September 18 2015 – It’s a blustery day and the birds are restless. Juncos are back at the feeder and fifteen Eurasian Collared Doves hang around. Steller’s Jays are trying to reach the seed through our wire cage. If we didn’t keep them out they’d take it all and bury it somewhere. They are smart birds; members of the clever and mischievous corvidae or crow family. Crows and ravens will steal your groceries; tear open garbage bags left for collection and eat your picnic lunch when you’re not looking. They do it very quietly.
Author Bernd Heinrich in his book “Ravens in Winter” tells of his research on ravens and how he had captured a ‘silently seething mass’ of black birds which he planned to band and release. They had all gone to one corner of a large cage and as they looked at him and waited he had a palpable sense of deep intelligence and was somewhat unnerved by their silence. We occasionally have an injured bird in the house, no matter how small they are their very presence takes up a lot of room. They are outdoor creatures, their spirit has expanded to fill that space.
Steller’s Jays are named after an amazing German explorer, G.W. Steller. After ten years of planning, in 1741 Steller travelled with Danish explorer Vitus Bering (the Bering Sea) from Avacha Bay on the eastern seaboard of Siberia on a journey along the uncharted Pacific ‘where the sea breaks its back’ on the Aleutian Chain. Steller found many new species, including the now extinct Steller Sea Cow and Sea Otters which, after their discovery, were hunted almost to extinction. Steller had only one day ashore before Bering insisted they return to Russia as the weather was breaking so he rushed to gather as many specimens as he could. One of his huntsmen returned to the ship with “a single specimen, of which I remember to have seen a likeness painted in lively colours and described in the newest account of the birds and plants of the Carolinas…this bird proved to me that we were really in America.” Steller made a drawing of the bird and wrote a detailed description of it. In 1788 it was named Cyanocitta stelleri, the Steller’s Jay.
Small flocks of ducks have returned to the Sanctuary. They scoot low over the water as the tide rises and move along the edge feeding on sea grass. Their numbers should increase over the next month or so as fall deepens and colours begin to change.
Perky little Chestnut-backed Chickadees flit to the water-hole and leave quickly. There are a number of chickadee species in North America, yet, interestingly, only one here. It’s a small bird with a black-and-white face, black cap and chestnut-brown sides and shoulders. Small flocks usually travel with kinglets and creepers. They like a little open meadow with water somewhere, lots of handy bug pickings and a hint of sun. They hang upside-down from tiny twigs and sing chicka-dee-dee-dee, even in winter.