FOWC with Fandango — Radiant

I looked out upon my deck … and it was interesting. Not one, but two squirrels, each hanging in one of the feeders with a Cardinal in the woods, presumably waiting for those big four-footed fluffies to let go of the feeders. Once the squirrels dig in, they stay dug until they are finished.

So I took as many pictures as I could of the rather distant Cardinal, another of the Cardinal and a squirrel, and the remaining shots all about the two squirrels.

For the purpose of radiant, I don’t think you’ll get any better than this Cardinal on a small branch in the woods.

Cardinal in the woods

Another Cardinal back in the woods

SQUARE AND SPIKY MARCH DAYS – 1 – Marilyn Armstrong

Don’t let the barbed wire put you off!

March. Snow is about to fall tonight and again — but more of it — on Sunday. So winter didn’t show up all winter.

We’re going to have a “springtime” winter.

Usually, our springtime winter is just an extension of the winter-winter, but this year, I think it’s going to be the whole deal.

Spiky gate to where? Photo: Garry Armstrong

Now that is definitely spiky!

Happy spiky, jagged, pointy, bristly, serrated, prickly, spiny, and barbed’ squares!


So, how come the Downy Woodpeckers looks so much like a Hairy Woodpecker it’s really hard to tell them apart? The answer is more interesting than you might expect. I found this Audubon article and added some of my own pictures to it.

I loved the explanation that woodpeckers are crazy and other birds are afraid of them. Apparently, to use their beaks as hammers they have thicker skulls and that long strong beak is every bit as dangerous as it looks.

Also, all this time, I thought all that bumping the birds do to each other while on the feeders was playful, but it’s not. It’s birdy bullying. Who knew?

There’s a New Theory for Why Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers Look So Alike

A feeder-based study found Downys are bullies—and it might explain their copycat looks.

By Nell Durfee

February 26, 2018

The Hairy is on the left and the Downy is on the right – Audubon Society

In the 1860s, the great biologist Alfred Russel Wallace had a radical idea. He proposed that distant species might evolve to look alike to rise in the social-dominance ranks. More than a century later, scientists discovered that Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are one of the best case studies for that theory. The two species, it seems, aren’t all that related—and yet they appear almost identical.

A few years later, experts suggested that Downys had adopted Hairy-like feathers to escape aggression from their larger cousins. But a new study, published this month in Animal Behaviour, counters that reasoning.

After analyzing behavioral observations from bird feeders across the country, Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientists are introducing a new dimension to the discussion. They say that rather than fooling Hairys directly, Downys are using their doppelgänger good looks to pass as bigger birds and scare off non-woodpecker rivals.

Hairy Woodpecker?

To figure out who was bullying who, the team homed in on woodpecker interactions, as reported by Project FeederWatch volunteers. Any time one species forced another to fly off a feeder, it was counted as a sign of dominance. Researchers found that out of 56 interactions, Hairys displaced Downys 96 percent of the time. What’s more, by comparing those results to encounters between other like species, the researchers were able to confirm that Hairys were particularly aggressive toward Downys in tight conditions.

Pretty sure — size of beak — this is a Hairy Woodpecker. He is also big.

“What we found was that Hairy Woodpeckers target Downys much more than you would expect,” says Gavin Leighton, an ecologist at Cornell and lead author on the paper. “In fact, Hairys are one of the few species in the dataset that actually target another species more than its own for aggression. So, it doesn’t seem like the case that Downy Woodpeckers are tricking Hairy Woodpeckers in any meaningful way.”

Downy or Hairy?

At the same time, despite weighing less than half than Hairys (on average), Downys were surprisingly successful at “beating” species of similar or larger size, including House Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Northern Cardinals. This, the authors note, shows that birds also mix up Downys and Hairys.

“Woodpeckers tend to be more dominant than other species, just because they’re crazy,” says Eliot Miller, a Cornell researcher who also worked on the study. Hairys are especially feared for their prickly demeanors and spike-like beaks, so Downys can only stand to benefit from sharing their look.

A pair of (I think) Downy Woodpeckers. That’s my best guess, anyway. They seem smaller than the other guys.

A good size comparison between a Hairy (left) and Downy Woodpecker (right), snapped by a FeederWatch participant. Photo: Gary Mueller

But for Richard Prum, the Yale University ornithologist who put forth the older mimicry idea, the relationship isn’t so clear-cut. Prum still thinks Downys are trying to avoid being attacked by Hairys. At close range, Hairys might recognize Downys and hassle them more often—yet in the woods, the two species hardly come face to face.

