The spread of COVID-19 has been quite rampant of late, and restrictions on gatherings are becoming ever more severe. We have abandoned our Tuesday rambles involving eight participants, when despite our best intentions we failed to maintain proper social distancing, and of late Miriam and I have birded together, or I have gone off on my own if she is busy with other things.
Once outside it is not at all difficult to respect the protocols established by the Government of Ontario, and in many instances we are in areas where we are the only people.
The birds, of course, have no such concerns, and this female Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) cared little that I was in danger of breaching the distance guidelines.
I was amazed that if I moved slowly and paused briefly after a couple of steps, it showed little nervousness.
I was fortunate to be able to capture this shot of the bird showing its nictitating membrane, that opaque extra eyelid that provides protection when the wood chips are flying as the bird excavates on a tree.
My coat pocket contained a little bird seed left over from a recent outing where people were keen to feed confiding chickadees and nuthatches, and this White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) was delighted that I was willing to share.
It is perhaps vaguely oxymoronic to speak of benefits or advantages of COVID confinement, but it has driven me to devote more hours of the week to study, something which is pure recreation for me. I have refreshed my knowledge of certain topics and immersed myself in whole new pathways to learning.
I freely confess to being addicted to natural history books and I am rarely happier than when I can add new titles to my library. Miriam is fortunately fully sympathetic with this passion, and in fact routinely scours the shelves of thrift stores for bargains on books she knows would appeal to me. From time to time, she has found some real gems.
Everyone is familiar with that well known store Toys R Us, well perhaps Books R Me is not an inappropriate appellation!
Here are my two most recent acquisitions. Firstly, Beetles - The Natural History and Diversity of Coleoptera by Stephen A, Marshall, a highly respected Canadian entomologist, recently retired from the University of Guelph.
Some of you are perhaps wondering why a volume on beetles for a dedicated (obsessive?) bird lover? It is really quite simple. Once one is engaged by one aspect of natural history everything else follows along. Beetles are an enormously difficult taxon and I am quite sure that I will barely scratch the surface in getting to know them. Usually I am delighted if I can narrow down the identification of a beetle to the family, and if I can nail the genus I am ecstatic.
I suppose that my curiosity was initially piqued by wondering which species constituted prey for birds, and I know that I have always been both fascinated and amazed, bewildered even, by the sheer diversity of Coleoptera.
You may rest assured that I will derive countless hours of pleasure from mining the information in this book. I will never become an expert but I will expand my knowledge to a great degree.
My second addition is Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins by Ronald Orenstein, a renowned Canadian zoologist and wildlife conservationist.
This too is a very substantial volume of 448 pages, also crammed with information and coloured photographs of all the species found throughout the world.
Who among us is not captivated by these ancient creatures, already extant when the dinosaurs ruled the Earth? Their popularity in the pet trade is witness to this, but for the sake of the continued existence of some species in the wild, it would be better if this practice could be stopped immediately.
Many happy hours lie ahead in the company of these two volumes. And come to think of it, Miriam is at the thrift store right now. Who knows what she might bring home?
Beetles, The Natural History and Diversity of Coleoptera, Stephen A. Marshall, Firefly Books (2018)
Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins, A Natural History, Ronald Orenstein, Firefly Books (2012)