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April 09. 2012 12:09AM

Reader spots cardinal in rail(ly ) unusual location

A LONG TIME reader and “railroad buff” who resides in Dover wrote on March 12, mostly about railroading, but he did include a very unusual picture of a photo taken on March 10 of a male cardinal standing on a rail of an active railroad track in Newfields. Although northern cardinals frequently feed on the ground beneath our feeders, I certainly wouldn't expect to see one of these highly colored birds at rest atop a well-used rail.

The letter began: “It is always interesting to learn about how some of the other creatures besides us humans live their lives and how every species has the ability to fend for itself in the wild and how we humans can sometimes give them a helping hand.

“You may have seen a piece in the news a week or so ago, about how it has been demonstrated that a bear was using barnacle covered stones to scratch its head, in effect using a tool. Another animal can be added to the ‘uses tool' species list.”

Several bird species, especially the crow family (Corvidae — crows, jays and magpies) are well known for their utilizing sticks, stones, and rock ledges to break open shell fish, and other items as tools to help them.

Perhaps more generally appropriate would be the now common term “assisted living.”

On the subject of blue jays, a reader from New Durham commented on our recent discussion of the lack of jays this winter. “I think blue jays have all relocated to my area.

In the dead of winter I usually feed up to 20 but this winter on the coldest mornings, I have upwards of 30. They wait quietly in the upper branches of the many trees that surround my pasture. As soon as I place the last pile of whole peanuts, shelled peanuts and black oil sunflower seeds, they descend on my deck in a feeding frenzy.

Shortly after, up to 9 squirrels take over. We have plenty of smaller birds like nuthatches but far less chickadees, goldfinches and woodpeckers — despite placing and relocating suet and a seed variety for the smaller birds in a separate location (where air traffic central isn't necessary). We still have several hummingbirds each summer though.' Another reader took a similar view, writing on March 10, in part: “I think I can say a large number of (Blue Jays) are here up on Ellsworth Hill in West Campton. We have had over 40 of these brazen bullies at our feeders all winter. It is hard to count them to get a firm number since they are constantly flying and darting around trying to intimidate each other and other animals.

When they do settle down in the birch trees it is a pretty sight with their color against the white bark.

“We have 12 feeders — 3 on our porch and the others in the yard where we can look on them from our dining and kitchen windows. The Evening Grosbeaks, Mourning Doves and resident Hairy Woodpecker, and 2 Crows along with our family of 10+ red squirrels tend to ignore the Jays. However, the Jays do torment the Goldfinches (very few this year), Juncos and Downy Woodpeckers.

“This is the first year that the Jays have demonstrated a new talent — hanging off the double suet feeder.

In the past they would wait on the ground and let the Woodpeckers do all the work, while they gleaned the fallen morsels. This past week we have had several Red-winged Blackbirds and one male Cardinal pass through.

“We have had several firsts this winter. In early February, for a fortnight, we had a Northern Flying Squirrel visit the porch feeders in the evening.

Very cute with their ‘nocturnal' eyes. In late February, we had our first Grey Squirrel; we are about 1400 feet elevation and while we often see the Greys lower down the hill, this is the first time since we moved here in 2003 that the Greys have come up to our yard.

We now have 2 and they and the Reds seem to tolerate one another, for now. Often the Reds will be in a circle feeding, with a Grey in the center though at a ‘safe' distance. And for the past 2 weeks we have a big raccoon coming to the porch feeders; he/she comes in the evening and our cat alerts us to this new visitor.

“The Reds have been fun to watch as they tunnel through the snow banks around the feeders in the yard; the snow is shoveled both to clear the ground and clean up seed. They seem to enjoy spooking the Crows as they pop out of their tunnel mouths.”

A reminder: it has not been possible for me to answer readers' letters as I was able to do until last spring. However, I am happy to talk with readers by phone. Anyone who wishes to do so should include their telephone number in their letter (anywhere within the U.S.

and Canada). If there is a convenient time for me to call it would be helpful.

Also, for several reasons, these columns are written two weeks in advance of publication.

A personal note to my good friend John Harrigan. In his March 19 column “Woods, Water and Wildlife” John wrote: “Stacey has seniority, having written his column for almost 50 years and I'm second with a mere 38. ... I'll never catch up with you, Stacey, and you can't quit, because where would that leave me?” Now that I have begun year “51” John, you remain first “in my book” but, longevity-wise, you are still in second place.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.


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