Which means looking solely at feeder interactions could skew the results (a caveat the Cornell team mentions, too). “We don’t have any detail about whether the Hairy is deceived about the identity of a Downy at 50 yards,” Prum explains in an email.

(Marilyn’s Note: I seem to get mostly — but not entirely — Hairy Woodpeckers.)

Hard to tell the difference, isn’t it?

Prum also points out that there are a number of cases where birds have evolved to look similar: Toucans and Kiskadees are just two examples. Wallace himself had examined “social mimicry” between friarbirds and Orioles. The explanations in the latest study “certainly can’t explain avian mimicry generally,” Prum writes.

Feeder bias or not, Leighton says the scientific community is eager for a better explanation for Downy mimicry. He and his team are moving to take their experiment beyond feeders by creating an enormous enclosure to observe more realistic interactions between the two woodpeckers, and partnering with eBird to collect data from a wider range of observers. Then, maybe, at last, we’ll find a satisfying answer to this evolutionary riddle.

Audubon has a huge selection of really good articles about birds, not to mention the best bird photography I’ve ever seen. I encourage you to visit them. Fascinating stuff!

You can find them at – https://www.audubon.org/


From the Washington Post, these are Cohen’s quotes, not something “made up” by the writer. I’m sure he had help with it because these words have the ring of a professionally written and carefully polished speech.

That being said, I think this sums up much of what many of us feel:

“Mr. Trump is an enigma,” Cohen said in his opening statement. “He is complicated, as am I. He has both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself. He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.”

He went on to say:

“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great,” Cohen said. “He had no desire or intention to lead this nation – only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’”

America. The greatest infomercial in political history? Also, probably, the biggest dive from greatest to pettiness, racism, ignorance, cruelty, and rampant destruction of what have always been the beauties of our world.

From the Post:

Cohen has insisted that “blind loyalty” is what drove him to commit crimes on Trump’s behalf. Federal prosecutors have contended that Cohen “relished the role of ultimate fixer” and that he was “driven by a desire to further ingratiate himself with a potential future president — for whose political success Cohen himself claimed credit.”

“Taken together, these offenses reveal a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy,” prosecutors wrote in a memorandum to a federal judge before Cohen was sentenced. “His motivation to do so was not borne from naiveté, carelessness, misplaced loyalty or political ideology. Rather, these were knowing and calculated acts — acts Cohen executed in order to profit personally, build his own power, and enhance his level of influence.”

I can understand why many people would be hesitant to believe the words of a man who, in the name of ambition, would follow a man he knew to be bad in every way that counted.

On the other hand, these people are defending the exact same bad guy and I will bet that every one of them knows how evil Trump really is. They aren’t doing the right thing. They are doing the politically expedient “thing” which they know to be wrong.

Photo: NBC News

I find it hard to fathom anyone having that level of ambition, yet I see it everywhere. Even back in college, there was always one little wormy kid who would do anything to grab the job you were trying to get — and this was back when we weren’t even paid for the work. It was all a matter of personal honor.

Too many people have no honor. These days, it would seem that more than ever, people have no honor — just a personal agenda. Furthermore, they don’t comprehend the concept of honor. They think it’s about ambition and flags … but it isn’t and never was.

From left to right: The four sisters: my mother (Dorothy), Aunt Pearl, Aunt Kate, and Aunt Yetta

Time for a personal story. In my freshman year of college, I met a boy and we fell in love. I was 16. He was 17. He wasn’t a virgin — but he was barely not a virgin. I was a virgin — I was 16, after all — so we went to be together in a borrowed apartment and it was wonderful. It was. He eventually turned out to be more than a little psycho, so while we had an affair that lasted many years, we did not marry. Oddly, he shared Garry’s birthday. As did another boyfriend from that period.

I know we all don’t believe in “fate,” but that’s pretty fateful. I digress. Back to the story.

I actually told my mother about it. You have to understand that my mother was all in favor of modern sex and not being held to old-fashioned standards, so when she went completely bonkers, I was baffled, boggled, and bewildered. I said: “What about …”

And she said: ” Not MY daughter!”

