Sunday, July 19, 2015

Birds and Berries

Weather: Reached the days when afternoon rumbles of thunder don’t signify rain, but mark the time when temperature are falling from their noon peaks. Some rain early this morning.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid tea roses, bird of paradise, fernbush, buddleia, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, datura, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, annual four o’clock from seed, hollyhock, bouncing Bess, purple garden phlox, red amaranth, squash, farmer’s single sunflowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, yellow yarrow, Shasta daisy, zinnias, brome grass, early corn tasseling.

Beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, yellow mullein, goat’s head, white sweet clover, bindweed, green-leaf five-eyes, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, plains paper flower, horseweed, flea bane, gumweed, strap leaf, golden hairy and purple asters.

In my yard: Rugosa roses, yellow potentilla, Saint John’s wort, California poppy, snow-in-summer, coral beard tongue, lady bells, Goodness Grows veronica, catmints, blue flax, larkspur, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, bachelor button, white yarrow, purple coneflower, reseeded Sensation cosmos.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragon, moss roses, marigold, gazania.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Hummingbird and other small birds, geckos, bumble bees, hornets, ants.

Weekly update: The French may be gourmets, but they don’t understand sandcherries.

In 1620, Pedro de Villasur led an expedition from Santa Fé along the Platte river into Nebraska that ended in an ambush. A single sheet from his log later was taken to the French fort north of modern Saint Louis then commanded by Pierre Dugué, sieur de Boisbriand. It apparently was translated into French and forwarded to Paris. Marc de Villiers published the version he found in the French archives of the war ministry in 1921. Sheldon Anderson published an English translation two years later.

The fragment begins when they are setting up camp. Villasur tells his men, "a savage had reported to him that he had found some leaves of fresh sand cherries which seemed to be the remains of a meal of some troop which had passed there lately."

Villiers published "des feuilles d'Oloues (?) fraiches," which literally means "leaves of Oloues fresh." I could find no on-line translation for the word Villiers couldn’t interpret.

Anderson noted, "any one familiar with the Platte Valley in the month of August knows that sand cherries are the most abundant fruit to be found and most likely to be the one eaten by this band of Indians."

Prunus pumila has several subspecies. Besseyi and pumila grow in Nebraska; susquehanae and depressa are found in Ontario and Québec. Joseph Rohrer calls it cerisier des sables.

It’s all about translation and experience. The western variety is advertised in nursery catalogs as attractive to birds, without specifying which varieties to expect. Bart Prose says the sharp-tailed grouse feed on the western besseyi in Nebraska. In Illinois, the Appalachian susquehanae is eaten by prairie chickens, wild turkeys, eastern bluebirds, northern cardinals, robins, and cedar waxwings, according to John Hilty.

Not all those are birds one wants to invite into one’s yard. Only robins migrate through this area. Waxwings summer in the north and winter in the southeast.

Local fruit-eating birds don’t always recognize alien berries. It’s about translation and experience.

Pyracantha coccinea is another vine marketed as a bird lure, again without details. But drive around in late winter and you will still see untouched orange berries. They are devoured by cedar waxwings in South Carolina and Florida. Trois says, "thousands of Robins show up at ours and eat every berry in an hour" on Christmas day in Santa Fe, Texas.

Waxwings also eat privet berries in northern California. In England, David Snow says Ligustrum vulgare are patronized by blackbirds, robins, blackcap and bullfinches. He adds waxwings have eaten them in Germany, starlings in Hungary, and robins, nuthatches and great tits near Dresden, also in Germany.

Local birds seem to prefer local species. As mentioned in the post for 14 March 2010, Townsend’s solitaire lives on one-seeded juniper berries. Since the thrush isn’t found around here, and Juniperus monosperma berries usually disappear by early winter, other birds must be eating them.

The exception is Virginia creeper. It isn’t native, but has naturalized everywhere, no doubt with the aid of birds. Mark Brand says eastern bluebirds, northern cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers and turkeys eat the fruit from Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Of those, mountain chickadees are the most common in my yard.

At this time of the year, the berries are disguised by their green colors, which blend into their leaves. They don’t announce themselves until they are ripe. Even the black sandcherries are hard to see at a distance. But, after their leaves fall, all the fruit wares are highly visible.

The translation will be complete, but not all things will be intelligible.

Brand, Mark. "Virginia Creeper" Fairfax County, Virginia, Public Schools website.

Dunn, Jon L. and Jonathan Alderfer. Complete Birds of North America, 2006, on cedar waxwing distribution.

Eleisia. "Cedar Waxwings Came and Went!," Chickadees, Juncos, and Jays Oh My! website, 2 February 2013

Hilton, Bill Jr. "This Week at Hilton Pond 1-7 January 2001," Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History website.

Hilty, John. "Susquehana Sand Cherry," Illinois Wildflowers website.

Prose, Bart L. Habitat Suitability Index Models: Plains Sharp-tailed Grouse, 1987.

Rohrer, Joseph R. "Prunus pumila Linnaeus," Flora of North America, available on-line.

Scheper, Jack. "Pyracantha coccinea," Floridata website, 13 October 2005 revision.

Snow, Barbara and David Snow. Birds and Berries, 2010.

Trois. Comments on "Scarlet Firethorn," 4 October 2004, Dave’s Garden website.

Villiers, Marc de. "Le Massacre de l'Expedition Espagnole du Missouri (11 Aoüt 1720)," Journal de la Société des Americanistes de Paris, 1921. Translated and annotated by Addison E. Sheldon for Nebraska History, January-March, 1923.

1. Western sandcherry, in my yard, 17 July 2015.
2. Western sandcherry, in my yard, 16 July 2015.
3. Pyracantha, in town, 16 July 2015.
4. Privet, in my yard, 17 July 2015.
5. One-seeded juniper, in my yard, 16 July 2015.
6. Virginia creeper, down the road, 17 July 2015.
7. Western sandcherry, in my yard, 17 July 2015.

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