#28 Storm’s Coming


Storm’s Coming.

What did it feel like as a storm arrived in times before advanced weather forecasting? As the wind howled and the snow started to pile up against buildings the ferocity and duration of the storm would have been unknown. Did the folk knowledge of the times give them accurate indicators of what was coming? How long a storm would last? How fierce it would be? How did they read the signs and how did they prepare for what was coming?

Thinking about weather seems to be a primary human concern.
In modern life I think there may have been times or places where inhabitants of say, San Diego, felt they were living in a weather paradise but I doubt that now there are many—any—such places remaining without at least cyclical weather concerns. Drought, fires, mudslides, flooding affects all and now the Golden State itself is a prime weather worry.

New Englanders historically prided themselves in how they faced the tough and varied weather conditions of their region. I think of this as mostly winter centered but those on the coast had to deal with storms that raged in all seasons. I wonder about about Florida or Texas for example, and if they had their own folklore centering on hurricane or tropical storm survival that they told about themselves. 

There are occupational categories where weather is a primary determinant of success or failure; farmers, so dependent on the abundance or lack of water, or fishermen dependent on being able to get out in their boats are two obvious examples.

I find myself wondering about our regional and collective histories regarding weather. The stories of the Dust Bowl era may be experienced most intensely through the stories written about them, think Grapes Of Wrath. A lesser known book, Issac’s Storm by Erik Larson, tells of the 1908 Hurricane that hit Galveston at a time before much was known about the formation and patterns of such storms. Weather has come a long way. While technology has developed as a highly accurate predictor we are as far away as ever in terms of controlling it. I believe humans thought they would someday be able to do that but as climate change awareness spreads the magnitude of weather systems counter such thoughts Fire has become huge and not just in California and the American West. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods in various singularities and combinations are gaining strength and dominance. Each of us, whatever our environs, need to pay total attention to weather conditions at least some of the time.  

A storm is coming. Even if I hadn’t heard this news on the media, my body felt the air pressure change, the odd oppressive feel of it, alerting me. Such awareness has always been a part of animal life. Grocery store behaviors begin to intensify as soon as a major storm is predicted and, if you are an adrenaline junkie, you can go take part in the frenetic feel of crowded stores and emptying shelves in the few days leading up to what’s coming. I thought of this today feeling and hearing this energy in Trader Joe’s while I also thought that the stuff being taking to checkout may well be endangered if the power goes down. We often don’t incorporate that factor and for many it feels unnecessary as they also stock up on generator fuel. Just how prepared we can get depends on the size and duration of the storm, think Hurricane Katrina or Maria. We are reaching back and at the same time, ahead, to places and times when the unknown of storms was predominant. Back to the Future.


Occasional Posting. The GBLH.


Some time last fall an unclear photo of a large hawk was posted on the MAINEBirds FaceBook Group’s website. The photo had been taken by an out-of-state visitor whose friend belonged to the closed website group made up of both expert and amateur birders.  Charges of “fraud” rang out for a number of days followed by a stream of serious birders  flocking to where the bird was seen. In fairly short order an apology was issued to the original poster as more photos emerged along with an official rare bird ID by a Maine Audubon expert. Then the bird disappeared.

The bird had been identified as a Great Black Hawk, a native of Central and South America. It had last been ID’d in Texas earlier in the year and photos taken there matched the precise wing feather pattern of the bird that showed up in Maine. It was the same bird, a juvenile, gender undetermined. No one had any idea how it had gotten itself to Maine. And then it had vanished.

Months later the bird reappeared, showing up in, of all places, Deering Oaks Park in beautiful downtown Portland. It was photographed almost daily feasting on plentiful gray squirrels and rats, the kinds of prey that any city has in abundance. Hundreds of photos were posted to the MAINEBird FB website and news of the bird spread bringing out-of-state birders wanting to add this rare bird to their lifetime list. Clumps of people lugging tripods with gigantic lenses could be seen when driving past the park. The photos were continually posted online and articles appeared in local and national media. There was much speculation, prescient as it turned out, about how such a bird, a tropical species with it’s incredibly long “chicken” legs, could make it through a Maine winter. 

Eventually, a storm rolled in, sleet and freezing rain, with strong, icy winds. Two, separate, alert bird people made their way to the park to check on the bird and they found it on the ground in very bad shape. Quickly the bird network went into action and, despite treacherous interstate highway conditions, the volunteer chain of bird rescue transporters got the bird to the (more) northern bird rehab facility, where a diagnosis of frostbitten feet was made. The story continues as the bird recovers, the final outcome yet to be determined. Expressions of concern and love, along with donations, poured onto the rehab’s website, a flow of abundance, a lovely example of people deeply caring for this bird gone astray. 

There are currently 20,000+ members of the MAINEBirds FB group, one of the finest moderated groups out there. (IMHO). Copious postings of this beautiful creature, this lone migrant from Central or South America, have appeared for months drawing all of us into a shared web of concern, yet I find myself wondering. Among the  throngs of these deeply caring bird lovers, those expressing love and compassion, those sending checks to cover the health care costs, are there Border Wall supporters, Trump anti-immigration sympathizers? And if there are, what does that mean?  Assistance is, appropriately, pouring in for the care of this bird and, lovely as this is, I find myself thinking about anyone who could care deeply about a single avian migrant yet remain hostile to human immigrants from that same geography living in this same city or in this same state. 

