Neuron Culture

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I’ve been following a new birding blog lately, “The Daily Wing,” kept by Vermont bird guide, dragonfly follower, and writer Bryan Pfeiffer. It’s a nice mix of

• birding how-to, with guidance both basic and intricate, such as his lovely entry on a bird-attraction technique he calls spishing (especially effective in winter):

The woods were otherwise silent. Vacant. But I suspected otherwise. So I stopped and spished.

“Spshsh-spshsh-spshsh-spshsh. Psssp-psssp-psssp-psssp-psssp. Spshsh-spshsh-spshsh-spshsh.”

Two white-throated sparrows jumped into view from a tangle of catbrier. Then several more. An eastern towhee belted out a plucky reeEEP! I kept spishing. A northern cardinal emerged and uttered its short, bright peek note. Two hermit thrushes popped onto a white oak branch, flicked their wings and repeated a couple of soft chuck calls.

But the concert was only beginning.


biology bits:

Birds have light receptors in their brain tissue that trigger hormones which shift their reproductive systems into gear. They don%u2019t necessarily need to see that the days are longer. Their skulls, somewhat translucent, allow sunlight to penetrate. The result is music. And nothing says %u201CI want you%u201D like bird song.

• and now, as he heads west across the country, a birding travellog

Onward, westward. As the waves of geese dissipate behind yet more miles of I-80, I begin to notice the rolling trumpet calls, the reaching necks and dangling feet, the dorky elegance of Sandhill Cranes. They are everywhere, rising in great waves from the Platte River, loitering in stubbly corn fields, drifting like thousands of kites over the Plains. Each March these lanky birds carry on one of the great events in all of North American birdwatching, stopping here to fuel up for the journey north or even to nest not that far away, a half million reasons to have faith that spring is indeed approaching..

Bryan (who is an old friend, and whose office I’m borrowing while he’s away) is in Golden, Colorado, now, and will be heading down through the Rockies toward the Grand Canyon, where he’ll disappear for a couple weeks next month. Along the way he’ll track birds and, I suspect, bugs of all sorts, especially dragonflies, on which he’s going to write a book. He’s an excellent guide, an extraordinary photographer, and (like all great guides and good friends) first-rate company. A highly recommended follow on either web or twitter.