She’s Back! And She’s Brought The Kids – Again

She’s back and she’s brought the kids, again! This is Edith Halfway Jones one of our resident Black bears here at *The Institute and if you are a long time reader of the blog you know that she is a regular here. It was exactly one year ago on May 12 that Edith showed up late for work and in danger of not only getting her pay docked but losing her position on the elite bear patrol that guards the inner perimeter of The Institute. Her excuse was three little bear cubs, obviously hers, that she had as a single mother over the winter.

Edith usually a demure, quiet non-partier had let her hair down or at least her fur, got hammered on a mixture of EverClear infused with pine needles, spent some time with a bear she had just met and the result was the triplets, Solenoid, Nodule and little Fleabert. For additional information about her return last year see this post.

We  thought she had left for good last Fall taking the cubs and heading into the far reaches of the back country outside the borders of The Institute and we wouldn’t see her again. So it was with no little surprise when she showed up this evening, back in the saddle again, with the triplets stuffing their faces with as much of this new green grass as they could choke down. She looks good. She’s sleek and shapely. The cubs look good too. They’re fat for just being out of the den. Edith seems a little more calm and adjusted to being a mom. Last year she micro-managed the cubs a lot with a fair amount of growling and some biting but this year she’s not concerned at all with their chasing around and heading off into the brush alone. A little chirp from her and they’re right back where she can lay a paw on them if she needs to. Motherhood seems to suit her.

As was mentioned earlier she has checked in on the 12th of April this year, almost a month early. Last year she came back on the 12th of May. It’s been warmer this winter and the kids probably got up early and after their playing squealing Climb on Mom games with their sharp little claws and head bumping for milk, she couldn’t stand to hear them yell “Let’s go out. I’m hungry.” one more time she gave up and came out early. Luckily the grass is ready and there’s lots of ground squirrels and voles around to eat too. The cubs are twice the size they were last fall.

There you have it. We got Spring. We got bears. There’s even a pair of Bluebirds catching bugs by flying softly into the window glass with a bump and grabbing a mouthful and nesting under the deck again. What more could you want.

Spring iz Sprung.

The Grass is Riz.

I wonder where the Flowers iz.

Hope  your place is on schedule and your bears are back. Happy Spring to you all.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind. Return to your daily activities. Thank you for your support.

Harbinger of Spring

2016-04-21YH Blackbird6480

Harbinger. “a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another”.

“Yellow-headed Blackbirds are the harbingers of spring”.
    If that ‘s so then we’re getting harbingered all over the place. Yellow-headed Blackbirds, their cousins the Red-winged Blackbirds, even Brewer’s Blackbirds are coming in dragging Spring behind them. There have been other signs of Spring too. Bluebirds have been seen everywhere, flitting shamelessly about, grabbing your attention with their deep shining American bluebird blueness. Even everyone’s favorite Buzzard the buteo buteo has arrived to eat the dead things you’ve been tripping over all winter that have been lying around all over the place. Spring is pretty darn great.

    We could wax poetically all day about the Yellow-headed Blackbird but when you get right down to it, they’re basically just a black bird with a yellow head, plus a little white on it’s wings. Lot of people who aren’t birders or just don’t give a flying fig about Nature would say “Yeah, So, What’s the big deal?”  But they miss the point. That’s the cool part of Nature. They’re the only bird that looks like that. And they do that harbinger thing too. So all you Nattering Nabobs of Negativity can just go pound sand. We’re glad that there are Yellow-headed Blackbirds harbingering Spring and you should be too. Remember just a few minutes ago we were up to our keesters in snow and cold, and short, ugly grey days and you were whining about Spring, how you wish it would get here and everything. Well it’s here and Yellow-headed Blackbirds are partly responsible so show a little respect.

   We have posted this image of a Yellow-headed Blackbird doing its thing. If you look very closely you can even see a few vestiges of Spring swirling and trailing behind it as it flies toward the Blackbird Country Club located over in the reeds next to the lake. It’s singles night tonight and there will be plenty of female Yellow-heads there just waiting to get hit on. Spring, it’s all good.

Spring Portraits


March is “When The Bluebirds Get Here” month. So is February. And sometimes April if the weather has been particularly bad, but this year the month is March.

In the past we had to rely on natural migration schedules to get our quotas of Western Bluebirds. They can be in short supply due to their being the most popular of the bluebird species, and they have often been coerced into going to other states by handouts of Bluebird chow, favorable nesting sites and one state who shall remain nameless but their initials are Utah, tried to make it their state bird, thereby gathering some legal advantage of some sort. In the past we have had to offer some of our sister states to the West a premium of two Stellar Jays and a Clark’s Nutcracker to get one Western Bluebird.

As you know The institute has its own Ornithology department with trained and highly intelligent bird guys (and girls) studying birds, bird books, bird seed, bird brains, and lately bird genetics. That’s the big one. That’s the one that is going to put us on the map bird-wise. Genetics is the new thing. It’s like plastic was in the 60’s. Huge.