There are, of course, many other examples of human compassion focused on other-than-human species and I have always been curious about the ability to make such distinctions. There are also documented histories, of lone “anyones” being embraced by a community while groups of the same are often perceived as a threat. Maine was one of the places in which such behaviors broke through into national news headlines a number of years ago. Ah, human behavior, capable of such odd twists and turns.

I’m wary of my own critical thinking, of my cynical observations, but the timing of this dramatic bird rescue is a bulls-eye precisely hit as the imploding Border Wall situation is tearing the country (further) apart and the welfare of innocents, both government employees and “detained” immigrant children are all at huge risk. This beautiful creature, this dark eyed bird with its long yellow legs and its lovely feathers, who landed in this compassionate place, is like a mirror held up before us. How can we fail to recognize what we are seeing? How can we draw lines of when to care, when to love, what species, individuals, children, families deserve  assistance? At what point to we rise to intervene to save a life or lives? Why does this seem so complicated?



Update. January 31, 2019 


(photo credit: Avian Haven /Maine Audubon)

This is the posting by Avian Haven on the death of the Great Black Hawk.  


Great Black Hawk – 1/31

Yesterday, our senior staff met onsite with two additional veterinarians as well as two wildlife biologists from the Bird Group of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Diagnostic tests that included infrared thermography and doppler ultrasound revealed no circulation at all in the feet or lower legs up to where leg feathers can be seen in the photo posted 1/28. Underneath the bandages, both feet were discolored and beginning to decompose. As of yesterday, the bird was lying down during the day, not just overnight, and was not eating as well as previously.

Frostbite is well known for its insidious progression. When the body’s cells freeze, they expand, burst, and then die. Cells that form skin, muscles, nerves, tendons, and blood vessels are all affected, and once those cells die, they cannot be brought back to life. The goal of frostbite treatment is to limit further tissue death, though the success or failure of those efforts may not be apparent for several weeks or even months. Based on how rapidly the hawk’s feet deteriorated, we suspect that the initial frostbite damage occurred well before the bird was found on the ground on January 20, when frozen feet and associated pain had likely resulted in an inability to perch. Although he may not have appeared to be in distress in the few days prior to his rescue, any injured wild animal will hide discomfort until unable to compensate.


Our treatment efforts followed the most up-to-date protocols in human and veterinary medicine. Sadly, however, because foot and leg tissues had already been irreparably damaged, those efforts came too late. For those of you who have asked, our treatment plan included topical applications to enhance skin viability, plus a suite of medications to control pain and promote blood flow to extremities: western/conventional drugs, herbal formulations, and homeopathic remedies. We also used low level (“cold”) laser treatments.

Of course, we had hoped that the frostbite damage would be minor and that the bird might be releasable. Once the extent of the damage became obvious, possibilities for prosthetics use and captive placement were discussed at length. In this bird’s case, neither option was realistic. First of all, the damage was too extensive: both legs as well as both feet had been damaged. Secondly, animals that adapt best to prosthetics are not only less severely affected, but they are also of calm temperament, comfortable around people, and used to being handled. None of us could even remotely imagine a reasonable quality of life for a wild bird having two artificial legs that would need frequent adjustment, and that would likely never be completely comfortable. Related hawk species present in North America are known for their high-strung, hyperactive temperaments, and this bird has been no exception to that general rule. During the hawk’s stay here, we often had to turn off the cage lights to discourage challenges to the cage walls. The wildlife professionals who met yesterday all agreed that the Great Black Hawk would never successfully adapt to captivity, especially without even one foot that could be used in a natural way to perch, grasp food, or land successfully after flight.

The decision to euthanize was completely unanimous among all who gathered here yesterday, though that decision was tinged with regret, sorrow, even heartbreak. It was seen by some of us as an end of suffering, and by others as the release of a spirit from its hopelessly damaged shell. Either way, all of us believed it was the only course of action that was fair to the hawk.

Although greatly saddened that this beautiful hawk could not be saved, we take some comfort in knowing that she or he touched a great many lives, bringing people together and inspiring a greater interest in the natural world. Although this was an extreme case of species displacement, with changing climate and increasing destruction of natural habitats, it is likely that we will see more and more animals dispersing from their homelands into territory they are not well adapted to. A decision as to what will happen to the remains has not been made, though several scientific institutions are under consideration. Genetic studies may finally reveal the original home of this remarkable visitor to Maine.

All of us at Avian Haven extend our profound appreciation to all of you for the good wishes, prayers, love, and support that have poured in during this remarkable bird’s stay here. We intend to dedicate your donations toward funding a special project that will enhance our ability to care for future birds, whether or not they are frostbite victims. For us, and for many of you as well, today will be a day of grieving, but also of imagining this extraordinary Great Black Hawk flying free again in some realm other than our own.

