May 9th – Ticks And The Lost Art of Language

New arrival - Blue-headed Vireo

You don’t have to go wandering through rural fields to pick up a tick – but you’re much more likely to if you do. People (myself included) who wander off the set trails at Ruthven commonly pick them up (or get picked up by the tick). Most people (myself included) find them rather repulsive. The real danger lies in the possibility that they are carrying a disease. Lyme disease comes to mind but there’s others. There’s some thought that birds help in the spread of illness by carrying disease-laden ticks from one part of the country to another. In fact, we’re involved in a study investigating this possibility. We exam most medium- to long-distance migrants for ticks and, if we find one, send it off to John Scott at the University of Guelph for study. We don’t find many – two so far this Spring; both on White-throated Sparrows. John identifies the type of tick and then checks it to see if it is, in fact, carrying disease. (John is about the only person I know who gets positively excited by the presence of a tick.)

The Ruthven Park staff are concerned about the possibility of someone getting sick from a tick bite and, in the name of due diligence, have gone out and purchased the Sawyer Tick Plier. This super-duper little gizmo, replete with built-in magnifying glass, has a “unique cradle head” which is “safer than tweezers and easier to use in the removal of ticks”. Personally, I think this is a bit of overkill, on the one hand, and manipulative marketing on the other: use fear-mongering to sell your product. (Not unlike the invocation of weapons of mass destruction to justify an invasion….)

But the best thing about this little device is the write-up that comes with it: Defeating the Tick by Robert Brown Butler. One of my sons mentioned to me the other day that in 1950 the typical person had a vocabulary of 20,000 words; today it is about 10,000. This note was written in that older style of rich language. For the linguistic gastronome it proffers a veritable buffet of gourmet palaver. Consider just a couple of examples:
– “The most relevant aspect of this bacchanalian affair is the use of the feeder’s silverware.”
-“The present consensus is that the tick first sucks a cloggy hors d’oeuvre in though its oral cavity…”
-“The acarine’s utensils and digestive apparatus have been forged painstakingly on the anvil of evolution, until they have become a meticulous means of ensuring this tiny monster’s survival in a hostile world.”
I don’t know about the efficacy of the pliers but the write-up is worth the price.

Weather-wise it was a gorgeous day: sunny, blue skies, and temperatures that were just right. Bird-wise, it was rather lagging and, if it hadn’t been for American Goldfinches, we would have banded only 20 birds. This is pretty common for us in the Spring – on good days the migrants, flying during the night, just keep on going; my thinking is that they take off from the south shore of Lake Erie and don’t put down until they make the north shore of Lake Ontario at least. When you measure the straight-line distance, it’s not that far considering that most passerines regularly do 150+ km per night when they’re on the move. (As an example, a couple of years ago, we banded a Blue-winged Warbler; the next morning it was recaptured at Braddock’s Bay Bird Observatory almost exactly 90 miles/145 km away. This bird weighed almost the same as it did at Ruthven suggesting that it had not used up much of its reserves to get there.) Bad weather, especially when it starts during the night, brings them to ground and our numbers are considerably higher. When this happens it is called a “fall-out”.

The other possibility is that the bulk of the long-distance migrants have not made it this far, being held back by the weather to the south of us. We’ll just have to see what the next 3 weeks bring.

An 'older' (i.e., after second year) male Common Yellowthroat.

Female (right) and a 'young' (i.e., second-year) male - compare mask with picture of ASY male.

Banded 34:
1 Blue Jay
3 House Wrens
1 American Robin
2 Gray Catbirds
1 Blue-headed Vireo
2 Yellow Warblers
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
2 Red-winged Blackbirds
2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
1 Baltimore Oriole
14 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 38:
3 Downy Woodpeckers
2 White-breasted Nuthatches
1 House Wren
2 Blue-winged Warblers
1 Common Yellowthroat
3 American Tree Sparrows
10 Chipping Sparrows
3 Song Sparrows
3 White-throated Sparrows
2 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
3 Brown-headed Cowbirds
1 Baltimore Oriole
4 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 59 spp.

Photo Gallery (thanks to Christine Madliger):

The first 'new' Eastern Bluebird of the year.

Solitary Sandpiper - one has been frequenting the vernal pool below Nets 8 & 9.


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