They found that they can yank the DNA right out of a bird, futz around with it, and stuff it back in and make big changes to how a bird works. Our problem had been that bluebirds don’t like the cold so as soon as the temp drops much below 60 degrees they haul their little feathered keesters south for the winter. That’s the problem. While they’re down there they can be swayed by any one of those unscrupulous Orno guys from other states and we lose our stock of bluebirds.

The problem was birds head south, then we lose them. Solution, and this is where genius comes into play, is we took that bluebird DNA and added a whole bunch of genetic stuff to it before we repacked it back into the bluebirds. For instance we added the anti-freeze gene to it so now our bluebirds are good down to about -126 degrees, we added a fixed route from anywhere South directly to The Institutes front door to their GPS gene, we added the Horsepucky detector gene so that they can tell when they’re being conned by those guys from Utah, and lastly we added an extra amount of Bluebird blue to their blue color gene so we now have the brightest Western bluebirds in the northern hemisphere.

Their was one more big change we are experimenting with and this is the first spring to see how our experiment worked out. We added an extra gene to the Anti-freeze gene to make a small number of bluebirds hibernational. Hibernational is a term we just made up here in our Ornithology department that means these particular bluebirds can lower their body temperatures down to the approximate temperature of one of those Big Gulp Slurpee’s you get at 7-11 and then be buried in neat rows in the snow over the winter to be ready to emerge at the first sign of Spring.

When the snow melts as it does every spring the snow bound bluebirds slowly awaken as they respond to the sun’s rays on their little beaks, and they pop up through the snow like Pasque flowers and start hanging around, getting an early start on Spring. It gives them at least a two-week head start on those Utah bluebirds so they are already hooked up with a bluebird chick, found a good nesting box, etc. and our supply of Western Bluebirds is guaranteed. Their GPS gene tells them they’re already here so they don’t take off and go cruising somewhere else so we got them locked. Our own inbred species of Western Bluebirds. Neat Right? Science is really cool.

We are photographing each of our newly altered bluebirds and tattooing an ID number on the underside of their tongues so that we can better keep track of them. Here is the first reconstituted Western Bluebird to emerge from its snow bunker. He seems in fine shape. We’ll let you know how he does in the reproduction department as the data come in. So far it looks great.

Hey! What’s The Holdup?



We just received an urgent message from one of our summer residents regarding the weather up here on The Institute’s grounds. Normally our summer people, in this case the Bluebirds, begin arriving at the end of February, first of March and find themselves up to their tail feathers in snow and cold. This winter however has been different with milder temperatures and almost no snow.

Apparently what is making the bluebirds itchy is the fact that now that satellite TV is so prevalent, even down in central Mexico where these guys winter over, they can watch the Weather Channel and figure out when they should start back. The Eastern bluebirds don’t have a problem. They watch the east coast getting dumped on and they go “No way, Jose. I’m good right here for another month.” They have no problem hanging out down here catching rays and eating Maguey worms until things break up North.

Our Mountain Bluebirds are of hardier stock and they’re tired of the good life down there in mañana land and they know how tough it is to get reservations in the better places. Their wives are reminding them everyday that egg time is getting nearer and if they want that good nesting box down by the pond where all the bugs are they better get their feathery little butts in gear and get this show on the road. Hence the cryptic message “Hey! What’s the Holdup? You guys ready, or what?”.

Well our response was “Hey yourself! We’re not in charge of Spring, buddy, if I was you I’d be gone already.” There is no holdup weather-wise as far as the Institute is concerned so we sent word down, the gates are open, and if you want that nesting box by the pond you better have your deposit here by the end of the week or we turn it over to our timeshare people and they’ll put it out there for bids. This is a cutthroat business. There are a flock of a lot of bluebirds out there and only so many nesting boxes so this is one of our critical times to maintain our cash flow. The Institute as you know is a non-profit endeavor but we do have expenses and if we don’t make our bottom line, people go home, you know what I mean? We love our little feathered friends but if they don’t pony up you’ll find them walking down the road dragging their little egg sack behind them.

Now that the word has spread that the weather’s ok, and we’re open for business, the deposits are pouring in and we expect to see out little blue buddies in a week or so. The only problem we have is the squatters that have hung around all winter, I don’t know where, someplace warm and out of the wind I guess. They sneak in the first warm day regardless of the date and set up housekeeping in our dryer vent way up high on The Institute’s wall where you can’t get at them. Last year we hired a team of Barn Swallows to evict them and that solved the problem. We lost about a week and a half’s rent but it could have been worse. The Barn Swallows made up for it, they pack about 30 of them in that space and as we charge by the head we came out ok.

Below is a shot of the offender that now hangs on our undesirable board. He has been put on the very bottom of the list for the next 11 years and since bluebirds tend to only live around 9 years he’ll be setting up housekeeping down by the landfill for the foreseeable future. The words’ out pretty good now “No Line Jumping!”


Now onto the next big problem, where to put all those Barn Swallows.