Diane Winn, Executive Director
Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

#27 Hot or Cold

Hot or Cold.

Where once a three a.m. rise would have been to put another log on the fire, now it involves putting another blanket on top of the pile already there. The chill of the winter house permeates causing sleep to thin to awareness of cold, proof positive that thermostats do not work.

It is not discussed, how the succession of winter months brings cold into living spaces starting at the edges of rooms then working its way into the center. The theory of house heating methods lie in the form of presumptions simplistic and false. You want the room to be X temperature you set the thermostat to that desired temperature and when it gets below that measurement the mechanism triggers the furnace to fire, distributing the resulting heat until the measurement is once again reached and the fuel firing is shut down until the next call for heat.

Only how does that explain why different layers of blankets are required on different nights? While the thermostat is set at a night-after-night constant still every night is a juggle as to which bedclothes are needed. The flannel sheets, the cotton blanket, topped by a thin but sturdy quilt works when nighttime temperatures hover in the mid 40’s but if it dips to the 30’s I will be awakened in the deep hours to pile on polar fleece. If it dips to the 20’s I’ll need wool and below that it’s time for the down comforter. In terms of the thermostat this makes no sense.

This process works in the reverse as well. Feeling particularly chilly at bedtime I might have added a layer but if the nighttime temperatures rise I will struggle out of sleep, hot skin tingling, to throw off blankets which will  added back as I cool. Up and down, rarely a night happens where bedcovers and room air temperatures move together in harmony.

So what is it with thermostats?


Two Theories of Home Heat Control .
*Note: Written in 1986, a fascinating explanation of why there are thermostat battles between members of the same household.
Explain That Stuff: Thermostats.

#26 Up Before Birds


Up Before Birds.

My schedule has rolled into one based on natural light and harkens back to a Northeast Kingdom lifestyle I lived years and years ago. Back then I was often up by dawn and out into the garden as the day began. In the winter there were wood stoves to load and a job feeding children at the tiny local school. That beloved place had elevation and was not near water but what is held in common with where I am now is the absence of street lights.

In winter, the black night falls quickly and early and my energy fades with the light. Because I can, I collapse with the light but I wake before it comes back, my longing pulling it into filling the house and watching the sky for first streaks announcing its coming. In the early gray morning I stand watching the birds arrive for their seed breakfast. I can only identify species by size and flight as there’s not enough light to see their colors.

Day before light is like an unopened gift. This morning began with navy blue and yellow streaks contrasting the white snow on the ground. The sun rose with pink-yellow light illuminating, for only a few minutes, this neighborhood cluster of houses. Too many of these are now empty, the scramble for short term rentals driving away those who would gladly be here year round if they did not have to compete. Marketplace real estate creates seasonal ghost neighborhoods formed by water proximity and income inequality. Winter becomes a time of isolation that sharply contrasts with summer’s population crush for those of us lucky enough to live close to the water.

The trade off may be that such places as this remain without night’s artificial illumination, so destructive to natural rhythms that nourish the soul.

#25 Animal Consciousness

Animal Consciousness.

Witnessing even a small murmuration of starlings leaves me struggling to understand how such collective action is possible. Is that because my human-animal mind is so individuality programmed that watching their close proximity movements, their fast flight twists and turns without collisions, their moving air design formations, is so far beyond my human experience? The flight capability of starlings allows me to believe a collective consciousness, a unified “mind”, is coordinating the show.

What can I possibly know about what it is to be a non-human creature? As my most common daily observations are centered on birds I think about such things regularly and, now that winter feeding is underway, squirrels get included in my musings.  Are there collective mind sets in species? Do individuals within a species have distinct personalities? If so, what is it like to be that particular squirrel or a member of that specific crow family?

The explanations based on the science of Frans de Waal in his book “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” were unsatisfactory to me. While I appreciate the disciplined scientific methodology used by de Waal, my soul tires and finds the conclusions lacking. I’m old and impatient and I do not have enough time to wait until Science unveils a proof-positive explanation of human animal, or other animal, consciousnesses. After reading de Waal’s work I am not at all sure I will appreciate (or fully accept) such explanations, even from classic double-blind research. Both scientists and philosophers have been working on this topic for some time now. What they write is interesting but the overriding questions on consciousness remain in essence, unanswered.

What sense can I, in my tiny observational world, make from watching the crows on the lawn or the squirrels on the porch? Hunger seems an obvious motivator of behavior but what is the reality of these lives lived just outside my door?

There are many more articles and books to plow through searching for satisfying answers, working my way through what thinkers and researchers have to say. Consciousness is huge and hugely important.

I suspect critters other than we humans may have a very different awareness as to what all of this means. I feel that telling ourselves we are the smartest beings, those at the top of the food chain, doesn’t cut it or even come close to anything near truth.


de Waal  Frans. Are You Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2017.

Nagel, Thomas. “What is it like to be a bat?”. The Philosophical Review, Vol. 4, No. 4, October 1974, pp. 435-450. http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/maydede/mind/Nagel_Whatisitliketobeabat.pdf

Starling murmuration video.