Spring Invasion

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Our bird feeder didn’t see much action this winter. Last winter, 2010-2011, the various birds that visited our buffet consumed two and half sacks of oats, but this winter one was enough. During the January 2011 there were days when I filled the feeder up to four times a day, this year one fill could last several days. Something has happened during the last year that has taken its toll on small wintering birds. This winter we saw mostly yellowhammers, Emberiza citrinella (keltasirkku), and some house sparrows, Passer domesticus (varpunen).  House sparrows used to be the dominant species but now their numbers have plummeted. There used to be hundreds of them in our neighbourhood, the hedges were absolutely full of them! Now, almost total silence instead of constant, overwhelming chirping. I know that most of the greenfinchesCarduelis chloris (vihervarpunen), were wiped out three years ago by a disease and their numbers are still low. But what has happened to sparrows? Birds of the Paridae– family, however, are still doing fine. Great tits, Parus major (talitiainen) and blue tits, Parus caureleus (sinitiainen) especially have been regulars.
But a few days ago things changed. It snowed heavily last Tuesday, and all the ground that had been revealed was once again covered under a span of snow. An army of common redpolls, Carduellis flammea (urpiainen) invaded our backyard. At one point today there were about 100-130 of them feeding on the ground. They are small and grey, but the males are like blood stained soldiers in their courting coat with deep red caps on their foreheads and deep red breasts. If I remember correctly, the size of the red patch on the chest is a direct indication of the bird’s status: the larger the stain, the more dominant status.
It has been so much fun to see them in such numbers, and their presence has encouraged other species to join in. Today there were 5-7 chaffinches, Fringilla coelebs (peippo, peipponen) mingling with the redpolls, but it did take them several days before they got comfortable enough to join the horde of the hyperactive redpolls. I bought a special seed mix that contains seeds more suited to their beaks. Maybe that helped.

The Kleenex Man

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This one is about ten years old, but I still remember the moment I saw him in a tissue paper I had used to blow by nose. There he was, a stranger, sipping something from his palms; quiet, calm, untroubled. I’m not sure where he came from but for some reason I imagined a tough, rough place. A desert, perhaps, or some windswept mountain plains like the Tibetan Plateau.

I kept the used tissue for days because it felt too sad to just throw him away. He also reminds me of Larry Niven’s essay on Superman, ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex’. Yes, I freely admit it, I am sci-fi nerd.

This is not the North Pole

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Yesterday we went to see the sea ice around the wee island of Ohtakari in Lohtaja. The sea ice had broken up and the wind and the waves had pushed it landward into pack ice. On the westward shoreline of Ohtakari it felt like being on the Arctic sea ice or at the North Pole. My brother had been there a few days ago and then the pack ice had been moving, but yesterday the sea was still and quiet. Too bad. It would have been nice to hear the sound of the ice, the creaks and the wailing, how the ice moans as the ice floats press against each other. Maybe we’ll catch that next year.

But we did get to hear the sea last Saturday. Then we were at the harbour in Himanka. There the sea ice was still fast ice though not safe enough to walk on anymore. The sun had just set and the western sky was in blaze. The stars appeared on the dark blue deepness, Venus being the brightest with Jupiter closer to the horizon. Occasionally the ice moaned and creaked when it moved along the rifts that run across it. But the more interesting, more haunting, and bizarre sound was the sound the sea itself made as it moved beneath the fast ice. It sounded like a massive bowels of a monstrous beast, bubbling and squelching in a low pitch. At first we didn’t realise it was the sea, but though that the sound came from the cooling systems of the storage buildings for the fish. It took a while before we were sure it was the sea and not the machinery. What a strange soundscape it was: the deep, unseen, belching sea under the wast silence of the stars. I could have stayed there for hours just listening for the next groan.

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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