Early Birds

EarlyBirds2176Bluebirds                                             click to enlarge


“Lets go up early you said. Lets get up there before the rest of them so we can get the best nest site. It’ll be great, we’ll have the jump on everybody else, we ‘ll lay around and eat worms until everybody else gets here. Catch a few rays, fool around a little, have the nest half done before everybody else even gets started. So what are we doing Loogie? You’re shoveling snow so we got a place to sit so I don’t get a wet ass, I’m freezing my feet off. I can’t feel my toenails. I can’t get my feathers to lie down straight, I haven’t had a worm since Waco, this whole thing has been a monumental screw up since we left Boca Raton.”

“What about it Loogie? You still think this was a good idea. I musta had rocks in my head to listen to you. I shoulda listened to my mother, she had you pegged. A dumbass she said. She didn’t know the half of it. Next year I’m coming up with Alonzo, at least he likes to stop once in a while, hang out at the beach, catch fireflies at sunset. When’s the last time you stopped and caught fireflies, I’ll tell you when. Never, Loogie, never.”

“I suppose its going to snow like this until June. My sister stayed in Tucson, said it was really nice. Never snows there Loogie, it’s 71° there for gods sake! She said everyone goes out for worm fries on the weekend and then hits Rico’s for Pina Coladas. Do you see a Rico’s around here Loogie? I didn’t think so. No we’re going to stay here in the snow until my pinfeathers stick together and watch it snow some more. I’m sick of this Loogie. S – I – C – K of it. And one more thing….”

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be the early bird.


Slowing Down the Days

WesternTanager3910Western Tanager                                 click to enlarge


Not quite yet. It’s not quite Spring enough and certainly too soon for Summer but it’s starting. The birds are coming back. We tell time here by when certain birds return, it’s one of  the ways we make the year last longer. If you’re waiting for something to arrive it makes time slow down but the trick is you have something else lined up to wait for when you finally get what you’ve been waiting for in the first place. If you don’t then time grabs the bit between its teeth and races hell-for-leather forward and before you know it its way too late. You’ve lost a whole month or even a year or if you’re not really careful a whole damn life. We don’t want to lose a second, let alone a whole life, so our waiting calendar is pretty full.

Back in February the bluebirds arrived, then Robins, some people say the Robins don’t leave but I can tell you they avoid the high country until it warms up some. The Camp Robbers or Clark’s Nutcracker have been here all winter. They moved on down to get out of the miserable weather above the tree-line in December. We’re waiting for them to go back home. Magpies are another year-round bird here. We’re just waiting for them to do something different. Stellar Jays head downhill when the weather gets bad but they’ve started returning now, so all’s well with them.

Golden eagles are hanging out more on the cliff face behind the house and the Great horned owls have started nesting. There are a pair of Redtail hawks checking out the nest on the road to the cement plant so maybe we get to wait to see what happens there. And one of the big arrivals that screams out Spring, is the return of the Willox St. ospreys and they’re back. I saw the female sitting on the nest yesterday and the male perched nearby guarding her. Now we can wait for this year’s chicks to arrive. That cements Spring firmly in place. The world is becoming right again.

The glitterati of the bird world hasn’t shown up yet but that’s what happens when you wait. You gotta wait. We’re talking hummingbirds in all their various flavors and one of my personal superstars the Western Tanager pictured above. I’ve got time slowed down to just over twice its normal speed which is pretty good actually. There’s a line in an old song about going so fast that telephone poles going by looked like a picket fence. It used to be that days were the telephone poles, now it’s years that are the telephone poles. I’m actively considering adding waiting for the coming of free-range penguins to my wait list. That ought to slow things down pretty good.


Bluebird of Happiness?

Bluebirdof Happiness2583click to enlarge

It is one of the unwritten laws of the jungle that bluebirds are supposed to represent happiness. If you remember back to a time when you were younger and you saw the Disney movie with Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit and all the rest you’ll remember that Mr. Bluebird and we presume Mrs. bluebird occasionally, were always sitting on Uncle Remus’s shoulder. Whistling and singing, bringing good cheer. What could be happier than a bluebird?

Well I’m sad to say that there is a dark side to this myth. Bluebirds are not always happy. Much of the time they have  the same problems we all have. They just hide it better. I for one was shocked by this revelation and I’m sure you are too. Unhappy bluebirds, say it isn’t so. Underneath those deep blue colors they wear so confidently it turns out that much of the time bluebirds have the blues. Things don’t always go right for them and when they believe no one is looking it shows. The body language says it all, kind of like those pictures of Lady Di when things were heading down the old porcelain commode.

Just for conversations sake lets say that these two bluebirds are Maurice and Edna. They’ve been together for eons. On the surface they’re the happiest couple in the neighborhood, but no one sees the real story lurking just under those iridescent colors. The stints of bingeing at the feeder, the fights over spending too much time catching worms instead of sharing nest time with the little ones, the lack of chirping together like they did in the beginning, it’s a sad tale for sure. One can only conclude that there is no place where everyone is happy or even content anymore. Looks like it will be a sunny day though and that should help just because it will be too pretty out to stay unhappy.