Or perhaps she was simply old and weary and not up to another long rigorous migration. We will never know why. But because of conscientious birders and dedicated compilers we do know that from August 2009 to Jan. 10, 2010, one female martin stayed in Apple Creek, Ohio aided and abetted by one Atlee Yoder who tossed meal worms into the air to nourish her.

Yoder wasn’t responding to the needs of purple martins as a species. His individual story was touched by the individual story of this one little bird, and that’s a good thing.

The bad

Another avian vagabond showed up this winter in Georgia — an ivory gull, the first ever recorded for Georgia, appeared in late January at West Point Dam. While this snow-white Arctic denizen thrilled birders and provided many photo ops, it unfortunately met an agonizing end. It died from what was reported as an “apparent” predator attack.

But there were reports on the Georgia listserv of would be photographers talking of throwing rocks at the reluctant bird in order to get shots of it in flight. It leaves one to wonder if an errant rock could have caused the “apparent” predator injuries.

Other bad bird news is emanating from south Louisiana where (as of Feb. 3) more than 100 snow geese have been found dead in grain fields. The geese are thought to have died from aflatoxicosis contracting from ingesting contaminated grain.

Louisiana Wildlife official and biologists are closely monitoring the situation hoping to avoid a repeat of 1999 when more than 10,000 snow geese perished due to aflatoxicosis.

The ugly

Just when you thought the ivory-billed woodpecker would be left to slide back into the mossy hearts and hopes of dyed-in-the-wool believers, reports of photos have surfaced once again.

This whole dubious, sordid and convoluted tale has been and is still playing out over the Internet. One good place to catch up on it is at http://ivorybills.blogspot.com.

Suffice it to say — still no definitive evidence.

And now a brief senior moment report. Thanks to DeLene Beeland at http://sciencetrio.wordpress.com for pointing out that in last week’s column regarding the red wolf talk at the Folk Art Center, I referred to the red wolf as Canis lupus (grey wolf) rather than C. rufus.

This also gives me a chance to mention that last Saturday’s program was cancelled due to the weather, and rescheduled for Sunday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m. For info, call 828.298.5600, ext. 308, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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