Toad in the Hole

May 29, 2005

Restoration, Beer, Small World

Last weekend we joined a little tour of a spot that's on the list for salt marsh restoration in the South Bay, just to get some information on all that and to have a look. It turned out to be entirely a public spot, so we needn't have gone on the official day, but the retired vector control guy who gave the tour had some good stuff to tell us anyway.

What we saw was landfill with a small, noisy powerplant using the methane from the garbage. The garbage was entirely out of sight and smell, under the grassy knolls and assorted exotics growing there. Fairly presentable, though of course we looked askance at the eucs and gaillardia and such. There were blackbirds, a neat row of five male cowbirds on a fence (oy), a redtail, a male and a female harrier. The male flew off over the hill carrying some rodent -- probably an endangered salt-marsh harvest mouse. A few stilts in the distance, mallards and gadwall, song sparrows, a couple of hummers, one a probable Allen's; a butterfly or two, brine shrimp and brine flies and water striders in the salt pond channel. Sunny and quite breezy, basically a nioce stroll.

A couple of friends from the foodie group, Alison and Wolfgang, had told us about the tour and met us there. That gave us people to talk about the birds we were seeing between info stops, and tims to talk with them about their own bird adventures. They seem to have a lot of wild birds in hand: when we saw them last summer they were hand-raising a black phoebe that had survived a nest disaster in their backyard, and had it in a carrier at the picnic with them since it needed frequent feeding. It was almost fledged when we met it, and fledged successfully a day or two later. Wolfgang told us about plucking a slightly stunned chickadee off his window at 3AM a few nights before, making sure it could eat and fly well, and turning it loose again before going back to bed.

We all repaired to Tied House in Palo Alto (or is it Mountain View?) for a beer and fried stuff. In the course of conversation, Alison mentioned that she's the granddaughter of Ernest Choate, who wrote The Dictionary of American Bird Names that we have on the shelf, an old classic standby. She had a story or two about him, too.

The other day, Joe was looking up the origin of "grackle" and happened to notice an epigraph on the flyleaf of the book, over an engraving of a European robin and as the text declared, "adapted" from Punch, January 17, 1906; from Ernest Weekly, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English:

Alison, "What's that, Granddaddy?"
Grandfather, "A robin."
Alison, "Why?"

Oh. Oh sure.
What an odd place that must be to find your verbal baby-on-bearskin picture.

Posted at May 29, 2005 02:51 AM


Wow. Small world all right!

Did you hear the piece on Fresh Air yesterday about bird songs? (It was possibly a repeat but it was the first time I'd heard it.)

Posted by: Rurality at May 31, 2005 11:41 PM

Was that the one about one of the three-count'em-three books on birdsong that just hit the market? (The one with the CD including human and wren baby babble.) Yeah, I did hear that before. Caused me to break my own law and call home from the car while on the Bay Bridge.

Joe borrowed the book from the Mechanic's Institute library, and it's a kick. If we can shoehorn it into the house and the budget we'll have to buy it.

Luis Baptista, the late great birdsong scholar, worked out of the California Academy of Sciences and did some pioneering work on local white-crowned sparrow dialects. We've both had our ears pricked up ever since.

Posted by: Ron at June 1, 2005 04:12 AM

I want to read them all! :)

Hey, about Droll Yankees:

"If your feeder is badly damaged by squirrels, to the extent that the effectiveness of the feeder is compromised, Droll Yankees will, at its option, either repair, replace, or send replacement parts, free of charge."

That's part of why I love Droll Yankee!

Posted by: Rurality at June 3, 2005 05:58 PM

Can you put me in touch with Allison of the story? Her ancestor, Ernest Choate wrote an obituary of my father, Courtland Y. White, in which he mentions having bird photographs that my father took. I'd love to get copies--they've otherwise disappeared on this side of the family.

Posted by: Peter at July 23, 2005 12:27 PM