That was when I realized that your beliefs and your BELIEFS didn’t have to be the same. Mom decided I needed to talk to the grand dame of her sisters — my Aunt Kate. My mother’s oldest sister.

Left to right: Aunt Pearl, my mother (Dorothy), Aunt Ethel (Uncle Herman’s wife) and Aunt Kate

She was born in “the old country” and was the only member of the household who still kept Kosher. She remained Jewish without ever casting aspersions on family members who had gone another way.

I adored my Aunt Kate. She was beautiful, a dead ringer for Katherine Hepburn as a young woman. Even older, she had cheekbones to die for. But beyond that, she was deeply and passionately kind. There was inherent goodness about her I have known rarely through the years.

I told her what had been going on. She listened. Quietly. Then she said: “But what about honor?”


I had never considered honor as part of the love/sex/passion thing. Nobody had used the word, not even my mother. It was a concept that swept in from the past and put the issue into an entirely new perspective. And I never forgot that for some people, it’s about their version of religion or faith. For others, there are just “rules” you follow because “you’re supposed to follow the rules.” For Aunt Kate, it was about honor. And after that, I never forgot to consider whether or not what I was doing was honorable.

Shortly after that conversation, I pointed out (proudly) to Aunt Kate that I was still wearing the fake fur coat she’d give me when I was in Junior High School because I loved it. Horrified that I could still be wearing that old coat, in the middle of Manhattan, she pulled off her coat and gave it to me. I tried really hard to give it back, but it stuck. Until I moved to Israel when I got rid of most of my heavy winter clothing, it was my “good coat.” It was a fake beaver coat. No fur, just poly whatever, but it looked and felt like the real thing and had a wonderful swing to it.

We had lunch at a hotel dining room and I tucked my arm into the crook of her arm and we walked locked together down the avenues of Manhattan.


That’s what is missing from today’s America. Our sense of honor is gone. We stand naked and shivering in the winds of ambition with no moral code. There’s no one worse than us, though there are a few probably at least as bad other places.

Our days of lecturing the rest of the world about right and wrong are, I think, over. Or at least over for the next 50 years while we try to repair our image. Maybe longer, depending on whether or not the chaotic Democratic Party can collect itself and think nationally and rationally.

Let us find honor for all rather than self-aggrandizement for a few.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong


Fandango’s Provocative Question #16

So the question is:

“Should taxpayers have the option to explicitly say what they don’t want their tax dollars spent on?”

I think we settled this during our revolutionary war. We explicitly demanded that only voters can be taxed. We never suggested we have the right to choose what we pay for. We don’t get a menu of selections, check those that suit us and refuse to pay for the rest.

In this benighted world, here’s my neighborhood.

My right-hand neighbor hates cops. He doesn’t want to pay for them.

The guy on the left resents school taxes.  He never had kids. Never wanted them. Doesn’t feel like paying for education no one in his family is going to get.

Down the road, that guy has a big powerful SUV, so he doesn’t care if the roads are plowed or not. If you can’t get through, well, too bad. Why should he pay for your transportation? He’s got his own.

The then there’s the one on the opposite corner. He doesn’t believe in government at all. He doesn’t feel obliged to pay for anything. He’s the creepy guy who wouldn’t turn his hose on if his neighbor’s house was on fire. You want him choosing which taxes to pay? Maybe he’s part of a group and none of them will pay anything at all.

We settled this. Long ago.

Taxes exist in law. We pay them because we are legally required to do so. You don’t have to like anything about the government, governor, Congress, or the school board. Or the cops, the town selectman, or the Mayor.

There are laws and we abide by them.

Government is not lunch where you get to pick whatever you want from any page on the menu. No picking and choosing which parts of the government you support. The closest you can get to that kind of choice is voting for whoever will support the programs you support. That’s what makes a government.

The picking and choosing from different parts of the menu is not a government. It’s lunch.


And the cactus continues – 03/01/2019

The birds came in droves except when I picked up the camera when they vanished. Completely. For a while, we had a squirrel knocking off the seeds in the hanging feeder, but I was a couple of rooms away and I knew by the time I got the camera in my hands, he’d be gone so I settled for looking.

I’m tired. I have to admit that between the weather, a million or was it two million? trips to the doctor — mine, Garry’s, mine, mine — I’m pooped.

But the cactus keeps blooming and it’s beautiful. And, as it happens, I took a few pictures.