Monthly Archives: February 2012

Leap Day!

In honor of Leap Day, here is a photo of a Great Horned Owl confronting a squirrel, taken by my friend, the talented photographer and birder, Benito Chia. Could you imagine their dialogue? Suggestions are more than welcome.

On a completely unrelated note, my new favorite classical music radio station (WNED) recently broadcast a special episode dedicated to — you guessed it — music inspired by birds (in one way or another). I caught the tail end of a piece by Olivier Messiaen, who was obsessed with bird songs and circumnavigated the world (or parts thereof) in search of exotic songs (he was a fairly gifted ornithologist as well as astonishingly gifted composer). And then, I encountered the music of Dutch composer Alphons Diepenbrock (1862-1921) who was a classicist as well as a composer! Toward the end of his life, he wrote incidental music to accompany great works of Greek and Latin literature, including Sophocles’ Elektra, and, more to the point of this blog, Aristophanes’ The Birds, which he composed in 1917. Here it is, in all its glory!


Who knew that while revolutions were thundering through Russia, back in Amsterdam Mr. Diepenbrock had birds on his mind! Happy Leap Day, everyone!


Birdiest of Birders! The odds were against us on Saturday (hail, horizontal ice pellets alternating with rain, limited visibility, more ice pellets, snow, slush) and yet we persevered. Off to Whitby we went in search of the Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), which is hardly white at all, but rather brownish grey fronted, but then again I wasn’t around to consult Carl Linnaeus, or whoever came up with this misnomer. Instead, all we saw were HUNDREDS of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) singing up a storm and flying overhead. I’m glad the species is thriving and no longer struggling for survival in this toxic world we live in, don’t get me wrong, but do there have to be this many of them? Anyhow, after the doubly humbling assault of the elements and the flock of Canada Geese, we decided to abandon waterfowl for the day and try our luck in Thickson’s Woods.

We walked around the woods some, met another fellow birder, who, I must admit, is on the more obsessive-birding end of the spectrum. Jim Martin has been to Peru at least a dozen times, to Borneo a few times and has a life list he’s quite proud of. He was a perfectly amiable fellow and even let me try his stunning Zeiss Victory FL binoculars (new, state of the art, optic awesomeness, so light I could wear them on my neck like a real birder instead of carrying them in my hand like an ingenue…) and if I had $2000 to spend on binocs, these are the ones I’d get. Hands down. Actually, I had a dream about Carl Zeiss last night, but we’ll save that for another blog entry. Perhaps.

And then we saw it. My fearless leader hooted a couple times, and the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) responded in his Chaliapin-esque melodious bass. And there it was. Up in a tree, scratching his nose (thank you Zeiss, I never would have seen the nose scratch with my Bausch and Lomb), looking about, surveying the world around him. It was a monumental sight.

photo from wikipedia

(Incidentally, I know there is nothing on earth more boring than talk of optics or binoculars comparative shopping, but if you had my aging binoculars when you were staring up at a majestic Great Horned Owl, you’d understand my predicament.)

And the day was worth it. The snow pellets, rain, hail, all of it.